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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Carl Sagan Quotes > Scientist

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Carl Sagan
(9 Nov 1934 - 20 Dec 1996)

American astronomer, exobiologist and writer remembered for popularizing astronomy and science, especially with his public television series Cosmos. Its accompanying book spent seventy weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. He was an adviser to NASA for the Mariner, Voyager, and Viking unmanned space missions.



Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.
— Carl Sagan
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
Science quotes on:  |  Beat (18)  |  Child (208)  |  Education (286)  |  Enthusiasm (35)  |  Intact (4)  |  Kid (13)  |  Science Education (11)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Start (80)  |  System (154)  |  Trickle (2)  |  Wonder (152)

I wanted to be a scientist from my earliest school days. The crystallizing moment came when I first caught on that stars are mighty suns, and how staggeringly far away they must be to appear to us as mere points of light. I’m not sure I even knew the word science then, but I was gripped by the prospect of understanding how things work, of helping to uncover deep mysteries, of exploring new worlds.
— Carl Sagan
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
Science quotes on:  |  Appear (71)  |  Biography (228)  |  Deep (99)  |  Earliest (3)  |  Exploration (105)  |  Far (106)  |  Light (301)  |  Mere (43)  |  Mystery (133)  |  New (380)  |  Point (88)  |  Prospect (21)  |  School (88)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Staggering (2)  |  Star (310)  |  Sun (252)  |  Uncover (6)  |  Understand (223)  |  World (746)

In a lot of scientists, the ratio of wonder to skepticism declines in time. That may be connected with the fact that in some fields—mathematics, physics, some others—the great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.
— Carl Sagan
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
Science quotes on:  |  Connection (87)  |  Decline (12)  |  Discovery (601)  |  Enthusiasm (35)  |  Fact (628)  |  Mathematics (597)  |  Physics (304)  |  Ratio (16)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Skepticism (18)  |  Wonder (152)  |  Youth (62)

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. It’s very rare that a senator, say, replies, “That’s a good argument. I will now change my political affiliation.”
— Carl Sagan
From keynote address at CSICOP conference, Pasadena, California (3 Apr 1987). Printed in 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (1987), 12, No. 1. Collected in Kendrick Frazier (ed.), The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal (1991), 5.

It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works—that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
— Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 159.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (171)  |  Beauty (200)  |  Blue (52)  |  Color (88)  |  Enquiry (75)  |  Light (301)  |  Mystery (133)  |  Passion (56)  |  Red (34)  |  Reflection (52)  |  Research (530)  |  Romance (8)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Sunset (20)  |  Transparent (4)  |  Wavelength (5)

It is the responsibility of scientists never to suppress knowledge, no matter how awkward that knowledge is, no matter how it may bother those in power; we are not smart enough to decide which pieces of knowledge are permissible, and which are not. …
— Carl Sagan
Quoted in Lily Splane, Quantum Consciousness (2004), 80.
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1148)

One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)
— Carl Sagan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 31.
Science quotes on:  |  Argument (60)  |  Authority (51)  |  Commandment (6)  |  Domination (12)  |  Hierarchy (11)  |  Mistrust (4)  |  Primate (8)

Scientists constantly get clobbered with the idea that we spent 27 billion dollars on the Apollo programs, and are asked “What more do you want?” We didn't spend it; it was done for political reasons. ... Apollo was a response to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and to the successful orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy's objective was not to find out the origin of the moon by the end of the decade; rather it was to put a man on the moon and bring him back, and we did that.
— Carl Sagan
Quoted by Dennis Meredith, in 'Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection and Extraterrestrial Life-Wish', Science Digest (Jun 1979), 85, 38 & 89. Reproduced in Carl Sagan and Tom Head, Conversations With Sagan (2006), 55-56.
Science quotes on:  |  Bay Of Pigs (2)  |  Dollar (19)  |  Fiasco (2)  |  Flight (56)  |  Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (13)  |  Idea (457)  |  John F. Kennedy (43)  |  Moon (174)  |  Objective (51)  |  Orbit (64)  |  Politics (81)  |  Reason (343)  |  Response (27)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Spending (8)

Wherever possible, scientists experiment. Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail. Scientists are intent of testing those theories to the breaking point. They do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious. That there is such a place as the center of the Universe, and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious. That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it.
— Carl Sagan
In The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995), 36.
Science quotes on:  |  Absolute (70)  |  Contradiction (46)  |  Experiment (548)  |  Flat (15)  |  Leech (6)  |  Obvious (59)  |  Prevailing (2)  |  Puzzling (2)  |  Rest (72)  |  Slave (23)  |  Test (101)  |  Theory (585)  |  Trust (44)  |  Universe (615)

[N]o scientist likes to be criticized. … But you don’t reply to critics: “Wait a minute, wait a minute; this is a really good idea. I’m very fond of it. It’s done you no harm. Please don’t attack it.” That's not the way it goes. The hard but just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away. Don't waste any neurons on what doesn’t work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. Valid criticism is doing you a favor.
— Carl Sagan
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Attack (30)  |  Better (146)  |  Critic (18)  |  Criticism (52)  |  Explanation (165)  |  Favor (25)  |  Fondness (7)  |  Good (255)  |  Harm (33)  |  Idea (457)  |  Neuron (9)  |  Reply (19)  |  Rule (140)  |  Scientist (459)  |  Validity (23)  |  Wait (50)  |  Waste (61)

Carl Sagan quote Advances in medicine and agriculture
A bean farmer checks her crop in Congo. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT). CC2.0 (source)

See also:
  • 9 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Sagan's birth.
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote A Subject Called Chemistry - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote A Subject Called Chemistry - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote “Advances in medicine and agriculture” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Carl Sagan - context of quote “Advances in medicine and agriculture” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos, by William Poundstone. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Carl Sagan.

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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