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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Patrick M.S. Blackett Quotes

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Patrick M.S. Blackett
(18 Nov 1897 - 13 Jul 1974)

English physicist.

Science Quotes by Patrick M.S. Blackett (8 quotes)

A first-rate laboratory is one in which mediocre scientists can produce outstanding work.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
Quoted by M. G. K. Menon in his commemoration lecture on H. J. Bhabba, Royal Institution 1967.
Science quotes on:  |  Laboratory (132)  |  Scientist (522)

In a sense, of course, probability theory in the form of the simple laws of chance is the key to the analysis of warfare;… My own experience of actual operational research work, has however, shown that its is generally possible to avoid using anything more sophisticated. … In fact the wise operational research worker attempts to concentrate his efforts in finding results which are so obvious as not to need elaborate statistical methods to demonstrate their truth. In this sense advanced probability theory is something one has to know about in order to avoid having to use it.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
In 'Operations Research', Physics Today (Nov 1951), 19. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 25.
Science quotes on:  |  Advanced (11)  |  Analysis (166)  |  Chance (160)  |  Concentrate (18)  |  Demonstrate (53)  |  Effort (144)  |  Elaborate (21)  |  Experience (342)  |  Finding (30)  |  Key (50)  |  Law (515)  |  Method (239)  |  Obvious (83)  |  Probability (106)  |  Result (389)  |  Simple (178)  |  Sophisticated (15)  |  Statistics (147)  |  Theory (696)  |  Truth (928)  |  Warfare (6)  |  Wise (61)

Let us sum up the three possible explanations of the decision to drop the bomb and its timing. The first that it was a clever and highly successful move in the field of power politics, is almost certainly correct; the second, that the timing was coincidental, convicts the American government of a hardly credible tactlessness [towards the Soviet Union]; and the third, the Roman holiday theory [a spectacular event to justify the cost of the Manhattan Project], convicts them of an equally incredible irresponsibility.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
In The Political and Military Consequences of Atomic Energy (1948), 126. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 17. Blackett regarded the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan as unnecessary because a Japanese surrender was inevitable.
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Bomb (107)  |  Decision (72)  |  Drop (40)  |  Explanation (177)  |  Hiroshima (15)  |  Irresponsibility (5)  |  Manhattan Project (11)  |  Politics (96)

May every young scientist remember … and not fail to keep his eyes open for the possibility that an irritating failure of his apparatus to give consistent results may once or twice in a lifetime conceal an important discovery.
Commenting on the discovery of thoron gas because one of Rutherford’s students had found his measurements of the ionizing property of thorium were variable. His results even seemed to relate to whether the laboratory door was closed or open. After considering the problem, Rutherford realized a radioactive gas was emitted by thorium, which hovered close to the metal sample, adding to its radioactivity—unless it was dissipated by air drafts from an open door. (Thoron was later found to be argon.)
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics (1987), 21.
Science quotes on:  |  Consistency (23)  |  Discovery (680)  |  Experiment (602)  |  Failure (138)

The problems of analyzing war operations are … rather nearer, in general, to many problems, say of biology or of economics, than to most problems of physics, where usually a great deal of numerical data are ascertainable about relatively simple phenomena.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
In report at the British Association Annual Meeting, Dundee (30 Aug 1947), published in 'Operational Research in War and Peace', The Advancement of Science (1948), 17, 320-332. Collected in P.M.S. Blackett, Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional (1962), 177.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (166)  |  Biology (168)  |  Data (120)  |  Economics (34)  |  Operation (121)  |  Physics (348)  |  Problem (497)  |  War (161)

There is a story which shows his ready wit, dating from the meeting of the British Association in Canada before the war. Tizard and a colleague inadvertently crossed over into the United States, near Niagara. When challenged by a policeman, and not having their passports with them, they produced their British Association membership cards. When the policeman told them that “The American Government doesn't recognise British Science,” the lightning reply came from Tizard, “Oh, that's all right, neither does the British Government.”
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
In Studies of War, Nuclear and Conventional (1962), 119.
Science quotes on:  |  American (46)  |  British (10)  |  British Association (2)  |  Government (93)  |  Lightning (33)  |  Membership (5)  |  Policeman (2)  |  Recognise (9)  |  Reply (25)  |  Story (73)  |  Sir Henry Tizard (5)  |  Wit (36)

We really try to have only one new particle per paper.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
As quoted (without citation) in Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science (1982), 80.
Science quotes on:  |  New (496)  |  Paper (83)  |  Particle (99)  |  Trying (19)

[Blackett] came one morning, deep in thought, into the G (technical) Office at Stanmore. It was a bitterly cold day, and the staff were shivering in a garret warmed over only with an oil-stove. Without a word of greeting, Blackett stepped silently up on to the table and stood there pondering with his feet among the plans. After ten minutes somebody coughed uneasily and said, diffidently: “Wouldn’t you like a chair, sir … or something?” “No, thank you,” said Professor Blackett, “it is necessary to apply scientific methods. Hot air rises. The warmest spot in this room, therefore, will be near the ceiling.” At this, Colonel Krohn, my technical G.S.O., stepped up on the table beside the Professor, and for the next half-hour, the two stayed there in silence. At the end of this period Professor Blackett stepped down from the table saying: “Well! That’s that problem solved.” And so it was.
— Patrick M.S. Blackett
Anecdote as told by General Sir Frederick Pile, in Frederick Pile, Ack-Ack: Britain’s Defence Against Air Attack During Second World War (1949), 161. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Ceiling (5)  |  Cold (58)  |  Heat (100)  |  Physics (348)  |  Problem (497)  |  Rising (9)  |  Standing (11)  |  Stove (2)  |  Table (36)  |  Warmth (11)

Quotes by others about Patrick M.S. Blackett (1)

Air Chief Marshal Harris [objecting to a change in strategy recommended by statisticians]: Are we fighting this war with weapons or the slide rule?
Churchill [after puffing on his cigar]: That's a good idea. Let's try the slide rule.
During World War II, Britain lost the advantage when enemy U-boats began listening in to the aircraft radar, were forewarned, and would dive. U-boat sinkings fell to zero. Physicist Patrick S. Blackett with his Operational Research colleagues came up with a solution. Concentrate sufficient aircraft in certain areas, causing the subs to dive so frequently their air supply and batteries were exhausted, forcing them to remain on the surface and be vulnerable to attack. The strategy required diverting several squadrons from Bomber Command to Coastal Command. “Bomber” Harris voiced his objection to Churchill, who made the right choice, proved by successful results. As described by R.V. Jones, 'Churchill and Science', in Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), Churchill (1996), 437.
Science quotes on:  |  Fighting (2)  |  Idea (580)  |  Statistician (19)  |  Strategy (10)  |  Try (141)  |  War (161)  |  Weapon (66)

See also:
  • 18 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Blackett's birth.

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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