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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > George A. Bartholomew Quotes

George A. Bartholomew
(1 Jun 1919 - 2 Oct 2006)

American biologist who helped establish the modern fields of comparative animal physiological ecology and behavioral physiology.

Science Quotes by George A. Bartholomew (36 quotes)

A week or so after I learned that I was to receive the Miller Award, our president, Marty Morton, phoned and asked me if I would utter a few words of scientific wisdom as a part of the ceremony. Unfortunately for me, and perhaps for you, I agreed to do so. In retrospect I fear that my response was a serious error, because I do not feel wise. I do not know whether to attribute my response to foolhardiness, to conceit, to an inordinate susceptibility to flattery, to stupidity, or to some combination of these unfortunate attributes all of which I have been told are recognizable in my personality. Personally, I tend to favor stupidity, because that is a condition over which I have little control.
— George A. Bartholomew
Bartholomew, April 1993, unpublished remarks when receiving the Miller Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society.
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After physiology has taken Humpty Dumpty apart, it is difficult perhaps even unfashionable to put him back together again.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'The role of natural history in contemporary biology', BioScience (1986), 36, 327.
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All scientists must focus closely on limited targets. Whether or not one’s findings on a limited subject will have wide applicability depends to some extent on chance, but biologists of superior ability repeatedly focus on questions the answers to which either have wide ramifications or lead to new areas of investigation. One procedure that can be effective is to attempt both reduction and synthesis; that is, direct a question at a phenomenon on one integrative level, identify its mechanism at a simpler level, then extrapolate its consequences to a more complex level of integration.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230-231,
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Although I must say that research problems I worked on were frequently the result of serendipity and often grew out of my interest in some species or some environment which I found to be particularly appealing—marine birds and tropical islands for example.
— George A. Bartholomew
Bartholomew, April 1993, unpublished remarks when receiving the Miller Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society.
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As one of the elder members of the community of integrative biologists, I am overwhelmingly aware that during this continuing intellectual revolution, seniority is more likely to be correlated with obsolescence than with wisdom.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 330.
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Behavioral avoidance, not physiological adaptations, is an organism’s primary response to an environmental challenge. This point is elementary, but it is by no means trivial.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 18.
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Biological disciplines tend to guide research into certain channels. One consequence is that disciplines are apt to become parochial, or at least to develop blind spots, for example, to treat some questions as “interesting” and to dismiss others as “uninteresting.” As a consequence, readily accessible but unworked areas of genuine biological interest often lie in plain sight but untouched within one discipline while being heavily worked in another. For example, historically insect physiologists have paid relatively little attention to the behavioral and physiological control of body temperature and its energetic and ecological consequences, whereas many students of the comparative physiology of terrestrial vertebrates have been virtually fixated on that topic. For the past 10 years, several of my students and I have exploited this situation by taking the standard questions and techniques from comparative vertebrate physiology and applying them to insects. It is surprising that this pattern of innovation is not more deliberately employed.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233.
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Biology as a discipline would benefit enormously if we could bring together the scientists working at the opposite ends of the biological spectrum. Students of organisms who know natural history have abundant questions to offer the students of molecules and cells. And molecular and cellular biologists with their armory of techniques and special insights have much to offer students of organisms and ecology.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'The role of natural history in contemporary biology', BioScience (1986), 36, 328-329.
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Consider the plight of a scientist of my age. I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1940. In the 41 years since then the amount of biological information has increased 16 fold; during these 4 decades my capacity to absorb new information has declined at an accelerating rate and now is at least 50% less than when I was a graduate student. If one defines ignorance as the ratio of what is available to be known to what is known, there seems no alternative to the conclusion that my ignorance is at least 25 times as extensive as it was when I got my bachelor’s degree. Although I am sure that my unfortunate condition comes as no surprise to my students and younger colleagues, I personally find it somewhat depressing. My depression is tempered, however, by the fact that all biologists, young or old, developing or senescing, face the same melancholy situation because of an interlocking set of circumstances.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 228.
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Despite the high long-term probability of extinction, every organism alive today, including every person reading this paper, is a link in an unbroken chain of parent-offspring relationships that extends back unbroken to the beginning of life on earth. Every living organism is a part of an enormously long success story—each of its direct ancestors has been sufficiently well adapted to its physical and biological environments to allow it to mature and reproduce successfully. Viewed thus, adaptation is not a trivial facet of natural history, but a biological attribute so central as to be inseparable from life itself.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 330.
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Differences between individuals are the raw materials for evolutionary change and for the evolution of adaptations, yet of course most physiologists treat these differences as noise that is to be filtered out. From the standpoint of physiological ecology, the traditional emphasis of physiologists on central tendencies rather than on variance has some unhappy consequences. Variation is not just noise; it is also the stuff of evolution and a central attribute of living systems. The physiological differences between individuals in the same species or population, and also the patterns of variation in different groups, must not be ignored.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 32-33,
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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For terrestrial vertebrates, the climate in the usual meteorological sense of the term would appear to be a reasonable approximation of the conditions of temperature, humidity, radiation, and air movement in which terrestrial vertebrates live. But, in fact, it would be difficult to find any other lay assumption about ecology and natural history which has less general validity. … Most vertebrates are much smaller than man and his domestic animals, and the universe of these small creatures is one of cracks and crevices, holes in logs, dense underbrush, tunnels, and nests—a world where distances are measured in yards rather than miles and where the difference between sunshine and shadow may be the difference between life and death. Actually, climate in the usual sense of the term is little more than a crude index to the physical conditions in which most terrestrial animals live.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 40.
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Fortunately, a scientist’s worth is judged on the basis of his accomplishments, not the tidiness of his work habits.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 231.
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Heavy dependence on direct observation is essential to biology not only because of the complexity of biological phenomena, but because of the intervention of natural selection with its criterion of adequacy rather than perfection. In a system shaped by natural selection it is inevitable that logic will lose its way.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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In the context of biological research one can reasonably identify creativity with the capacity 1 to ask new and incisive questions, 2 to form new hypotheses, 3 to examine old questions in new ways or with new techniques, and 4 to perceive previously unnoticed relationships.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 231.
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Ironically one’s scientific obsolescence is a direct result of the creativity of his peers.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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It is tautological to say that an organism is adapted to its environment. It is even tautological to say that an organism is physiologically adapted to its environment. However, just as in the case of many morphological characters, it is unwarranted to conclude that all aspects of the physiology of an organism have evolved in reference to a specific milieu. It is equally gratuitous to assume that an organism will inevitably show physiological specializations in its adaptation to a particular set of conditions. All that can be concluded is that the functional capacities of an organism are sufficient to have allowed persistence within its environment. On one hand, the history of an evolutionary line may place serious constraints upon the types of further physiological changes that are readily feasible. Some changes might require excessive restructuring of the genome or might involve maladaptive changes in related functions. On the other hand, a taxon which is successful in occupying a variety of environments may be less impressive in individual physiological capacities than one with a far more limited distribution.
— George A. Bartholomew
In W.R. Dawson, G.A. Bartholomew, and A.F. Bennett, 'A Reappraisal of the Aquatic Specializations of the Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)', Evolution (1977), 31, 891.
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It is the intact and functioning organism on which natural selection operates. Organisms are therefore the central element of concern to the biologist who aspires to a broad and integrated understanding of biology.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 15.
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It usually develops that after much laborious and frustrating effort the investigator of environmental physiology succeeds in proving that the animal in question can actually exist where it lives. It is always somewhat discouraging for an investigator to realize that his efforts can be made to appear so trite, but this statement does not belittle the ecological physiologist. If his data assist the understanding of the ways in which an animal manages to live where it does, he makes an important contribution to the study of distribution, for the present is necessarily a key to the past.”
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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Life is inseparable from water. For all terrestrial animals, including birds, the inescapable need for maintaining an adequate state of hydration in a hostile, desiccating environment is a central persistent constraint which exerts a sustained selective pressure on every aspect of the life cycle. It has been said, with some justification, that the struggle for existence is a struggle for free energy for doing physiological work. It can be said with equal justification for terrestrial organisms that the struggle for existence is a struggle to maintain an aqueous internal environment in which energy transformations for doing work can take place.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'The water economy of seed-eating birds that survive without drinking', Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress (1972), 15, 237-238.
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Natural selection produces systems that function no better than necessary. It results in ad hoc adaptive solutions to immediate problems. Whatever enhances fitness is selected. The product of natural selection is not perfection but adequacy, not final answers but limited, short-term solutions.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'The role of natural history in contemporary biology', BioScience (1986), 36, 325.
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Obviously we biologists should fit our methods to our materials. An interesting response to this challenge has been employed particularly by persons who have entered biology from the physical sciences or who are distressed by the variability in biology; they focus their research on inbred strains of genetically homogeneous laboratory animals from which, to the maximum extent possible, variability has been eliminated. These biologists have changed the nature of the biological system to fit their methods. Such a bold and forthright solution is admirable, but it is not for me. Before I became a professional biologist, I was a boy naturalist, and I prefer a contrasting approach; to change the method to fit the system. This approach requires that one employ procedures which allow direct scientific utilization of the successful long-term evolutionary experiments which are documented by the fascinating diversity and variability of the species of animals which occupy the earth. This is easy to say and hard to do.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 232.
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One may summarize by saying that by a combination of behavior and physiology mammals can successfully occupy all but the most extreme environments on earth without anything more than quantitative shifts in the basic physiological pattern common to all.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 87.
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One precept for the scientist-to-be is already obvious. Do not place yourself in an environment where your advisor is already suffering from scientific obsolescence. If one is so unfortunate as to receive his training under a person who is either technically or intellectually obsolescent, one finds himself to be a loser before he starts. It is difficult to move into a position of leadership if one’s launching platform is a scientific generation whose time is already past.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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Over the years it has become clear that adjustments to the physical environment are behavioral as well as physiological and are inextricably intertwined with ecology and evolution. Consequently, a student of the physiology of adaptation should not only be a technically competent physiologist, but also be familiar with the evolutionary and ecological setting of the phenomenon that he or she is studying.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 17.
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Plants, generally speaking, meet the impact of the terrestrial environment head on, although of course they in turn modify the physical environment by adventitious group activity. The individual plant cannot select its habitat; its location is largely determined by the vagaries of the dispersal of seeds or spores and is thus profoundly affected by chance. Because of their mobility and their capacity for acceptance or rejection terrestrial animals, in contrast, can and do actively seek out and utilize the facets of the environment that allow their physiological capacities to function adequately. This means that an animal by its behavior can fit the environment to its physiology by selecting situations in which its physiological capacities can cope with physical conditions. If one accepts this idea, it follows that there is no such thing as The Environment, for there exist as many different terrestrial environments as there are species of animals.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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Since an organism is inseparable from its environment, any person who attempts to understand an organism’s distribution must keep constantly in mind that the item being studied is neither a stuffed skin, a pickled specimen, nor a dot on a map. It is not even the live organism held in the hand, caged in a laboratory, or seen in the field. It is a complex interaction between a self-sustaining physicochemical system and the environment. An obvious corollary is that to know the organism it is necessary to know its environment.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 83.
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Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'The roles of physiology and behaviour in the maintenance of homeostasis in the desert environment.', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology (1964), 11.
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The chances for favorable serendipity are increased if one studies an animal that is not one of the common laboratory species. Atypical animals, or preparations, force one to use non-standard approaches and non-standard techniques, and even to think nonstandard ideas. My own preference is to seek out species which show some extreme of adaptation. Such organisms often force one to abandon standard methods and standard points of view. Almost inevitably they lead one to ask new questions, and most importantly in trying to comprehend their special and often unusual adaptations one often serendipitously stumbles upon new insights.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 234.
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The complexity of contemporary biology has led to an extreme specialization, which has inevitably been followed by a breakdown in communication between disciplines. Partly as a result of this, the members of each specialty tend to feel that their own work is fundamental and that the work of other groups, although sometimes technically ingenious, is trivial or at best only peripheral to an understanding of truly basic problems and issues. There is a familiar resolution to this problem but it is sometimes difficulty to accept emotionally. This is the idea that there are a number of levels of biological integration and that each level offers problems and insights that are unique to it; further, that each level finds its explanations of mechanism in the levels below, and its significances in the levels above it.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 39.
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The contributions of physiological knowledge to an understanding of distribution are necessarily inferential. Distribution is a historical phenomenon, and the data ordinarily obtained by students of physiology are essentially instantaneous. However, every organism has a line of ancestors which extends back to the beginning of life on earth and which, during this immensity of time, has invariably been able to avoid, to adapt to, or to compensate for environmental changes.
— George A. Bartholomew
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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The wisest decision I ever made with regard to science, I made as a child. In the summer of 1932, shortly after my thirteenth birthday, I decided to become a zoologist, because I thought it would be fascinating to visit distant parts of the world and study exotic animals. I was right. It has been.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 332.
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This brings me to the final point of my remarks, the relation between creativity and aging, a topic with which I have had substantial experience. Scientific research, until it has gone through the grueling and sometimes painful process of publication, is just play, and play is characteristic of young vertebrates, particularly young mammals. In some ways, scientific creativity is related to the exuberant behavior of young mammals. Indeed, creativity seems to be a natural characteristic of young humans. If one is fortunate enough to be associated with a university, even as one ages, teaching allows one to contribute to, and vicariously share, in the creativity of youth.”
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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To ask what qualities distinguish good from routine scientific research is to address a question that should be of central concern to every scientist. We can make the question more tractable by rephrasing it, “What attributes are shared by the scientific works which have contributed importantly to our understanding of the physical world—in this case the world of living things?” Two of the most widely accepted characteristics of good scientific work are generality of application and originality of conception. . These qualities are easy to point out in the works of others and, of course extremely difficult to achieve in one’s own research. At first hearing novelty and generality appear to be mutually exclusive, but they really are not. They just have different frames of reference. Novelty has a human frame of reference; generality has a biological frame of reference. Consider, for example, Darwinian Natural Selection. It offers a mechanism so widely applicable as to be almost coexistent with reproduction, so universal as to be almost axiomatic, and so innovative that it shook, and continues to shake, man’s perception of causality.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230.
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Until its results have gone through the painful process of publication, preferably in a refereed journal of high standards, scientific research is just play. Publication is an indispensable part of science. “Publish or perish” is not an indictment of the system of academia; it is a partial prescription for creativity and innovation. Sustained and substantial publication favors creativity. Novelty of conception has a large component of unpredictability. ... One is often a poor judge of the relative value of his own creative efforts. An artist’s ranking of his own works is rarely the same as that of critics or of history. Most scientists have had similar experiences. One’s supply of reprints for a pot-boiler is rapidly exhausted, while a major monograph that is one’s pride and joy goes unnoticed. The strategy of choice is to increase the odds favoring creativity by being productive.
— George A. Bartholomew
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233-234.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 40 -
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