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Weapon Quotes (50 quotes)

Air Chief Marshal Harris [objecting to a change in strategy recommended by statisticians]: Are we fighting this war with weapons or the slide rule?
Churchill [after puffing on his cigar]: That's a good idea. Let's try the slide rule.
During World War II, Britain lost the advantage when enemy U-boats began listening in to the aircraft radar, were forewarned, and would dive. U-boat sinkings fell to zero. Physicist Patrick S. Blackett with his Operational Research colleagues came up with a solution. Concentrate sufficient aircraft in certain areas, causing the subs to dive so frequently their air supply and batteries were exhausted, forcing them to remain on the surface and be vulnerable to attack. The strategy required diverting several squadrons from Bomber Command to Coastal Command. “Bomber” Harris voiced his objection to Churchill, who made the right choice, proved by successful results. As described by R.V. Jones, 'Churchill and Science', in Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), Churchill (1996), 437.
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A fear of intellectual inadequacy, of powerlessness before the tireless electronic wizards, has given rise to dozens of science-fiction fantasies of computer takeovers. ... Other scientists too are apprehensive. D. Raj Reddy, a computer scientist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, fears that universally available microcomputers could turn into formidable weapons. Among other things, says Reddy, sophisticated computers in the wrong hands could begin subverting a society by tampering with people’s relationships with their own computers—instructing the other computers to cut off telephone, bank and other services, for example.
An early prediction of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), viruses and worms like Stuxnet. As stated, without further citation, in 'The Age of Miracle Chips', Time (20 Feb 1978), 44. The article introduces a special section on 'The Computer Society.' Please contact Webmaster if you know a primary source.
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A first step in the study of civilization is to dissect it into details, and to classify these in their proper groups. Thus, in examining weapons, they are to be classed under spear, club, sling, bow and arrow, and so forth; among textile arts are to be ranged matting, netting, and several grades of making and weaving threads; myths are divided under such headings as myths of sunrise and sunset, eclipse-myths, earthquake-myths, local myths which account for the names of places by some fanciful tale, eponymic myths which account for the parentage of a tribe by turning its name into the name of an imaginary ancestor; under rites and ceremonies occur such practices as the various kinds of sacrifice to the ghosts of the dead and to other spiritual beings, the turning to the east in worship, the purification of ceremonial or moral uncleanness by means of water or fire. Such are a few miscellaneous examples from a list of hundreds … To the ethnographer, the bow and arrow is the species, the habit of flattening children’s skulls is a species, the practice of reckoning numbers by tens is a species. The geographical distribution of these things, and their transmission from region to region, have to be studied as the naturalist studies the geography of his botanical and zoological species.
In Primitive Culture (1871), Vol. 1, 7.
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A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind.
The Vor Game (1900)

Above all, I regret that scientific experiments—some of them mine—should have produced such a terrible weapon as the hydrogen bomb. Regret, with all my soul, but not guilt.
Quoted in 'Moon-Struck Scientist,' New York Times (27 Apr 1961), 42.
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An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
In The FoundationTrilogy (1951), Vol. 2, 207.

Anyone who thinks we can continue to have world wars but make them nice polite affairs by outlawing this weapon or that should meditate upon the outlawing of the cross-bow by Papal authority. Setting up the machinery for international law and order must surely precede disarmament. The Wild West did not abandon its shooting irons till after sheriffs and courts were established.
Speech, American Library Assiciation Conference (3 Jul 1947), as quoted by Lawrence E. Davies in 'Army's Atomic Bid Viewed in Making', New York Times (4 Jul 1947), 11.
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Bismarck, enraged at Virchow's constant criticisms, has his seconds call upon the scientist to challenge him to a duel. 'As the challenged party, I have the choice of weapons,' said Virchow, 'and I chose these.' He held aloft two sausages. 'One of these,' he went on, 'is infected with deadly germs; the other is perfectly sound. Let his Excellency decide which one he wishes to eat, and I will eat the other.' Almost immediately the message came back that the chancellor had decided to laugh off the duel.
As quoted in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 556, citing E. Fuller, 2500 Anecdotes.
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Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.
From Essays on Education. In Alfred Whitney Griswold, 1906-1963: In Memoriam (1964), 24.
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Carl Sagan quote A Subject Called Chemistry
Wellington College. CC by-NC 2.0 (source)
Chlorine is a deadly poison gas employed on European battlefields in World War I. Sodium is a corrosive metal which burns upon contact with water. Together they make a placid and unpoisonous material, table salt. Why each of these substances has the properties it does is a subject called chemistry.
Broca's Brain: The Romance of Science (1979), footnote. Excerpt reprinted as 'Can We Know the Universe? Reflections on a Grain of Salt,' in John Carey, Eyewitness to Science (1997), 437.
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Deprived, therefore, as regards this period, of any assistance from history, but relieved at the same time from the embarrassing interference of tradition, the archaeologist is free to follow the methods which have been so successfully pursued in geology—the rude bone and stone implements of bygone ages being to the one what the remains of extinct animals are to the other. The analogy may be pursued even further than this. Many mammalia which are extinct in Europe have representatives still living in other countries. Our fossil pachyderms, for instance, would be almost unintelligible but for the species which still inhabit some parts of Asia and Africa; the secondary marsupials are illustrated by their existing representatives in Australia and South America; and in the same manner, if we wish clearly to understand the antiquities of Europe, we must compare them with the rude implements and weapons still, or until lately, used by the savage races in other parts of the world. In fact, the Van Diemaner and South American are to the antiquary what the opossum and the sloth are to the geologist.
Pre-historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages, (2nd ed. 1869, 1890), 429-430.
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Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
The Open Mind (1955), 88.
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Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
Address to the United Nations General Assembly, (25 Sep 1961). On U.S. Department of State website.
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Fleets are not confined to the ocean, but now sail over the land. … All the power of the British Navy has not been able to prevent Zeppelins from reaching England and attacking London, the very heart of the British Empire. Navies do not protect against aerial attack. … Heavier-than-air flying machines of the aeroplane type have crossed right over the heads of armies, of million of men, armed with the most modern weapons of destruction, and have raided places in the rear. Armies do not protect against aerial war.
In 'Preparedness for Aerial Defense', Addresses Before the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Navy League of the United States, Washington, D.C., April 10-13, 1916 (1916), 70.
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I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.
About his proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, later to be known as 'Star Wars.')
National address (23 Mar 1983)
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Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches. The other has seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger. Well that's the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what's needed to dissuade the other, that if it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable. What is necessary is to reduce the matches and to clean up the gasoline.
From Sagan's analogy about the nuclear arms race and the need for disarmament, during a panel discussion in ABC News Viewpoint following the TV movie The Day After (20 Nov 1983). Transcribed by Webmaster from a video recording. It is seen misquoted in summary form as “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.”
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In the arts of life main invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine. … There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons.
Play, Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903)
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It did not take atomic weapons to make man want peace. But the atomic bomb was the turn of the screw. The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.
Commencement address (1946), as quoted in book review, William J. Broad, ‘The Men Who Made the Sun Rise', New York Times Book Review (8 Feb 1987), 39. The book that Broad reviewed was Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which the quote may have been taken. Please contact Webmaster if you have located it.
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It is a sure criterion of the civilisation of ancient Egypt that the soldiers did not carry arms except on duty, and that the private citizens did not carry them at all.
In The Martyrdom of Man (1876), 24.
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It is by the aid of iron that we construct houses, cleave rocks, and perform so many other useful offices of life. But it is with iron also that wars, murders, and robberies are effected, and this, not only hand to hand, but from a distance even, by the aid of missiles and winged weapons, now launched from engines, now hurled by the human arm, and now furnished with feathery wings. This last I regard as the most criminal artifice that has been devised by the human mind; for, as if to bring death upon man with still greater rapidity, we have given wings to iron and taught it to fly. ... Nature, in conformity with her usual benevolence, has limited the power of iron, by inflicting upon it the punishment of rust; and has thus displayed her usual foresight in rendering nothing in existence more perishable, than the substance which brings the greatest dangers upon perishable mortality.
Natural History of Pliny, translation (1857, 1898) by John Bostock and H. T. Riley, 205-6.
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It is probable that all heavy matter possesses—latent and bound up with the structure of the atom—a similar quantity of energy to that possessed by radium. If it could be tapped and controlled, what an agent it would be in shaping the world's destiny! The man who puts his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the Earth if he chose.
A prescient remark on atomic energy after the discovery of radioactivity, but decades before the harnessing of nuclear fission in an atomic bomb became a reality.
Lecture to the Corps of Royal Engineers, Britain (19040. In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 373.
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It may be that ... when the advance of destructive weapons enables everyone to kill everybody else nobody will want to kill anyone at all. [Referring to the hydrogen bomb.]
Parliamentary debate concerning the hydrogen bomb (Nov 1953). In Robert Rhodes James, ed. Winston Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963 (1974), Vol. 6, p.8505.
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It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.
In P. Wahl and D. R. Toppel, The Gatling Gun (1966), 12.

Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.
In The Foundation Trilogy (1951), 155.
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Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
Commenting on the way the Vietnam War was being conducted by the U.S.
'The Man Who Was a Fool', Strength To Love (1963, 1981), 76.
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Science burrows its insulted head in the filth of slaughterous inventions.
Article in the Evening Standard (Sep 1936). Maxims and Reflections (1947), 176.
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Science unfolded her treasures and her secrets to the desperate demands of men, and placed in their hands agencies and apparatus almost decisive in their character.
Reflecting on the outcome of World War I, and an ominous future.
The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (1948, 1986), Vol. 1, 35. Quoting himself from his earlier book, The Aftermath: Being a Sequel to The World Crisis‎ (1929).
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The atom bomb was no “great decision.” It was used in the war, and for your information, there were more people killed by fire bombs in Tokyo than dropping of the atomic bombs accounted for. It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness. The dropping of the bombs stopped the war, save millions of lives.
In reply to a question at a symposium, Columbia University, NYC (28 Apr 1959). In Truman Speaks (1960), 67.
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The eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Address at Rice University in Houston (12 Sep 1962). On website of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon [the “Super”, i.e. the hydrogen bomb] makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light. For these reasons, we believe it important for the President of the United States to tell the American public and the world what we think is wrong on fundamental ethical principles to initiate the development of such a weapon.
Enrico Fermi and I.I. Rabi, 'Minority Report of the General Advisory Committee', United States Atomic Energy Commission: In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: Transcript of Hearing before Personnel Security Board, Washington, D.C. April 12th 1954—May 6th 1954 (1954), 79-80.
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The first man of science was he who looked into a thing, not to learn whether it furnished him with food, or shelter, or weapons, or tools, armaments, or playwiths but who sought to know it for the gratification of knowing.
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The knife is the most permanent, the most immortal, the most ingenious of man's creations. The knife was a guillotine; the knife is a universal means of resolving all knots...
We (1924), translated by Clarence Brown (1993), 113.
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The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermonuclear weapons systems and soft drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudoevents, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century—sex and paranoia.
Crash (1973, 1995), catalogue notes. In J. G. Ballard, The Kindness of Women (2007), 221.
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The only use for an atomic bomb is to keep somebody else from using one. It can give us no protection—only the doubtful satisfaction of retaliation.
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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The pen is mightier than the sword … only if the sword is very small and the pen is very sharp.
The Light Fantastic (1986)

The ponderous instrument of synthesis, so effective in his [Newton’s] hands, has never since been grasped by one who could use it for such purposes; and we gaze at it with admiring curiosity, as on some gigantic implement of war, which stands idle among the memorials of ancient days, and makes us wonder what manner of man he was who could wield as a weapon what we can hardly lift as a burden.
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1857), Vol. 2, 128.
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The science of weapons and war has made us all one world and one human race with one common destiny.
Address Before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations, 20 Sep 1963. In Edward C. Luck, Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919-1999 (1999), 41.
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The simple rule about weapons is that if thery can be built, they will be built.
Accidental Empires (1992), 79.
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The sole precoccupation of this learned society was the destruction of humanity for philanthropic reasons and the perfection of weapons as instruments of civilization.
From the Earth to the Moon, translated by Walter James Miller (1978)
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The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment. The important applications of the science, the theoretical interest of its ideas, and the logical rigour of its methods all generate the expectation of a speedy introduction to processes of interest. We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this great science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.
Opening to An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 7.
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The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment. … We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this greatest science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.
Opening of Chap 1, in An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 7.
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The terror created by weaponry has never stopped men from employing them.
Speech to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (14 Jun 1946). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 39.
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There is no such thing as a good nuclear weapons system. There is no way to achieve, in the sound sense, national security through nuclear weapons.
Quoted from interview (1983) in 'Herbert York dies at 87', L.A. Times (21 May 2009)
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This new power, which has proved itself to be such a terrifying weapon of destruction, is harnessed for the first time for the common good of our community. [Upon opening Calder Hall nuclear power station in 1956.]
Speech, reproduced in Nuclear Power: The Journal of British Nuclear Engineering (1956), Vol. 1, 274.
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This weapon [the atomic bomb] has added an additional responsibility—or, better, an additional incentive—to find a sound basis for lasting peace. It provides an overwhelming inducement for the avoidance of war. It emphasizes the crisis we face in international matters and strengthens the conviction that adequate safeguards for peace must be found.
Opening address (7 Nov 1945) of Town Hall’s annual lecture series, as quoted in 'Gen. Groves Warns on Atom ‘Suicide’', New York Times (8 Nov 1945), 4. (Just three months before he spoke, two atom bombs dropped on Japan in Aug 1945 effectively ended WW II.)
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We are in the grip of a scientific materialism, caught in a vicious cycle where our security today seems to depend on regimentation and weapons which will ruin us tomorrow.
Quoted in 'Antiseptic Christianity', book review of Lindbergh, Of Flight and Life in Time magazine, (6 Sep 1948).
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We have also here an acting cause to account for that balance so often observed in nature,—a deficiency in one set of organs always being compensated by an increased development of some others—powerful wings accompanying weak feet, or great velocity making up for the absence of defensive weapons; for it has been shown that all varieties in which an unbalanced deficiency occurred could not long continue their existen The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.
In 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type', Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology (1858), 3, 61-62.
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With the neutron bomb, which destroys life but not property, capitalism has found the weapon of its dreams.
In 'Money Et Cetera', A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto) (1989), 100.
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[Joseph Rotblat] was a towering figure in the search for peace in the world, who dedicated his life to trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and ultimately to rid the world of war itself.
Speaking as president of the Pugwash Conferences. As quoted in Associated Press syndicated to newspapers, for example in, 'Joseph Rotblat, Scientist Against Nuclear Arms, Dies', Sun Journal (2 Sep 2005), A5.
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[W]e have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.
Speech to the American Philosophical Society (Jan 1946). 'Atomic Weapons', printed in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 90(1), 7-10. In Deb Bennett-Woods, Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society (2008), 23. Identified as a speech to the society in Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer‎ (2005), 323.
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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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