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I'm working on a history of data visualization in which some works from the 1900 “Exhibit of American Negroes” at the Paris World Fair (the Exposition Universelle Internationale) are featured. A nice quote, attributed to him was found at https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/w_e_b_du_bois_120759

When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meaning.

It is a great quote for the purpose, but was challenged by an editor. Any hints for tracking down the source of this quote would be appreciated.

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Good editor. I wouldn't have thought to challenge that, but its true that numbers weren't exactly Du Bois' thing. Not saying he wasn't good with them, just that isn't what he's famous for, or spent most of his time dealing with.

In fact, the actual source of that quote appears to be Harold Geneen, an accountant by training who retired as CEO of ITT. Wikiquote sources this statement from his book Managing, Chapter Nine (The Numbers), p. 151.

When you have mastered the numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading a book. You will be reading meanings.

There are a lot of misattributed quotes floating around. As a protip, in the future when you find a good quote, Wikiquote is a good first place to double-check. I've seen it be wrong too, but the nice thing about it is that wrong things can get fixed there, whereas a lot of places will just leave wrong things up forever. Often it will even go so far as to list misattributed quotes.

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    I'd recommend using one or more search engines to find primary sources of any quotation, or else a published audit history of the citation, before using any quote I found, Wikiquote included. 9 times out of 10 it seems that attributions are just pulled out of thin air. – Darren Apr 4 '18 at 13:32
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    @Darren - I'd agree with that. I stopped with Wikiquote because in this case it actually gave the primary reference with page number, but if its feasible to go look for yourself to make triply sure (say you don't have to physically go hunt through area libraries), then for sure do that. If it were me, I'd honestly rather ditch the quote than waste a day of my time verifying it to that level. – T.E.D. Apr 4 '18 at 14:32
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    @Darren as the old saying goes, "Don't believe quotes you read on the Internet." - Abraham Lincoln – corsiKa Apr 4 '18 at 23:07
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The quote is by Harold Geneen from his 1984 book Managing.

I first found evidence of this from Wikiquote:

  • When you have mastered the numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading a book. You will be reading meanings.
    • Managing, Chapter Nine (The Numbers), p. 151.

To verify, I did a Google Books search. It does appear to be original text and not a quote within that work.

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    I'm upvoting your simulpost for actually taking the extra effort to find and analyze it from within the book itself. Well, done. – T.E.D. Apr 3 '18 at 16:48

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