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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index E > Category: Evidence

Evidence Quotes (248 quotes)


... an analysis that puts the final link in the chain, for here we see correlations between cytological evidence and genetic results that are so strong and obvious that their validity cannot be denied. This paper has been called a landmark in experimental genetics. It is more than that—it is a cornerstone.
Describing the paper 'A Correlation of Cytological and Genetic Crossings-over in Zea mays' published by Barbara McClintock and her student Harriet Creighton in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1931), demonstrating that the exchange of genetic information that occurs during the production of sex cells is accompanied by an exchange of chromosomal material.
Classic Papers in Genetics (1959), 156.
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... If I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.
The Scientific Basis of Morals (1884), 28.
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Die Gewohnheit einer Meinung erzeugt oft völlige Ueberzeugung von ihrer Richtigkeit, sie verbirgt die schwächeren Theile davon, und macht uns unfähig, die Beweise dagegen anzunehmen.
The habit of an opinion often leads to the complete conviction of its truth, it hides the weaker parts of it, and makes us incapable of accepting the proofs against it.
(1827). German text in Ira Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition (1904), 31. Translated form in Carl Schorlemmer, The Rise and Development of Organic Chemistry (1894), 49.
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Dilbert: You joined the “Flat Earth Society?”
Dogbert: I believe the earth must be flat. There is no good evidence to support the so-called “round earth theory.”
Dilbert: I think Christopher Columbus would disagree.
Dogbert: How convenient that your best witness is dead.
Dilbert comic strip (9 Oct 1989).
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Dogbert: So, Since Columbus is dead, you have no evidence that the earth is round.
Dilbert: Look. You can Ask Senator John Glenn. He orbited the earth when he was an astronaut.
Dogbert: So, your theory depends on the honesty of politicians.
Dilbert: Yes... no, wait...
Dilbert comic strip (10 Oct 1989).
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Les mathématiciens parviennent à la solution d’un problême par le simple arrangement des données, & en réduisant le raisonnement à des opérations si simples, à des jugemens si courts, qu’ils ne perdent jamais de vue l’évidence qui leur sert de guide.
Mathematicians come to the solution of a problem by the simple arrangement of the data, and reducing the reasoning to such simple operations, to judgments so brief, that they never lose sight of the evidence that serves as their guide.
From a paper read to the Académie Royales des Sciences (18 Apr 1787), printed in Méthode de Nomenclature Chimique (1787), 12. Translation from the French by Webmaster.
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[In refutation of evolution] There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make it as fact, and I say that because for theory to become a fact, it needs to consistently have the same results after it goes through a series of tests. The tests that they put—that they use to support evolution do not have consistent results. Now too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it’s merely a theory.
[In favor of the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in schools.]
From interview by Miles O'Brien on CNN (30 Mar 1996). Reported from transcript, via Nexis, in New York Magazine (15 Sep 2010).
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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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A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers.
In Bertrand Russell and Paul Edwards (ed.), 'Preface', Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (1957), vi.
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A statistician is one who has learned how to get valid evidence from statistics and how (usually) to avoid being misled by irrelevant facts. It’s too bad that we apply the same name to this kind of person that we use for those who only tabulate. It’s as if we had the same name for barbers and brain surgeons because they both work on the head.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 1.
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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Epigraph, without citation, in B.M. Oliver and J. Billingham (eds.), 'Life in the Universe', Project Cyclops: A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life (Rev. Ed., Jul 1973). Also seen as “Absence of evidence is not identical with evidence of absence.” In Book Review, 'The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London (W.F. Grimes)', by A.R. Burn, The Classical Review (Jun 1969) New Series, 19, No. 2, 229-232.
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After an honest day’s work a mathematician goes off duty. Mathematics is very hard work, and dons tend to be above average in health and vigor. Below a certain threshold a man cracks up; but above it, hard mental work makes for health and vigor (also—on much historical evidence throughout the ages—for longevity). I have noticed lately that when I am working really hard I wake around 5.30 a.m. ready and eager to start; if I am slack, I sleep till I am called.
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 195.
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All interpretations made by a scientist are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are tentative. They must forever be tested and they must be revised if found to be unsatisfactory. Hence, a change of mind in a scientist, and particularly in a great scientist, is not only not a sign of weakness but rather evidence for continuing attention to the respective problem and an ability to test the hypothesis again and again.
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 831.
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All the scientist creates in a fact is the language in which he enunciates it. If he predicts a fact, he will employ this language, and for all those who can speak and understand it, his prediction is free from ambiguity. Moreover, this prediction once made, it evidently does not depend upon him whether it is fulfilled or not.
The Value of Science (1905), in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method(1946), trans. by George Bruce Halsted, 332.
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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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An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician find themselves in an anecdote, indeed an anecdote quite similar to many that you have no doubt already heard.
After some observations and rough calculations the engineer realizes the situation and starts laughing.
A few minutes later the physicist understands too and chuckles to himself happily, as he now has enough experimental evidence to publish a paper.
This leaves the mathematician somewhat perplexed, as he had observed right away that he was the subject of an anecdote, and deduced quite rapidly the presence of humor from similar anecdotes, but considers this anecdote to be too trivial a corollary to be significant, let alone funny.
Anonymous
In 'Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science' APS News (Jun 2003), 12 No. 6.
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An evolutionary view of human health and disease is not surprising or new; it is merely inevitable in the face of evidence and time.
Epigraph, without citation, in Robert Perlman, Evolution and Medicine (2013), xiii. Webmaster has not yet found the primary source; can you help?
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An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth's surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against.
In Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981), 88.
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An observant parent’s evidence may be disproved but should never be ignored.
Anonymous
Lancet (1951), 1, 688.
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As geologists, we learn that it is not only the present condition of the globe that has been suited to the accommodation of myriads of living creatures, but that many former states also have been equally adapted to the organization and habits of prior races of beings. The disposition of the seas, continents, and islands, and the climates have varied; so it appears that the species have been changed, and yet they have all been so modelled, on types analogous to those of existing plants and animals, as to indicate throughout a perfect harmony of design and unity of purpose. To assume that the evidence of the beginning or end of so vast a scheme lies within the reach of our philosophical inquiries, or even of our speculations, appears to us inconsistent with a just estimate of the relations which subsist between the finite powers of man and the attributes of an Infinite and Eternal Being.
Concluding remark, Principles of Geology(1833), Vol. 3, 384-5.
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As to the Christian religion, Sir, … there is a balance in its favor from the number of great men who have been convinced of its truth after a serious consideration of the question. Grotius was an acute man, a lawyer, a man accustomed to examine evidence, and he was convinced. Grotius was not a recluse, but a man of the world, who surely had no bias on the side of religion. Sir Isaac Newton set out an infidel, and came to be a very firm believer.
(1763). In George Birkbeck Hill (ed.), Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1799), Vol. 1, 524.
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As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?
In The Symbiotic Universe: Life and Mind in the Cosmos (1988), 27.
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Astronomy, as the science of cyclical motions, has nothing in common with Geology. But look at Astronomy where she has an analogy with Geology; consider our knowledge of the heavens as a palaetiological science;—as the study of a past condition, from which the present is derived by causes acting in time. Is there no evidence of a beginning, or of a progress?
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1857), Vol. 3, 516.
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Believing, as I do, in the continuity of nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. Here the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements the vision of the eye. By a necessity engendered and justified by science I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial Life.
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 191.
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Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in words evidence of the fact.
(Mary Ann Evans, English Novelist)
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Blushing is the most peculiar and most human of all expressions. Monkeys redden from passion but it would take an overwhelming amount of evidence to make us believe that any animal can blush.
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), 310.
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But at the same time, there must never be the least hesitation in giving up a position the moment it is shown to be untenable. It is not going too far to say that the greatness of a scientific investigator does not rest on the fact of his having never made a mistake, but rather on his readiness to admit that he has done so, whenever the contrary evidence is cogent enough.
Principles of General Physiology (1915), x.xi.
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But having considered everything which has been said, one could by this believe that the earth and not the heavens is so moved, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, this seems prima facie as much, or more, against natural reason as are all or several articles of our faith. Thus, that which I have said by way of diversion (esbatement) in this manner can be valuable to refute and check those who would impugn our faith by argument.
On the Book of the Heavens and the World of Aristotle [1377], bk. II, ch. 25, sect. 10, trans. A. D. Menut and A. J. Denomy, quoted in Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (1959), 606.
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But in the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing can ever have passed from one to another; and yet this light, which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule, therefore, throughout the universe, bears impressed on it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac ... the exact quantity of each molecule to all others of same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article and precludes the idea of its being external and self-existent.
'Molecules', 1873. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 375-6.
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Certain students of genetics inferred that the Mendelian units responsible for the selected character were genes producing only a single effect. This was careless logic. It took a good deal of hammering to get rid of this erroneous idea. As facts accumulated it became evident that each gene produces not a single effect, but in some cases a multitude of effects on the characters of the individual. It is true that in most genetic work only one of these character-effects is selected for study—the one that is most sharply defined and separable from its contrasted character—but in most cases minor differences also are recognizable that are just as much the product of the same gene as is the major effect.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 317.
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Circumstantial evidence can be overwhelming. We have never seen an atom, but we nevertheless know that it must exist.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 31.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. Not only has none of us ever experienced more than one consciousness, but there is also no trace of circumstantial evidence of this ever happening anywhere in the world. If I say that there cannot be more than one consciousness in the same mind, this seems a blunt tautology–we are quite unable to imagine the contrary.
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Cosmology, for centuries consisting of speculation based on a minimum of observational evidence and a maximum of philosophical predilection, became in the twentieth century an observational science, its theories now subject to verification or refutation to a degree previously unimaginable.
Opening sentence in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41.
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Creative imagination is likely to find corroborating novel evidence even for the most 'absurd' programme, if the search has sufficient drive. This look-out for new confirming evidence is perfectly permissible. Scientists dream up phantasies and then pursue a highly selective hunt for new facts which fit these phantasies. This process may be described as “science creating its own universe” (as long as one remembers that “creating” here is used in a provocative-idiosyncratic sense). A brilliant school of scholars (backed by a rich society to finance a few well-planned tests) might succeed in pushing any fantastic programme ahead, or alternatively, if so inclined, in overthrowing any arbitrarily chosen pillar of “established knowledge”.
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, 187-8.
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Does it mean, if you don’t understand something, and the community of physicists don’t understand it, that means God did it? Is that how you want to play this game? Because if it is, here’s a list of the things in the past that the physicists—at the time—didn’t understand … [but now we do understand.] If that’s how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance, that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller, as time moves on. So just be ready for that to happen, if that’s how you want to come at the problem. That’s simply the “God of the Gaps” argument that’s been around for ever.
From interview, The Science Studio video series of The Science Network website, episode 'The Moon, the Tides and why Neil DeGrasse Tyson is Colbert’s God' (20 Jan 2011), time 26:58-27:55.
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Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.
In 'An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change', The Sunday Times (11 Feb 2007).
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Eskimos living in a world of ice have no word at all for that substance—and this has been cited as evidence of their primitive mentality. But ice as such is of no interest to an Eskimo; what is of interest, indeed of vital importance, are the different kinds of ice with which he must deal virtually every day of his life.
As co-author with Floyd W. Matson, in The Human Connection (1979), 174. More often seen without explanatory context, as “The Eskimos live among ice all their lives but have no single word for ice,” for example, in Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar (1989), 111.
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Etna presents us not merely with an image of the power of subterranean heat, but a record also of the vast period of time during which that power has been exerted. A majestic mountain has been produced by volcanic action, yet the time of which the volcanic forms the register, however vast, is found by the geologist to be of inconsiderable amount, even in the modern annals of the earth's history. In like manner, the Falls of Niagara teach us not merely to appreciate the power of moving water, but furnish us at the same time with data for estimating the enormous lapse of ages during which that force has operated. A deep and long ravine has been excavated, and the river has required ages to accomplish the task, yet the same region affords evidence that the sum of these ages is as nothing, and as the work of yesterday, when compared to the antecedent periods, of which there are monuments in the same district.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 28-9.
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Eugene Dubois is no hero in my book, if only because I share the spirit of his unorthodoxies, but disagree so strongly with his version, and regard his supporting arguments as so weakly construed and so willfully blind to opposing evidence (the dogmatist within is always worse than the enemy without).
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Every investigator must before all things look upon himself as one who is summoned to serve on a jury. He has only to consider how far the statement of the case is complete and clearly set forth by the evidence. Then he draws his conclusion and gives his vote, whether it be that his opinion coincides with that of the foreman or not.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 190.
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Evidence of this [transformation of animals into fossils] is that parts of aquatic animals and perhaps of naval gear are found in rock in hollows on mountains, which water no doubt deposited there enveloped in sticky mud, and which were prevented by coldness and dryness of the stone from petrifying completely. Very striking evidence of this kind is found in the stones of Paris, in which one very often meets round shells the shape of the moon.
De Causis Proprietatum Elementorum (On the Causes of the Properties of the Elements) [before 1280], Book II, tract 3, chapter 5, quoted in A. C. Crombie, Augustine to Galileo (1959), Vol. 1, 126.
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Evolution is the conviction that organisms developed their current forms by an extended history of continual transformation, and that ties of genealogy bind all living things into one nexus. Panselectionism is a denial of history, for perfection covers the tracks of time. A perfect wing may have evolved to its current state, but it may have been created just as we find it. We simply cannot tell if perfection be our only evidence. As Darwin himself understood so well, the primary proofs of evolution are oddities and imperfections that must record pathways of historical descent–the panda’s thumb and the flamingo’s smile of my book titles (chosen to illustrate this paramount principle of history).
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Experimental evidence is strongly in favor of my argument that the chemical purity of the air is of no importance.
Lecturer on Physiology at London Hospital, in 'Impure Air Not Unhealthful If Stirred and Cooled,' in The New York Times, September 22, 1912.
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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
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False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.
The Descent of Man (1871), Vol. 2, 385.
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Geologists have not been slow to admit that they were in error in assuming that they had an eternity of past time for the evolution of the earth's history. They have frankly acknowledged the validity of the physical arguments which go to place more or less definite limits to the antiquity of the earth. They were, on the whole, disposed to acquiesce in the allowance of 100 millions of years granted to them by Lord Kelvin, for the transaction of the whole of the long cycles of geological history. But the physicists have been insatiable and inexorable. As remorseless as Lear's daughters, they have cut down their grant of years by successive slices, until some of them have brought the number to something less than ten millions. In vain have the geologists protested that there must somewhere be a flaw in a line of argument which tends to results so entirely at variance with the strong evidence for a higher antiquity, furnished not only by the geological record, but by the existing races of plants and animals. They have insisted that this evidence is not mere theory or imagination, but is drawn from a multitude of facts which become hopelessly unintelligible unless sufficient time is admitted for the evolution of geological history. They have not been able to disapprove the arguments of the physicists, but they have contended that the physicists have simply ignored the geological arguments as of no account in the discussion.
'Twenty-five years of Geological Progress in Britain', Nature, 1895, 51, 369.
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Go and see.
Given by author Thomas George Bonney as a maxim always guiding Lyell’s work. In Charles Lyell and Modern Geology (1895), 213. See another quote on this web page and compare Lyell’s own words: “We must preach up travelling … as the first, second, and third requisites for a modern geologist…”.
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Gradually, at various points in our childhoods, we discover different forms of conviction. There’s the rock-hard certainty of personal experience (“I put my finger in the fire and it hurt,”), which is probably the earliest kind we learn. Then there’s the logically convincing, which we probably come to first through maths, in the context of Pythagoras’s theorem or something similar, and which, if we first encounter it at exactly the right moment, bursts on our minds like sunrise with the whole universe playing a great chord of C Major.
In short essay, 'Dawkins, Fairy Tales, and Evidence', 2.
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GUNPOWDER, n. An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted. By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  124-125.
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He [Samuel Johnson] bid me always remember this, that after a system is well settled upon positive evidence, a few objections ought not to shake it. “The human mind is so limited that it cannot take in all parts of a subject; so that there may be objections raised against anything. There are objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum. Yet one of them must certainly be true.”
Note: Whereas vacuum means devoid of matter, plenum regards a space with matter throughout.
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How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought … [The Phenomenon of Man] is written in an all but totally unintelligible style, and this is construed as prima-facie evidence of profundity.
Medawar’s book review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin first appeared as 'Critical Notice' in the journal Mind (1961), 70, No. 277, 105. The book review was reprinted in The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967).
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Humans are not by nature the fact-driven, rational beings we like to think we are. We get the facts wrong more often than we think we do. And we do so in predictable ways: we engage in wishful thinking. We embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject evidence that challenges them. Our minds tend to take shortcuts, which require some effort to avoid … [and] more often than most of us would imagine, the human mind operates in ways that defy logic.
As co-author with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007), 69.
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I admitted, that the world had existed millions of years. I am astonished at the ignorance of the masses on these subjects. Hugh Miller has it right when he says that 'the battle of evidences must now be fought on the field of the natural sciences.'
Letter to Burke A. Hinsdale, president of Hiram College (10 Jan 1859), commenting on the audience at Garfield's debate with William Denton. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 80.
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I am a great believer in the simplicity of things and as you probably know I am inclined to hang on to broad & simple ideas like grim death until evidence is too strong for my tenacity.
Letter to Irving Langmuir (10 Jun 1919). Quoted in Nathan Reingold and Ida H. Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 354.
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I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.
'Isaac Asimov on Science and the Bible'. In Sidney Hook, et. al. On the Barricades: Religion and Free Inquiry in Conflict (1989), 329.
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I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years. The isolation and counting of gaseous ions, on the one hand, which have crowned with success the long and brilliant researches of J.J. Thomson, and, on the other, agreement of the Brownian movement with the requirements of the kinetic hypothesis, established by many investigators and most conclusively by J. Perrin, justify the most cautious scientist in now speaking of the experimental proof of the atomic nature of matter, The atomic hypothesis is thus raised to the position of a scientifically well-founded theory, and can claim a place in a text-book intended for use as an introduction to the present state of our knowledge of General Chemistry.
In Grundriss der allgemeinen Chemie (4th ed., 1909), Preface, as cited by Erwin N. Hiebert and Hans-Gunther Korber in article on Ostwald in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography Supplement 1, Vol 15-16, 464.
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I am the most hesitating of men, the most fearful of committing myself when I lack evidence. But on the contrary, no consideration can keep me from defending what I hold as true when I can rely on solid scientific proof.
As quoted in René J. Dubos, Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1960, 1986), 76.
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I argued that it was important not to place too much reliance on any single piece of experimental evidence. It might turn out to be misleading, as the 5.1 Å reflection undoubtedly was. Jim was a little more brash, stating that no good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading if not plain wrong. A theory that did fit all the data would have been “carpentered” to do so and would thus be open to suspicion.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 59-60.
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I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.
After stating he did definitely not believe in flying saucers, ancient astronauts, Bermuda Triangle or life after death, he explained what he would believe in. From editorial, 'Don’t You Believe?', Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (18 Jan 1982), 6, No. 1, 6. Collected in The Roving Mind (1983), 43.
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I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph.
From a letter to his brother describing the challenge of defending his patents (19 Apr 1848).
Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals (1914), vol.2, 283.
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I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open.
In Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906), Vol. 1, 101.
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I often get letters … from people who say … I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature. … I reply … “Well, it’s funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things … orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses.” But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he’s five years old. And I … say, “Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well,” and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action. And therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing.
From BBC TV, Life on Air (2002).
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I stand almost with the others. They believe the world was made for man, I believe it likely that it was made for man; they think there is proof, astronomical mainly, that it was made for man, I think there is evidence only, not proof, that it was made for him. It is too early, yet, to arrange the verdict, the returns are not all in. When they are all in, I think that they will show that the world was made for man; but we must not hurry, we must patiently wait till they are all in.
Attributed.
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If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one, if judged by the evidence on hand.
A cautious statement indicating that evidence was, in 1954, beginning to point to the connection between lung cancer and smoking.
Quoted in 'Tobacco Industry Denies Cancer Tie'. New York Times (14 Apr 1954), 51. In Oliver E. Byrd, Health Yearbook (1954), 142. The newspaper article was a report 'that the Tobacco Industry Research Committee had made public a list of "quotations and statements authorized by 36 distinguished cancer authorities" denying that there was any proof establishing a link between smothing and lung cancer. The committee is the spokesman for the leading tobacco manufacturers and associations of tobacco growers.' Webmaster comments: So, the central news was the publication of a booklet (which was essentially statements carefully picked for the purpose of propaganda for the tobacco industry). The quoted comment of Dr. Heuper, of the National Cancer Institute, is often seen in a list of regrettable remarks—where it is always stated lacking the final qualifying phrase, 'if judged by the evidence on hand.' Thus his statement was not at all an outright denial that smoking and lung cancer were related, but was—in fact— a balanced viewpoint indicating that the evidence was not yet in place. In fact, at the time, there was much debate on what reliable conclusions could be drawn on the basis of existing conflicting evidence from various researchers. Dr. Heuper's career was spent actively protecting health by carefully investigating cancer risks from various domestic and industrial chemicals. The list of regrettable remarks presently widely circulating on the web, and frequently seen in publications, unfairly distorts the intent of Heuper's quotation by omitting the final phrase. What is regrettable is that a huge number of authors are republishing the distorted remark, without consulting a primary print source and examining its context. Again, at the time, even the position of the American Cancer Society was cautiously stated, and limited to their position to: 'The evidence to date justifies suspicion that cigarette smoking does, to a degree as yet undertermined, increase the likelihood of developing cancer of the lung....' (See the ACS quote for 17 Mar 1954).
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If that's how it all started, then we might as well face the fact that what's left out there is a great deal of shrapnel and a whole bunch of cinders (one of which is, fortunately, still hot enough and close enough to be good for tanning). Trying to find some sense and order in this mess may be as futile as trying to … reconstruct the economy of Iowa from a bowl of popcorn. [On searching for evidence of the Big Bang.]
From essay 'First Person Secular: Blocking the Gates to Heaven', Mother Jones Magazine (Jun 1986), 48. Collected in The Worst Years of our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1995), 267.
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If the finding of Coines, Medals, Urnes, and other Monuments of famous Persons, or Towns, or Utensils, be admitted for unquestionable Proofs, that such Persons or things have, in former Times, had a being, certainly those Petrifactions may be allowed to be of equal Validity and Evidence, that there have been formerly such Vegetables or Animals. These are truly Authentick Antiquity not to be counterfeited, the Stamps, and Impressions, and Characters of Nature that are beyond the Reach and Power of Humane Wit and Invention, and are true universal Characters legible to all rational Men.
Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes (1668). In The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, containing his Cutlerian Lectures and other Discourses read at the Meetings of the Illustrious Royal Society (1705), 449.
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If they don’t depend on true evidence, scientists are no better than gossips.
…...
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In a crystal we have the clear evidence of the existence of a formative life-principle, and though we cannot understand the life of a crystal, it is none the less a living being.
In 'The Problem of Increasing Human Energy: With Special Reference to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy', Century Illustrated Magazine (Jun 1900), 60, No. 2, 180.
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In all things, therefore, where we have clear evidence from our ideas, and those principles of knowledge I have above mentioned, reason is the proper judge; and revelation, though it may, in consenting with it, confirm its dictates, yet cannot in such cases invalidate its decrees: nor can we be obliged, where we have the clear and evident sentience of reason, to quit it for the contrary opinion, under a pretence that it is matter of faith: which can have no authority against the plain and clear dictates of reason.
in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 18, sec. 20.
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In attempting to discover how much blood passes from the veins into the arteries I made dissections of living animals, opened up arteries in them, and carried out various other investigations. I also considered the symmetry and size of the ventricles of the heart and of the vessels which enter and leave them (since Nature, who does nothing purposelessly, would not purposelessly have given these vessels such relatively large size). I also recalled the elegant and carefully contrived valves and fibres and other structural artistry of the heart; and many other points. I considered rather often and with care all this evidence, and took correspondingly long trying to assess how much blood was transmitted and in how short a time. I also noted that the juice of the ingested food could not supply this amount without our having the veins, on the one hand, completely emptied and the arteries, on the other hand, brought to bursting through excessive inthrust of blood, unless the blood somehow flowed back again from the arteries into the veins and returned to the right ventricle of the heart. In consequence, I began privately to consider that it had a movement, as it were, in a circle.
De Motu Cordis (1628), The Circulation of the Blood and Other Writings, trans. Kenneth j. Franklin (1957), Chapter 8, 57-8.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In describing a protein it is now common to distinguish the primary, secondary and tertiary structures. The primary structure is simply the order, or sequence, of the amino-acid residues along the polypeptide chains. This was first determined by Sanger using chemical techniques for the protein insulin, and has since been elucidated for a number of peptides and, in part, for one or two other small proteins. The secondary structure is the type of folding, coiling or puckering adopted by the polypeptide chain: the a-helix structure and the pleated sheet are examples. Secondary structure has been assigned in broad outline to a number of librous proteins such as silk, keratin and collagen; but we are ignorant of the nature of the secondary structure of any globular protein. True, there is suggestive evidence, though as yet no proof, that a-helices occur in globular proteins, to an extent which is difficult to gauge quantitatively in any particular case. The tertiary structure is the way in which the folded or coiled polypeptide chains are disposed to form the protein molecule as a three-dimensional object, in space. The chemical and physical properties of a protein cannot be fully interpreted until all three levels of structure are understood, for these properties depend on the spatial relationships between the amino-acids, and these in turn depend on the tertiary and secondary structures as much as on the primary. Only X-ray diffraction methods seem capable, even in principle, of unravelling the tertiary and secondary structures.
Co-author with G. Bodo, H. M. Dintzis, R. G. Parrish, H. Wyckoff, and D. C. Phillips
'A Three-Dimensional Model of the Myoglobin Molecule Obtained by X-ray Analysis', Nature (1958) 181, 662.
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In India we have clear evidence that administrative statistics had reached a high state of organization before 300 B.C. In the Arthasastra of Kautilya … the duties of the Gopa, the village accountant, [include] “by setting up boundaries to villages, by numbering plots of grounds as cultivated, uncultivated, plains, wet lands, gardens, vegetable gardens, fences (váta), forests altars, temples of gods, irrigation works, cremation grounds, feeding houses (sattra), places where water is freely supplied to travellers (prapá), places of pilgrimage, pasture grounds and roads, and thereby fixing the boundaries of various villages, of fields, of forests, and of roads, he shall register gifts, sales, charities, and remission of taxes regarding fields.”
Editorial, introducing the new statistics journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sankhayā (1933), 1, No. 1. Also reprinted in Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (Feb 2003), 65, No. 1, viii.
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In mathematics, … and in natural philosophy since mathematics was applied to it, we see the noblest instance of the force of the human mind, and of the sublime heights to which it may rise by cultivation. An acquaintance with such sciences naturally leads us to think well of our faculties, and to indulge sanguine expectations concerning the improvement of other parts of knowledge. To this I may add, that, as mathematical and physical truths are perfectly uninteresting in their consequences, the understanding readily yields its assent to the evidence which is presented to it; and in this way may be expected to acquire the habit of trusting to its own conclusions, which will contribute to fortify it against the weaknesses of scepticism, in the more interesting inquiries after moral truth in which it may afterwards engage.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 182.
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In my youth I often asked what could be the use and necessity of smelting by putting powdered charcoal at the bottom of the furnace. Nobody could give me any other reason except that the metal and especially lead, could bury itself in the charcoal and so be protected against the action of the bellows which would calcine or dissipate it. Nevertheless it is evident that this does not answer the question. I accordingly examined the operation of a metallurgical furnace and how it was used. In assaying some litharge [lead oxide], I noticed each time a little charcoal fell into the crucible, I always obtained a bit of lead … I do not think up to the present time foundry-men ever surmised that in the operation of founding with charcoal there was something [phlogiston] which became corporeally united with the metal.
Traité de Soufre (1766), 64. French translation published 1766, first published in German in 1718.
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In scientific study, or, as I prefer to phrase it, in creative scholarship, the truth is the single end sought; all yields to that. The truth is supreme, not only in the vague mystical sense in which that expression has come to be a platitude, but in a special, definite, concrete sense. Facts and the immediate and necessary inductions from facts displace all pre-conceptions, all deductions from general principles, all favourite theories. Previous mental constructions are bowled over as childish play-structures by facts as they come rolling into the mind. The dearest doctrines, the most fascinating hypotheses, the most cherished creations of the reason and of the imagination perish from a mind thoroughly inspired with the scientific spirit in the presence of incompatible facts. Previous intellectual affections are crushed without hesitation and without remorse. Facts are placed before reasonings and before ideals, even though the reasonings and the ideals be more beautiful, be seemingly more lofty, be seemingly better, be seemingly truer. The seemingly absurd and the seemingly impossible are sometimes true. The scientific disposition is to accept facts upon evidence, however absurd they may appear to our pre-conceptions.
The Ethical Functions of Scientific Study: An Address Delivered at the Annual Commencement of the University of Michigan, 28 June 1888, 7-8.
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In the application of inductive logic to a given knowledge situation, the total evidence available must be used as a basis for determining the degree of confirmation.
In Logical Foundations of Probability (1950, 1962), 211.
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In the collecting of evidence upon any medical subject, there are but three sources from which we can hope to obtain it: viz. from observation of the living subject; from examination of the dead; and from experiments upon living animals.
Astley Cooper and Benjamin Travers, Surgical Essays (1821), Vol. 1, 84. In Ira M. Rutkow, The History of Surgery in the United States, 1775-1900 (1988), 394.
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In the early seventies my mother [Mary Leakey] returned to Laetoli, a site in Tanzania that my parents had discovered in the thirties. In 1976, she discovered footprints of ancient hominids. These three-and-a-half-million- year-old footprints provide evidence of bipedality.
In Pamela Weintraub, The Omni Interviews (1984), 60.
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In the heavens we discover [stars] by their light, and by their light alone ... the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds ... that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule therefore throughout the universe bears impressed upon it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac.
[Footnote: Where Maxwell uses the term “molecule” we now use the term “atom.”]
Lecture to the British Association at Bradford (1873), 'Atoms and Molecules'. Quoted by Ernest Rutherford, in 'The Constitution of Matter and the Evolution of the Elements', The Popular Science Monthly (Aug 1915), 112.
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In the realm of science all attempts to find any evidence of supernatural beings, of metaphysical conceptions, as God, immortality, infinity, etc., thus far have failed, and if we are honest we must confess that in science there exists no God, no immortality, no soul or mind as distinct from the body.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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Louis Agassiz quote: In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themse
In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themselves, push their spectators to search for new evidence. The mind’s activity that is maintained by the debates about these works, is probably the source of the greatest joys given to man to experience on Earth.
La théorie des glaciers et ses progrès les plus récents. Bibl. universelle de Geneve, (3), Vol. 41, p. 139. Trans. Karin Verrecchia.
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It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell’s equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed.
The Strange Story of the Quantum (1947), 42.
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It does appear that on the whole a physicist… tries to reduce his theory at all times to as few parameters as possible and is inclined to feel that a theory is a “respectable” one, though by no means necessarily correct, if in principle it does offer reasonably specific means for its possible refutation. Moreover the physicist will generally arouse the irritation amongst fellow physicists if he is not prepared to abandon his theory when it clashes with subsequent experiments. On the other hand it would appear that the chemist regards theories—or perhaps better his theories (!) —as far less sacrosanct, and perhaps in extreme cases is prepared to modify them continually as each bit of new experimental evidence comes in.
'Discussion: Physics and Chemistry: Comments on Caldin's View of Chemistry', British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 1960, 11, 222.
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It has been shown to be possible, by deliberately planned and chemotherapeutic approach, to discover curative agents which act specifically and aetiologically against diseases due to protozoal infections, and especially against the spirilloses, and amongst these against syphilis in the first place. Further evidence for the specificity of the action of dihydroxydiaminoarsenobenzene [Salvarsan ‘606’] is the disappearance of the Wasserman reaction, which reaction must … be regarded as indicative of a reaction of the organism to the constituents of the spirochaetes.
P. Ehrlich and S. Hata, 'Closing Notes to the Experimental Chemotherapy of Spirilloses', 1910. Reprinted in F. Himmelweit (ed.), The Collected Papers of Paul Ehrlich (1957), Vol. 3, 302.
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It has long been a complaint against mathematicians that they are hard to convince: but it is a far greater disqualification both for philosophy, and for the affairs of life, to be too easily convinced; to have too low a standard of proof. The only sound intellects are those which, in the first instance, set their standards of proof high. Practice in concrete affairs soon teaches them to make the necessary abatement: but they retain the consciousness, without which there is no sound practical reasoning, that in accepting inferior evidence because there is no better to be had, they do not by that acceptance raise it to completeness.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611.
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It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.
A Study in Scarlet (1887), in Works of Arthur Conan Doyle (1902), Vol. 11, 39.
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It is a great deal easier to believe in the existence of parapsychological phenomena, if one is ignorant of, or indifferent to, the nature of scientific evidence.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 207.
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It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything—until, that is, it comes to climate science. All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence. So thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here this evening, who have the far-sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help.
Speech, awards ceremony for green entrepreneurs, Buckingham Palace (30 Jan 2014). As quoted in Benn Quinn, 'Climate Change Sceptics are ‘Headless Chickens’, Says Prince Charles', The Guardian (31 Jan 2014).
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It is certainly true in the United States that there is an uneasiness about certain aspects of science, particularly evolution, because it conflicts, in some people’s minds, with their sense of how we all came to be. But you know, if you are a believer in God, it’s hard to imagine that God would somehow put this incontrovertible evidence in front of us about our relationship to other living organisms and expect us to disbelieve it. I mean, that doesn't make sense at all.
From video of interview with Huffington post reporter at the 2014 Davos Annual Meeting, World Economic Forum (25 Jan 2014). On web page 'Dr. Francis Collins: “There Is An Uneasiness” About Evolution'
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It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 234.
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It is often held that scientific hypotheses are constructed, and are to be constructed, only after a detailed weighing of all possible evidence bearing on the matter, and that then and only then may one consider, and still only tentatively, any hypotheses. This traditional view however, is largely incorrect, for not only is it absurdly impossible of application, but it is contradicted by the history of the development of any scientific theory. What happens in practice is that by intuitive insight, or other inexplicable inspiration, the theorist decides that certain features seem to him more important than others and capable of explanation by certain hypotheses. Then basing his study on these hypotheses the attempt is made to deduce their consequences. The successful pioneer of theoretical science is he whose intuitions yield hypotheses on which satisfactory theories can be built, and conversely for the unsuccessful (as judged from a purely scientific standpoint).
Co-author with Raymond Arthur Lyttleton, in 'The Internal Constitution of the Stars', Occasional Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society 1948, 12, 90.
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It is the desire for explanations that are at once systematic and controllable by factual evidence that generates science; and it is the organization and classification of knowledge on the basis of explanatory principles that is the distinctive goal of the sciences.
The Structure of Science (1961), 4.
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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.
In 'The Ethics of Belief', Contemporary Review (Jan 1877), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 346.
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It may be that in the practice of religion men have real evidence of the Being of God. If that is so, it is merely fallacious to refuse consideration of this evidence because no similar evidence is forthcoming from the study of physics, astronomy or biology.
In Nature, Man and God: Being the Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Glasgow in the Academical Years 1932-1933 and 1933-1934 (1934), 11.
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It seems to me that the evidence ... is opposed to the view that the spirals are individual galaxies comparable with our own. In fact, there appears as yet no reason for modifying the tentative hypothesis that the spirals are not composed of typical stars at all, but are truly nebulous objects.
[Contradicting the view of Heber Curtis during the Shapley-Curtis debate on 26 Apr 1920 to the National Academy of Sciences.]
In Aleksandr Sergeevich Sharov and Igor Dmitrievich Novikov, Edwin Hubble: The Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe (1993), 27.
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It takes a trained and discerning researcher to keep the goal in sight, and to detect evidence of the creeping progress toward it.
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
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It was noted long ago that the front row of burlesque houses was occupied predominantly by bald-headed men. In fact, such a row became known as the bald-headed row. It might be assumed from this on statistical evidence that the continued close observation of chorus girls in tights caused loss of hair from the top of the head.
[Disputing a statistical study for the American Cancer Society showing smoking to be a cancer causative.]
In Bess Furman, '2 Cite Extraction of Cigarette Tar', New York Times (26 Jul 1957), 21. The article reported on testimony before the Legal and Monetary Affairs Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee.
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It would appear that Deductive and Demonstrative Sciences are all, without exception, Inductive Sciences: that their evidence is that of experience, but that they are also, in virtue of the peculiar character of one indispensable portion of the general formulae according to which their inductions are made, Hypothetical Sciences. Their conclusions are true only upon certain suppositions, which are, or ought to be, approximations to the truth, but are seldom, if ever, exactly true; and to this hypothetical character is to be ascribed the peculiar certainty, which is supposed to be inherent in demonstration.
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 6, 1.
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It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics.
From editted transcript of BBC Radio 3 interview, collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 33.
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Just as, in civil History, one consults title-deeds, one studies coins, one deciphers ancient inscriptions, in order to determine the epochs of human revolutions and to fix the dates of moral [i.e. human] events; so, in Natural History, one must excavate the archives of the world, recover ancient monuments from the depths of the earth, collect their remains, and assemble in one body of proofs all the evidence of physical changes that enable us to reach back to the different ages of Nature. This, then, is the order of the times indicated by facts and monuments: these are six epochs in the succession of the first ages of Nature; six spaces of duration, the limits of which although indeterminate are not less real; for these epochs are not like those of civil History ... that we can count and measure exactly; nevertheless we can compare them with each other and estimate their relative duration.
'Des Époques de la Nature', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière contenant les Époques de la Nature (1778), Supplement Vol. 9, 1-2, 41. Trans. Martin J. Rudwick.
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Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason allows us to discover it. I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
Concluding remarks. The Descent of Man (1871), Vol. 2, 405.
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Mars was surprising in its way but not flabbergasting; it was a disappointment not to find evidences of life, and there was some sadness in the pictures sent back to earth from the Mars Lander, that lonely long-legged apparatus poking about with its jointed arm, picking up sample after sample of the barren Mars soil, looking for any flicker of life and finding none; the only sign of life on Mars was the Lander itself, an extension of the human mind all the way from earth to Mars, totally alone.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984), 22.
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Mathematics had never had more than a secondary interest for him [her husband, George Boole]; and even logic he cared for chiefly as a means of clearing the ground of doctrines imagined to be proved, by showing that the evidence on which they were supposed to give rest had no tendency to prove them. But he had been endeavoring to give a more active and positive help than this to the cause of what he deemed pure religion.
In Eleanor Meredith Cobham, Mary Everest Boole: Collected Works (1931), 40.
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My own thinking (and that of many of my colleagues) is based on two general principles, which I shall call the Sequence Hypothesis and the Central Dogma. The direct evidence for both of them is negligible, but I have found them to be of great help in getting to grips with these very complex problems. I present them here in the hope that others can make similar use of them. Their speculative nature is emphasized by their names. It is an instructive exercise to attempt to build a useful theory without using them. One generally ends in the wilderness.
The Sequence Hypothesis
This has already been referred to a number of times. In its simplest form it assumes that the specificity of a piece of nucleic acid is expressed solely by the sequence of its bases, and that this sequence is a (simple) code for the amino acid sequence of a particular protein...
The Central Dogma
This states that once 'information' has passed into protein it cannot get out again. In more detail, the transfer of information from nucleic acid to nucleic acid, or from nucleic acid to protein may be possible, but transfer from protein to protein, or from protein to nucleic acid is impossible. Information means here the precise determination of sequence, either of bases in the nucleic acid or of amino acid residues in the protein. This is by no means universally held—Sir Macfarlane Burnet, for example, does not subscribe to it—but many workers now think along these lines. As far as I know it has not been explicitly stated before.
'On Protein Synthesis', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology: The Biological Replication of Macromolecules, 1958, 12, 152-3.
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Neither in the subjective nor in the objective world can we find a criterion for the reality of the number concept, because the first contains no such concept, and the second contains nothing that is free from the concept. How then can we arrive at a criterion? Not by evidence, for the dice of evidence are loaded. Not by logic, for logic has no existence independent of mathematics: it is only one phase of this multiplied necessity that we call mathematics.
How then shall mathematical concepts be judged? They shall not be judged. Mathematics is the supreme arbiter. From its decisions there is no appeal. We cannot change the rules of the game, we cannot ascertain whether the game is fair. We can only study the player at his game; not, however, with the detached attitude of a bystander, for we are watching our own minds at play.
In Number: The Language of Science; a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1937), 244-245.
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Nevertheless, scientific method is not the same as the scientific spirit. The scientific spirit does not rest content with applying that which is already known, but is a restless spirit, ever pressing forward towards the regions of the unknown, and endeavouring to lay under contribution for the special purpose in hand the knowledge acquired in all portions of the wide field of exact science. Lastly, it acts as a check, as well as a stimulus, sifting the value of the evidence, and rejecting that which is worthless, and restraining too eager flights of the imagination and too hasty conclusions.
'The Scientific Spirit in Medicine: Inaugural Sessional Address to the Abernethian Society', St. Bartholomew's Hospital Journal, 1912, 20, 19.
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No evidence is powerful enough to force acceptance of a conclusion that is emotionally distasteful.
'Review of Evolution, Creation and Science by F. L. Marsh', American Naturalist, 79, 1945, 75.
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No other animals have ever lighted fires as far as we can tell. In field archeology, a charcoal deposit found in such a location that it could not have been made by a forest fire is taken as conclusive evidence of man. A circular dark disk in the soil five or six feet in diameter is such a find. … With … modern radioactive dating methods, we can trace man’s history.
In 'Man’s Place in the Physical Universe', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sep 1965), 21, No. 7, 15.
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No true geologist holds by the development hypothesis;—it has been resigned to sciolists and smatterers;—and there is but one other alternative. They began to be, through the miracle of creation. From the evidence furnished by these rocks we are shut down either to belief in miracle, or to something else infinitely harder of reception, and as thoroughly unsupported by testimony as it is contrary to experience. Hume is at length answered by the severe truths of the stony science.
The Foot-prints of the Creator: Or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1850, 1859), 301.
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Nothing can so quickly blur and distort the facts as desire—the wish to use the facts for some purpose of your own—and nothing can so surely destroy the truth. As soon as the witness wants to prove something he is no longer impartial and his evidence is no longer to be trusted.
From 'Getting at the Truth', The Saturday Review (19 Sep 1953), 36, No. 38, 12. Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 400.
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Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found?
'The Will to Believe' (1896). In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), 14.
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Of Science generally we can remark, first, that it is the most perfect embodiment of Truth, and of the ways of getting at Truth. More than anything else does it impress the mind with the nature of Evidence, with the labour and precautions necessary to prove a thing. It is the grand corrective of the laxness of the natural man in receiving unaccredited facts and conclusions. It exemplifies the devices for establishing a fact, or a law, under every variety of circumstances; it saps the credit of everything that is affirmed without being properly attested.
In Education as a Science (1879), 147-148.
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Once a mathematical result is proven to the satisfaction of the discipline, it doesn’t need to be re-evaluated in the light of new evidence or refuted, unless it contains a mistake. If it was true for Archimedes, then it is true today.
In 'The Unplanned Impact of Mathematics', Nature (14 Jul 2011), 475, No. 7355, 166.
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One of the great achievements of the 1950s and 1960s was a [TV] series called Your Life in Their Hands, which dealt with medical science. It presented the scientific evidence for the connection between tobacco and cancer, against the entrenched opposition, all of which you can quite easily imagine. … The “television doctor” … presented the evidence of the connection between the two over and over again on television. A lot of people tried to stop it, but he carried on. It ruined his career, I suspect, in the medical sense, but he stuck to his guns. It’s one of early television’s badges of honour.
From interview with Brian Cox and Robert Ince, in 'A Life Measured in Heartbeats', New Statesman (21 Dec 2012), 141, No. 5138, 32.
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One of the most striking evidences of the reliability of the organic chemist's methods of determining molecular structure is the fact that he has never been able to derive satisfactory structures for supposed molecules which are in fact nonexistent.
Physical Organic Chemistry; Reaction Rates, Equilibria, and Mechanisms (1940),38.
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One of the most striking results of modern investigation has been the way in which several different and quite independent lines of evidence indicate that a very great event occurred about two thousand million years ago. The radio-active evidence for the age of meteorites; and the estimated time for the tidal evolution of the Moon's orbit (though this is much rougher), all agree in their testimony, and, what is far more important, the red-shift in the nebulae indicates that this date is fundamental, not merely in the history of our system, but in that of the material universe as a whole.
The Solar System and its Origin (1935), 137.
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OSTRICH, n. A large bird to which (for its sins, doubtless) nature has denied that hinder toe in which so many pious naturalists have seen a conspicuous evidence of design. The absence of a good working pair of wings is no defect, for, as has been ingeniously pointed out, the ostrich does not fly.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  241.
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Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not.
The Use of Life (1895), 225.
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Outside the practice of science itself, scientists have sometimes been the greatest offenders in adhering to dogmatic ideas against all the evidence.
Science and the Human Imagination: Aspects of the History and Logic of Physical Science (1955).
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Overwhelming evidences of an intelligence and benevolent intention surround us, show us the whole of nature through the work of a free will and teach us that all alive beings depend on an eternal creator-ruler.
…...
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Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard, you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants?
In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), 22.
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Persons possessing great intellect and a capacity for excelling in the creative arts and also in the sciences are generally likely to have heavier brains than the ordinary individual. Arguing from this we might expect to find a corresponding lightness in the brain of the criminal, but this is not always the case ... Many criminals show not a single anomaly in their physical or mental make-up, while many persons with marked evidences of morphological aberration have never exhibited the criminal tendency.
Every attempt to prove crime to be due to a constitution peculiar only to criminals has failed signally. It is because most criminals are drawn from the ranks of the low, the degraded, the outcast, that investigators were ever deceived into attempting to set up a 'type' of criminal. The social conditions which foster the great majority of crimes are more needful of study and improvement.
From study of known normal brains we have learned that there is a certain range of variation. No two brains are exactly alike, and the greatest source of error in the assertions of Benedict and Lombroso has been the finding of this or that variation in a criminal’s brains, and maintaining such to be characteristic of the 'criminal constitution,' unmindful of the fact that like variations of structure may and do exist in the brains of normal, moral persons.
Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia (28 Dec 1904), as quoted in 'Americans of Future Will Have Best Brains', New York Times (29 Dec 1904), 6.
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Picture yourself during the early 1920's inside the dome of the [Mount Wilson Observatory]. … [Milton] Humason is showing [Harlow] Shapley stars he had found in the Andromeda Nebula that appeared and disappeared on photographs of that object. The famous astronomer very patiently explains that these objects could not be stars because the Nebula was a nearby gaseous cloud within our own Milky Way system. Shapley takes his handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the identifying marks off the back of the photographic plate.
Of course, Hubble came along in 1924 and showed that it was just these Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda Nebula which proved it was a separate galaxy system.
In Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies (1998), 168. Arp writes that this was “a piece of real history which I happen to know because it was told to me by one of the participants. It dramatically illustrate the critical role of discordant evidence.”
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PROOF, n. Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood. The testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of only one.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  269-270.
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Proper Experiments have always Truth to defend them; also Reasoning join’d with Mathematical Evidence, and founded upon Experiment, will hold equally true; but should it be true, without those Supports it must be altogether useless.
In Academical Lectures on the Theory of Physic (1751), Vol. 1. As quoted in Thomas Steele Hall, A Source Book in Animal Biology (1951), 485.
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Psychological experiments have shown … that humans tend to seek out even weak evidence to support their existing beliefs, and to ignore evidence that undercuts those beliefs. In the process, we apply stringent tests to evidence we don't want to hear, while letting slide uncritically into our minds any information that suits our needs.
As co-author with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007), 69-70.
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Psychology … tells us that we rarely work through reasons and evidence in a systematic way; weighing information carefully and suspending the impulse to draw conclusions. Instead, much of the time we use mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that save us mental effort. These habits often work reasonably well, but they also can lead us to conclusions we might dismiss if we applied more thought.
As co-author with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007), 70.
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Quite recently the human descent theory has been stigmatized as the “gorilla theory of human ancestry.” All this despite the fact that Darwin himself, in the days when not a single bit of evidence regarding the fossil ancestors of man was recognized, distinctly stated that none of the known anthropoid apes, much less any of the known monkeys, should be considered in any way as ancestral to the human stock.
In Henry Fairfield Osborn, 'Osborn States the Case For Evolution', New York Times (12 Jul 1925), XX1. Written at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in rebuttal of the anti-evolution position publicized by William Jennings Bryan.
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Religion shows a pattern of heredity which I think is similar to genetic heredity. ... There are hundreds of different religious sects, and every religious person is loyal to just one of these. ... The overwhelming majority just happen to choose the one their parents belonged to. Not the sect that has the best evidence in its favour, the best miracles, the best moral code, the best cathedral, the best stained-glass, the best music when it comes to choosing from the smorgasbord of available religions, their potential virtues seem to count for nothing compared to the matter of heredity.
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 82-83.
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Results rarely specify their causes unambiguously. If we have no direct evidence of fossils or human chronicles, if we are forced to infer a process only from its modern results, then we are usually stymied or reduced to speculation about probabilities. For many roads lead to almost any Rome.
…...
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Science arouses a soaring sense of wonder. But so does pseudoscience. Sparse and poor popularizations of science abandon ecological niches that pseudoscience promptly fills. If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 6.
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Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work.
The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World's Most Famous Seer (1993), 66.
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Science starts with preconception, with the common culture, and with common sense. It moves on to observation, is marked by the discovery of paradox, and is then concerned with the correction of preconception. It moves then to use these corrections for the designing of further observation and for more refined experiment. And as it moves along this course the nature of the evidence and experience that nourish it becomes more and more unfamiliar; it is not just the language that is strange [to common culture].
From 'The Growth of Science and the Structure of Culture', Daedalus (Winter 1958), 87, No. 1, 67.
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Scientific discovery, or the formulation of scientific theory, starts in with the unvarnished and unembroidered evidence of the senses. It starts with simple observation—simple, unbiased, unprejudiced, naive, or innocent observation—and out of this sensory evidence, embodied in the form of simple propositions or declarations of fact, generalizations will grow up and take shape, almost as if some process of crystallization or condensation were taking place. Out of a disorderly array of facts, an orderly theory, an orderly general statement, will somehow emerge.
In 'Is the Scientific Paper Fraudulent?', The Saturday Review (1 Aug 1964), 42.
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Scientists still do not appear to understand sufficiently that all earth sciences must contribute evidence toward unveiling the state of our planet in earlier times, and that the truth of the matter can only be reached by combing all this evidence. ... It is only by combing the information furnished by all the earth sciences that we can hope to determine 'truth' here, that is to say, to find the picture that sets out all the known facts in the best arrangement and that therefore has the highest degree of probability. Further, we have to be prepared always for the possibility that each new discovery, no matter what science furnishes it, may modify the conclusions we draw.
The Origins of Continents and Oceans
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Segregationalists will even argue that God was the first segregationalist. “Red birds and blue birds don't fly together”, they contend. … They turn to some pseudo-scientific writing and argue that the Negro’s brain is smaller than the white man’s brain. They do not know, or they refuse to know that the idea of an inferior or superior race has been refuted by the best evidence of the science of anthropology. Great anthropologists, like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Melville J. Herskovits, agree that, although there may be inferior and superior individuals within all races, there is no superior or inferior race. And segregationalists refuse to acknowledge that there are four types of blood, and these four types are found within every racial group.
'Love in Action', Strength To Love (1963, 1981), 45-46.
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Shall it any longer be said that a science [geology], which unfolds such abundant evidence of the Being and Attributes of God, can reasonably be viewed in any other light than as the efficient Auxiliary and Handmaid of Religion?
Geology and Mineralogy, Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (1836), Vol. I, 593.
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Skepticism and debate are always welcome and are critically important to the advancement of science, [but] skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.
Letter (21 Jun 2017) to climate change skeptic, U.S. Energy Secretary, Rick Perry. As quoted in Dino Grandoni, 'The Energy 202: Trump takes on Wind Energy, Talks Solar-Powered Border Wall in Iowa Speech', Washington Post (22 Jun 2017).
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So why fret and care that the actual version of the destined deed was done by an upper class English gentleman who had circumnavigated the globe as a vigorous youth, lost his dearest daughter and his waning faith at the same time, wrote the greatest treatise ever composed on the taxonomy of barnacles, and eventually grew a white beard, lived as a country squire just south of London, and never again traveled far enough even to cross the English Channel? We care for the same reason that we love okapis, delight in the fossil evidence of trilobites, and mourn the passage of the dodo. We care because the broad events that had to happen, happened to happen in a certain particular way. And something unspeakably holy –I don’t know how else to say this–underlies our discovery and confirmation of the actual details that made our world and also, in realms of contingency, assured the minutiae of its construction in the manner we know, and not in any one of a trillion other ways, nearly all of which would not have included the evolution of a scribe to record the beauty, the cruelty, the fascination, and the mystery.
…...
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So-called extraordinary events always split into two extremes naturalists who have not witnessed them: those who believe blindly and those who do not believe at all. The latter have always in mind the story of the golden goose; if the facts lie slightly beyond the limits of their knowledge, they relegate them immediately to fables. The former have a secret taste for marvels because they seem to expand Nature; they use their imagination with pleasure to find explanations. To remain doubtful is given to naturalists who keep a middle path between the two extremes. They calmly examine facts; they refer to logic for help; they discuss probabilities; they do not scoff at anything, not even errors, because they serve at least the history of the human mind; finally, they report rather than judge; they rarely decide unless they have good evidence.
Quoted in Albert V. Carozzi, Histoire des sciences de la terre entre 1790 et 1815 vue à travers les documents inédités de la Societé de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi. (1990), 175.
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Sodium thymonucleate fibres give two distinct types of X-ray diagram … [structures A and B]. The X-ray diagram of structure B (see photograph) shows in striking manner the features characteristic of helical structures, first worked out in this laboratory by Stokes (unpublished) and by Crick, Cochran and Vand2. Stokes and Wilkins were the first to propose such structures for nucleic acid as a result of direct studies of nucleic acid fibres, although a helical structure had been previously suggested by Furberg (thesis, London, 1949) on the basis of X-ray studies of nucleosides and nucleotides.
While the X-ray evidence cannot, at present, be taken as direct proof that the structure is helical, other considerations discussed below make the existence of a helical structure highly probable.
From Rosalind Franklin and R. G. Gosling,'Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate', Nature (25 Apr 1953), 171, No. 4356, 740.
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Some beliefs may be subject to such instant, brutal and unambiguous rejection. For example: no left-coiling periwinkle has ever been found among millions of snails examined. If I happen to find one during my walk on Nobska beach tomorrow morning, a century of well nurtured negative evidence will collapse in an instant.
'A Foot Soldier for Evolution', In Eight Little Piggies (1994), 452.
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Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. … These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. ... I always rested on the following argument. … We look up to the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass across the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making “a cross bearing.” When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say, “no.” They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When it is persisted that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that onie discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot— in fact hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see.
In My Early Life (1930).
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Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief and he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor for convincing and converting other people to his view.
In When Prophecy Fails (1956), 3.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Tedious as it may appear to some to dwell on the discovery of odds and ends that have, no doubt, been thrown away by the owner as rubbish ... yet it is by the study of such trivial details that Archaeology is mainly dependent for determining the date of earthworks. ... Next to coins fragments of pottery afford the most reliable of all evidence ... In my judgement, a fragment of pottery, if it throws light on the history of our own country and people, is of more interest to the scientific collector of evidence in England, than even a work of art and merit that is associated only with races that we are remotely connected with.
On the importance of pottery to an archaeologist.
Excavations in Bokerly and Wansdyke, vol. 3, ix-30. Quoted in Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Proceedings (1895), vol. 8, 180.
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That the great majority of those who leave school should have some idea of the kind of evidence required to substantiate given types of belief does not seem unreasonable. Nor is it absurd to expect that they should go forth with a lively interest in the ways in which knowledge is improved and a marked distaste for all conclusions reached in disharmony with the methods of scientific inquiry.
Address to Section L, Education, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Boston (1909), 'Science as Subject-Matter and as Method'. Published in Science (28 Jan 1910), N.S. Vol. 31, No. 787, 126.
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The absorption of oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide in the lungs take place by diffusion alone. There is no trustworthy evidence of any regulation of this process on the part of the organism.
Krogh summing up his results related to a quote from The Mechanism of gas Exchange (1910), 257, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 502.
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The aim of scientific thought, then, is to apply past experience to new circumstances; the instrument is an observed uniformity in the course of events. By the use of this instrument it gives us information transcending our experience, it enables us to infer things that we have not seen from things that we have seen; and the evidence for the truth of that information depends on our supposing that the uniformity holds good beyond our experience.
'On the Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought,' a Lecture delivered before the members of the British Association, at Brighton, on 19 Aug 1872, in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays, by the Late William Kingdon Clifford (1886), 90.
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The American Cancer Society's position on the question of a possible cause-effect relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is:
1. The evidence to date justifies suspicion that cigarette smoking does, to a degree as yet undetermined, increase the likelihood of developing cancer of the lung.
2. That available evidence does not constitute irrefutable proof that cigarette smoking is wholly or chiefly or partly responsible for lung cancer.
3. That the evidence at hand calls for the extension of statistical and laboratory studies designed to confirm or deny a causual relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
4. That the society is committed to furthering such intensified investigation as its resources will permit.
Conclusions of statement after a meeting of the ACS board of directors in San Francisco (17 Mar 1954). Quoted in 'Tobacco Industry Denies Cancer Tie'. New York Times (14 Apr 1954), 51.
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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 application of botanical and zoological evidence to determine the relative age of rocks—this chronometry of the earth's surface which was already present to the lofty mind of Hooke—indicates one of the most glorious epochs of modern geognosy, which has finally, on the Continent at least, been emancipated from the way of Semitic doctrines. Palaeontological investigations have imparted a vivifying breath of grace and diversity to the science of the solid structure of the earth.
Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1845-62), trans. E. C. Due (1849), Vol. 1, 272.
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The best class of scientific mind is the same as the best class of business mind. The great desideratum in either case is to know how much evidence is enough to warrant action. It is as unbusiness-like to want too much evidence before buying or selling as to be content with too little. The same kind of qualities are wanted in either case. The difference is that if the business man makes a mistake, he commonly has to suffer for it, whereas it is rarely that scientific blundering, so long as it is confined to theory, entails loss on the blunderer. On the contrary it very often brings him fame, money and a pension. Hence the business man, if he is a good one, will take greater care not to overdo or underdo things than the scientific man can reasonably be expected to take.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 217.
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The case I shall find evidence for is that when literature arrives, it expels science.
From 'Science and Literature', Pluto’s Republic (1984), 43.
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The catastrophist constructs theories, the uniformitarian demolishes them. The former adduces evidence of an Origin, the latter explains the evidence away.
Aphorism 110, 'Aphorisms Concerning Ideas', The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 1, xxxvi.
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The choice to 'do nothing' in response to the mounting evidence is actually a choice to continue and even accelerate the reckless environmental destruction that is creating the catastrophe at hand.
Al Gore
Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (2006), 37.
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The common perception of science as a rational activity, in which one confronts the evidence of fact with an open mind, could not be more false. Facts assume significance only within a pre-existing intellectual structure, which may be based as much on intuition and prejudice as on reason.
In The Guardian, September 28, 1989.
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The contingency of history (both for life in general and for the cultures of Homo sapiens) and human free will (in the factual rather than theological sense) are conjoined concepts, and no better evidence can be produced than the ‘experimental’ production of markedly different solutions in identical environments.
…...
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The distinction is, that the science or knowledge of the particular subject-matter furnishes the evidence, while logic furnishes the principles and rules of the estimation of evidence.
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 11.
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The earliest signs of living things, announcing as they do a high complexity of organization, entirely exclude the hypothesis of a transmutation from lower to higher grades of being. The first fiat of Creation which went forth, doubtlessly ensured the perfect adaptation of animals to the surrounding media; and thus, whilst the geologist recognizes a beginning, he can see in the innumerable facts of the eye of the earliest crustacean, the same evidences of Omniscience as in the completion of the vertebrate form.
Siluria (1854), 469.
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The evidence at present available points strongly to the conclusion that the spirals are individual galaxies, or island universes, comparable with our own galaxy in dimension and in number of component units.
[Stating his conviction on the nature of nebulae during the Shapley-Curtis debate on 26 Apr 1920 to the National Academy of Sciences.]
In Aleksandr Sergeevich Sharov and Igor Dmitrievich Novikov, Edwin Hubble: The Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe (1993), 27.
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The evidence from both approaches, statistical and experimental, does not appear sufficiently significant to me to warrant forsaking the pleasure of smoking. As a matter of fact, if the investigations had been pointed toward some material that I thoroughly dislike, such as parsnips, I still would not feel that evidence of the type presented constituted a reasonable excuse for eliminating the things from my diet. I will still continue to smoke, and if the tobacco companies cease manufacturing their product, I will revert to sweet fern and grape leaves.
Introduction in Eric Northrup, Science Looks at Smoking (1957), 34.
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The evidence indicates that woman is, on the whole, biologically superior to man.
In The Natural Superiority of Women (1952, 1999), 91.
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The fact that scientists do not consciously practice a formal methodology is very poor evidence that no such methodology exists. It could be said—has been said—that there is a distinctive methodology of science which scientists practice unwittingly, like the chap in Moliere who found that all his life, unknowingly, he had been speaking prose.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 9.
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The fading of ideals is sad evidence of the defeat of human endeavour. In the schools of antiquity philosophers aspired to impart wisdom, in modern colleges our humbler aim is to teach subjects
Opening lines of 'The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 45.
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The first concept of continental drift first came to me as far back as 1910, when considering the map of the world, under the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coast lines on either side of the Atlantic. At first I did not pay attention to the ideas because I regarded it as improbable. In the fall of 1911, I came quite accidentally upon a synoptic report in which I learned for the first time of palaeontological evidence for a former land bridge between Brazil and Africa. As a result I undertook a cursory examination of relevant research in the fields of geology and palaeontology, and this provided immediately such weighty corroboration that a conviction of the fundamental soundness of the idea took root in my mind.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 1.
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The functional validity of a working hypothesis is not a priori certain, because often it is initially based on intuition. However, logical deductions from such a hypothesis provide expectations (so-called prognoses) as to the circumstances under which certain phenomena will appear in nature. Such a postulate or working hypothesis can then be substantiated by additional observations ... The author calls such expectations and additional observations the prognosis-diagnosis method of research. Prognosis in science may be termed the prediction of the future finding of corroborative evidence of certain features or phenomena (diagnostic facts). This method of scientific research builds up and extends the relations between the subject and the object by means of a circuit of inductions and deductions.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454-5.
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The golden age of mathematics—that was not the age of Euclid, it is ours. Ours is the age when no less than six international congresses have been held in the course of nine years. It is in our day that more than a dozen mathematical societies contain a growing membership of more than two thousand men representing the centers of scientific light throughout the great culture nations of the world. It is in our time that over five hundred scientific journals are each devoted in part, while more than two score others are devoted exclusively, to the publication of mathematics. It is in our time that the Jahrbuch über die Fortschritte der Mathematik, though admitting only condensed abstracts with titles, and not reporting on all the journals, has, nevertheless, grown to nearly forty huge volumes in as many years. It is in our time that as many as two thousand books and memoirs drop from the mathematical press of the world in a single year, the estimated number mounting up to fifty thousand in the last generation. Finally, to adduce yet another evidence of a similar kind, it requires not less than seven ponderous tomes of the forthcoming Encyclopaedie der Mathematischen Wissenschaften to contain, not expositions, not demonstrations, but merely compact reports and bibliographic notices sketching developments that have taken place since the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 8.
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The gradual advance of Geology, during the last twenty years, to the dignity of a science, has arisen from the laborious and extensive collection of facts, and from the enlightened spirit in which the inductions founded on those facts have been deduced and discussed. To those who are unacquainted with this science, or indeed to any person not deeply versed in the history of this and kindred subjects, it is impossible to convey a just impression of the nature of that evidence by which a multitude of its conclusions are supported:—evidence in many cases so irresistible, that the records of the past ages, to which it refers, are traced in language more imperishable than that of the historian of any human transactions; the relics of those beings, entombed in the strata which myriads of centuries have heaped upon their graves, giving a present evidence of their past existence, with which no human testimony can compete.
The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1838), 47-8.
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The inhibitory nerves are of as fundamental importance in the economy of the body as the motor nerves. No evidence exists that the same nerve fibre is sometimes capable of acting as a motor nerve, sometimes as a nerve of inhibition, but on the contrary the latter nerves form a separate and complete nervous system subject to as definite anatomical and histological laws as the former.
'On the Structure, Distribution and Function of the Nerves which Innervate the Visceral and Vascular Systems', The Journal of Physiology, 1886, 7, 40.
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The institutional goal of science is the extension of certified knowledge. The technical methods employed toward this end provide the relevant definition of knowledge: empirically confirmed and logically consistent predictions. The institutional imperatives (mores) derive from the goal and the methods. The entire structure of technical and moral norms implements the final objective. The technical norm of empirical evidence, adequate, valid and reliable, is a prerequisite for sustained true prediction; the technical norm of logical consistency, a prerequisite for systematic and valid prediction. The mores of science possess a methodologic rationale but they are binding, not only because they are procedurally efficient, but because they are believed right and good. They are moral as well as technical prescriptions. Four sets of institutional imperatives–universalism, communism, disinterestedness, organized scepticism–comprise the ethos of modern science.
Social Theory and Social Structure (1957), 552-3.
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The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
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The lives of scientists, considered as Lives, almost always make dull reading. For one thing, the careers of the famous and the merely ordinary fall into much the same pattern, give or take an honorary degree or two, or (in European countries) an honorific order. It could be hardly otherwise. Academics can only seldom lead lives that are spacious or exciting in a worldly sense. They need laboratories or libraries and the company of other academics. Their work is in no way made deeper or more cogent by privation, distress or worldly buffetings. Their private lives may be unhappy, strangely mixed up or comic, but not in ways that tell us anything special about the nature or direction of their work. Academics lie outside the devastation area of the literary convention according to which the lives of artists and men of letters are intrinsically interesting, a source of cultural insight in themselves. If a scientist were to cut his ear off, no one would take it as evidence of a heightened sensibility; if a historian were to fail (as Ruskin did) to consummate his marriage, we should not suppose that our understanding of historical scholarship had somehow been enriched.
'J.B.S: A Johnsonian Scientist', New York Review of Books (10 Oct 1968), reprinted in Pluto's Republic (1982), and inThe Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 86.
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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 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 moral principle inherent in evolution, that nothing can be gained in this world without an effort; the ethical principle inherent in evolution is that only the best has the right to survive; the spiritual principle in evolution is the evidence of beauty, of order, and of design in the daily myriad of miracles to which we owe our existence.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91.
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The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming.
In Disturbing the Universe (1979), 250. As cited in Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (1996), 163.
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The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic.
Unpopular Essays (1950, 2007), 104.
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The next object which I have observed is the essence or substance of the Milky Way. By the aid of a telescope anyone may behold this in a manner which so distinctly appeals to the senses that all the disputes which have tormented philosophers through so many ages are exploded at once by the irrefragable evidence of our eyes, and we are freed from wordy disputes upon this subject, for the Galaxy is nothing else but a mass of innumerable stars planted together in clusters.
In pamphlet, The Sidereal Messenger (1610), reprinted in The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei: And a Part of the Preface to the Preface to Kepler's Dioptrics Containing the Original Account of Galileo's Astronomical Discoveries (1880), 42.
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The nucleic acids, as constituents of living organisms, are comparable In importance to proteins. There is evidence that they are Involved In the processes of cell division and growth, that they participate In the transmission of hereditary characters, and that they are important constituents of viruses. An understanding of the molecular structure of the nucleic acids should be of value In the effort to understand the fundamental phenomena of life.
[Co-author with American chemist, B. Corey (1897-1971)]
'A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1953), 39, 84.
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The observations, so numerous and so important, of the pendulum as object are especially relevant to the length of its oscillations. Those that I propose to make known to the [Paris] Academy [of Sciences] are principally addressed to the direction of the plane of its oscillation, which, moving gradually from east to west, provides evidence to the senses of the diurnal movement of the terrestrial globe.
'Demonstration Physique du Mouvement de Rotation de la Terre', 3 Feb 1851. In C. M. Gariel and J. Bertrand (eds.), Recueil des Travaux Scientifiques de Lion Foucault (1878), Vol. 2, 378. Trans. Harold Burstyn.
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The problem is that people think faith is something to be admired. In fact, faith means you believe in something for which you have no evidence.
In God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science (2012), 18.
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The progress of the individual mind is not only an illustration, but an indirect evidence of that of the general mind. The point of departure of the individual and of the race being the same, the phases of the mind of a man correspond to the epochs of the mind of the race. Now, each of us is aware, if he looks back upon his own history, that he was a theologian in his childhood, a metaphysician in his youth, and a natural philosopher in his manhood. All men who are up to their age can verify this for themselves.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 3.
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The question of a possible physiological significance, in the resemblance between the action of choline esters and the effects of certain divisions of the involuntary nervous system, is one of great interest, but one for the discussion of which little evidence is available. Acetyl-choline is, of all the substances examined, the one whose action is most suggestive in this direction. The fact that its action surpasses even that of adrenaline, both in intensity and evanescence, when considered in conjunction with the fact that each of these two bases reproduces those effects of involuntary nerves which are absent from the action of the other, so that the two actions are in many directions at once complementary and antagonistic, gives plenty of scope for speculation.
In 'The Action of Certain Esters and Ethers of Choline, and Their Relation to Muscarine', The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1914-15, 6, 188.
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The religious conservatives make an important point when they oppose presenting evolution in a manner that suggests it has been proved to be entirely determined by random, mechanistic events, but they are wrong to oppose the teaching of evolution itself. Its occurrence, on Earth and in the Universe, is by now indisputable. Not so its processes, however. In this, there is need for a nuanced approach, with evidence of creative ordering presented as intrinsic both to what we call matter and to the unfolding story, which includes randomness and natural selection.
Epigraph, without citation, in Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2008), 109.
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The ridge of the Lammer-muir hills... consists of primary micaceous schistus, and extends from St Abb's head westward... The sea-coast affords a transverse section of this alpine tract at its eastern extremity, and exhibits the change from the primary to the secondary strata... Dr HUTTON wished particularly to examine the latter of these, and on this occasion Sir JAMES HALL and I had the pleasure to accompany him. We sailed in a boat from Dunglass ... We made for a high rocky point or head-land, the SICCAR ... On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode [sic] on the primeval rock... It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from S.E. to N. W. The surface of this rock... has thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it, ... Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of the waves... On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression will not easily be forgotten. The palpable evidence presented to us, of one of the most extraordinary and important facts in the natural history of the earth, gave a reality and substance to those theoretical speculations, which, however probable had never till now been directly authenticated by the testimony of the senses... What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? ... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 71-3.
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The role of hypothesis in research can be discussed more effectively if we consider first some examples of discoveries which originated from hypotheses. One of the best illustrations of such a discovery is provided by the story of Christopher Columbus’ voyage; it has many of the features of a classic discovery in science. (a) He was obsessed with an idea—that since the world is round he could reach the Orient by sailing West, (b) the idea was by no means original, but evidently he had obtained some additional evidence from a sailor blown off his course who claimed to have reached land in the west and returned, (c) he met great difficulties in getting someone to provide the money to enable him to test his idea as well as in the actual carrying out of the experimental voyage, (d) when finally he succeeded he did not find the expected new route, but instead found a whole new world, (e) despite all evidence to the contrary he clung to the bitter end to his hypothesis and believed that he had found the route to the Orient, (f) he got little credit or reward during his lifetime and neither he nor others realised the full implications of his discovery, (g) since his time evidence has been brought forward showing that he was by no means the first European to reach America.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 41.
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The science of the geologist seems destined to exert a marked influence on that of the natural theologian... Not only—to borrow from Paley's illustration—does it enable him to argue on the old grounds, from the contrivance exhibited in the watch found on the moor, that the watch could not have lain upon the moor for ever; but it establishes further, on different and more direct evidence, that there was a time when absolutely the watch was not there; nay, further, so to speak, that there was a previous time in which no watches existed at all, but only water-clocks; yet further, that there was at time in which there we not even water-clocks, but only sun-dials; and further, an earlier time still in which sun-dials were not, nor an measurers of time of any kind.
Lecture to the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, 'Geology in its Bearings on the Two Theologies, Part 1', collected in The Testimony of the Rocks: or, Geology in Its Bearings on the Two Theologies, Natural and Revealed (1857), 211.
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The scientist is indistinguishable from the common man in his sense of evidence, except that the scientist is more careful.
In 'The Scope and Language of Science' (1954), reprinted in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (1957), 8, 5.
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The study of origins is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient evidence.
As quoted in John Noble Wilford, 'Sizing up the Cosmos: An Astronomers Quest', New York Times (12 Mar 1991), C10.
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The study of the radio-active substances and of the discharge of electricity through gases has supplied very strong experimental evidence in support of the fundamental ideas of the existing atomic theory. It has also indicated that the atom itself is not the smallest unit of matter, but is a complicated structure made up of a number of smaller bodies.
In Radio-activity (1905), 1.
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The use of thesis-writing is to train the mind, or to prove that the mind has been trained; the former purpose is, I trust, promoted, the evidences of the latter are scanty and occasional.
From Preface to First Edition to Notes on the Composition of Scientific Papers (1904), v.
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The use of tobacco is one of the most evident of all the retrograde influences of our time. It invades all classes, destroys social life, and is turning, in the words of Mantegazza, the whole of Europe into a cigar divan.
Letter, 'Tobacco and the Diseases It Produces', The Times (25 Sep 1878), 4. Reprinted in Timaru Herald (29 Nov 1878), 29, No. 1309, 3.
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The wish to believe, even against evidence, fuels all the pseudosciences from astrology to creationism.
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The world of ideas which it [mathematics] discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connexion of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance.
In Presidential Address to British Association (19 Aug 1869), 'A Plea for the Mathematician', published in Nature (6 Jan 1870), 1, 262. Collected in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 659.
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The world probably being of much greater antiquity than physical science has thought to be possible, it is interesting and harmless to speculate whether man has shared with the world its more remote history. … Some of the beliefs and legends which have come down to us from antiquity are so universal and deep-rooted that we have are accustomed to consider them almost as old as the race itself. One is tempted to inquire how far the unsuspected aptness of some of these beliefs and sayings to the point of view so recently disclosed is the result of mere chance or coincidence, and how far it may be evidence of a wholly unknown and unsuspected ancient civilization of which all other relic has disappeared.
In 'The Elixir of Life', The Interpretation of Radium: Being the Substance of Six Free Popular Lectures Delivered at the University of Glasgow (1909, 1912), 248-250. The original lectures of early 1908, were greatly edited, rearranged and supplemented by the author for the book form.
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There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.
Quoted in Donald R. Prothero and Carl Dennis Buell, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (2007), 3.
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There is already overwhelming evidence that the visible matter within galaxies may account for less than 10 percent of the galaxies’ actual mass: the rest, not yet directly detectable by observers on the earth, is probably distributed within and around each galaxy.
(1986). As quoted in Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations.
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There is more evidence to prove that saltiness [of the sea] is due to the admixture of some substance ... It is this stuff which makes salt water heavy (it weighs more than fresh water) and thick. The difference in consistency is such that ships with the same cargo very nearly sink in a river when they are quite fit to navigate in the sea. This circumstance has before now caused loss to shippers freighting their ships in a river. That the thicker consistency is due to an admixture of something is proved by the fact that if you make strong brine by the admixture of salt, eggs, even when they are full, float in it. It almost becomes like mud; such a quantity of earthy matter is there in the sea.
[Aristotle recognised the different density of fresh (river) or salty (sea) water. He describes an experiment using an egg (which sinks in fresh water) that floats in a strong brine solution.]
Aristotle
Meteorology (350 B.C.), Book II, translated by E. W. Webster. Internet Classics Archive, (classics.mit.edu).
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There is more evidence to prove that saltness [of the sea] is due to the admixture of some substance, besides that which we have adduced. Make a vessel of wax and put it in the sea, fastening its mouth in such a way as to prevent any water getting in. Then the water that percolates through the wax sides of the vessel is sweet, the earthy stuff, the admixture of which makes the water salt, being separated off as it were by a filter.
[This is an example of Aristotle giving proof by experiment, in this case, of desalination by osmosis.]
Aristotle
Meteorology (350 B.C.), Book II, translated by E. W. Webster. Internet Classics Archive, (classics.mit.edu).
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There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?
In 'From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long', Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 257.
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There is no existing ‘standard of protein intake’ that is based on the sure ground of experimental evidence. ... Between the two extremes of a very high and a very low protein intake it is difficult to prove that one level of intake is preferable to another. ... Physiologists, in drawing up dietary standards, are largely influenced by the dietary habits of their time and country.
Nutrition and Public Health', League of Nations Health Organization Quarterly Bulletin (1935) 4, 323–474. In Kenneth J. Carpenter, 'The Work of Wallace Aykroyd: International Nutritionist and Author', The Journal of Nutrition (2007), 137, 873-878.
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There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
Life (10 Oct 1949), 136.
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There’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information—but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.
In New York Times (18 Mar 2009).
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These results demonstrate that there is a new polymerase inside the virions of RNA tumour viruses. It is not present in supernatents of normal cells but is present in virions of avian sarcoma and leukemia RNA tumour viruses. The polymerase seems to catalyse the incorporation of deoxyrinonucleotide triphosphates into DNA from an RNA template. Work is being performed to characterize further the reaction and the product. If the present results and Baltimore's results with Rauscher leukemia virus are upheld, they will constitute strong evidence that the DNA proviruses have a DNA genome when they are in virions. This result would have strong implications for theories of viral carcinogenesis and, possibly, for theories of information transfer in other biological systems. [Co-author with American virologist Satoshi Mizutani]
'RNA-dependent DNA Polymerase in Virions of Rous Sarcoma Virus', Nature (1970), 226, 1213.
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Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own. Those on the other hand who have taken a contrary course, and asserted that absolutely nothing can be known — whether it were from hatred of the ancient sophists, or from uncertainty and fluctuation of mind, or even from a kind of fullness of learning, that they fell upon this opinion — have certainly advanced reasons for it that are not to be despised; but yet they have neither started from true principles nor rested in the just conclusion, zeal and affectation having carried them much too far...
Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception.
Novum Organum (1620)
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To be creative, scientists need libraries and laboratories and the company of other scientists; certainly a quiet and untroubled life is a help. A scientist's work is in no way deepened or made more cogent by privation, anxiety, distress, or emotional harassment. To be sure, the private lives of scientists may be strangely and even comically mixed up, but not in ways that have any special bearing on the nature and quality of their work. If a scientist were to cut off an ear, no one would interpret such an action as evidence of an unhappy torment of creativity; nor will a scientist be excused any bizarrerie, however extravagant, on the grounds that he is a scientist, however brilliant.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 40.
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Tobacco has not yet been fully tried before the bar of science. But the tribunal has been prepared and the gathering of evidence has begun and when the final verdict is rendered, it will appear that tobacco is evil and only evil; that as a drug it is far more deadly than alcohol, killing in a dose a thousand times smaller, and that it does not possess a single one of the quasi merits of alcohol.
In Tobaccoism: or, How Tobacco Kills (1922), Preface, 8.
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Twice in my life I have spent two weary and scientifically profitless years seeking evidence to corroborate dearly loved hypotheses that later proved to be groundless; times such as these are hard for scientists—days of leaden gray skies bringing with them a miserable sense of oppression and inadequacy.
From Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 6.
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Watson and I had been often discussing the problem, the ways you could go wrong solving problems of this sort, the techniques you have to use, and in particular, such rather curious things as you mustn’t pay too much attention to the all the experimental evidence, some of it may be wrong, for example.
From Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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We are the generation that searched on Mars for evidence of life, but couldn’t rouse enough moral sense to stop the destruction of even the grandest manifestations of life on earth. In that sense, we are like the Romans whose works of an, architecture, and engineering inspire our awe but whose traffic in slaves and gladiatorial combat is mystifying and loathsome.
[Co-author with Anna Sequoia.]
67 Ways to Save the Animals
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We cannot see how the evidence afforded by the unquestioned progressive development of organised existence—crowned as it has been by the recent creation of the earth's greatest wonder, MAN, can be set aside, or its seemingly necessary result withheld for a moment. When Mr. Lyell finds, as a witty friend lately reported that there had been found, a silver-spoon in grauwacke, or a locomotive engine in mica-schist, then, but not sooner, shall we enrol ourselves disciples of the Cyclical Theory of Geological formations.
Review of Murchison's Silurian System, Quarterly Review (1839), 64, 112-3.
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We can’t all be Einstein (because we don’t all play the violin). At the very least we need a sort of street-smart science: the ability to recognize evidence gather it assess it and act on it.
In Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity (1991), 14.
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We come back then to our records of nervous messages with a reasonable assurance that they do tell us what the message is like. It is a succession of brief waves of surface breakdown, each allowing a momentary leakage of ions from the nerve fibre. The waves can be set up so that they follow one another in rapid or in slow succession, and this is the only form of gradation of which the message is capable. Essentially the same kind of activity is found in all sorts of nerve fibres from all sorts of animals and there is no evidence to suggest that any other kind of nervous transmission is possible. In fact we may conclude that the electrical method can tell us how the nerve fibre carries out its function as the conducting unit of the nervous system, and that it does so by reactions of a fairly simple type.
The Mechanism of Nervous Action (1932), 21.
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We come finally, however, to the relation of the ideal theory to real world, or “real” probability. If he is consistent a man of the mathematical school washes his hands of applications. To someone who wants them he would say that the ideal system runs parallel to the usual theory: “If this is what you want, try it: it is not my business to justify application of the system; that can only be done by philosophizing; I am a mathematician”. In practice he is apt to say: “try this; if it works that will justify it”. But now he is not merely philosophizing; he is committing the characteristic fallacy. Inductive experience that the system works is not evidence.
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 73.
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We do not know of any enzymes or other chemical defined organic substances having specifically acting auto-catalytic properties such as to enable them to construct replicas of themselves. Neither was there a general principle known that would result in pattern-copying; if there were, the basis of life would be easier to come by. Moreover, there was no evidence to show that the enzymes were not products of hereditary determiners or genes, rather than these genes themselves, and they might even be products removed by several or many steps from the genes, just as many other known substances in the cell must be. However, the determiners or genes themselves must conduct, or at least guide, their own replication, so as to lead to the formation of genes just like themselves, in such wise that even their own mutations become .incorporated in the replicas. And this would probably take place by some kind of copying of pattern similar to that postulated by Troland for the enzymes, but requiring some distinctive chemical structure to make it possible. By virtue of this ability of theirs to replicate, these genes–or, if you prefer, genetic material–contained in the nuclear chromosomes and in whatever other portion of the cell manifests this property, such as the chloroplastids of plants, must form the basis of all the complexities of living matter that have arisen subsequent to their own appearance on the scene, in the whole course of biological evolution. That is, this genetic material must underlie all evolution based on mutation and selective multiplication.
'Genetic Nucleic Acid', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (1961), 5, 6-7.
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We have already considered with disfavour the possibility of the universe having been planned by a biologist or an engineer; from the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 134.
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We have here spoken of the prediction of facts of the same kind as those from which our rule was collected. But the evidence in favour of our induction is of a much higher and more forcible character when it enables us to explain and determine cases of a kind different from those which were contemplated in the formation of our hypothesis. The instances in which this has occurred, indeed, impress us with a conviction that the truth of our hypothesis is certain. No accident could give rise to such an extraordinary coincidence. No false supposition could, after being adjusted to one class of phenomena, so exactly represent a different class, when the agreement was unforeseen and contemplated. That rules springing from remote and unconnected quarters should thus leap to the same point, can only arise from that being where truth resides.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 2, 230.
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We have very strong physical and chemical evidence for a large impact; this is the most firmly established part of the whole story. There is an unquestionable mass extinction at this time, and in the fossil groups for which we have the best record, the extinction coincides with the impact to a precision of a centimeter or better in the stratigraphic record. This exact coincidence in timing strongly argues for a causal relationship.
Referring to the theory that he, and his father (physicist Luis W. Alvarez), held that dinosaurs abruptly went extinct as a result of a 6-mile-wide asteroid or comet struck the earth. In American Geophysical Union, EOS (2 Sep 1986), as quoted and cited in John Noble Wilford, 'New Data Extend Era of Dinosaurs' New York Times (9 Nov 1986), A41.
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