Science Is the Refusal To Believe on the Basis of Hope

C. P. Snow? Carrie Snow? Barrington Moore Jr.?

Dear Quote Investigator: Scientific theories should be constructed from carefully gathered facts and data. The empirical process requires the subordination of credulous wishes and desires. Succinctly stated:

Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.

This statement has been ascribed to C. P. Snow (Charles Percy Snow) who famously spoke about the divide between the sciences and the humanities in his lecture on “The Two Cultures”. The comedian Carrie Snow has also received credit as has the American sociologist Barrington Moore Jr. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the ascriptions to C. P. Snow and Carrie Snow are mistaken, and QI will present conjectures about what caused these fallacious linkages.

The earliest instance known to QI appeared in an essay with a 1965 copyright date titled “Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook” by Barrington Moore Jr. The following excerpt mentioned C. P Snow, but did not credit him with the expression: 1

To pose the issue in terms of Sir Charles Snow’s “two cultures” seems to me to miss the main point, since both technicist science and academic humanism seem to me fundamentally similar ways of dodging the big problems and encapsulating the intellect in a cocoon of professional esteem. The conception of science used here will be a broad one: whatever is established by sound reasoning and evidence may belong to science. Insights from literature and philosophy become part of science as they become established. Their gropings and explorations are part of the whole rational enterprise. Only when such thinkers refuse to submit themselves to verification do they separate themselves from science. For the essence of science, I would suggest, is simply the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.

The phrase “I would suggest” signaled that Moore crafted the quotation under examination. The phrasing has been streamlined over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1977 Laurence J. Peter published a popular and influential compilation titled “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” containing the following entry without citation: 2

Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.
—C. P. Snow

Moore’s statement was compressed and reassigned to Snow. The most likely error mechanism for this misattribution was described in QI’s book “Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations”: 3

Textual Proximity

When a well-known name appears in a book or article, sometimes a nearby quotation (created by a different person) is scooped up and reassigned to the well-known name.

In 1995 the saying appeared in the signature block of a message transmitted via Usenet within the newsgroup rec.humor: 4

Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.
— C. P. Snow

In 1997 a miscellaneous collection of remarks under the title “Quips & Quotes” appeared in the Usenet newsgroup alt.humor. The following items were contiguous. Interestingly, the name Carrie Snow was adjacent to the saying although it was ascribed to C. P. Snow: 5

Remember when we all wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor? Well, now I
do. –Carrie Snow

Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope. –C.P. Snow

Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior. –Socrates

In 1999 the saying was reassigned to “Carrie P. Snow” within a message appearing in the Usenet newsgroup alt.games.vampire.the.masquerade. This appears to be another example of the error mechanism “Textual Proximity”: 6

“Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.”
Carrie P. Snow

The reference “Civilization’s Quotations: Life’s Ideal” by Richard Alan Krieger included the following two items under the topic heading “Science”: 7

“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.” — Adam Smith
“Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope.” — C. P. Snow

In 2006 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” also credited C. P. Snow: 8

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope. C. P. Snow

In 2007 mathematician William C. Waterhouse replied to an inquiry on this topic posted to the Usenet newsgroup alt.quotations. He pointed to the citation for Barrington Moore Jr. presented at the beginning of this article: 9

In conclusion, Barrington Moore Jr. should receive credit for the version of this quotation he wrote in his 1965 essay. Ascriptions to C. P. Snow and Carrie Snow are unsupported.

Image Notes: Picture of tubes and beakers from bdyczewski at Pixabay. Picture of Lunar Roving Vehicle from WikiImages at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Ewart Shaw whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Shaw noted the existence of the 1965 citation and the attributions to the two Snows.)

Notes:

  1. 1969, A Critique of Pure Tolerance by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, Essay: Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook by Barrington Moore Jr., Essay Copyright 1965, Start Page 53, Quote Page 55, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Topic: Science, Quote Page 437, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2017, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations by Garson O’Toole, Quote Page 8, Published by Little A: An Imprint of Amazon Publishing. (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1995 February 10, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroups: rec.humor, talk.bizarre and alt.tasteless, From: Simon Travaglia @waikato.ac.nz, Subject: Mr Popular #2. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 20, 2017) link
  5. 1997 December 23, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.humor, From: Keith E. Sullivan @worldnet.att.net, Subject: Quips & Quotes. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 20, 2017) link
  6. 1999 January 12, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.games.vampire.the.masquerade, From: From: SirArtist @artlover.com, Subject: Re: Yvette’s condition [was: From Radulescu, to the ladies and gentlemen offering help]. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 20, 2017) link
  7. 2002 Copyright, Civilization’s Quotations: Life’s Ideal by Richard Alan Krieger, Topic: Science, Quote Page 314, Algora Publishing, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 2006 February 19, Sunday Post-Dispatch (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Quote of the Day, Quote Page B3, Column 3, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 2007 August 14, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroups: alt.quotations, From: William C Waterhouse @math.psu.edu, Organization: Penn State, Department of Mathematics, Subject: Source for science quote. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 20, 2017) link