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A Martin Gardner Sampler

Special Tribute

The Editors

Volume 34.5, September/October 2010

A Selection of Quotes From Martin Gardner

It is not at all amusing when people are misled by scientific claptrap.

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Dover), p. 6

There is a type of self-styled scientist who can legitimately be called a crank. It is not the novelty of his views or the neurotic motivation behind his work that provide the grounds for calling him this. The grounds are the technical criteria by which theories are evaluated. If a man persists in advancing views that are contradicted by all available evidence, and which offer no reasonable grounds for serious consideration, he will rightfully be dubbed a crank by colleagues.

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, p. 8

The modern pseudoscientist . . . stands entirely outside the closely integrated channels through which new ideas are closely integrated and evaluated. He works in isolation.

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, p. 11

Even when a pseudoscientific theory is completely worthless there is a certain educational value in refuting it.

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, p. 321

I’m not sure why I enjoy debunking. Part of it surely is amusement over the follies of true believers, and [it is] partly because attacking bogus science is a painless way to learn good science. You have to know something about relativity theory, for example, to know where opponents of Einstein go wrong. . . . Another reason for debunking is that bad science contributes to the steady dumbing down of our nation. Crude beliefs get transmitted to political leaders and the result is considerable damage to society.

“A Mind at Play,” interview in the Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1998, p.36–37

Although “debunker” is often considered a pejorative term, I do not find it so. A major purpose of Skeptical Inquirer has always been to debunk the most outrageous claims of bogus science. I make no apologies for being a debunker. I believe it is the duty of both scientists and science writers to keep exposing the errors of bad science.

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? (W.W. Norton), p. 2

For every example of a crank who later became a hero there were thousands of cranks who forever remained cranks.

Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (Prometheus), p. xiii

Cranks by definition believe their theories and charlatans do not, but this does not prevent a person from being both a crank and a charlatan.

Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, p. xiv

In discussing extremes of unorthodoxy in science I consider it a waste of time to give rational arguments. Those who are in agreement do not need to be educated about such trivial matters, and trying to enlighten those who disagree is like trying to write on water. . . . For these reasons, when writing about extreme eccentricities of science, I have adopted H.L. Mencken’s sage advice: one horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.

Science: Good, Bad and Bogus,pp. xv, xvi

I cannot recall when or why I first became interested in pseudoscience. . . . Not being a scientist, but only a science journalist, I have always been intrigued by fringe science, perhaps for the same reason that I enjoy freak shows at carnivals and circuses. Pseudoscientists, especially the extreme cranks, are fascinating creatures for psychological study. Moreover, I have found that one of the best ways to learn something about any branch of science is to find out where its crackpots go wrong.

On the Wild Side (Prometheus), p. 7

As all magicians know, physicists are among the easiest people in the world to be fooled by magic tricks. They are so used to working with Mother Nature, who never cheats, that when confronted with the task of testing a psychic charlatan they have no comprehension of how to set up adequate controls. . . . Am I saying that all psychic researchers should be trained in magic, or seek the aid of magicians, before they test miracle workers? That is exactly what I am saying. The most eminent scientist, untrained in magic, is putty in the hands of a clever charlatan.

“Lessons of a Landmark PK Hoax,” Gardner’s first Skeptical Inquirer column, Summer 1983, p. 18; reprinted as “Project Alpha” in The New Age (Prometheus), 1991 paperback edition

I like to think I am unduly harsh and dogmatic only when writing about a pseudoscience that is far out on the continuum that runs from good science to bad, and when I am expressing the views of all the experts in the relevant field. Where there are areas on the fringes of orthodoxy, supported by respected scientists, I try to be more agnostic.

“A Mind at Play,” interview in the Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1998, p. 37

Finding 666 in the names of famous people is a number-twiddling pastime that has obsessed numerologists ever since the Book of Revelation was written. With patience and ingenuity it is not difficult to extract 666 from almost any person’s name. For example, using Blevins’s Bible code, I discovered that sun, moon, and Pat J. Buchanan each adds to 666. The same code yields 666 if you apply it to Hal Lindsey B, the B standing, of course, for Beast.

“The Second Coming of Jesus,” “Notes of a Fringe Watcher” column, Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 2000, p. 11

The steady expansion of scientific knowledge is one of the few aspects of human history—perhaps the only aspect—about which we can say dogmatically that genuine progress takes place. Moreover, the progress itself progresses. The expansion occurs with steadily increasing rapidity.

The Ambidextrous Universe (Scribner), preface to the Second Edition

I continue to be amazed that any professional mathematician would suppose that mathematics has no reality apart from human cultures. I am even more astounded that there actually are physicists who think the moon would not be “out there” if no one (not even a mouse? Einstein liked to ask) observed it.

The Jinn from Hyperspace (Prometheus), introduction to Ch. 9, “A Defense of Platonic Realism,” p. 93

If God or the gods, or the Old One (as Einstein liked to call Everything), had a transcendent reason for bringing us into existence, what does it matter whether the first man and woman were formed in one day from the dust of the ground, as Genesis has it, or evolved over billions of years from the dust of a primeval fireball? The fact that we are here proves that we derive, in some crazy sense, from the fireball, and I for one find this more miraculous than the Genesis story.

A review of Steven Weinberg’s book, The First Three Minutes, reprinted in Order and Surprise (Prometheus), p. 319

For as long as I can remember I have been impressed, perhaps overwhelmed is more accurate, by the vastness of the universe and the even greater vastness of the darkness that extends beyond the farthest frontiers of scientific knowledge.

The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938—1995 (St. Martin’s Press), p. xvii

We are all little children walking down a road of yellow brick in a crazy, outlandish, Ozzy sort of world. We know that wisdom, love, and courage are essential virtues, but like Dorothy we cannot decide whether it is best to seek for better brains (our electronic computers grow more powerful every year!) or for kinder, more loving hearts.

Introduction to the 1960 Dover edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Ozby L. Frank Baum

Martin Gardner quotes compiled by Kendrick Frazier