Science Makes Progress Funeral by Funeral

Paul A. Samuelson? Max Planck? Thomas S. Kuhn? Henri Poincaré? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Resistance to revolutionary scientific theories is intransigent. Progress only occurs when the prestigious detractors from a previous generation die out. Here are four versions of a maxim eloquently stating this viewpoint:

Science advances funeral by funeral.
Science advances one funeral at a time.
Science progresses funeral by funeral.
Knowledge advances funeral by funeral.

Who should receive credit for this provocative remark?

Quote Investigator: The influential economist Paul A. Samuelson employed multiple versions of this saying containing the distinctive phrase: “funeral by funeral”. For example, in 1975 Samuelson published a “Newsweek” magazine column with the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As the great Max Planck, himself the originator of the quantum theory in physics, has said, science makes progress funeral by funeral: the old are never converted by the new doctrines, they simply are replaced by a new generation.

Samuelson credited Planck, and it is true that the Nobel-Prize winning physicist articulated the same point, but his phrasing was not compact. Planck’s book “Wissenschaftliche Selbstbiographie” appeared in German in 1948, the year after his death. A translation by Frank Gaynor titled “A Scientific Autobiography” appeared in 1949. Planck discussed the opposition to novel scientific theories: 2

This experience gave me also an opportunity to learn a fact-a remarkable one, in my opinion: A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

QI believes that Samuelson should receive credit for the concise formulation with the phrase “funeral by funeral”, and Planck should receive credit for the longer statement and underlying idea.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Science Makes Progress Funeral by Funeral


  1. Date: 1975 June 16, Periodical: Newsweek, Article: Alvin H. Hansen, 1887-1975, Author: Paul A. Samuelson, Quote Page 72, Publisher: Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1968 (Copyright 1949), Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers by Max Planck (Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck), Translated from German by Frank Gaynor, Section: A Scientific Autobiography, Start Page 13, Quote Page 33 and 34, Greenwood Press Publishers, Westport, Connecticut. (Verified with hardcopy)