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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Skill Quotes (50 quotes)


Ars longa, vita brevis.
Art is long, life is short.
Aphorisms, i. The original was written in Greek. This Latin translation, by Seneca (De Brevitate Vitae, 1.1), is in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1905), 6, footnote 3. The sense is generally taken to be, 'Life is short, but to learn a profession (an art) takes a long time.'
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Engineering, too, owes its most useful materials to the achievements of chemists in identifying, separating, and transforming materials: structural steel for the framework of bridges and buildings, portland cement for roadways and aqueducts, pure copper for the electrical industries, aluminum alloys for automobiles and airplanes, porcelain for spark plugs and electrical insulators. The triumphs of engineering skill rest on a chemical foundation.
In Fundamental Chemistry, and Elementary Textbook for College Classes (1936), 8.
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Les médecins les plus savans en théorie sont rarement les plus habile practiciens.
The doctors most learned in theory are seldom the most skilled practitioners.
Maxim No. 281 in Maximes, Réflexions et Pensées Diverses (1819), 236.
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A man who cannot work without his hypodermic needle is a poor doctor. The amount of narcotic you use is inversely proportional to your skill.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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A nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.
Quoted by Edwin T. Layton, Jr., in 'American Ideologies of Science and Engineering', Technology and Culture (1976), 17, 689. As cited in Arie Leegwater, 'Technology and Science', Stephen V. Monsma (ed.), Responsible Technology: A Christian Perspective (1986), 79.
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A wise physician, skill’d our wounds to heal, is more than armies to the public weal.
Homer and Alexander Pope (trans.), The Iliad of Homer (1809), Vol. 2, 144.
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After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
…...
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All that Eddington and Millikan achieve, when they attempt their preposterous reconciliation of science and theology, is to prove that they themselves, for all their technical skill, are scientists only by trade, not by conviction. They practice science diligently and to some effect, but only in the insensate way in which Blind Tom played the piano. … they can’t get rid of a congenital incredulity. Science, to them, remains a bit strange and shocking. They are somewhat in the position of a Christian clergyman who finds himself unable to purge himself of a suspicion that Jonah, after all, probably did not swallow the whale.
Minority Report (1956, 2006 reprint), 140.
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An inventor is one who can see the applicability of means to supply demand five years before it is obvious to those skilled in the art.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Architects who have aimed at acquiring manual skill without scholarship have never been able to reach a position of authority to correspond to their pains, while those who relied only upon theories and scholarship were obviously hunting the shadow, not the substance. But those who have a thorough knowledge of both, like men armed at all points, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 3.
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Astronomers have built telescopes which can show myriads of stars unseen before; but when a man looks through a tear in his own eye, that is a lens which opens reaches into the unknown, and reveals orbs which no telescope, however skilfully constructed, could do.
Life Thoughts (1858), 20.
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Consider a cow. A cow doesn’t have the problem-solving skill of a chimpanzee, which has discovered how to get termites out of the ground by putting a stick into a hole. Evolution has developed the brain’s ability to solve puzzles, and at the same time has produced in our brain a pleasure of solving problems.
In John Tierney, 'For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics', New York Times (20 Oct 2009), D2.
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Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities—that's training or instruction—but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed.
The Education of the Heart (1996), Introduction, 3.
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Few things are impossible to diligence and skill.
From Rasselas: A Tale (1809), 45.
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Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 127.
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He that takes medicine and neglects to diet himself wastes the skill of the physician.
Chinese proverb.
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He who cures a disease may be the skillfullest, but he who prevents it is the safest physician.
In Practical Spelling: A Text Book For Use in Commercial Schools (1902), 34.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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In the hands of Science and indomitable energy, results the most gigantic and absorbing may be wrought out by skilful combinations of acknowledged data and the simplest means.
From Introduction to Lecture on the Pendulum-Experiments at Harton Pit (1855), iv. The quote comes from the printed Introduction in the published booklet, but was not part of the printed lecture itself. At the request of a “deputation of gentlemen of South Shields,” the printed version of the lecture was written “in extenso, from memory,” after the original talk was given on 24 Oct 1854 at South Shields, County Durham, England.
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Intelligence is not creative; judgment is not creative. If a sculptor is nothing but skill and mind, his hands will be without genius.
Translation by Lewis Galantière of Pilote de Guerre (1941) as Flight to Arras (1942, 2008), 130. A different translation is found in Jason Merchey, Values of the Wise: Humanity's Highest Aspirations (2004), 240: “Neither intelligence nor judgment are creative. If a scupltor is nothing but science and intelligence, his hands will have no talent.”
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It certainly strikes the beholder with astonishment, to perceive what vast difficulties can be overcome by the pigmy arms of little mortal man, aided by science and directed by superior skill.
About his visit to Lockport on the Erie Canal, in Letter IX, to a friend in England from Lockport, New York (25 Jul 1831), collected in Narrative of a Tour in North America (1834), Vol. 1, 233-234,
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It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge & skill.
From his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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It just so happens that during the 1950s, the first great age of molecular biology, the English schools of Oxford and particularly of Cambridge produced more than a score of graduates of quite outstanding ability—much more brilliant, inventive, articulate and dialectically skillful than most young scientists; right up in the Jim Watson class. But Watson had one towering advantage over all of them: in addition to being extremely clever he had something important to be clever about.
From the postscript to 'Lucky Jim', New York Review of Books (28 Mar 1968). Also collected in 'Lucky Jim', Pluto’s Republic (1982), 275. Also excerpted in Richard Dawkins (ed.), The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (2008), 186.
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Men who are occupied in the restoration of health to other men, by the joint exertion of skill and humanity, are above all the great of the earth. They even partake of divinity, since to preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create.
A Philosophical Dictionary? (1764, 1843), Vol. 2, 317.
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Nature without learning is a blind thing, and learning without nature is an imperfect thing, and practice without both is an ineffective thing. Just as in farming, first of all the soil must be good, secondly, the husbandman skilful, and thirdly, the seed sound, so, after the same manner, nature is like to the soil, the teacher to the farmer and the verbal counsels precepts like to the seed.
Plutarch
In 'On the Education of Children', Moralia (1927), Vol 3, 9, as translated by Frank Cole Babbitt.
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Nature, the parent of all things, designed the human backbone to be like a keel or foundation. It is because we have a backbone that we can walk upright and stand erect. But this was not the only purpose for which Nature provided it; here, as elsewhere, she displayed great skill in turning the construction of a single member to a variety of different uses.
It Provides a Path for the Spinal Marrow, Yet is Flexible.
Firstly, she bored a hole through the posterior region of the bodies of all the vertebrae, thus fashioning a suitable pathway for the spinal marrow which would descend through them.
Secondly, she did not make the backbone out of one single bone with no joints. Such a unified construction would have afforded greater stability and a safer seat for the spinal marrow since, not having joints, the column could not have suffered dislocations, displacements, or distortions. If the Creator of the world had paid such attention to resistance to injury and had subordinated the value and importance of all other aims in the fabric of parts of the body to this one, he would certainly have made a single backbone with no joints, as when someone constructing an animal of wood or stone forms the backbone of one single and continuous component. Even if man were destined only to bend and straighten his back, it would not have been appropriate to construct the whole from one single bone. And in fact, since it was necessary that man, by virtue of his backbone, be able to perform a great variety of movements, it was better that it be constructed from many bones, even though as a result of this it was rendered more liable to injury.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, 57-58, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in 'Nature’s Skill in Creating a Backbone to Hold Us Erect', On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), 138.
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No creature is too bulky or formidable for man's destructive energies—none too minute and insignificant for his keen detection and skill of capture. It was ordained from the beginning that we should be the masters and subduers of all inferior animals. Let us remember, however, that we ourselves, like the creatures we slay, subjugate, and modify, are the results of the same Almighty creative will—temporary sojourners here, and co-tenants with the worm and the whale of one small planet. In the exercise, therefore, of those superior powers that have been intrusted to us, let us ever bear in mind that our responsibilities are heightened in proportion.
Lecture to the London Society of Arts, 'The Raw Materials of the Animal Kingdom', collected in Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851' (1852), 131.
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No nation can be really great unless it is great in peace, in industry, integrity, honesty. Skilled intelligence in civic affairs and industrial enterprises alike; the special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the man of business; the rigid determination to wrong no man, and to stand for righteousness—all these are necessary in a great nation.
Address (2 Jun 1897) at U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. In 'Washington's Forgotten Maxim', United States Naval Institute Proceedings (1897), 23, 450.
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Not since the Lord himself showed his stuff to Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones had anyone shown such grace and skill in the reconstruction of animals from disarticulated skeletons. Charles R. Knight, the most celebrated of artists in the reanimation of fossils, painted all the canonical figures of dinosaurs that fire our fear and imagination to this day.
In Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), 23. First sentence of chapter one.
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Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth.
…...
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Probably the most important skill that children learn is how to learn. … Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. This is a mistake.
In 'Observing the Brain Through a Cat's Eyes', Saturday Review World (1974), 2, 132.
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Scientists today … have to be able to interpret their findings just as skillfully as they conduct their research. If not, a lot of priceless new knowledge will have to wait for a better man.
In his Introduction for Dagobert David Runes (ed.), A Treasury of World Science (1962), viii.
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Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity.
In Catastrophe Theory: selected papers, 1972-1977 (1977).
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That the master manufacturer, by dividing the work to be executed into different processes, each requiring different degrees of skill or of force, can purchase precisely the precise quantity of both which is necessary for each process; whereas, if the whole work were executed by one workman, that person must possess sufficient skill to perform the most difficult, and sufficient strength to execute the most laborious, of the operations into which the art is divided.
In Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832), 137-38.
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The achievements of the Beagle did not just depend on FitzRoy’s skill as a hydrographer, nor on Darwin’s skill as a natural scientist, but on the thoroughly effective fashion in which everyone on board pulled together. Of course Darwin and FitzRoy had their quarrels, but all things considered, they were remarkably infrequent. To have shared such cramped quarters for nearly five years with a man often suffering from serious depression, prostrate part of the time with sea sickness, with so little friction, Darwin must have been one of the best-natured people ever! This is, indeed, apparent in his letters. And anyone who has participated in a scientific expedition will agree that when he wrote from Valparaiso in July 1834 that ‘The Captain keeps all smooth by rowing everyone in turn, which of course he has as much right to do as a gamekeeper to shoot partridges on the first of September’, he was putting a finger on an important ingredient in the Beagle’s success.
From Introduction to The Beagle Record (1979, 2012), 9.
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The advancement of agriculture, commerce and manufactures, by all proper means, will not, I trust, need recommendation. But I cannot forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home.
Early suggestion for awarding patent protection. In First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (8 Jan 1790).
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The cell phone has transformed public places into giant phone-a-thons in which callers exist within narcissistic cocoons of private conversations. Like faxes, computer modems and other modern gadgets that have clogged out lives with phony urgency, cell phones represent the 20th Century’s escalation of imaginary need. We didn’t need cell phones until we had them. Clearly, cell phones cause not only a breakdown of courtesy, but the atrophy of basic skills.
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The instinct for collecting, which began as in other animals as an adaptive property, could always in man spread beyond reason; it could become a hoarding mania. But in its normal form it provides a means of livelihood at the hunting and collecting stage of human evolution. It is then attached to a variety of rational aptitudes, above all in observing, classifying, and naming plants, animals and minerals, skills diversely displayed by primitive peoples. These skills with an instinctive beginning were the foundation of most of the civilised arts and sciences. Attached to other skills in advanced societies they promote the formation of museums and libraries; detached, they lead to acquisition and classification by eccentric individuals, often without any purpose or value at all.
As quoted in Richard Fifield, 'Cytologist Supreme', New Scientist (16 Apr 1981), 90, No. 1249, 179; citing C.D. Darlington, The Little Universe of Man (1978).
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The instinct of brutes and insects can be the effect of nothing else than the wisdom and skill of a powerful ever-living agent.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 379.
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The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder.
The Ascent of Man (1973), 116.
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There are, as we have seen, a number of different modes of technological innovation. Before the seventeenth century inventions (empirical or scientific) were diffused by imitation and adaption while improvement was established by the survival of the fittest. Now, technology has become a complex but consciously directed group of social activities involving a wide range of skills, exemplified by scientific research, managerial expertise, and practical and inventive abilities. The powers of technology appear to be unlimited. If some of the dangers may be great, the potential rewards are greater still. This is not simply a matter of material benefits for, as we have seen, major changes in thought have, in the past, occurred as consequences of technological advances.
Concluding paragraph of "Technology," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas (1973), Vol. 4, 364.
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There is no more convincing proof of the truth of a comprehensive theory than its power of absorbing and finding a place for new facts, and its capability of interpreting phenomena which had been previously looked upon as unaccountable anomalies. It is thus that the law of universal gravitation and the undulatory theory of light have become established and universally accepted by men of science. Fact after fact has been brought forward as being apparently inconsistent with them, and one alter another these very facts have been shown to be the consequences of the laws they were at first supposed to disprove. A false theory will never stand this test. Advancing knowledge brings to light whole groups of facts which it cannot deal with, and its advocates steadily decrease in numbers, notwithstanding the ability and scientific skill with which it may have been supported.
From a review of four books on the subject 'Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances Among Animals', in The Westminster Review (Jul 1867), 88, 1. Wallace is identified as the author in the article as reprinted in William Beebe, The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History (1988), 108.
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This quality of genius is, sometimes, difficult to be distinguished from talent, because high genius includes talent. It is talent, and something more. The usual distinction between genius and talent is, that one represents creative thought, the other practical skill: one invents, the other applies. But the truth is, that high genius applies its own inventions better than talent alone can do. A man who has mastered the higher mathematics, does not, on that account, lose his knowledge of arithmetic. Hannibal, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Newton, Scott, Burke, Arkwright, were they not men of talent as well as men of genius?
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203.
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Whatever the skill of any country may be in the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learning alone that it must expect a character from posterity.
Essays, on Miscellaneous Subjects (1818), 198.
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Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains.
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Willis Rodney Whitney ... once compared scientific research to a bridge being constructed by a builder who was fascinated by the construction problems involved. Basic research, he suggested, is such a bridge built wherever it strikes the builder's fancy—wherever the construction problems seem to him to be most challenging. Applied research, on the other hand, is a bridge built where people are waiting to get across the river. The challenge to the builder's ingenuity and skill, Whitney pointed out, can be as great in one case as the other.
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 351.
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Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.
In 'American University Tendencies' (23 Mar 1903), Address at the Charter Day exercise to University of California, stenographic report in University Chronicle (1903), 6, 5.
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With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.
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[Helmholtz] is not a philosopher in the exclusive sense, as Kant, Hegel, Mansel are philosophers, but one who prosecutes physics and physiology, and acquires therein not only skill in developing any desideratum, but wisdom to know what are the desiderata, e.g., he was one of the first, and is one of the most active, preachers of the doctrine that since all kinds of energy are convertible, the first aim of science at this time. should be to ascertain in what way particular forms of energy can be converted into each other, and what are the equivalent quantities of the two forms of energy.
Letter to Lewis Campbell (21 Apr 1862). In P.M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1990), Vol. 1, 711.
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[The mathematician's] subject is the most curious of all—there is none in which truth plays such odd pranks. It has the most elaborate and the most fascinating technique, and gives unrivaled openings for the display of sheer professional skill.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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