Einstein probably didn’t say that

Aphorisms that sound great, but to whom we have forgotten proper attribution, often get pinned on great people who did not say them.

Einstein's journals featuring comments on his first tour of Japan, in 1922 - Morgan Library via The New Yorker

Einstein’s journals featuring comments on his first tour of Japan, in 1922 – Morgan Library via The New Yorker

It’s a common problem. But I think everyone should strive to accurately cite quotations.

Occasionally the misattribution takes on added significance because of the reputation of the person to whom it is misattributed. This becomes a larger problem, because it often dragoons the reputation of some great person into a service they would not intend.

In the masthead of Climate Change Dispatch (“because the debate is not over”) we find this quotation, design to puncture the bubble arrogance surrounding all those climate scientists, I suppose:

“The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.”
—Albert Einstein

You know where I’m going with this. Einstein didn’t say it, so far as I can find.

I can’t find any source older than about 2000 that even has the quote. Most attribute it to Einstein. It does not appear in any halfway scholarly collection of Einstein quotes, however. It’s not at the WikiQuotes site. It’s not in any of my three editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Just to check such claims, I ordered The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (collected and edited by Alice Calaprice) from Princeton University Press.  Alas, they had exhausted their stock.  When my favorite Border’s Books was closing out, I found the book in the reference section.

The quote does not appear in any form in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, that I have found.

Keepers of the Climate Change Dispatch site said the quote came from a book about Einstein read years ago, but now forgotten. (Yes, I asked.)

I suppose it’s possible there is another, much over-looked source for the quote out there. If you can find it, please let me know.

But for the immediate future, I would advise you to put the quote attributed to Einstien on your “no-he-didn’t-say-it” list.

One more example of how people attribute aphorisms to famous people, and as used to poke at climate scientists, another example of our getting into trouble, not because of what we don’t know, but because of what we know that just is not true.

Ironic, too.  It’s not that the current purveyors don’t know about the quote or about Einstein, but that they are arrogantly insisting on the veracity of a false quote.

I wonder if the masthead there will ever change.

Update: Climate Change Dispatch is every bit as reprobate on science and policy, but they’ve dropped the quote falsely attributed to Einstein, at least as of August 2021.

23 Responses to Einstein probably didn’t say that

  1. […] blogger named Ed Darrel wrote eight years ago that he could not even find a single source older than 2000 which suggested […]


  2. […] blogger named Ed Darrel wrote eight years ago that he could not even find a single source older than 2000 which suggested […]


  3. peterd says:

    I notice that the so-called “quote attributed to Einstein” still appears at the top of their pages, where I recently found an egregious piece of misinformation, republished from Nova’s website, attributed to one Jinan Cao. Evidently, running Climate Change Dispatch means never having to admit you’re wrong.


  4. From: http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/dr-jeff-masters-were-seeing-most-extr

    Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters continues to sound the alarm on our extreme weather patterns. Maybe someone in a position to do something about manmade climate change policies should, you know, do something about it?

    Flowers are sprouting in January in New Hampshire, the Sierra Mountains in California are nearly snow-free, and lakes in much of Michigan still have not frozen. It’s 2012, and the new year is ringing in another ridiculously wacky winter for the U.S. In Fargo, North Dakota yesterday, the mercury soared to 55°F, breaking a 1908 record for warmest January day in recorded history. More than 99% of North Dakota had no snow on the ground this morning, and over 95% of the country that normally has snow at this time of year had below-average snow cover. High temperatures in Nebraska yesterday were in the 60s, more than 30° above average. Storm activity has been almost nil over the past week over the entire U.S., with the jet stream bottled up far to the north in Canada. It has been remarkable to look at the radar display day after day and see virtually no echoes, and it is very likely that this has been the driest first week of January in U.S. recorded history.

    Portions of northern New England, the Upper Midwest, and the mountains of the Western U.S. that are normally under a foot of more of snow by now have no snow, or just a dusting of less than an inch. Approximately half of the U.S. had temperatures at least 5°F above average during the month of December, with portions of North Dakota and Minnesota seeing temperatures 9°F above average. The strangely warm and dry start to winter is not limited to the U.S–all of continental Europe experienced well above-average temperatures during December.

    The cause of this warm first half of winter is the most extreme configuration of the jet stream ever recorded, as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The Arctic Oscillation (AO), and its close cousin, the North Atlantic Oscillation (which can be thought of as the North Atlantic’s portion of the larger-scale AO), are climate patterns in the Northern Hemisphere defined by fluctuations in the difference of sea-level pressure in the North Atlantic between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. The AO and NAO have significant impacts on winter weather in North America and Europe–the AO and NAO affect the path, intensity, and shape of the jet stream, influencing where storms track and how strong these storms become.

    During December 2011, the NAO index was +2.52, which was the most extreme difference in pressure between Iceland and the Azores ever observed in December (records of the NAO go back to 1865.) The AO during December 2011 had its second most extreme December value on record, behind the equally unusual December of 2006. These positive AO/NAO conditions caused the Icelandic Low to draw a strong south-westerly flow of air over eastern North America, preventing Arctic air from plunging southward over the U.S. and Europe.

    […] We will (finally!) get the first major storm of 2012 in the U.S. early next week, when a low pressure system will develop over Texas and spread heavy rains of 1 – 3″ along a swath from Eastern Texas to New England during the week. This storm will pull in a shot of cold air behind it late in the week, giving near-normal January temperatures to much of the country, and some snow to northern New England. Beyond that, it is difficult to tell what the rest of winter may hold, since the AO is difficult to predict more than a week or two in advance. The latest predictions from the GFS model show the current strongly positive AO pattern continuing for at least the next two weeks, resulting in very little snow and warmer-than-average temperatures. If we don’t get significant snows during the latter part of winter, the odds of a damaging drought during the summer in the Midwest will rise. The soils will dry out much earlier than usual without a deep snow pack to protect them, resulting in a much earlier onset of summer-like soil dryness. Water availability may also be a problem in some regions of the west due to the lack of snow melt. Fortunately, most Western U.S. reservoirs are above average in water supply, due to the record-breaking snows of the previous winter.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    I think it sounds a lot like Keynes, actually. It’s ironic if denialists use it, because they haven’t changed any of their cant in years, really.

    WikiQuote, which is a lot more accurate than people like to pretend, has this citation:

    When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
    Reply to a criticism during the Great Depression of having changed his position on monetary policy, as quoted in Lost Prophets: An Insider’s History of the Modern Economists (1994) by Alfred L. Malabre, p. 220

    Are you not finding that quote there?

    It could be fun trying to track this one down. Thanks, Rohan.


  6. Rohan says:

    Speaking of climate denialists, I notice they seem to be particularly fond of that quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”

    It’s annoying for two reasons: one is its irritating sarcasm. The other is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Keynes actually said it.


  7. TO quote Ed:
    despite official opposition from Gov. Rick Perry, who appears to have difficulty with most science ideas.

    Rick perry has difficulty with ideas period..science or not.

    I never thought Texas would elect someone that made George W Bush look like an bloody genius. But there he is.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    I notice that the surveys of scientists include a denialist organization’s survey of state climatologists. Most of the state climatologists have a political appointment through the governor of the state.

    To that extent, the bravery of some of these people is astonishing. The Texas State Climatologist has consistently pushed hard science, despite official opposition from Gov. Rick Perry, who appears to have difficulty with most science ideas.

    Most importantly, look at stuff like Naomi Oreskes survey of published peer-reviewed literature. That’s where science is chronicled.


  9. J Bowers says:

    “No doubt Einstein would have said it about proponents of climate change if he’d only had a chance.”

    Not likely, and quite the opposite if at all.

    “This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.”
    — Einstein in a letter to Grossmann, 1921.

    * Surveys of scientists’ views on climate change


  10. Detente?

    While we’re all getting along, I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, and/or happy holiday. You too, Ed. Cheers.


  11. My thanks, too, Morgan!


  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks, Morgan!


  13. It did. Okay, so that’s how you do it.


  14. <sarc> </sarc>


    &lt; for the <

    &gt; for the >

    Hope this comes out right.


  15. Ed Darrell says:

    You’re trying to put a tag, “sarcasm,” in a post here! Got it.

    Yeah, I’ve had that difficulty, too. I wonder what the machines actually read.


  16. It did it again.


  17. I think WordPress mistook my fake sarcasm tag for an illegal tag. I wrote , but without the spaces.


  18. Ed Darrell says:

    That would mean all your previous debunkings have to be called into question.

    No rush to judgment here, for the benefit of the blog’s defenders.


  19. Ed Darrell says:

    By the way, WordPress stripped my “sarcasm” tag.

    Any explanation? WordPress is policing sarcasm now?


  20. But for the immediate future, I would advise you to put the quote attributed to Einstien on your “no-he-didn’t-say-it” list.

    WHAT?? That’s all it takes?

    Just to be clear, I would bet some money that you’re right. I recognize you’ve put some time into researching, and my experience has shown when the search gets this involved and there’s still no solid citation found, as a general rule you’re going to remain frustrated for quite awhile and you’re probably looking for a snipe. B-u-u-u-t…I said “some” money. Not much. All rules have exceptions, including this one.

    I’m really surprised. The great urban-legend-debunking-site Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub lacks the obvious categorization of “maybe maybe not, we still can’t find it”? So you go looking as long as you feel like it…and then just presume it’s fictional and call it a day?

    That would mean all your previous debunkings have to be called into question.


  21. By the way, WordPress stripped my “sarcasm” tag.


  22. No doubt Einstein would have said it about proponents of climate change if he’d only had a chance.


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