I'm writing part of my Computer Science PhD and I'd like to know whether it is generally acceptable to have a reference to a famous quotation by a famous person without citing a source. For example,

"Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!" - Edsger W. Dijkstra

  • 11
    The world of quoting is full of misattributing famous quotes, so I'd personally suggest it's a good practice to give a citation for those. This doesn't answer your (current) question of whether it's generally acceptable but generally acceptable isn't necessarily the best option.
    – JiK
    Aug 23 '17 at 17:18
  • Depends on university/department, better ask alumni or check older theses.
    – Mark
    Aug 23 '17 at 17:20
  • 3
    "Notes On Structured Programming" (EWD249), 1970.
    – JeffE
    Aug 23 '17 at 19:09

But please don't decorate each chapter with a quote you took from a calendar. As JiK said, there are so many misattributions and misstatements around, you need to go to the source if you absolutely must use a quote. But as chapter decoration I find them silly. Okay, Knuth is allowed to do that, but until you reach the god-like status of Knuth, please refrain.

  • I think Knuth used them before having reached the god-like status. Personally, I do like well-chosen and tasteful decorations.
    – Boris Bukh
    Aug 23 '17 at 23:34
  • 1
    Knuth is allowed to do that — But Knuth sources everything.
    – JeffE
    Aug 24 '17 at 3:02
  • I meant, Knuth is allowed to use quotes for every chapter, but it looks silly if everyone does it and additionally misattributes everything. Indeed, Knuth's quotations are properly sourced. Aug 25 '17 at 10:54
  • 1
    Knuth's (co-written) 1961 paper “Algol 60 Confidential” (written while he was a PhD student at Caltech, and only his sixth publication even counting the one in MAD Magazine) has a pair of quotes at the top. So he's been doing it before reaching any particularly exalted status. Sep 1 '17 at 6:36

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