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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > John C. Polanyi Quotes

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John C. Polanyi
(23 Jan 1929 - )

German-Canadian chemist and educator who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1986 for his contributions to 'a new field of research in chemistry... in which the extremely weak infrared emission from a newly-formed molecule is measured.' He was active in the peace and disarmament movements. In his speeches and writings, he expounded on the nature of science and its relation to creativity, art, and the responsibility scientists have to forging peace, solving world problems and acting as a force for positive change in society.


Science Quotes by John C. Polanyi (15 quotes)

A wise man in China asked his gardener to plant a shrub. The gardener objected that it only flowered once in a hundred years. “In that case,” said the wise man, “plant it immediately.” [On the importance of fundamental research.]
— John C. Polanyi
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
Science quotes on:  |  China (17)  |  Flowering (2)  |  Gardener (4)  |  Hundred (46)  |  Immediately (9)  |  Planting (4)  |  Research (517)  |  Shrub (2)  |  Wisdom (151)  |  Wise Man (10)  |  Year (214)

Authority in science exists to be questioned, since heresy is the spring from which new ideas flow.
— John C. Polanyi
Address, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Awards Banquet, as printed in The Globe and Mail (27 Nov 2004).
Science quotes on:  |  Authority (50)  |  Idea (440)

Difficulties [in defining mathematics with full generality, yet simplicity] are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting. Nowhere is intellectual beauty so deeply felt and fastidiously appreciated.
— John C. Polanyi
In Personal Knowledge (1958, 2012), 200,
Science quotes on:  |  Acknowledge (13)  |  Appreciate (17)  |  Beauty (171)  |  Define (29)  |  Difficulty (113)  |  Feature (34)  |  Intellectual (79)  |  Interesting (38)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Obvious (54)  |  Refusal (20)

Discoveries that are anticipated are seldom the most valuable. … It’s the scientist free to pilot his vessel across hidden shoals into open seas who gives the best value.
— John C. Polanyi
From 'Why Our Scientific Discoveries Need to Surprise Us', in The Globe and Mail (1 Oct 2011).
Science quotes on:  |  Anticipation (11)  |  Best (129)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Free (59)  |  Hidden (34)  |  Pilot (10)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Sea (143)  |  Seldom (21)  |  Value (180)  |  Vessel (21)

Faced with the admitted difficulty of managing the creative process, we are doubling our efforts to do so. Is this because science has failed to deliver, having given us nothing more than nuclear power, penicillin, space travel, genetic engineering, transistors, and superconductors? Or is it because governments everywhere regard as a reproach activities they cannot advantageously control? They felt that way about the marketplace for goods, but trillions of wasted dollars later, they have come to recognize the efficiency of this self-regulating system. Not so, however, with the marketplace for ideas.
— John C. Polanyi
Quoted in Martin Moskovits (ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures (1995), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Creativity (66)  |  Government (85)  |  Space Travel (13)

I knew, however, that it would cost ten times what I had available in order to build a molecular beam machine. I decided to follow a byway, rather than the highway. It is a procedure I have subsequently recommended to beginning scientists in this country, where research strategy is best modelled on that used by Wolfe at the Plains of Abraham.
(British General James Wolfe defeated the French defending Quebec in 1759 after scaling a cliff for a surprise attack.)
— John C. Polanyi
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
Science quotes on:  |  Research (517)

Idealism is the highest form of reason.
— John C. Polanyi
Science quotes on:  |  Idealism (3)  |  Reason (330)

It is folly to use as one's guide in the selection of fundamental science the criterion of utility. Not because (scientists)... despise utility. But because. .. useful outcomes are best identified after the making of discoveries, rather than before.
Concerning the allocation of research funds.
— John C. Polanyi
Speech to the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Toronto (2 Jun 1996)
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (591)  |  Useful (66)

It is the constant attempt in this country [Canada] to make fundamental science responsive to the marketplace. Because technology needs science, it is tempting to require that scientific projects be justified in terms of the worth of the technology they can be expected to generate. The effect of applying this criterion is, however, to restrict science to developed fields where the links to technology are most evident. By continually looking for a short-term payoff we disqualify the sort of science that … attempts to answer fundamental questions, and, having answered them, suggests fundamentally new approaches in the realm of applications.
— John C. Polanyi
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
Science quotes on:  |  Answer (201)  |  Application (117)  |  Approach (33)  |  Attempt (94)  |  Criterion (10)  |  Effect (133)  |  Evident (14)  |  Fundamental (122)  |  Marketplace (2)  |  New (340)  |  Payoff (2)  |  Project (22)  |  Question (315)  |  Realm (40)  |  Requirement (45)  |  Restriction (6)  |  Short-Term (2)  |  Technology (199)

It takes a trained and discerning researcher to keep the goal in sight, and to detect evidence of the creeping progress toward it.
— John C. Polanyi
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
Science quotes on:  |  Progress (317)  |  Research (517)

Nothing is more irredeemably irrelevant than bad science.
— John C. Polanyi
quoted in H. W. Wilson Co., Nobel Prize Winners (1987)
Science quotes on:  |  Bad Science (2)

Science is a collection of stories, linking characters worthy of notice.
— John C. Polanyi
From opinion article 'Scientists Depend on the Power of Reason', in the Toronto Star (4 Jan 2015). The article was an abridged version of Polanyi’s opening address at the earlier Polanyi Conference on Science and Social Responsibility at the Munk School of Global Affairs.
Science quotes on:  |  Character (82)  |  Collection (38)  |  Notice (20)  |  Science (1699)  |  Story (58)  |  Worth (74)

Science is an enterprise that can only flourish if it puts the truth ahead of nationality, ethnicity, class and color.
— John C. Polanyi
from a speech at the University of California at Berkeley (1994) quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., Gale Research, (1998)
Science quotes on:  |  Discrimination (5)  |  Science (1699)  |  Truth (750)

The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
— John C. Polanyi
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
Science quotes on:  |  Attention (76)  |  Albert Einstein (535)  |  Evidence (157)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Fact (609)  |  Layman (13)  |  Objectivity (9)  |  Observation (418)  |  Relativity (50)  |  Respect (57)  |  Reverence (24)  |  Theory (582)

[Intellectual courage is] the quality that allows one to believe in one's judgement in the face of disappointment and widespread skepticism. Intellectual courage is even rarer than physical courage.
— John C. Polanyi
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
Science quotes on:  |  Courage (39)


See also:
  • 23 Jan - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Polanyi's birth.
  • The Dangers of Nuclear War: A Pugwash Symposium, by Franklyn Griffith and John C. Polanyi. - book suggestion.

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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