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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Criticism

Criticism Quotes (78 quotes)

'Normal' science, in Kuhn's sense, exists. It is the activity of the non-revolutionary, or more precisely, the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day... in my view the 'normal' scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for... He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination... I can only say that I see a very great danger in it and in the possibility of its becoming normal... a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization. And this shows why I regard Kuhn's emphasis on the existence of this kind of science as so important.
'Normal Science and its Dangers', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 52-3.
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Speaking as a Prolife leader, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family. After speaking on a 3 Aug 2005 radio show, he drew criticism for his extreme opinion that embryonic stem cell compares with Nazi deathcamp experiments.
…...
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Belief may be a regrettably unavoidable biological weakness to be kept under the control of criticism: but commitment is for Popper an outright crime.
In 'Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London 1965 (1970), Vol. 4, 92.
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Hab’s aans g’sehn?
Have you ever seen one?
As called out from the audience at one of Ludwig Boltzmann’s lectures on atoms, and his frequent retort upon any mention of the atom having electron orbits. He was a fierce critic and held that science should stick to only phenomena directly observable by the senses. This quote is seen widely, without citation. For example, in Daniel Greenberger, Klaus Hentschel and Friedel Weinert, Compendium of Quantum Physics: Concepts, Experiments, History and Philosophy (2009), 615.
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La critique est la vie de la science.
Criticism is the life of science.
In Victor Cousin’s Introduction to Peter Abelard, Ouvrages Inédits d'Abélard pour Servir à l'Histoire de la Philosophie Scolastique en France (1836), cxxix.
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La théorie est l’hypothèse vérifiée, après qu’elle a été soumise au contrôle du raisonnement et de la critique expérimentale. La meilleure théorie est celle qui a été vérifiée par le plus grand nombre de faits. Mais une théorie, pour rester bonne, doit toujours se modifier avec les progrès de la science et demeurer constamment soumise à la vérification et à la critique des faits nouveaux qui apparaissent.
A theory is a verified hypothesis, after it has been submitted to the control of reason and experimental criticism. The soundest theory is one that has been verified by the greatest number of facts. But to remain valid, a theory must be continually altered to keep pace with the progress of science and must be constantly resubmitted to verification and criticism as new facts appear.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865), 385. English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 220.
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A common fallacy in much of the adverse criticism to which science is subjected today is that it claims certainty, infallibility and complete emotional objectivity. It would be more nearly true to say that it is based upon wonder, adventure and hope.
Quoted in E. J. Bowen's obituary of Hinshelwood, Chemistry in Britain (1967), Vol. 3, 536.
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A system such as classical mechanics may be ‘scientific’ to any degree you like; but those who uphold it dogmatically — believing, perhaps, that it is their business to defend such a successful system against criticism as long as it is not conclusively disproved — are adopting the very reverse of that critical attitude which in my view is the proper one for the scientist.
In The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959, reprint 2002), 28.
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A work of morality, politics, criticism will be more elegant, other things being equal, if it is shaped by the hand of geometry.
From Préface sur l'Utilité des Mathématiques et de la Physique (1729), as translated in Florian Cajori, Mathematics in Liberal Education (1928), 61.
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All experimentation is criticism. If an experiment does not hold out the possibility of causing one to revise one’s views, it is hard to see why it should be done at all.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 94.
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Almost everyone... seems to be quite sure that the differences between the methodologies of history and of the natural sciences are vast. For, we are assured, it is well known that in the natural sciences we start from observation and proceed by induction to theory. And is it not obvious that in history we proceed very differently? Yes, I agree that we proceed very differently. But we do so in the natural sciences as well.
In both we start from myths—from traditional prejudices, beset with error—and from these we proceed by criticism: by the critical elimination of errors. In both the role of evidence is, in the main, to correct our mistakes, our prejudices, our tentative theories—that is, to play a part in the critical discussion, in the elimination of error. By correcting our mistakes, we raise new problems. And in order to solve these problems, we invent conjectures, that is, tentative theories, which we submit to critical discussion, directed towards the elimination of error.
The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality (1993), 140.
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Animals are such agreeable friends; they ask no questions, pass no criticisms.
(Mary Ann Evans, English Novelist)
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As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite ... I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you... And as to the curs which will bark and yelp - you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead - I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.
Letter (23 Nov 1859) to Charles Darwin a few days after the publication of Origin of Species. In Charles Darwin, Frederick Burkhardt, Sydney Smith, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin: 1858-1859 (1992), Vol. 19, 390-391.
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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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Bismarck, enraged at Virchow’s constant criticisms, has his seconds call upon the scientist to challenge him to a duel. “As the challenged party, I have the choice of weapons,” said Virchow, “and I chose these.” He held aloft two sausages. “One of these,” he went on, “is infected with deadly germs; the other is perfectly sound. Let his Excellency decide which one he wishes to eat, and I will eat the other.” Almost immediately the message came back that the chancellor had decided to laugh off the duel.
As quoted in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 556, citing E. Fuller, 2500 Anecdotes.
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Comprehension, inventiveness, direction, and criticism: intelligence is contained in these four words.
Les idées modernes sur les enfants (1909), 118.
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Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.
In The Conquest of Happiness (3rd Ed. 1930), 131.
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Criticism is as often a trade as a science, requiring, as it does, more health than wit, more labour than capacity, more practice than genius.
In John Timbs (ed.), Laconics; or, The Best Words of the Best Authors (1929), 156.
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Criticism, though dignified from the earliest ages by the labours of men eminent for knowledge and sagacity, has not yet attained the certainty and stability of science.
In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 151.
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Doctors have been exposed—you always will be exposed—to the attacks of those persons who consider their own undisciplined emotions more important than the world's most bitter agonies—the people who would limit and cripple and hamper research because they fear research may be accompanied by a little pain and suffering.
Doctors (1908), 28-9.
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Every discovery in science is a tacit criticism of things as they are. That is why the wise man is invariably called a fool.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Every scientist is an agent of cultural change. He may not be a champion of change; he may even resist it, as scholars of the past resisted the new truths of historical geology, biological evolution, unitary chemistry, and non-Euclidean geometry. But to the extent that he is a true professional, the scientist is inescapably an agent of change. His tools are the instruments of change—skepticism, the challenge to establish authority, criticism, rationality, and individuality.
In Science in Russian Culture: A History to 1860 (1963).
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Florey was not an easy personality. His drive and ambition were manifest from the day he arrived ... He could be ruthless and selfish; on the other hand, he could show kindliness, a warm humanity and, at times, sentiment and a sense of humour. He displayed utter integrity and he was scathing of humbug and pretence. His attitude was always—&ldqo;You must take me as you find me” But to cope with him at times, you had to do battle, raise your voice as high as his and never let him shout you down. You had to raise your pitch to his but if you insisted on your right he was always, in the end, very fair. I must say that at times, he went out of his way to cut people down to size with some very destructive criticism. But I must also say in the years I knew him he did not once utter a word of praise about himself.
Personal communication (1970) to Florey's Australian biographer, Lennard Bickel. By letter, Drury described his experience as a peer, being a research collaborator while Florey held a Studentship at Cambridge in the 1920s. This quote appears without naming Drury, in Eric Lax, The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle (2004), 40. Dury is cited in Lennard Bickel, Rise Up to Life: A Biography of Howard Walter Florey Who Gave Penicillin to the World (1972), 24. Also in Eric Lax
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I do not forget that Medicine and Veterinary practice are foreign to me. I desire judgment and criticism upon all my contributions. Little tolerant of frivolous or prejudiced contradiction, contemptuous of that ignorant criticism which doubts on principle, I welcome with open arms the militant attack which has a method of doubting and whose rule of conduct has the motto “More light.”
In Louis Pasteur and Harold Clarence Ernst (trans), The Germ Theory and Its Application to Medicine and Surgery, Chap. 12. Reprinted in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics: Scientific Papers: Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Geology (1897, 1910), Vol. 38, 401-402. Cited as read before French Academy of Science (20 Apr 1878), published in Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, 84, 1037-43.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the great masses.
Letter (13 Oct 1597) to Galileo, who had just replied with thanks for the book Kepler sent him. As quoted in translation in Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Alternate Volume: Since 1300 (2010), Vol. 2, 494.
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I noticed affixed to a laboratory door the following words: “Les théories passent. Le Grenouille reste. [The theories pass. The frog remains.] &mdashJean Rostand, Carnets d’un biologiste.” There is a risk that in the less severe discipline of criticism the result may turn out to be different; the theories will remain but the frog may disappear.
In An Appetite for Poetry (1989), 5.
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I will simply express my strong belief, that that point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations, until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all, not only in things of natural philosophy, but in every department of dally life.
'Observations On Mental Education', a lecture before the Prince Consort and the Royal Institution, 6 May 1854. Experimental researches in chemistry and physics (1859), 477.
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If this “critical openminded attitude” … is wanted, the question at once arises, Is it science that should be studied in order to achieve it? Why not study law? A judge has to do everything that a scientist is exhorted to do in the way of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, and then judging impartially on the merits of the case as well as he can. … Why not a course in Sherlock Holmes? The detectives, or at least the detective-story writers, join with the scientists in excoriating “dogmatic prejudice, lying, falsification of facts, and data, and willful fallacious reasoning.”
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 191.
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In Mathematics, censorship and criticism can not be allowed to everyone; the speeches of the rhetoricians and the defenses of the lawyers are worthless.
From In Artem Analyticem Isagoge (1591, “Introduction to the Analytic Arts”), translated from the original Latin to French in Édouard Lucas, Récréations Mathématiques (1883), Vol. 2, 1, given as, “Dans les Mathématiques, la censure et la critique ne peuvent être permises à tout le monde; les discours des rhéteurs et les défenses des avocats n’y valent rien.” English version from the French by Webmaster using Google translate.
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In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the world “simplest.” It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = κ(d²x/dy²) much less simple than “it oozes,” of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plain man, namely the rate of change of a rate of change.
In 'Science and Theology as Art-Forms', Possible Worlds (1927), 227.
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It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find him writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 61 (Hardy's opening lines after Snow's foreward).
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It is a temptation for philosophers that they should weave a fairy tale of the adjustment of factors; and then as an appendix introduce the notion of frustration, as a secondary aspect. I suggest to you that this is the criticism to be made on the monistic idealisms of the nineteenth century, and even of the great Spinoza. It is quite incredible that the Absolute, as conceived in monistic philosophy, should evolve confusion about its own details.
In Modes of Thought (1938), 69-70.
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It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights.
Spectator, No. 253. In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 60.
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It is ironical that, in the very field in which Science has claimed superiority to Theology, for example—in the abandoning of dogma and the granting of absolute freedom to criticism—the positions are now reversed. Science will not tolerate criticism of special relativity, while Theology talks freely about the death of God, religionless Christianity, and so on.
In 'Preface', Science at the Crossroads (1972), 13.
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Its [the anthropological method] power to make us understand the roots from which our civilization has sprung, that it impresses us with the relative value of all forms of culture, and thus serves as a check to an exaggerated valuation of the standpoint of our own period, which we are only too liable to consider the ultimate goal of human evolution, thus depriving ourselves of the benefits to be gained from the teachings of other cultures and hindering an objective criticism of our own work.
'The History of Anthropology', Science, 1904, 20, 524.
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Let nobody be afraid of true freedom of thought. Let us be free in thought and criticism; but, with freedom, we are bound to come to the conclusion that science is not antagonistic to religion, but a help to it.
Quoted in Arthur Holmes, 'The Faith of the Scientist', The Biblical World (1916), 48 7.
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Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth.
Editorial, Nature (28 Jul 2011), 475, 423-424.
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My thesis is that what we call 'science' is differentiated from the older myths not by being something distinct from a myth, but by being accompanied by a second-order tradition—that of critically discussing the myth. … In a certain sense, science is myth-making just as religion is.
Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (2002), 170-171.
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Nothing enrages me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn math and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities. (1981)
Quoted in K.P. Yaday and Malti Sundram, Encyclopaedia Of Child And Primary Education Development, Vol. 2, 99.
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Now Freud may be right or he may be wrong in the place he gives to biology in human fate, but I think we must stop to consider whether this emphasis on biology, whether correct or incorrect, is not so far from being a reactionary idea that it is actually a liberating idea. It proposes to us that culture is not all-powerful. It suggests that there is a residue of human quality beyond the reach of cultural control, and that this residue of human quality, elemental as it may be, serves to bring culture itself under criticism and keeps it from being absolute.
In Freud and the Crisis of our Culture (1955), 48.
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Occurrences that other men would have noted only with the most casual interest became for Whitney exciting opportunities to experiment. Once he became disturbed by a scientist's seemingly endless pursuit of irrelevant details in the course of an experiment, and criticized this as being as pointless as grabbing beans out of a pot, recording the numbers, and then analyzing the results. Later that day, after he had gone home, his simile began to intrigue him, and he asked himself whether it would really be pointless to count beans gathered in such a random manner. Another man might well have dismissed this as an idle fancy, but to Whitney an opportunity to conduct an experiment was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, he set a pot of beans beside his bed, and for several days each night before retiring he would take as many beans as he could grasp in one hand and make a note of how many were in the handful. After several days had passed he was intrigued to find that the results were not as unrewarding as he had expected. He found that each handful contained more beans than the one before, indicating that with practice he was learning to grasp more and more beans. “This might be called research in morphology, the science of animal structure,” he mused. “My hand was becoming webbed … so I said to myself: never label a real experiment useless, it may reveal something unthought of but worth knowing.”
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 358-359.
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Part of the strength of science is that it has tended to attract individuals who love knowledge and the creation of it.
Just as important to the integrity of science have been the unwritten rules of the game. These provide recognition and approbation for work which is imaginative and accurate, and apathy or criticism for the trivial or inaccurate. … Thus, it is the communication process which is at the core of the vitality and integrity of science.
Editorial, 'The Roots of Scientific Integrity', Science (1963), 3561. In Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1965), 29.
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Propose theories which can be criticized. Think about possible decisive falsifying experiments—crucial experiments. But do not give up your theories too easily—not, at any rate, before you have critically examined your criticism.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 126-127.
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Science can be the basis of an objective criticism of political power because it claims no power itself. Politics can afford the independence of science because science does not attempt to dictate its purposes.
In The Scientific Estate (1965), 191.
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Science now finds itself in paradoxical strife with society: admired but mistrusted; offering hope for the future but creating ambiguous choice; richly supported yet unable to fulfill all its promise; boasting remarkable advances but criticized for not serving more directly the goals of society.
How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science (2004), xi.
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Sociological method as we practice it rests wholly on the basic principle that social facts must be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual. There is no principle for which we have received more criticism; but none is more fundamental. Indubitably for sociology to be possible, it must above all have an object all its own. It must take cognizance of a reality which is not in the domain of other sciences... there can be no sociology unless societies exist, and that societies cannot exist if there are only individuals.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897), trans. J. A. Spaulding and G. Simpson (1952), 37-8.
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Species do not grow more perfect: the weaker dominate the strong, again and again— the reason being that they are the great majority, and they are also cleverer. Darwin forgot the mind (—that is English!): the weak possess more mind. … To acquire mind, one must need mind—one loses it when one no longer needs it.
[Criticism of Darwin’s Origin of Species.]
The Twilight of the Idols (1888), translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Twilight of the Idols and the Anti Christ (1990), 67. Also see alternate translations.
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Species do not evolve towards perfection: the weak always prevail over the strong—simply because they are the majority, and because they are also the more crafty. Darwin forgot the intellect (that is English!), the weak have more intellect. In order to acquire intellect, one must be in need of it. One loses it when one no longer needs it.
[Criticism of Darwin's Origin of Species.]
The Twilight of the Idols (1888) collected in Twilight of the Idols, with The Antichrist and Ecce Homo, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici (2007), 56. Also see alternate translations.
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The ball of rumor and criticism, once it starts rolling, is difficult to stop.
In letter to mother, as quoted in Beverly Gherman, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Between the Sea and the Stars (2007), 104.
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The computational formalism of mathematics is a thought process that is externalised to such a degree that for a time it becomes alien and is turned into a technological process. A mathematical concept is formed when this thought process, temporarily removed from its human vessel, is transplanted back into a human mold. To think ... means to calculate with critical awareness.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The events of the past few years have led to a critical examination of the function of science in society. It used to be believed that the results of scientific investigation would lead to continuous progressive improvements in conditions of life; but first the War and then the economic crisis have shown that science can be used as easily for destructive and wasteful purposes, and voices have been raised demanding the cessation of scientific research as the only means of preserving a tolerable civilization. Scientists themselves, faced with these criticisms, have been forced to consider, effectively for the first time, how the work they are doing is connected around them. This book is an attempt to analyse this connection; to investigate how far scientists, individually and collectively, are responsible for this state of affairs, and to suggest what possible steps could be taken which would lead to a fruitful and not to a destructive utilization of science.
The Social Function of Science (1939), xlii.
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The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities—perhaps the only one—in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there. In most other fields of human endeavour there is change, but rarely progress ... And in most fields we do not even know how to evaluate change.
From Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 216. Reproduced in Karl Popper, Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1979), 9.
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The members of the department became like the Athenians who, according to the Apostle Paul, “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Anyone who thought he had a bright idea rushed out to try it out on a colleague. Groups of two or more could be seen every day in offices, before blackboards or even in corridors, arguing vehemently about these 'brain storms.' It is doubtful whether any paper ever emerged for publication that had not run the gauntlet of such criticism. The whole department thus became far greater than the sum of its individual members.
Obituary of Gilbert Newton Lewis, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science (1958), 31, 212.
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The methods of science aren’t foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible. Just as important: there is a tradition of criticism that enforces improvement whenever and wherever flaws are discovered. The methods of science, like everything else under the sun, are themselves objects of scientific scrutiny, as method becomes methodology, the analysis of methods. Methodology in turn falls under the gaze of epistemology, the investigation of investigation itself—nothing is off limits to scientific questioning. The irony is that these fruits of scientific reflection, showing us the ineliminable smudges of imperfection, are sometimes used by those who are suspicious of science as their grounds for denying it a privileged status in the truth-seeking department—as if the institutions and practices they see competing with it were no worse off in these regards. But where are the examples of religious orthodoxy being simply abandoned in the face of irresistible evidence? Again and again in science, yesterday’s heresies have become today’s new orthodoxies. No religion exhibits that pattern in its history.
…...
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The mind is a vagrant thing ... Thinking is not analogous to a person working in a laboratory who invents something on company time.
Answering criticism that the book for which he won a Pulitzer Prize was written in the years he had been employed at the Smithsonian. He specified that did not write on the premises there, but only at home outside of working hours.
Quoted by Barbara Gamarekian in 'Working Profile: Daniel J. Boorstin. Helping the Library of Congress Fulfill Its Mission', New York Times (8 Jul 1983), B6.
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The only objections that have occurred to me are, 1st that you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly. … And 2nd, it is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all. However, I must read the book two or three times more before I presume to begin picking holes.
Comments after reading Darwin's book, Origin of Species.]
Letter to Charles Darwin (23 Nov 1859). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 214.
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The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 59.
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The scientific tradition is distinguished from the pre-scientific tradition by having two layers. Like the latter, it passes on its theories; but it also passes on a critical attitude towards them.
Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (2002), 66.
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The species does not grow in perfection: the weak again and again get the upper hand of the strong,—and their large number and their greater cunning are the cause of it. Darwin forgot the intellect (that was English!); the weak have more intellect. ... One must need intellect in order to acquire it; one loses it when it is no longer necessary.
[Criticism of Darwin’s Origin of Species.]
In The Twilight of the Idols (1886) collected in Thomas Common (trans.), The Works of Nietzsche (1896), Vol. 11, 177. Also see alternate translations.
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The velocity of light occupies an extraordinary place in modern physics. It is lèse-majesté to make any criticism of the velocity of light. It is a sacred cow within a sacred cow, and it is just about the Absolutest Absolute in the history of human thought.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 73.
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The world little knows how many of the thoughts and theories which have passed through the mind of a scientific investigator, have been crushed in silence and secrecy by his own severe criticism and adverse examination; that in the most successful instances not a tenth of the suggestions, the hopes, the wishes, the preliminary conclusions have been realized.
In 'Observations On Mental Education', a lecture before the Prince Consort and the Royal Institution (6 May 1854). Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics (1859), 486.
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There are three ways to encourage initiative. One is to cut off people’s heads as they do in Russia. Another is to subject people to public criticism, which is impossible in such secret work as this. A third way is to set up competition. This is Livermore’s most valuable function: simply to be a competitor.
Explaining the merit in setting up a second laboratory, at Livermore, California, to continue his thermonuclear research after he left Los Alamos due to disagreements he had there. As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 70-72.
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There prevails among men of letters, an opinion, that all appearance of science is particularly hateful to Women; and that therefore whoever desires to be well received in female assemblies, 'must qualify himself by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important; must consider argument or criticism as perpetually interdicted; and devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to compliment.
The Rambler, Number 173, 12 Nov 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 3, 152-3.
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This speaker reminds me of my childhood in Budapest. There were gypsy magicians who came to town to entertain us children. But as I recollect, there was one important difference: the gypsy only seemed to violate the laws of nature, he never really violated them!
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 178. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears giving an example of von Kármán’s biting anecdotes at public meetings when criticizing a paper he thought really misleading “pseudoscience.”
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Thus science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths; neither with the collection of observations, nor with the invention of experiments, but with the critical discussion of myths, and of magical techniques and practices.
In Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963, 2002), 66.
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To stop short in any research that bids fair to widen the gates of knowledge, to recoil from fear of difficulty or adverse criticism, is to bring reproach on science. There is nothing for the investigator to do but go straight on, 'to explore up and down, inch by inch, with the taper his reason;' to follow the light wherever it may lead, even should it at times resemble a will-o'-the-wisp.
Referring to his interest in psychical (spiritual) research.
Presidential address to the British Association (1898). Quoted in Harold Begbie in Pall Mall magazine (Jan 1903). In Albert Shaw, The American Monthly Review of Reviews (1903), 27, 232.
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To turn Karl [Popper]'s view on its head, it is precisely the abandonment of critical discourse that marks the transition of science. Once a field has made the transition, critical discourse recurs only at moments of crisis when the bases of the field are again in jeopardy. Only when they must choose between competing theories do scientists behave like philosophers.
'Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 6-7.
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True science thrives best in glass houses where everyone can look in. When the windows are blacked out, as in war, the weeds take over; when secrecy muffles criticism, charlatans and cranks flourish.
In Is Science Necessary?: Essays on Science and Scientists (1989), xvi.
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We [may] answer the question: “Why is snow white?” by saying, “For the same reason that soap-suds or whipped eggs are white”—in other words, instead of giving the reason for a fact, we give another example of the same fact. This offering a similar instance, instead of a reason, has often been criticised as one of the forms of logical depravity in men. But manifestly it is not a perverse act of thought, but only an incomplete one. Furnishing parallel cases is the necessary first step towards abstracting the reason imbedded in them all.
In The Principles of Psychology (1918), Vol. 2, 363-364.
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What are they doing, examining last month's costs with a microscope when they should be surveying the horizon with a telescope?
[Acerbic comment about directors of Brunner Mond, where he worked.]
As quoted by Peter Allen in obituary, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1976), 22, 116.
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Why should the leaders of chemical businesses be held responsible for polluting the marine environment with a few grams of effluent, which is sublethal to marine species, while celebrity chefs are turning out endangered fish at several dozen tables a night without enduring a syllable of criticism?
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and what We Eat (2004), 189.
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Widespread intellectual and moral docility may be convenient for leaders in the short term, but it is suicidal for nations in the long term. One of the criteria for national leadership should therefore be a talent for understanding, encouraging, and making constructive use of vigorous criticism.
Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (1998), 189.
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Worship the spirit of criticism. If reduced to itself it is not an awakener of ideas or a stimulant to great things, but, without it, everything is fallible; it always has the last word.
Address at the Inauguration of the Pasteur Institute. In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 443.
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[Alfred Russell] Wallace's sales agent, back in London, heard mutterings from some naturalists that young Mr. Wallace ought to quit theorizing and stick to gathering facts. Besides expressing their condescension toward him in particular, that criticism also reflected a common attitude that fact-gathering, not theory, was the proper business of all naturalists.
In The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions (1996), 41.
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[I have a great] distaste for controversy…. I have often seen it do great harm, and yet remember few cases in natural knowledge where it has helped much either to pull down error or advance truth. Criticism, on the other hand, is of much value.
In letter (6 May 1841) to Robert Hare, an American Chemist, collected in Experimental Researches in Electricity (1844), Vol. 2, 275, as a footnote added to a reprint of 'On Dr. Hare’s Second Letter, and on the Chemical and Contact Theories of the Voltaic Battery', London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine (1843), 23.
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[N]o scientist likes to be criticized. … But you don’t reply to critics: “Wait a minute, wait a minute; this is a really good idea. I’m very fond of it. It’s done you no harm. Please don’t attack it.” That's not the way it goes. The hard but just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away. Don't waste any neurons on what doesn’t work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. Valid criticism is doing you a favor.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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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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