I saw a sign

Actually, I saw LOTS of signs at the March for Science. This one made me chuckle:

Exactly the nerdy sort of sign I would expect a scientist to make. I love that it’s made with a yardstick that looks like a freebie from a hardware store. What is the science story behind duct tape?  What we today refer to as duct tape was invented by Johnson & Johnson for the US Military in WWII. They specifically needed a waterproof tape to seal ammunition boxes. Soldiers called the green rolls “Duck Tape,” a name that stuck until post-war when the tape was made in a silver color and used to seal heating and air-conditioning ducts. Now both names are used interchangeably. Interestingly enough, the tape is actually ILL-suited for duct work, despite being suitable for almost every other sort of repair, including space vehicles and humans.

Of all the thousands of signs that day, this is the one that I found truly inspiring:

This is apparently a well-known quote, but new to me. Later that day, I saw the same quote attributed to Carl Sagan, but this sign maker had it right. Poor Sharon Begley, yet another female scientist over-shadowed by her male peers, right? Not exactly.

Sharon Begley is actually a science journalist, currently writing for the Boston Globe. She’s written several books as well as articles and columns for many major publications thru her nearly 40 yr career. In 1977, Begley was one of a team of reporters who did a cover story and extended profile of Carl Sagan for Newsweek magazine. This was the final paragraph of the story:

“A serious search with negative results says something of profound importance,” Sagan argues. “We discover there’s something almost forbidden about life … if it turns out we really are alone.” But clearly, Sagan is looking for a happier result. There may be no galumphing green Barsoomian giants to satisfy the fantasies of a romantic Brooklyn boy. But no doubt, there are even stranger discoveries to be made . . . some totally new phenomenon perhaps . . . Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

The paragraph only begins with a quotation by Sagan, but many people later incorrectly considered the entire section to be Sagan’s words. Begley has since confirmed that the words were hers and that she was following these style guidelines when she wrote the article:

A nearly ironclad rule at Newsweek back then was that it was lazy and unacceptable to end a story with a quote. Writers/reporters were paid to come up with an original, thought-provoking kicker, and that’s what we did, or tried to. The words were not Sagan’s.

I love this. An “original, thought-provoking kicker.” Sharon Begley has my vote for one of the best kickers of all time. At the March for Science, among thousands of people who care about facts and the truth, these words struck me as maybe the truest reason that we were all gathered together. That incredible thing, that might make a difference to millions, that might preserve our planet for generations, that might save the life of someone you love, is still just waiting to be known.

(Although I’m not planning to do extensive fact-checking research, I will try to make my weekly “science not silence” posts factual. And I’ll provide links to where I got the information. Thanks to todayifoundoutquote investigator, and, of course, wikipedia for info used in this post.)

2 thoughts on “I saw a sign

    • To no one’s surprise, I played the role of observer. Still, it felt good being a part of something bigger than me. Hopefully doing some small good by trying to at least keep the conversation alive.

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