[Ads-l] Fermi's Question

Mon Jul 17 20:49:34 UTC 2017

Jones's letter to Teller (reproduced in your linked paper) says that "It was Sagan who first used it in his book with Shklovski, but Carl has forgotten where or from whom he heard it."

The _LA Times_ science editor, Irving Rengelsdorf, quoted Fermi asking the question in articles (see _LA Times_ Mar 8 1964, p B10; and Jun 19, 1966 SPACE section supplement, p 34 ), as did Frank Drake (see _Minneapolis Star Tribune_, 30 Nov 1964, p 14).  Ben Bova brought in up in an essay titled "Where is Everybody?" in _Amazing Stories_, May 1963.

A series of books titled "Men of space; profiles of the leaders in space research, development and exploration" had a chapter on Simon Ramo (the "R" in TRW) in vol 2 (1961).  He asked the same question (p. 153), based on the same premises, but with no credit to Fermi.

Other early places the same question and premises appear, without credit to Fermi.
Stuart J. Inglis, _Planets Stars and Galaxies: An Introduction to Astronomy_. NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1961 P. 444
Roger Revelle, "Sailing in Old and New Oceans" in _Proceedings - National Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Space  Seattle May 8-10 1962_ NASA p.24

Edward Teller, "Nuclear Power Potential for Space Vehicles" _Proceedings of the Bureau of Naval Weapons  Missiles and Rockets Symposium, Concord CA 18-21 Apr 1961._ U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot, Concord. p. 17
"Years ago I was involved in an interesting discussion:  Where is everybody?  Why have we been neglected here on earth, not only by Martians, but also by the inhabitants of other plants [sic] which revolve around other stars.  Is it, perhaps, true that we are the only peculiar things in the universe? "  [no mention of the other participants of the discussion]

So Jones giving credit to Sagan for first using it is sloppy, and there are any of a number of places Sagan could have run across the question even if he didn't get it first-hand from one of the parties at the conversation.

> Of course, I'd rather hear comment on the substance of my post, but the source I linked is sufficiently comprehensive that it's hard to know
> what else might be said.
> John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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