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Great Quotes from Great Skeptics

Many of the quotes below are from The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky (Pantheon Books, 1984), as cited in The New American , March 27, 1989.

What the experts said...

What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?
- The Quarterly Review, England (March 1825)

The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it. . . . Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient.
- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839) French surgeon

Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.
- Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1838) Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College, London

There is no more pleasant fiction than that technical change is the product of the matchless ingenuity of the small man. Unhappily, it is a fiction.... Most of the cheap and simple inventions have, to put it bluntly, been made.
John Kenneth Galbraith, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton, in his book, American Capitalism, 1952

The foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in thought-tight compartments.
- A.W. Bickerton (1926) Professor of Physics and Chemistry, Canterbury College, New Zealand

[W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it and no more be heard of.
- Erasmus Wilson (1878) Professor at Oxford University

Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.
- Editorial in the Boston Post (1865)

That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.
- Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
- Lord Kelvin, ca. 1895, British mathematician and physicist

Radio has no future
- Lord Kelvin, ca. 1897.

While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.
- Lee DeForest, 1926 (American radio pioneer)

There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.
- Albert Einstein, 1932.

Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 19,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, March 1949.
(Try the laptop version. Ouch!)

There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home.
- Ken Olson, 1977, President, Digital Equipment Corp.

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't lastout the year.
- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

But what ... is it good for?
- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

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