No Mea Culpas Here

The article by Gregory Byrne (The Scientist, November 17, p.2) contains the statement"… was the exception that proves the rule" (my emphasis). It is surprising that a newspaper for the science professional should use a phrase which is the antithesis of scientific thought. The original Latin expression exceptio probat regulam means "the exception probes the rule"

By | January 12, 1987

The article by Gregory Byrne (The Scientist, November 17, p.2) contains the statement"… was the exception that proves the rule" (my emphasis). It is surprising that a newspaper for the science professional should use a phrase which is the antithesis of scientific thought. The original Latin expression exceptio probat regulam means "the exception probes the rule"—a principle that we would all agree should be basic to the thinking of the science professional.
-Martin Freundlich
Department of Biochemistry, SUNY at Stony Brook,
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5215

[Editor's note: Victoria Pedrick, associate professor of classics at Georgetown University, comments: "Actually, you're both right. The latin verb probo means both 'to probe' and 'to prove,' so there's an ambiguity. The same ambiguity exists in the English verb 'to prove. 'The modern ear tends to translate probo as 'to prove' or 'to confirm.'" We hope we've probed our point.]

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