‘If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth’

The statement "If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth," is widely misattributed to Carl Sagan.

  • Published 23 February 2016

Claim

Carl Sagan said "if it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth."

Rating

Misattributed
About this rating

Origin

Though scientist Carl Sagan died in 1996, his work remained highly influential. One quote in particular attributed to Sagan regularly showed up on share-centric social media sites: “If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”

So popular is the phrase that it has appeared as a print available for purchase: 

However, we were unable to find any versions of the quote published until mid-2013, long after Sagan’s death.

A frequently cited source for the attribution was the social literature site GoodReads, but we couldn’t find the quote in any of his books. Another prominent placement of the phrase involved Sagan’s Wikiquote page, under the “misattributed” section, which observed that the quote was built on a similar phrase in fantasy author P.C. Hodgell’s novel Seeker’s Mask:

That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.

Hodgell commented on a Reddit page in February 2016, confirming that the quote appeared in her novel, but that she didn’t get it from Sagan:

Hodgell here. “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be” appears in my 1994 novel Seeker’s Mask. I first heard of the Sagan quote in 2013, more or less. No source that I’ve seen dates the latter. If it’s not a case of misattribution, it’s probably a matter of “great minds” etc.

As Hodgell indicated, the quote didn’t appear to exist in the Sagan-attributed form until mid-2013. (Hodgell’s novel appeared in 1994.) The likeliest trajectory is one of the most common for misattributed quotes: the phrase was dormant for nearly two decades, and then reached socially viral status only when a slightly rewritten version was incorrectly attached to a beloved science celebrity.

However, Sagan really did write the following on the topic of truth:

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

Snopes.com
Since 1994
A Word to Our Loyal Readers

Support Snopes and make a difference for readers everywhere.

Editorial
  • David Mikkelson
  • Doreen Marchionni
  • David Emery
  • Bond Huberman
  • Jordan Liles
  • Alex Kasprak
  • Dan Evon
  • Dan MacGuill
  • Bethania Palma
  • Liz Donaldson
Operations
  • Vinny Green
  • Ryan Miller
  • Chris Reilly
  • Chad Ort
  • Elyssa Young

Most Snopes assignments begin when readers ask us, “Is this true?” Those tips launch our fact-checkers on sprints across a vast range of political, scientific, legal, historical, and visual information. We investigate as thoroughly and quickly as possible and relay what we learn. Then another question arrives, and the race starts again.

We do this work every day at no cost to you, but it is far from free to produce, and we cannot afford to slow down. To ensure Snopes endures — and grows to serve more readers — we need a different kind of tip: We need your financial support.

Support Snopes so we continue to pursue the facts — for you and anyone searching for answers.

Team Snopes