When a Distinguished But Elderly Scientist States that Something Is Possible, He Is Almost Certainly Right . . .

Arthur C. Clarke? Isaac Asimov? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke believed that proclamations of impossibility were too readily dispensed by blinkered elderly scientists. Would you please help me to find a citation for Clarke’s First Law?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 Arthur C. Clarke published a forward-looking book filled with predictions titled “Profiles of the Future”. The second chapter discussed the failure of imagination that lead to some deeply flawed prognostications. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Too great a burden of knowledge can clog the wheels of imagination; I have tried to embody this fact of observation in Clarke’s Law, which may be formulated as follows:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke further suggested that in the domains of physics, mathematics, and astronautics elderly meant over the age of thirty. In other areas of science the label of elderly may postponed into the forties. Clarke also admitted that there were glorious exceptions to his rather harsh ageism.

Continue reading When a Distinguished But Elderly Scientist States that Something Is Possible, He Is Almost Certainly Right . . .

Notes:

  1. 1972 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 2: Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination, Quote Page 14, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Isaac Newton? Howard W. Newton? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton supposedly coined the following expression:

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

A variant of this statement uses “knack” instead of “art”. Interestingly, Isaac Newton made some powerful enemies during his lifetime. Do you think this attribution is correct?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Isaac Newton employed this saying. The misattribution was probably caused by confusion with another person whose last name was Newton.

The earliest match found by QI appeared in “Redbook” magazine in August 1946 within a piece by Howard W. Newton presenting a collection of witticisms. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

Advertising executive Howard W. Newton is the leading candidate for creator of this saying.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tact Is the Knack of Making a Point Without Making an Enemy

Notes:

  1. 1946 August, Redbook, Volume 87, Issue, 4, Do You Agree? by Howard W. Newton, Start Page 50, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Published by Hearst Magazines, New York. (Women’s Magazine Archive ProQuest)