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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index A > Category: Authority

Authority Quotes (50 quotes)

Dans les sciences physiques en général, on ait souvent supposé au lieu de conclure; que les suppositions transmises d’âge en âge, soient devenues de plus en plus imposantes par le poids des autorités qu'elles ont acquises , & qu'elles ayent enfin été adoptées & regardées comme des vérités fondamentales, même par de très-bons esprits.
In the science of physics in general, men have so often formed suppositions, instead of drawing conclusions. These suppositions, handed down from one age to another, acquire additional weight from the authorities by which they are supported, till at last they are received, even by men of genius, as fundamental truths.
From the original French in Traité élémentaire de chimie (1789, 1793), discours préliminaire, x; and from edition translated into English by Robert Kerr, as Elements of Chemistry (1790), Preface, xvi.
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A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.
Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (1998), 190.
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A discovery must be, by definition, at variance with existing knowledge. During my lifetime, I made two. Both were rejected offhand by the popes of the field. Had I predicted these discoveries in my applications, and had those authorities been my judges, it is evident what their decisions would have been.
In 'Dionysians and Apollonians', Science (2 Jun 1972), 176, 966. Reprinted in Mary Ritchie Key, The Relationship of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication (1980), 318.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5.
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Anyone who thinks we can continue to have world wars but make them nice polite affairs by outlawing this weapon or that should meditate upon the outlawing of the cross-bow by Papal authority. Setting up the machinery for international law and order must surely precede disarmament. The Wild West did not abandon its shooting irons till after sheriffs and courts were established.
Speech, American Library Assiciation Conference (3 Jul 1947), as quoted by Lawrence E. Davies in 'Army's Atomic Bid Viewed in Making', New York Times (4 Jul 1947), 11.
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Architects who have aimed at acquiring manual skill without scholarship have never been able to reach a position of authority to correspond to their pains, while those who relied only upon theories and scholarship were obviously hunting the shadow, not the substance. But those who have a thorough knowledge of both, like men armed at all points, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 3.
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At this point, however, I have no intention whatever of criticizing the false teachings of Galen, who is easily first among the professors of dissection, for I certainly do not wish to start off by gaining a reputation for impiety toward him, the author of all good things, or by seeming insubordinate to his authority. For I am well aware how upset the practitioners (unlike the followers of Aristotle) invariably become nowadays, when they discover in the course of a single dissection that Galen has departed on two hundred or more occasions from the true description of the harmony, function, and action of the human parts, and how grimly they examine the dissected portions as they strive with all the zeal at their command to defend him. Yet even they, drawn by their love of truth, are gradually calming down and placing more faith in their own not ineffective eyes and reason than in Galen’s writings.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, iv, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), Preface, liv.
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Authority in science exists to be questioned, since heresy is the spring from which new ideas flow.
Address, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Awards Banquet, as printed in The Globe and Mail (27 Nov 2004).
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Authority. Man cannot exist without it, and yet it brings in its train just as much of error as of truth. It perpetuates one by one things which should pass away one by one; it rejects that which should be preserved and allows it to pass away; and it is chiefly to blame for mankind’s want of progress.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 188.
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Authority—the fact, namely, that something has already happened or been said or decided, is of great value; but it is only a pedant who demands authority for everything.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 188.
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Concepts that have proven useful in ordering thi ngs easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.
'On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', a lay sermon at St. Martin's Hall (Sunday 7 Jan 1866), The Fortnightly Review. In The Journal of Mental Science (1867), Vol. 12, No. 58, (Jul 1866), 279.
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Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
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He who is only a traveler learns things at second-hand and by the halves, and is poor authority. We are most interested when science reports what those men already know practically or instinctively, for that alone is a true humanity.
In 'Higher Laws', in Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854, 1899), 239.
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I am convinced that this is the only means of advancing science, of clearing the mind from a confused heap of contradictory observations, that do but perplex and puzzle the Student, when he compares them, or misguide him if he gives himself up to their authority; but bringing them under one general head, can alone give rest and satisfaction to an inquisitive mind.
From 'A Discourse Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of Prizes' (11 Dec 1770), in Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy (1778), 98.
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I do not hope for any relief, and that is because I have committed no crime. I might hope for and obtain pardon, if I had erred, for it is to faults that the prince can bring indulgence, whereas against one wrongfully sentenced while he was innocent, it is expedient, in order to put up a show of strict lawfulness, to uphold rigor… . But my most holy intention, how clearly would it appear if some power would bring to light the slanders, frauds, and stratagems, and trickeries that were used eighteen years ago in Rome in order to deceive the authorities!
In Letter to Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (22 Feb 1635). As quoted in translation in Giorgio de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (1976), 324.
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In a sense Shapley’s telling me that space was transparent, which I shouldn’t have believed, illustrates a fundamental problem in science, believing what people tell you. Go and find it out for yourself. That same error has persisted in my life and in many other people’s. Authorities are not always authorities on everything; they often cling to their own mistakes.
Oral History Transcript of interview with Dr. Jesse Greenstein by Paul Wright (31 Jul 1974), on website of American Institute of Physics.
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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honored on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. In weighing their achievements, there is something to be said for Icarus. The classical authorities tell us that he was only “doing a stunt,” but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying machines of his day.
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It may be observed of mathematicians that they only meddle with such things as are certain, passing by those that are doubtful and unknown. They profess not to know all things, neither do they affect to speak of all things. What they know to be true, and can make good by invincible arguments, that they publish and insert among their theorems. Of other things they are silent and pass no judgment at all, chusing [choosing] rather to acknowledge their ignorance, than affirm anything rashly. They affirm nothing among their arguments or assertions which is not most manifestly known and examined with utmost rigour, rejecting all probable conjectures and little witticisms. They submit nothing to authority, indulge no affection, detest subterfuges of words, and declare their sentiments, as in a Court of Judicature [Justice], without passion, without apology; knowing that their reasons, as Seneca testifies of them, are not brought to persuade, but to compel.
Mathematical Lectures (1734), 64.
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I’m convinced that a controlled disrespect for authority is essential to a scientist.
In Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 14.
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Nobody knows more than a tiny fragment of science well enough to judge its validity and value at first hand. For the rest he has to rely on views accepted at second hand on the authority of a community of people accredited as scientists. But this accrediting depends in its turn on a complex organization. For each member of the community can judge at first hand only a small number of his fellow members, and yet eventually each is accredited by all. What happens is that each recognizes as scientists a number of others by whom he is recognized as such in return, and these relations form chains which transmit these mutual recognitions at second hand through the whole community. This is how each member becomes directly or indirectly accredited by all. The system extends into the past. Its members recognize the same set of persons as their masters and derive from this allegiance a common tradition, of which each carries on a particular strand.
Personal Knowledge (1958), 163.
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One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 31.
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Our advice is that every man should remain in the path he has struck out for himself, and refuse to be overawed by authority, hampered by prevalent opinion, or carried away by fashion.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 188-189.
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Prefer reason to authority.
Given by author Thomas George Bonney as a maxim always guiding Lyell’s work. In Charles Lyell and Modern Geology (1895), 213.
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Researchers, with science as their authority, will be able to cut [animals] up, alive, into small pieces, drop them from a great height to see if they are shattered by the fall, or deprive them of sleep for sixteen days and nights continuously for the purposes of an iniquitous monograph... Animal trust, undeserved faith, when at last will you turn away from us? Shall we never tire of deceiving, betraying, tormenting animals before they cease to trust us?
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Science ... must be absorbed in order to inculcate that wonderful humility before the facts of nature that comes from close attention to a textbook, and that unwillingness to learn from Authority that comes from making almost verbatim lecture notes and handing them back to the professor.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 141.
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Science, history and politics are not suited for discussion except by experts. Others are simply in the position of requiring more information; and, till they have acquired all available information, cannot do anything but accept on authority the opinions of those better qualified.
The Foundations of Mathematics and Other Logical Essays (1931), Epilogue, 287-8.
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Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,
That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks:
Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save base authority from others’ books.
In Love’s Labour Lost (1598), Act 1, Scene 1, line 74-77.
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That science has long been neglected and declining in England, is not an opinion originating with me, but is shared by many, and has been expressed by higher authority than mine. (1830)
In Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes (1830), Preface, v.
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The amount of knowledge which we can justify from evidence directly available to us can never be large. The overwhelming proportion of our factual beliefs continue therefore to be held at second hand through trusting others, and in the great majority of cases our trust is placed in the authority of comparatively few people of widely acknowledged standing.
Personal Knowledge (1958), 208.
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The credulous … advance the authority of hearsay in place of reasons for possible success or facts that can be demonstrated.
In De La Pirotechnia (1540). As translated in Pirotechnia (1959), 36. Biringuccio rejected the lore of alchemy, and believed in his own practical observation instead of the writing of ancient philosophers.
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The dropping of the Atomic Bomb is a very deep problem... Instead of commemorating Hiroshima we should celebrate... man's triumph over the problem [of transmutation], and not its first misuse by politicians and military authorities.
Address to New Europe Group meeting on the third anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb. Quoted in New Europe Group, In Commemoration of Professor Frederick Soddy (1956), 6-7.
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The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
In Lecture (7 Jan 1866), a Lay Sermon delivered at St. Martin’s Hall, 'Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1872), 18. Previously published in Fortnightly Review.
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The language of experiment is more authoritative than any reasoning: facts can destroy our ratiocination—not vice versa.
In Marcello Pera, The Ambiguous Frog: The Galvani-Volta Controversy on Animal Electricity (1992). Cited in Patrick F. Dunn, Measurement and Data Analysis for Engineering and Science (2010), 15.
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The long-range trend toward federal regulation, which found its beginnings in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Act of 1890, which was quickened by a large number of measures in the Progressive era, and which has found its consummation in our time, was thus at first the response of a predominantly individualistic public to the uncontrolled and starkly original collectivism of big business. In America the growth of the national state and its regulative power has never been accepted with complacency by any large part of the middle-class public, which has not relaxed its suspicion of authority, and which even now gives repeated evidence of its intense dislike of statism. In our time this growth has been possible only under the stress of great national emergencies, domestic or military, and even then only in the face of continuous resistance from a substantial part of the public. In the Progressive era it was possible only because of widespread and urgent fear of business consolidation and private business authority. Since it has become common in recent years for ideologists of the extreme right to portray the growth of statism as the result of a sinister conspiracy of collectivists inspired by foreign ideologies, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that the first important steps toward the modern organization of society were taken by arch-individualists—the tycoons of the Gilded Age—and that the primitive beginning of modern statism was largely the work of men who were trying to save what they could of the eminently native Yankee values of individualism and enterprise.
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The only sure foundations of medicine are, an intimate knowledge of the human body, and observation on the effects of medicinal substances on that. The anatomical and clinical schools, therefore, are those in which the young physician should be formed. If he enters with innocence that of the theory of medicine, it is scarcely possible he should come out untainted with error. His mind must be strong indeed, if, rising above juvenile credulity, it can maintain a wise infidelity against the authority of his instructors, and the bewitching delusions of their theories.
In letter to Caspar Wistar (21 Jun 1807), collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson (1829), Vol. 4, 93.
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The techniques and criteria of religion and science are so extraordinarily different. Science seeks simplicity publicly and encourages the overthrow of authority; religion accepts complexity privately and encourages deference to authority.
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills. [p.222]
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There was positive, clear-cut, unquestioned direction of the project at all levels. Authority was invariably delegated with responsibility, and this delegation was absolute and without reservation. Only in this way could the many apparently autonomous organizations working on the many apparently independent tasks be pulled together to achieve our final objective.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
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Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analysing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. Thus their excessive authority will be broken.
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To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason ... is like administering medicines to the dead.
In 'The American Crisis', No. V., to Gen. Sir William Howe (1 Mar 1778), collected in The Political and Miscellaneous Works of Thomas Paine (1819), 58.
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To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.
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Truth can only be found by the human intellect, exercised in perfect freedom, and trained to submit itself to the facts of nature. This is the essence of the Scientific Method, which is the exact opposite of the Theological Method. Science teaches men to think with absolute independence of all arbitrary authority, but to submit all their thoughts to the test of actual experiences of Nature. Christianity teaches them to think only according to its own foregone dogmatic conclusions, and to stick to these dogmatic conclusion in defiance of all possible experience.
Leading article in Francis Ellingwood Abbot (ed.), The Index (1 Jan 1880), Volume 11, No. 523, 1.
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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
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Yet as I cast my eye over the whole course of science I behold instances of false science, even more pretentious and popular than that of Einstein gradually fading into ineptitude under the searchlight; and I have no doubt that there will arise a new generation who will look with a wonder and amazement, deeper than now accompany Einstein, at our galaxy of thinkers, men of science, popular critics, authoritative professors and witty dramatists, who have been satisfied to waive their common sense in view of Einstein's absurdities.
In Elizabeth Dilling, A "Who's Who" and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots (1934), 49.
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[I shall not] discuss scientific method, but rather the methods of scientists. We proceed by common sense and ingenuity. There are no rules, only the principles of integrity and objectivity, with a complete rejection of all authority except that of fact.
In Science in the Making (1957), 9.
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[Richard Feynman] believed in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing. The alternative to uncertainty is authority, against which science has fought for centuries.
In Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 371-372.
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[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
Cosmos (1985), 277.
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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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