Tag Archives: Marston Bates

Research Is the Process of Going Up Alleys to See If They’re Blind

Marston Bates? Barstow Bates? Plutarch? Anonymous?

maze10Dear Quote Investigator: A path-breaking researcher must pursue many leads that do not work out. Sometimes he or she must exhaustively test a set of possibilities with the foreknowledge that only a handful will yield positive results. That is why I embrace the following insightful saying:

Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they’re blind.

This statement is usually attributed to the prominent zoologist Marston Bates, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the ascription to Marston Bates was a mistake. The expression was actually coined by a business consultant named Barstow Bates, and the two similar names caused confusion and error.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in “Business Management” magazine in October 1967. The article “How to Generate Ideas for New Products” stated that some novel ideas would be rejected by management. This judgement should be accepted, and the search for better ideas should continue. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Don’t worry over the cost of being told “Forget it.” That decision is probably going to save you more than it cost. “Research,” says Barstow Bates, president, New Product Services, Inc., “is the process of going up alleys to see if they’re blind.”

The magazine editor felt that the saying was noteworthy, and it was displayed as a pull-quote. The expression also attracted the attention of the staff of “Quote Magazine”, a publication that specialized in collecting and reprinting interesting contemporary quotations. The words of Barstow Bates appeared in the November 1967 issue: 2

Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they’re blind. — BARSTOW BATES quoted in “How to Generate New Ideas for New Products,” Business Management.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1967 October, Business Management, Volume 33, Number 1, Article: How to Generate Ideas for New Products, Start Page 82, Quote Page 91, Management Magazines, Greenwich, Connecticut. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Library system of Florida Atlantic University)
  2. 1967 November 5, Quote Magazine, Topic: Research, Quote Page 373, Column 1, Droke House Inc., Anderson, South Carolina. (Verified with scans; thanks to Beaman Library, Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee)