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Who said: “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index D > Category: Disaster

Disaster Quotes (51 quotes)

...[T]he natural history of the rat is tragically similar to that of man ... some of the more obvious qualities in which rats resemble men — ferocity, omnivorousness, and adaptability to all climates ... the irresponsible fecundity with which both species breed at all seasons of the year with a heedlessness of consequences, which subjects them to wholesale disaster on the inevitable, occasional failure of the food supply.... [G]radually, these two have spread across the earth, keeping pace with each other and unable to destroy each other, though continually hostile. They have wandered from East to West, driven by their physical needs, and — unlike any other species of living things — have made war upon their own kind. The gradual, relentless, progressive extermination of the black rat by the brown has no parallel in nature so close as that of the similar extermination of one race of man by another...
Rats, Lice and History(1935)
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And, in this case, science could learn an important lesson from the literati–who love contingency for the same basic reason that scientists tend to regard the theme with suspicion. Because, in contingency lies the power of each person, to make a difference in an unconstrained world bristling with possibilities, and nudgeable by the smallest of unpredictable inputs into markedly different channels spelling either vast improvement or potential disaster.
…...
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Any statistics can be extrapolated to the point where they show disaster.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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As scientific men we have all, no doubt, felt that our fellow men have become more and more satisfying as fish have taken up their work which has been put often to base uses, which must lead to disaster. But what sin is to the moralist and crime to the jurist so to the scientific man is ignorance. On our plane, knowledge and ignorance are the immemorial adversaries. Scientific men can hardly escape the charge of ignorance with regard to the precise effect of the impact of modern science upon the mode of living of the people and upon their civilisation. For them, such a charge is worse than that of crime.
From Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1922), Nobel Prize in Chemistry, collected in Carl Gustaf Santesson (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1921-1922 (1923).
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BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount Etna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  38.
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But of all environments, that produced by man’s complex technology is perhaps the most unstable and rickety. In its present form, our society is not two centuries old, and a few nuclear bombs will do it in.
To be sure, evolution works over long periods of time and two centuries is far from sufficient to breed Homo technikos… .
The destruction of our technological society in a fit of nuclear peevishness would become disastrous even if there were many millions of immediate survivors.
The environment toward which they were fitted would be gone, and Darwin’s demon would wipe them out remorselessly and without a backward glance.
Asimov on Physics (1976), 151. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 181.
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Distrust even Mathematics; albeit so sublime and highly perfected, we have here a machine of such delicacy it can only work in vacuo, and one grain of sand in the wheels is enough to put everything out of gear. One shudders to think to what disaster such a grain of sand may bring a Mathematical brain. Remember Pascal.
The Garden of Epicurus (1894) translated by Alfred Allinson, in The Works of Anatole France in an English Translation (1920), 187.
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Eighteen years since the Chernobyl disaster. Is it just me surprized? Still no superheroes!
Recorded joke excerpt from a live performance used to conclude interview rebroadcast in radio programme 'Comedy Zone: Career Change Comics' on BBC Radio Scotland (21 Sep 2012).
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Every technological success is hailed as a great scientific achievement; every technological disaster is deemed an engineering failure.
Anonymous
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For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
Upon identifying the reason for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger with his demonstration showing that O-rings grow brittle when cold by immersing a sample in iced water. Concluding remark in Feynman's Appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. In (Jan 1987). In James B. Simpson, Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations (1988).
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Humor is a conformity enforcer clothed in the garb of congeniality. It focuses on others’ weaknesses, disasters, stupidities, and abnormalities.
In 'The Conformity Police', Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000), 87.
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I do see the difference now between me and other men. When a disaster happens, I act and they make excuses.
Letter (1861) to Miss H. Bonham Carter, transcribed in Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale (1913, 1914), Vol. 1, 506. The “disaster” that resulted in this remark was when her dressing-room was flooded by a bad pipe from a water cistern. She had first been given an excuse that it resulted from a frost, but she persisted until the real cause was determined and remedied.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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If the militarily most powerful—and least threatened—states need nuclear weapons for their security, how can one deny such security to countries that are truly insecure? The present nuclear policy is a recipe for proliferation. It is a policy for disaster.
In 'Remember Your Humanity', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Mar 1996), 27.
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If there’s more than one way to do a job and one of those ways will end in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.
[Early statement of what became known as Murphy's Law.]
As quoted in People (31 Jan 1983), 82. Also in Nick T. Spark, A History of Murphy's Law (2006), 47. Nick T. Spark - Humor - 2006
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In a world that is rightly so concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so ignorant and neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. However, … having woken up to this living disaster and having realized that there are limits to how much abuse we can inflict, it’s not too late to turn things around.
In 'Can We Stop Killing Our Oceans Now, Please?', Huffington Post (14 Aug 2013).
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In light of new knowledge ... an eventual world state is not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, it is necessary for survival ... Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
…...
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In my considered opinion the peer review system, in which proposals rather than proposers are reviewed, is the greatest disaster visited upon the scientific community in this century. No group of peers would have approved my building the 72-inch bubble chamber. Even Ernest Lawrence told me he thought I was making a big mistake. He supported me because he knew my track record was good. I believe that U.S. science could recover from the stultifying effects of decades of misguided peer reviewing if we returned to the tried-and-true method of evaluating experimenters rather than experimental proposals. Many people will say that my ideas are elitist, and I certainly agree. The alternative is the egalitarianism that we now practice and I’ve seen nearly kill basic science in the USSR and in the People's Republic of China.
Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 200-1.
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In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite… Not only communism, but any political movement which implicitly relies on purely utilitarian ethics, must become a victim to the same fatal error. It is a fallacy as naïve as a mathematical teaser, and yet its consequences lead straight to Goya’s Disasters, to the reign of the guillotine, the torture chambers of the Inquisition, or the cellars of the Lubianka.
In 'The Invisible Writing', Arrow in the Blue: An Autobiography (1952), Vol. 2, 357.
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It is both a sad and a happy fact of engineering history that disasters have been powerful instruments of change. Designers learn from failure. Industrial society did not invent grand works of engineering, and it was not the first to know design failure. What it did do was develop powerful techniques for learning from the experience of past disasters. It is extremely rare today for an apartment house in North America, Europe, or Japan to fall down. Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings too, but while its public baths, bridges and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as ruin.
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1997), 23.
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It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your idea, but it is disaster to have no idea to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach for the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin.
…...
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It’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. … The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.
Bill Nye
As quoted in Sarah Fecht, 'Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education', Popular Mechanics (4 Feb 2011).
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I’d disband NASA for 10 years and take half its budget to avert natural disasters. We could do it, we’ve got the technology. I'd take the other half to deal with disease and suffering. The time has come to do something bold instead of buying wheelchairs.
Quoted in Jennifer Kay 'Neurosurgeon Barth Green: Football player's treatment available to all', Associated Press news report, USA Today website (posted 27 Sep 2007).
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Journalism must find the facts, it must not prejudge things in terms of conservatism or liberalism or radicalism; it must not decide in advance that it is to be conformist or non-conformist; it cannot fly in the face of facts without courting ultimate disaster.
Journalism must focus the facts; facts are not important for their own sake; they are important only as a basis for action; journalism must focus the facts it finds upon the issues its readers face.
Journalism must filter the facts; it must with conscientious care separate the facts from admixtures of prejudice, passion, partisanship, and selfish interest; facts that are diluted, colored, or perverted are valueless as a basis for action.
Journalism must face the facts; it must learn that the energy spent in trying to find ways to get around, under, or over the facts is wasted energy; facts have a ruthless way of winning the day sooner or later.
Journalism must follow the facts; journalism must say of facts as Job said, of God: though they slay us, yet shall we trust them; if the facts threaten to upset a paper's cherished policy, it always pays the journalist to re-examine his policy; that way lies realism, and realism is the ultimate good.
From address as president of the Wisconsin local chapter of Theta Sigma Phi, at its first annual Matrix Table (9 Jan 1926). quoted in 'Journalism News and Notes', in Robert S. Crawford (ed.), The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine (Feb 1926), 27, No. 4, 101. If you know any other example of Glenn Frank speaking about his five themes on facts, please contact Webmaster.
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Man must at all costs overcome the Earth’s gravity and have, in reserve, the space at least of the Solar System. All kinds of danger wait for him on the Earth… We are talking of disaster that can destroy the whole of mankind or a large part of it… For instance, a cloud of bolides [meteors] or a small planet a few dozen kilometers in diameter could fall on the Earth, with such an impact that the solid, liquid or gaseous blast produced by it could wipe off the face of the Earth all traces of man and his buildings. The rise of temperature accompanying it could alone scorch or kill all living beings… We are further compelled to take up the struggle against gravity, and for the utilization of celestial space and all its wealth, because of the overpopulation of our planet. Numerous other terrible dangers await mankind on the Earth, all of which suggest that man should look for a way into the Cosmos. We have said a great deal about the advantages of migration into space, but not all can be said or even imagined.
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My greatest hope for a future without another Deepwater Horizon disaster lies in our schools, living rooms and community centers, not in boardrooms, political chambers and big industry. If this happens again, we won’t have the luxury of the unknown to shield us from answering “Why?”
In 'Gulf Dispatch: Time to Tap Power of Teens', CNN Blog (23 Jul 2010).
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Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.
The Imagination of Disaster,' Against Interpretation (1966).
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Seldom has there occurred a more pitifully tragic disaster than the sudden fall of the Wright aeroplane, involving the death of that promising young officer Lieut. Thomas Selfridge, and inflicting shocking injuries on the talented inventor, Orville Wright. But although the accident is deplorable, it should not be allowed to discredit the art of aeroplane navigation. If it emphasizes the risks, there is nothing in the mishap to shake our faith in the principles upon which the Wright brothers built their machine, and achieved such brilliant success.
Magazine
In Scientific American (Sep 1908). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 Years Ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, like a violent volcano. The nuclear reactions had led to overheating in the underground burial grounds. The explosion poured radioactive dust and materials high up into the sky. It was just the wrong weather for such a tragedy. Strong winds blew the radioactive clouds hundreds of miles away. It was difficult to gauge the extent of the disaster immediately, and no evacuation plan was put into operation right away. Many villages and towns were only ordered to evacuate when the symptoms of radiation sickness were already quite apparent. Tens of thousands of people were affected, hundreds dying, though the real figures have never been made public. The large area, where the accident happened, is still considered dangerous and is closed to the public.
'Two Decades of Dissidence', New Scientist (4 Nov 1976), 72, No. 72, 265.
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The Chemical conviction
That Nought be lost
Enable in Disaster
My fractured Trust—
The Faces of the Atoms
If I shall see
How more the Finished Creatures
Departed Me!
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The Chemical conviction
That Nought be lost
Enable in Disaster
My fractured Trust—
The Faces of the Atoms
If I shall see
How more the Finished Creatures
Departed Me!
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The cutting of primeval forest and other disasters, fueled by the demands of growing human populations, are the overriding threat to biological diversity everywhere. (1992)
The Diversity of Life (1999), 259
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The disaster was caused neither by carelessness nor human failure. Unknown natural factors that we are still unable to explain today have made a mockery of all our efforts. The very substance intended to provide food and life to millions of our countrymen and which we have produced and supplied for years has suddenly become a cruel enemy for reasons we are as yet unable to fathom. It has reduced our site to rubble.
From the memorial service for the hundreds of people killed by the explosion of the ammonia fertilizer factory at Oppau, Germany. At the time, the explosive nature of ammonium nitrate was not understood.
BASF corporate history webpage.
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The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with booths in formal streets … so that it see’d to be a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not only splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in diverse places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in. London, by reason of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the breast, so as one could hardly breath. Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.
Writing about the Great Frost (1683-84).
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The oppressive weight of disaster and tragedy in our lives does not arise from a high percentage of evil among the summed total of all acts, but from the extraordinary power of exceedingly rare incidents of depravity to inflict catastrophic damage, especially in our technological age when airplanes can become powerful bombs. (An even more evil man, armed only with a longbow, could not have wreaked such havoc at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.)
…...
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The planned and orderly development and conservation of our natural resources is the first duty of the United States. It is the only form of insurance that will certainly protect us against disasters that lack of foresight has repeatedly brought down on nations since passed away.
In 'The Conservation of Natural Resources', The Outlook (12 Oxt 1907), 87, 294.
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The public image of the scientist tends to be that of a magician, occasionally benevolent, though more often giving rise to disastrous inventions, or perhaps that of a man shutting himself into a laboratory and, in his lonely way, playing with retorts and test tubes, or perhaps leaning back in a comfortable armchair in a darkened room and thinking.
In 'Why Scientists Talk', collected in John Wolfenden, Hermann Bondi, et al., The Languages of Science: A Survey of Techniques of Communication (1963), 35.
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The sense that the meaning of the universe had evaporated was what seemed to escape those who welcomed Darwin as a benefactor of mankind. Nietzsche considered that evolution presented a correct picture of the world, but that it was a disastrous picture. His philosophy was an attempt to produce a new world-picture which took Darwinism into account but was not nullified by it.
In Nietzsche: the Man and his Philosophy (1965), 90.
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The trees are man's best friends; but man has treated them as his worst enemies. The history of our race may be said to be the history of warfare upon the tree world. But while man has seemed to be the victor, his victories have brought upon him inevitable disasters.
'What We Owe to the Trees', Harper's New Monthly Magazine (Apr 1882), 46, No. 383, 675.
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The United States is the most powerful technically advanced country in the world to-day. Its influence on the shaping of international relations is absolutely incalculable. But America is a large country and its people have so far not shown much interest in great international problems, among which the problem of disarmament occupies first place today. This must be changed, if only in the essential interests of the Americans. The last war has shown that there are no longer any barriers between the continents and that the destinies of all countries are closely interwoven. The people of this country must realize that they have a great responsibility in the sphere of international politics. The part of passive spectator is unworthy of this country and is bound in the end to lead to disaster all round.
…...
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The word “dis-aster,” in fact, means “bad star.”
As quoted in Douglas Martin, 'Kenneth Franklin, Astronomer, Dies at 84', New York Times (21 Jun 2007), C13. This is etymologically correct. The word comes from late 16th century Italian disastro ‘ill-starred event,’ the prefix dis expresses negation + astro from Latin for 'star.'
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The world won’t come to an end, but the incidence of disasters will have a very big impact, and in ways we can't predict. … Rises in seas levels will displace millions of people. It’s estimated there will be 150 million refugees by 2050, homeless as a result of global warming. It’s how we deal with these problems that is as much the challenge as tackling the causes of global warming.
In The Independent (10 Aug 2003).
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There are those who will say “unless we announce disasters, no one will listen”, but I’m not one of them. It’s not the sort of thing I would ever say. It’s quite the opposite of what I think and it pains me to see this quote being used repeatedly in this way. I would never say we should hype up the risk of climate disasters in order to get noticed.
In Steve Connor, 'Fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist', The Independent (10 Feb 2010).
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These days, it’s really been uninteresting except when disasters occur.
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This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeits of our own behaviour—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows that I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.
King Lear (1605-6), I, ii.
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This [disaster] is a day we have managed to avoid for a quarter of a century. We’ve talked about it before and speculated about it, and it finally has occurred. We hoped we could push this day back forever.
Comment on the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger and the loss of the lives of all seven crew. Reported in New York Times (29 Jan 1986), A7.
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To use a Southern euphemism, our space program has been snake-bit.
Comment on the failed launch of an unmanned rocket, only a short time after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger.
Al Gore
ABC television interview, Nightline (5 May 1986). In James B. Simpson, Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations (1988).
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We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.
From interview with Anne Kalosh in her article 'Bringing Science Down to Earth', in Hemispheres (Oct 1994), 99. Collected and cited in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), 100. This was Sagan’s answer to her question, “How does not understanding science cripple people in their daily lives.”
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We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most critical elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
From The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 26.
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[About early aircraft:] We were ignorant, and we were ignorant of the fact that we were ignorant! This was ignorance squared, and it often led to disaster.
In The Story of the Winged-S: The Autobiography of Igor I. Sikorsky (2011).
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~~[Houghton did NOT write]~~ Unless we announce disasters, no-one will listen.
This IS NOT written in his book Global Warming: The Complete Briefing (1994). Houghton has explicitly denied writing it, saying it, or even believing it, in Steve Connor, 'Fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist', The Independent (10 Feb 2010). Perhaps the earliest example of this being falsely quoted is by Piers Akerman, in a Australian newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph (Nov 2006). Spreading virally, climate change skeptics now gleefully repeat the false quote, without verifying it.
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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 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Charles Babbage
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Euclid
Ralph Emerson
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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Thomas Edison
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- 60 -
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Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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Richard Feynman
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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