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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index F > Category: Failure

Failure Quotes (161 quotes)


...[T]he natural history of the rat is tragically similar to that of man ... some of the more obvious qualities in which rats resemble men — ferocity, omnivorousness, and adaptability to all climates ... the irresponsible fecundity with which both species breed at all seasons of the year with a heedlessness of consequences, which subjects them to wholesale disaster on the inevitable, occasional failure of the food supply.... [G]radually, these two have spread across the earth, keeping pace with each other and unable to destroy each other, though continually hostile. They have wandered from East to West, driven by their physical needs, and — unlike any other species of living things — have made war upon their own kind. The gradual, relentless, progressive extermination of the black rat by the brown has no parallel in nature so close as that of the similar extermination of one race of man by another...
Rats, Lice and History(1935)
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99 percent of success is built on failure.
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A government, at bottom, is nothing more than a gang of men, and as a practical matter most of them are inferior men ... Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent. Indeed, it would not be far wrong to describe the best as the common enemy of all decent citizens.
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All fossil anthropoids found hitherto have been known only from mandibular or maxillary fragments, so far as crania are concerned, and so the general appearance of the types they represented had been unknown; consequently, a condition of affairs where virtually the whole face and lower jaw, replete with teeth, together with the major portion of the brain pattern, have been preserved, constitutes a specimen of unusual value in fossil anthropoid discovery. Here, as in Homo rhodesiensis, Southern Africa has provided documents of higher primate evolution that are amongst the most complete extant. Apart from this evidential completeness, the specimen is of importance because it exhibits an extinct race of apes intermediate between living anthropoids and man ... Whether our present fossil is to be correlated with the discoveries made in India is not yet apparent; that question can only be solved by a careful comparison of the permanent molar teeth from both localities. It is obvious, meanwhile, that it represents a fossil group distinctly advanced beyond living anthropoids in those two dominantly human characters of facial and dental recession on one hand, and improved quality of the brain on the other. Unlike Pithecanthropus, it does not represent an ape-like man, a caricature of precocious hominid failure, but a creature well advanced beyond modern anthropoids in just those characters, facial and cerebral, which are to be anticipated in an extinct link between man and his simian ancestor. At the same time, it is equally evident that a creature with anthropoid brain capacity and lacking the distinctive, localised temporal expansions which appear to be concomitant with and necessary to articulate man, is no true man. It is therefore logically regarded as a man-like ape. I propose tentatively, then, that a new family of Homo-simidæ be created for the reception of the group of individuals which it represents, and that the first known species of the group be designated Australopithecus africanus, in commemoration, first, of the extreme southern and unexpected horizon of its discovery, and secondly, of the continent in which so many new and important discoveries connected with the early history of man have recently been made, thus vindicating the Darwinian claim that Africa would prove to be the cradle of mankind.
'Australopithicus africanus: The Man-Ape of South Africa', Nature, 1925, 115, 195.
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All life is linked together in such a way that no part of the chain is unimportant. Frequently, upon the action of some of these minute beings depends the material success or failure of a great commonwealth.
Insect Life: An Introduction To Nature-Study And A Guide For Teachers (1897), 1.
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Although such research [into the paranormal] has yet to produce anything in the way of a repeatable controlled experiment, its practitioners argue that its revolutionary potentialities justify its continuation. My own feeling is that after a century of total failure it has become a bloody bore.
In Flanagan's View: A Spectator's Guide to Science on the Eve of the 21st Century (1988), 152.
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Although [Charles Darwin] would patiently go on repeating experiments where there was any good to be gained, he could not endure having to repeat an experiment which ought, if complete care had been taken, to have told its story at first—and this gave him a continual anxiety that the experiment should not be wasted; he felt the experiment to be sacred, however slight a one it was. He wished to learn as much as possible from an experiment, so that he did not confine himself to observing the single point to which the experiment was directed, and his power of seeing a number of other things was wonderful. ... Any experiment done was to be of some use, and ... strongly he urged the necessity of keeping the notes of experiments which failed, and to this rule he always adhered.
In Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters (1908), 92.
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Among the older records, we find chapter after chapter of which we can read the characters, and make out their meaning: and as we approach the period of man’s creation, our book becomes more clear, and nature seems to speak to us in language so like our own, that we easily comprehend it. But just as we begin to enter on the history of physical changes going on before our eyes, and in which we ourselves bear a part, our chronicle seems to fail us—a leaf has been torn out from nature's record, and the succession of events is almost hidden from our eyes.
Letter 1 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1842), 14.
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An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (1974), 102.
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An indispensable hypothesis, even though still far from being a guarantee of success, is however the pursuit of a specific aim, whose lighted beacon, even by initial failures, is not betrayed.
Nobel Lecture (2 Jun 1920), in Nobel Lectures in Physics, 1901-1921 (1998), 407.
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An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.
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An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn’t take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates form college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. It he succeeds once then he’s in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.
In 'How Can We Develop Inventors?' presented to the Annual meeting of the American Society of Society Engineers. Reprinted in Mechanical Engineering (Apr 1944). Collected in Prophet of Progress: Selections from the Speeches of Charles F. Kettering (1961), 108.
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And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
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Any policy is a success by sufficiently low standards and a failure by sufficiently high standards.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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Any time you wish to demonstrate something, the number of faults is proportional to the number of viewers.
Anonymous
Bye's First Law of Model Railroading. In Paul Dickson, The Official Rules, (1978), 23.
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Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles.
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Before beginning I should put in three years of intensive study, and I haven’t that much time to squander on a probable failure.
Answering (1920) why he did not attempt a proof of Fermat's last theorem. As quoted, without citation, by Eric Temple Bell, Mathematics, Queen and Servant of Science (1951, 1961), 238. Collected in 'The Queen of Mathematics', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 1, 510.
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Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.
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Bohr’s standpoint, that a space-time description is impossible, I reject a limine. Physics does not consist only of atomic research, science does not consist only of physics, and life does not consist only of science. The aim of atomic research is to fit our empirical knowledge concerning it into our other thinking. All of this other thinking, so far as it concerns the outer world, is active in space and time. If it cannot be fitted into space and time, then it fails in its whole aim and one does not know what purpose it really serves.
Letter to Willy Wien (25 Aug 1926). Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 226.
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But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their early retreat. They retire, as to the main body of them, by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner: and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth, while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning of October; many of them all through that month, and some occasionally to the beginning of November. This early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the sweetest season in the year. But, what is more extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be no ways influenced by any defect of heat; or, as one might suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their motions with us by failure of food, or by a propensity to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a life, or by what? This is one of those incidents in natural history that not only baffles our searches, but almost eludes our guesses!
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (28 Sep 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 278.
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Clearly, we have compiled a record of serious failures in recent technological encounters with the environment. In each case, the new technology was brought into use before the ultimate hazards were known. We have been quick to reap the benefits and slow to comprehend the costs.
In 'Frail Reeds in a Harsh World', Natural History Journal of the American Museum of Natural History (Feb 1969), 79, No. 2, 44.
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Clinical ecology [is] a new branch of medicine aimed at helping people made sick by a failure to adapt to facets of our modern, polluted environment. Adverse reactions to processed foods and their chemical contaminants, and to indoor and outdoor air pollution with petrochemicals, are becoming more and more widespread and so far these reactions are being misdiagnosed by mainstream medical practitioners and so are not treated effectively.
Quoted in article 'Richard Mackarness', Contemporary Authors Online (2002).
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Colleague reader, please read this to your uncertain teenager con brio! Tell him or her that (1) experiments often fail, and (2) they don't always fail.
[Co-author with Dick Teresi]
In Leon M. Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? (1993), 396.
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Common sense … may be thought of as a series of concepts and conceptual schemes which have proved highly satisfactory for the practical uses of mankind. Some of those concepts and conceptual schemes were carried over into science with only a little pruning and whittling and for a long time proved useful. As the recent revolutions in physics indicate, however, many errors can be made by failure to examine carefully just how common sense ideas should be defined in terms of what the experimenter plans to do.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32-33.
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Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a quality that decides between success and failure.
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Every detection of what is false directs us towards what is true: every trial exhausts some tempting form of error.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Every discoverer of a new truth, or inventor of the method which evolves it, makes a dozen, perhaps fifty, useless combinations, experiments, or trials for one successful one. In the realm of electricity or of mechanics there is no objection to this. But when such rejected failures involve a torture of animals, sometimes fearful in its character, there is a distinct objection to it.
From 'Vivisection', an original paper in Surgical Anaesthesia: Addresses, and Other Papers (1894, 1900), 369-370.
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Every failure is a step to success.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again next time.
In A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 617.
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Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.
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Every technological success is hailed as a great scientific achievement; every technological disaster is deemed an engineering failure.
Anonymous
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Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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Failure is so much more interesting because you learn from it. That’s what we should be teaching children at school, that being successful the first time, there’s nothing in it. There’s no interest, you learn nothing actually.
Interview with Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer (9 May 2014).
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Failure is success if we learn from it.
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Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.
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Thomas Robert Malthus quote Famine … the most dreadful resource of nature.
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Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), 140, and in new enlarged edition (1803), 350.
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Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much or suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Speech (15 Apr 1899), 'The Strenuous Life', to the Hamilton Club of Chicago. Collected in Murat Halstead (ed.), The Life of Theodore Roosevelt: Twenty-fifth President of the United States (1902), 161.
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Great theories are expansive; failures mire us in dogmatism and tunnel vision.
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Honorable errors do not count as failures in science, but as seeds for progress in the quintessential activity of correction.
Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History (1998), 163.
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How can he [Thomas Edison] call it a wonderful success when everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure?
In The New York Herald, (18 Dec 1879). As quoted and cited in Rob Kaplan (ed.), Science Says (2001), 200.
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How do we convince people that in programming simplicity and clarity–in short: what mathematicians call ‘elegance’–are not a dispensable luxury, but a crucial matter that decides between success and failure?
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I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.
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I do not believe that a moral philosophy can ever be founded on a scientific basis. … The valuation of life and all its nobler expressions can only come out of the soul’s yearning toward its own destiny. Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulas must fail. Of that I am perfectly convinced.
In 'Science and God: A Dialogue', Forum and Century (June 1930), 83, 374. Einstein’s dialogue was with James Murphy and J.W.N. Sullivan. Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 230. The book introduces this quote as Einstein’s reply when Murphy asked, in the authors’ words, “how far he thought modern science might be able to go toward establishing practical ideals of life on the ruins of religious ideals.”
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I had made up my mind to find that for which I was searching even if it required the remainder of my life. After innumerable failures I finally uncovered the principle for which I was searching, and I was astounded at its simplicity. I was still more astounded to discover the principle I had revealed not only beneficial in the construction of a mechanical hearing aid but it served as well as means of sending the sound of the voice over a wire. Another discovery which came out of my investigation was the fact that when a man gives his order to produce a definite result and stands by that order it seems to have the effect of giving him what might be termed a second sight which enables him to see right through ordinary problems. What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.
As quoted, without citation, in Mack R. Douglas, Making a Habit of Success: How to Make a Habit of Succeeding, How to Win With High Self-Esteem (1966, 1994), 38. Note: Webmaster is dubious of a quote which seems to appear in only one source, without a citation, decades after Bell’s death. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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I have failed in finding parasites in mosquitoes fed on malaria patients, but perhaps I am not using the proper kind of mosquito.
Letter to his wife (14 Aug 1897). In Memoirs, With a Full Account of the Great Malaria Problem and its Solution (1923), 221.
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I never allow myself to become discouraged under any circumstances. … After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, … we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way. We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 89.
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I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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I said that there is something every man can do, if he can only find out what that something is. Henry Ford has proved this. He has installed in his vast organization a system for taking hold of a man who fails in one department, and giving him a chance in some other department. Where necessary every effort is made to discover just what job the man is capable of filling. The result has been that very few men have had to be discharged, for it has been found that there was some kind of work each man could do at least moderately well. This wonderful system adopted by my friend Ford has helped many a man to find himself. It has put many a fellow on his feet. It has taken round pegs out of square holes and found a round hole for them. I understand that last year only 120 workers out of his force of 50,000 were discharged.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 10.
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I sought excitement and, taking chances, I was all ready to fail in order to achieve something large.
On the official Raymond Loewry website. Also quoted in part in Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, Designer (1980).
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I still take failure very seriously, but I've found that the only way I could overcome the feeling is to keep on working, and trying to benefit from failures or disappointments. There are always some lessons to be learned. So I keep on working.
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I thank God that I was not made a dexterous manipulator, for the most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by my failures.
In Joseph William Mellor, Modern Inorganic Chemistry (1927). Quoted earlier in books by Samuel Smiles.
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I think if a physician wrote on a death certificate that old age was the cause of death, he’d be thrown out of the union. There is always some final event, some failure of an organ, some last attack of pneumonia, that finishes off a life. No one dies of old age.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Evolution began with one-celled organisms reproducing indefinitely by cell division.
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I think I’ve had more failures than successes, but I don’t see the failures as mistakes because I always learned something from those experiences. I see them as having not achieved the initial goal, nothing more than that.
Quoted in Timothy L. O’Brien, 'Not Invented here: Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge?', New York Times (13 Nov 2005), B6.
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I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.
[Epitaph from Gail Borden's gravestone.]
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I want to argue that the ‘sudden’ appearance of species in the fossil record and our failure to note subsequent evolutionary change within them is the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it ... Evolutionary ‘sequences’ are not rungs on a ladder, but our retrospective reconstruction of a circuitous path running like a labyrinth, branch to branch, from the base of the bush to a lineage now surviving at its top.
…...
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Ideologues of all persuasions think they know how the economy will respond to the Administration’s strange mixture of Lafferism and monetarism. Indeed, their self-confidence is so vast, and their ability to rationalize so crafty, that one cannot imagine a scenario for the next few years, that they would regard as falsifying their dogma. The failure of any prediction can always be blamed on quirky political decisions or unforeseen historical events.
In 'Mathematical Games: The Laffer Curve', Scientific American (Dec 1981), 245, No. 6, 30. Collected in The Night Is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995 (1997), 135.
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If gold medals and prizes were awarded to institutions instead of individuals, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital of 30 years ago would have qualified. The ruling board and administrative structure of that hospital did not falter in their support of the quixotic objective of treating end-stage renal disease despite a long list of tragic failures that resulted from these early efforts.
In Tore Frängsmyr and Jan E. Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 558.
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If the experiment works, you must be using the wrong experiment. An experiment has a tendency to fail
Anonymous
In Dr. N Sreedharan, Quotations of Wit and Wisdom (2007), 24.
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If there’s more than one way to do a job and one of those ways will end in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.
[Early statement of what became known as Murphy's Law.]
As quoted in People (31 Jan 1983), 82. Also in Nick T. Spark, A History of Murphy's Law (2006), 47. Nick T. Spark - Humor - 2006
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If we evolved a race of Isaac Newtons, that would not be progress. For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb.
Interview with J.W.N. Sullivan, Contemporary Mind, London, 1934. As cited in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2222.
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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 my personal view, a failure to discover unimagined objects and answer unasked questions, once HST functions properly, would indicate a lack of imagination in stocking the Universe on the part of the Deity.
In Hubble Space Telescope flaw: hearing before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred First Congress, second session, July 13, 1990 (1990), 105.
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In science, attempts at formulating hierarchies are always doomed to eventual failure. A Newton will always be followed by an Einstein, a Stahl by a Lavoisier; and who can say who will come after us? What the human mind has fabricated must be subject to all the changes—which are not progress—that the human mind must undergo. The 'last words' of the sciences are often replaced, more often forgotten. Science is a relentlessly dialectical process, though it suffers continuously under the necessary relativation of equally indispensable absolutes. It is, however, possible that the ever-growing intellectual and moral pollution of our scientific atmosphere will bring this process to a standstill. The immense library of ancient Alexandria was both symptom and cause of the ossification of the Greek intellect. Even now I know of some who feel that we know too much about the wrong things.
Voices in the Labyrinth: Nature, Man, and Science (1979), 46.
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In the conception of a machine or the product of a machine there is a point where one may leave off for parsimonious reasons, without having reached aesthetic perfection; at this point perhaps every mechanical factor is accounted for, and the sense of incompleteness is due to the failure to recognize the claims of the human agent. Aesthetics carries with it the implications of alternatives between a number of mechanical solutions of equal validity; and unless this awareness is present at every stage of the process … it is not likely to come out with any success in the final stage of design.
From 'The Esthetic Assimilation of the Machine', Technics and Civilization (1934), 349.
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Indigestion is the failure to adjust a square meal to a round stomach.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 546.
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It doesn't matter if you try and try and try again, and fail. It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is both a sad and a happy fact of engineering history that disasters have been powerful instruments of change. Designers learn from failure. Industrial society did not invent grand works of engineering, and it was not the first to know design failure. What it did do was develop powerful techniques for learning from the experience of past disasters. It is extremely rare today for an apartment house in North America, Europe, or Japan to fall down. Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings too, but while its public baths, bridges and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as ruin.
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1997), 23.
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It is clear that in maize, seemingly blending is really segregating inheritance, but with entire absence of dominance, and it seems probably that the same will be found to be true among rabbits and other mammals; failure to observe it hitherto is probably due to the fact that the factors concerned are numerous. For the greater the number of factors concerned, the more nearly will the result obtained approximate a complete and permanent blend. As the number of factors approaches infinity, the result will become identical with a permanent blend.
Heredity: In Relation to Evolution and Animal Breeding (1911), 138-9.
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It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
Speech, 'The Strenuous Life' (10 Apr 1899), as governor of New York, before the Hamilton Club, Chicago, Illinois. In The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (1926), Vol. 13, Chap.1, 320. Also excerpted in 'Practical Talks by Practical Men: The Strenuous Life', Illustrated World (1904), 2, 87.
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It is imperative in the design process to have a full and complete understanding of how failure is being obviated in order to achieve success. Without fully appreciating how close to failing a new design is, its own designer may not fully understand how and why a design works. A new design may prove to be successful because it has a sufficiently large factor of safety (which, of course, has often rightly been called a “factor of ignorance”), but a design's true factor of safety can never be known if the ultimate failure mode is unknown. Thus the design that succeeds (ie, does not fail) can actually provide less reliable information about how or how not to extrapolate from that design than one that fails. It is this observation that has long motivated reflective designers to study failures even more assiduously than successes.
In Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994), 31. books.google.comHenry Petroski - 1994
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It is important to go into work you would like to do. Then it doesn't seem like work. You sometimes feel it's almost too good to be true that someone will pay you for enjoying yourself. I've been very fortunate that my work led to useful drugs for a variety of serious illnesses. The thrill of seeing people get well who might otherwise have died of diseases like leukemia, kidney failure, and herpes virus encephalitis cannot be described in words.
From her lecture notes.
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It is not a disgrace to fail. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.
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It is not failure but success that is forcing man off this earth. It is not sickness but the triumph of health... Our capacity to survive has expanded beyond the capacity of Earth to support us. The pains we are feeling are growing pains. We can solve growth problems in direct proportion to our capacity to find new worlds... If man stays on Earth, his extinction is sure even if he lasts till the sun expands and destroys him... It is no longer reasonable to assume that the meaning of life lies on this earth alone. If Earth is all there is for man, we are reaching the foreseeable end of man.
…...
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your idea, but it is disaster to have no idea to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach for the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin.
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It was the failures who had always won, but by the time they won they had come to be called successes. This is the final paradox, which men call evolution.
In The Star Thrower (1978).
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Its [science’s] effectiveness is almost inevitable because it narrows the possibility of refutation and failure. Science begins by saying it can only answer this type of question and ends by saying these are the only questions that can be asked. Once the implications and shallowness of this trick are fully realised, science will be humbled and we shall be free to celebrate ourselves once again.
From Understanding the Present: An Alternative History of Science (2004), 249.
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Judged superficially, a progressive saturation of the germ plasm of a species with mutant genes a majority of which are deleterious in their effects is a destructive process, a sort of deterioration of the genotype which threatens the very existence of the species and can finally lead only to its extinction. The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before our eyes the nightmare of human populations accumulating recessive genes that produce pathological effects when homozygous. These prophets of doom seem to be unaware of the fact that wild species in the state of nature fare in this respect no better than man does with all the artificality of his surroundings, and yet life has not come to an end on this planet. The eschatological cries proclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate in human populations have more to do with political beliefs than with scientific findings.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 126.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 19.
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Man is no new-begot child of the ape, bred of a struggle for existence upon brutish lines—nor should the belief that such is his origin, oft dinned into his ears by scientists, influence his conduct. Were he to regard himself as an extremely ancient type, distinguished chiefly by the qualities of his mind, and to look upon the existing Primates as the failures of his line, as his misguided and brutish collaterals, rather than as his ancestors, I think it would be something gained for the ethical outlook of Homo—and also it would be consistent with present knowledge.
The Origin of Man (1918), a pamphlet published by The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, reprinted in Arthur Dendy (ed.), Animal Life and Human Progress (1919), 131.
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Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
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May every young scientist remember … and not fail to keep his eyes open for the possibility that an irritating failure of his apparatus to give consistent results may once or twice in a lifetime conceal an important discovery.
Commenting on the discovery of thoron gas because one of Rutherford’s students had found his measurements of the ionizing property of thorium were variable. His results even seemed to relate to whether the laboratory door was closed or open. After considering the problem, Rutherford realized a radioactive gas was emitted by thorium, which hovered close to the metal sample, adding to its radioactivity—unless it was dissipated by air drafts from an open door. (Thoron was later found to be argon.)
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics (1987), 21.
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Modern music, headstrong, wayward, tragically confused as to what to say and how to say it, has mounted its horse, as the joke goes, and ridden off in all directions. If we require of an art that it be unified as a whole and expressed in a universal language known to all, if it must be a consistent symbolization of the era, then modern music is a disastrous failure. It has many voices, many symbolizations. It it known to one, unknown to another. But if an art may be as variable and polyvocal as the different individuals and emotional regions from which it comes in this heterogeneous modern world, then the diversity and contradiction of modern music may be acceptable.
In Art Is Action: A Discussion of Nine Arts in a Modern World (1939), 81.
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More and more of out colleagues fail to understand our work because of the high specialization of research problems. We must not be discouraged if the products of our labor are not read or even known to exist. The joy of research must be found in doing since every other harvest is uncertain.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 20.
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Most of the knowledge and much of the genius of the research worker lie behind his selection of what is worth observing. It is a crucial choice, often determining the success or failure of months of work, often differentiating the brilliant discoverer from an otherwise admirable but entirely unproductive plodder.
The Furtherance of Medical Research (1941), 8.
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Most of the work performed by a development engineer results in failure. The occasional visit of success provides just the excitement an engineer needs to face work the following day.
In Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2002 (2003), 193.
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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Nature never “fails.” Nature complies with its own laws. Nature is the law. When Man lacks understanding of Nature’s laws and a Man-contrived structure buckles unexpectedly, it does not fail. It only demonstrates that Man did not understand Nature’s laws and behaviors. Nothing failed. Man’s knowledge or estimating was inadequate.
In "How Little I Know", in Saturday Review (12 Nov 1966), 152. Excerpted in Buckminster Fuller and Answar Dil, Humans in Universe (1983), 31.
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No experiment is ever a complete failure. It can always be used as a bad example.
In John Cook, Steve Deger and Leslie Ann Gibson, The Book of Positive Quotations (2007), 669.
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No scientist is admired for failing in the attempt to solve problems that lie beyond his competence. … Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.
The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 7.
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Numbers written on restaurant checks [bills] within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.
This single statement took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of math was put back by years.
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 49.
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One Form of Failure. From a worldly point of view there is no mistake so great as that of being always right.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 224.
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One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.
In 'The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External', The Nation (12 May 2014).
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One word characterises the most strenuous of the efforts for the advancement of science that I have made perseveringly during fifty-five years; that word is failure. I know no more of electric and magnetic force, or of the relation between ether, electricity and ponderable matter, or of chemical affinity, than I knew and tried to teach to my students of natural philosophy fifty years ago in my first session as Professor.
Address (16 Jun 1896), at Celebration for his Jubilee as Professor, at Glasgow University. Printed in The Electrician (19 Jun 1896), 37, 247.
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Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.
…...
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Our novice runs the risk of failure without additional traits: a strong inclination toward originality, a taste for research, and a desire to experience the incomparable gratification associated with the act of discovery itself.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 48.
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Owing to his lack of knowledge, the ordinary man cannot attempt to resolve conflicting theories of conflicting advice into a single organized structure. He is likely to assume the information available to him is on the order of what we might think of as a few pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle. If a given piece fails to fit, it is not because it is fraudulent; more likely the contradictions and inconsistencies within his information are due to his lack of understanding and to the fact that he possesses only a few pieces of the puzzle. Differing statements about the nature of things, differing medical philosophies, different diagnoses and treatments—all of these are to be collected eagerly and be made a part of the individual's collection of puzzle pieces. Ultimately, after many lifetimes, the pieces will fit together and the individual will attain clear and certain knowledge.
'Strategies of Resort to Curers in South India', contributed in Charles M. Leslie (ed.), Asian Medical Systems: A Comparative Study (1976), 185.
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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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Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course—a stoic’s creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here. If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), 5.
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Progress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled. The reason is that the investigator feels that even though he has failed in achieving an expected result, some other more fortunate experimenter may succeed, and it is unwise to discourage his attempts.
From 'Radium and its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 110, No. 655, 52.
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Scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of Error is without some latent charm derived from Truth.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Science is a game—but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives … If a man cuts a picture carefully into 1000 pieces, you solve the puzzle when you reassemble the pieces into a picture; in the success or failure, both your intelligences compete. In the presentation of a scientific problem, the other player is the good Lord. He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game—but they are not completely known, half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce. The experiment is the tempered blade which you wield with success against the spirits of darkness—or which defeats you shamefully. The uncertainty is how many of the rules God himself has permanently ordained, and how many apparently are caused by your own mental inertia, while the solution generally becomes possible only through freedom from its limitations.
Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 348.
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Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo.
Proposed summation written for the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), in Genevieve Forbes Herrick and John Origen Herrick ,The Life of William Jennings Bryan (1925), 405. This speech was prepared for delivery at the trial, but was never heard there, as both sides mutually agreed to forego arguments to the jury.
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Sometimes I am a little unkind to all my many friends in education … by saying that from the time it learns to talk every child makes a dreadful nuisance of itself by asking “Why?.” To stop this nuisance society has invented a marvellous system called education which, for the majority of people, brings to an end their desire to ask that question. The few failures of this system are known as scientists.
'The Making of a Scientist', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, June 1983, 403.
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Space exploration is risky. It’s hard. And actually, let me say here that I feel like we need to take on more risk than we have been in space exploration. The public doesn’t like risk, and they hate failure. But failures happen. They shouldn’t happen for stupid reasons. But if they happen when you were trying something risky, you learn. That teaches you something. At least it should. And you try harder next time.
On the failure of the Cosmos-1 solar sail (Jun 2005).
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Stem cells are probably going to be extremely useful. But it isn’t a given, and even if it were, I don’t think the end justifies the means. I am not against stem cells, I think it’s great. Blanket objection is not very reasonable to me—any effort to control scientific advances is doomed to fail. You cannot stop the human mind from working.
From Cornelia Dean, 'A Conversation with Joseph E. Murray', New York Times (25 Sep 2001), F5.
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Suppose the results of a line of study are negative. It might save a lot of otherwise wasted money to know a thing won’t work. But how do you accurately evaluate negative results? ... The power plant in [the recently developed streamline trains] is a Diesel engine of a type which was tried out many [around 25] years ago and found to be a failure. … We didn’t know how to build them. The principle upon which it operated was sound. [Since then much has been] learned in metallurgy [and] the accuracy with which parts can be manufactured
When this type of engine was given another chance it was an immediate success [because now] an accuracy of a quarter of a tenth of a thousandth of an inch [prevents high-pressure oil leaks]. … If we had taken the results of past experience without questioning the reason for the first failure, we would never have had the present light-weight, high-speed Diesel engine which appears to be the spark that will revitalize the railroad business.
'Industrial Prospecting', an address to the Founder Societies of Engineers (20 May 1935). In National Research Council, Reprint and Circular Series of the National Research Council (1933), No. 107, 2-3.
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The act of discovery, the act of being confronted with a new phenomenon, is a very passionate and very exciting moment in everyone’s life. It’s the reward for many, many years of effort and, also, of failures.
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 197.
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The air of caricature never fails to show itself in the products of reason applied relentlessly and without correction. The observation of clinical facts would seem to be a pursuit of the physician as harmless as it is indispensable. [But] it seemed irresistibly rational to certain minds that diseases should be as fully classifiable as are beetles and butterflies. This doctrine … bore perhaps its richest fruit in the hands of Boissier de Sauvauges. In his Nosologia Methodica published in 1768 … this Linnaeus of the bedside grouped diseases into ten classes, 295 genera, and 2400 species.
In 'General Ideas in Medicine', The Lloyd Roberts lecture at House of the Royal Society of Medicine (30 Sep 1935), British Medical Journal (5 Oct 1935), 2, 609. In The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 151.
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The disaster was caused neither by carelessness nor human failure. Unknown natural factors that we are still unable to explain today have made a mockery of all our efforts. The very substance intended to provide food and life to millions of our countrymen and which we have produced and supplied for years has suddenly become a cruel enemy for reasons we are as yet unable to fathom. It has reduced our site to rubble.
From the memorial service for the hundreds of people killed by the explosion of the ammonia fertilizer factory at Oppau, Germany. At the time, the explosive nature of ammonium nitrate was not understood.
BASF corporate history webpage.
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The Earth Speaks, clearly, distinctly, and, in many of the realms of Nature, loudly, to William Jennings Bryan, but he fails to hear a single sound. The earth speaks from the remotest periods in its wonderful life history in the Archaeozoic Age, when it reveals only a few tissues of its primitive plants. Fifty million years ago it begins to speak as “the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life.” In successive eons of time the various kinds of animals leave their remains in the rocks which compose the deeper layers of the earth, and when the rocks are laid bare by wind, frost, and storm we find wondrous lines of ascent invariably following the principles of creative evolution, whereby the simpler and more lowly forms always precede the higher and more specialized forms.
The earth speaks not of a succession of distinct creations but of a continuous ascent, in which, as the millions of years roll by, increasing perfection of structure and beauty of form are found; out of the water-breathing fish arises the air-breathing amphibian; out of the land-living amphibian arises the land-living, air-breathing reptile, these two kinds of creeping things resembling each other closely. The earth speaks loudly and clearly of the ascent of the bird from one kind of reptile and of the mammal from another kind of reptile.
This is not perhaps the way Bryan would have made the animals, but this is the way God made them!
The Earth Speaks to Bryan (1925), 5-6. Osborn wrote this book in response to the Scopes Monkey Trial, where William Jennings Bryan spoke against the theory of evolution. They had previously been engaged in the controversy about the theory for several years. The title refers to a Biblical verse from the Book of Job (12:8), “Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee.”
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The fact remains that, if the supply of energy failed, modern civilization would come to an end as abruptly as does the music of an organ deprived of wind.
Matter and Energy (1911), 251.
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The first difficulty of all is the production of a lamp which shall be thoroughly reliable, and neither complicated nor expensive. All attempts up to the present lamp in this direction are acknowledged to be failures, and, as I have pointed out, there does not seem to be any novelty such as would authorize us to hope for a better success in the present one.
In 'A Scientific View of It: Prof. Henry Morton Not Sanguine About Edison’s Success', New York Times (28 Dec 1879), 1.
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The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. … He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. … If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days. He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again.
Reprint of his 1916 statement in 'Engineering as a Profession', Engineer’s Week (1954).
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The history of mathematics is exhilarating, because it unfolds before us the vision of an endless series of victories of the human mind, victories without counterbalancing failures, that is, without dishonorable and humiliating ones, and without atrocities.
In The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 13.
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The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, “The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics.” It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoiter and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 1-2.
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The history of psychiatry to the present day is replete with examples of loose thinking and a failure to apply even the simplest rules of logic. “A Court of Statistical Appeal” has now been equated with scientific method.
Myre Sim
Quoted in book review by Myre Sim about 'Ending the Cycle of Abuse', The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry (May 1997), 42:4, 425.
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The increasing technicality of the terminology employed is also a serious difficulty. It has become necessary to learn an extensive vocabulary before a book in even a limited department of science can be consulted with much profit. This change, of course, has its advantages for the initiated, in securing precision and concisement of statement; but it tends to narrow the field in which an investigator can labour, and it cannot fail to become, in the future, a serious impediment to wide inductive generalisations.
Year Book of Science (1892), preface, from review in Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (14 Apr 1892), 65, 190.
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The man in the street will, therefore, twist the statement that the scientist has come to the end of meaning into the statement that the scientist has penetrated as far as he can with the tools at his command, and that there is something beyond the ken of the scientist. This imagined beyond, which the scientist has proved he cannot penetrate, will become the playground of the imagination of every mystic and dreamer. The existence of such a domain will be made the basis of an orgy of rationalizing. It will be made the substance of the soul; the spirits of the dead will populate it; God will lurk in its shadows; the principle of vital processes will have its seat here; and it will be the medium of telepathic communication. One group will find in the failure of the physical law of cause and effect the solution of the age-long problem of the freedom of the will; and on the other hand the atheist will find the justification of his contention that chance rules the universe.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950),102-3.
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The meaning of geography is as much a sealed book to the person of ordinary intelligence and education as the meaning of a great cathedral would be to a backwoodsman, and yet no cathedral can be more suggestive of past history in its many architectural forms than is the land about us, with its innumerable and marvellously significant geographic forms. It makes one grieve to think of opportunity for mental enjoyment that is last because of the failure of education in this respect.
'Geographic Methods in Geologic Investigation', The National Geographic Magazine, 1889, 1, 23.
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The only time you mustn't fail is the last time you try.
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The quantum entered physics with a jolt. It didn’t fit anywhere; it made no sense; it contradicted everything we thought we knew about nature. Yet the data seemed to demand it. ... The story of Werner Heisenberg and his science is the story of the desperate failures and ultimate triumphs of the small band of brilliant physicists who—during an incredibly intense period of struggle with the data, the theories, and each other during the 1920s—brought about a revolutionary new understanding of the atomic world known as quantum mechanics.
Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb (2009), 90. Selected and contributed to this website by the author.
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The Reason of making Experiments is, for the Discovery of the Method of Nature, in its Progress and Operations. Whosoever, therefore doth rightly make Experiments, doth design to enquire into some of these Operations; and, in order thereunto, doth consider what Circumstances and Effects, in the Experiment, will be material and instructive in that Enquiry, whether for the confirming or destroying of any preconceived Notion, or for the Limitation and Bounding thereof, either to this or that Part of the Hypothesis, by allowing a greater Latitude and Extent to one Part, and by diminishing or restraining another Part within narrower Bounds than were at first imagin'd, or hypothetically supposed. The Method therefore of making Experiments by the Royal Society I conceive should be this.
First, To propound the Design and Aim of the Curator in his present Enquiry.
Secondly, To make the Experiment, or Experiments, leisurely, and with Care and Exactness.
Thirdly, To be diligent, accurate, and curious, in taking Notice of, and shewing to the Assembly of Spectators, such Circumstances and Effects therein occurring, as are material, or at least, as he conceives such, in order to his Theory .
Fourthly, After finishing the Experiment, to discourse, argue, defend, and further explain, such Circumstances and Effects in the preceding Experiments, as may seem dubious or difficult: And to propound what new Difficulties and Queries do occur, that require other Trials and Experiments to be made, in order to their clearing and answering: And farther, to raise such Axioms and Propositions, as are thereby plainly demonstrated and proved.
Fifthly, To register the whole Process of the Proposal, Design, Experiment, Success, or Failure; the Objections and Objectors, the Explanation and Explainers, the Proposals and Propounders of new and farther Trials; the Theories and Axioms, and their Authors; and, in a Word the history of every Thing and Person, that is material and circumstantial in the whole Entertainment of the said Society; which shall be prepared and made ready, fairly written in a bound Book, to be read at the Beginning of the Sitting of the Society: The next Day of their Meeting, then to be read over and further discoursed, augmented or diminished, as the Matter shall require, and then to be sign'd by a certain Number of the Persons present, who have been present, and Witnesses of all the said Proceedings, who, by Subscribing their names, will prove undoubted testimony to Posterity of the whole History.
'Dr Hooke's Method of Making Experiments' (1664-5). In W. Derham (ed.), Philosophical Experiments and Observations Of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hooke, F.R.S. And Geom. Prof. Gresh. and Other Eminent Virtuoso's in his Time (1726), 26-8.
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The responsibility for maintaining the composition of the blood in respect to other constituents devolves largely upon the kidneys. It is no exaggeration to say that the composition of the blood is determined not by what the mouth ingests but by what the kidneys keep; they are the master chemists of our internal environment, which, so to speak, they synthesize in reverse. When, among other duties, they excrete the ashes of our body fires, or remove from the blood the infinite variety of foreign substances which are constantly being absorbed from our indiscriminate gastrointestinal tracts, these excretory operations are incidental to the major task of keeping our internal environment in an ideal, balanced state. Our glands, our muscles, our bones, our tendons, even our brains, are called upon to do only one kind of physiological work, while our kidneys are called upon to perform an innumerable variety of operations. Bones can break, muscles can atrophy, glands can loaf, even the brain can go to sleep, without immediately endangering our survival, but when the kidneys fail to manufacture the proper kind of blood neither bone, muscle, gland nor brain can carry on.
'The Evolution of the Kidney', Lectures on the Kidney (1943), 3.
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The search [for extra-terrestrial life] is a failure until that moment when it suddenly becomes a success.
Quoted in 'Do Aliens Exist in the Milky Way', PBS web page for WGBH Nova, 'Origins.'
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The story of a theory’s failure often strikes readers as sad and unsatisfying. Since science thrives on self-correction, we who practice this most challenging of human arts do not share such a feeling. We may be unhappy if a favored hypothesis loses or chagrined if theories that we proposed prove inadequate. But refutation almost always contains positive lessons that overwhelm disappointment, even when no new and comprehensive theory has yet filled the void.
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The student of biology is often struck with the feeling that historians, when dealing with the rise and fall of nations, do not generally view the phenomena from a sufficiently high biological standpoint. To me, at least, they seem to attach too much importance to individual rulers and soldiers, and to particular wars, policies, religions, and customs; while at the same time they make little attempt to extract the fundamental causes of national success or failure.
Introduction written by Ross for William Henry Samuel Jones, Malaria, a Neglected Factor in the History of Greece and Rome (1907), 1.
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The way you learn anything is that something fails, and you figure out how not to have it fail again.
From Interview (1 Sep 2009), for the NASA Glenn History Collection, Oral History Collection, Cleveland, Ohio. As quoted an cited in Robert S. Arrighi, Pursuit of Power: NASA’s Propulsion and Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 (2012), 82. This quote is widely seen on the web, often incorrectly attributed to Arrighi, who was only the author of the book in which the quote by Kobak was given.
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There are those who say that the human kidney was created to keep the blood pure, or more precisely, to keep our internal environment in an ideal balanced state. This I must deny. I grant that the human kidney is a marvelous organ, but I cannot grant that it was purposefully designed to excrete urine or to regulate the composition of the blood or to subserve the physiological welfare of Homo sapiens in any sense. Rather I contend that the human kidney manufactures the kind of urine that it does, and it maintains the blood in the composition which that fluid has, because this kidney has a certain functional architecture; and it owes that architecture not to design or foresight or to any plan, but to the fact that the earth is an unstable sphere with a fragile crust, to the geologic revolutions that for six hundred million years have raised and lowered continents and seas, to the predacious enemies, and heat and cold, and storms and droughts; to the unending succession of vicissitudes that have driven the mutant vertebrates from sea into fresh water, into desiccated swamps, out upon the dry land, from one habitation to another, perpetually in search of the free and independent life, perpetually failing, for one reason or another, to find it.
From Fish to Philosopher (1953), 210-1.
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There is a river in the ocean. In the severest droughts it never fails, and in the mightiest floods it never overflows. Its banks and its bottom are of cold water, while its current is of warm. The Gulf of Mexico is its fountain, and its mouth is in the Arctic Sea. It is the Gulf Stream.
Opening paragraph of The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), 25.
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There is no failure for the man who realizes his power, who never knows when he is beaten; there is no failure for the determined endeavor; the unconquerable will. There is no failure for the man who gets up every time he falls, who rebounds like a rubber ball, who persist when everyone else gives up, who pushes on when everyone else turns back.
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There is no inductive method which could lead to the fundamental concepts of physics. Failure to understand this fact constituted the basic philosophical error of so many investigators of the nineteenth century.
Opening of section 4, 'The Theory of Relativity', in Physics and Reality (1936), collected in Essays in Physics (1950), 34.
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There is only one nature—the division into science and engineering is a human imposition, not a natural one. Indeed, the division is a human failure; it reflects our limited capacity to comprehend the whole.
from Recent Development of Physical Science (p. 10)
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They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. Actually, their innermost desire is for an end to the “free for all.” They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 32.
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This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1—what happened in the beginning. This is a Genesis machine. It'll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe.
[Comment on a milestone experiment, the collision of two proton beams at higher energy than ever before, upon the restarting of the Large Hadron Collider after a major failure and shutdown for repair.]
As quoted by Alexander G. Higgins and Seth Borenstein (AP) in 'Atom Smasher Will Help Reveal "The Beginning" ', Bloomberg Businessweek (30 Mar 2010).
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Truly grand and powerful theories … do not and cannot rest upon single observations. Evolution is an inference from thousands of independent sources, the only conceptual structure that can make unified sense of all this disparate information. The failure of a particular claim usually records a local error, not the bankruptcy of a central theory … If I mistakenly identify your father’s brother as your own dad, you don’t become genealogically rootless and created de novo. You still have a father; we just haven’t located him properly.
Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History (1998), 155.
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Undeterred by poverty, failure, domestic tragedy, and persecution, but sustained by his mystical belief in an attainable mathematical harmony and perfection of nature, Kepler persisted for fifteen years before finding the simple regularity [of planetary orbits] he sought… . What stimulated Kepler to keep slaving all those fifteen years? An utter absurdity. In addition to his faith in the mathematical perfectibility of astronomy, Kepler also believed wholeheartedly in astrology. This was nothing against him. For a scientist of Kepler’s generation astrology was as respectable scientifically and mathematically as the quantum theory or relativity is to theoretical physicists today. Nonsense now, astrology was not nonsense in the sixteenth century.
In The Handmaiden of the Sciences (1937), 30.
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Unless we practice conservation, those who come after us will have to pay the price of misery, degradation, and failure for the progress and prosperity of our day.
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Wallace’s error on human intellect arose from the in adequacy of his rigid selectionism, not from a failure to apply it. And his argument repays our study today, since its flaw persists as the weak link in many of the most ‘modern’ evolutionary speculations of our current literature. For Wallace’s rigid selectionism is much closer than Darwin’s pluralism to the attitude embodied in our favored theory today, which, ironically in this context, goes by the name of ‘Neo-Darwinism.’
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We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.
In Self-help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1859, 1861), 349.
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We live in an essential and unresolvable tension between our unity with nature and our dangerous uniqueness. Systems that attempt to place and make sense of us by focusing exclusively either on the uniqueness or the unity are doomed to failure. But we must not stop asking and questing because the answers are complex and ambiguous.
In 'Our Natural Place', Hen's Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1994, 2010), 250.
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We may have to live with the failure to control atomic energy for the rest of our lives. If that is to be our lot, let us face it steadfastly with faith in the civilisation we defend. The acid test of the strength of our society is the self-discipline of its adherents.
As quoted in 'On This Day', The Times (1 Feb 2001), 21, reprinting the article 'United States to Develop Hydrogen Bomb' from The Times (1 Feb 1950), which in turn was quoting Baruch from 'International Control of Atomic Energy', Air Affairs (Spring 1950), 319.
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We need to teach the highly educated man that it is not a disgrace to fail and that he must analyze every failure to find its cause. He must learn how to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.
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We were trying. In spite of several failures, we felt we were getting close. It’s difficult to translate the optimism of the Brigham staff and hospital. The administration really backed us.
Concerning the early years trying to solve the problem of rejection of a transplanted kidney. As quoted by Alvin Powell in 'A Transplant Makes History', Harvard Gazette (22 Sep 2011). The writer of the articles stated: “Through those dark years, he and his colleagues pressed on, inspired by the dying patients who volunteered for surgery in hopes that, even if they didn’t make it, enough could be learned that success would come one day.”
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We've all seen Apollo 13. NASA guys always have the old 'plastic bag, cardboard tubing, and duct tape' option to fall back on when the shit hits the fan. Neurosurgeons have no such leeway. What it comes down to is this: if a brain surgeon screws up, it means a multi-million-dollar malpractice suit, but if a rocket scientist screws up, it means a multi-million-dollar hit movie starring Tom Hanks.
Lucky Man (2002), 209.
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We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
In Second Inaugural Address (21 Jan 2013) at the United States Capitol.
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What intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft repeated, than the story of a large research program that impaled itself upon a false central assumption accepted by all practitioners? Do we regard all people who worked within such traditions as dishonorable fools? What of the scientists who assumed that the continents were stable, that the hereditary material was protein, or that all other galaxies lay within the Milky Way? These false and abandoned efforts were pursued with passion by brilliant and honorable scientists. How many current efforts, now commanding millions of research dollars and the full attention of many of our best scientists, will later be exposed as full failures based on false premises?
…...
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What purpose is effected by a catalogue of undistinguished kings and queens? Tom, Dick, or Harry, they are all dead. General resurrections are failures, and are better postponed.
In 'The Aims of Education', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 20.
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When all else fails as a cure for smoking cigarettes, try carrying wet matches.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 84.
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When I examine the conclusion [on experiments with the electric light bulb experiments published in the Herald] which everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize as a conspicuous failure, trumpeted as a wonderful success, I [conclude]... that the writer ... must either be very ignorant, and the victim of deceit, or a conscious accomplice in what is nothing less than a fraud upon the public.
Letter to the Sanitary Engineer (22 Dec 1880). Quoted in Charles Bazermanl, The Languages of Edison's Light (2002), 186.
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When I started my work in 1909 there was about one fatality for every 2000 miles of flight and probably a few crashes for every 100 miles. Much of the design and flight knowledge that is now taken for granted was then unknown and … had to be learned through failures and tragedies.
In address (16 Nov 1964) presented to the Wings Club, New York City, published as Recollections and Thoughts of a Pioneer (1964), 6.
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When I was young I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.
…...
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When one considers in its length and in its breadth the importance of this question of the education of the nation's young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which it is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage. In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. To-day we maintain ourselves. To-morrow science will have moved forward yet one more step, and there will be no appeal from the judgment which will then be pronounced on the uneducated.
In 'Organisation of Thought', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 22.
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When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us.
Out of My Later Years (1995), 28.
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You frequently state, and in your letter you imply, that I have developed a completely one-sided outlook and look at everything and think of everything in terms of science. Obviously my method of thought and reasoning is influenced by a scientific training—if that were not so my scientific training will have been a waste and a failure.
Letter to her father, Ellis Franklin, undated, perhaps summer 1940 while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Excerpted in Brenda Maddox, The Dark Lady of DNA (2002), 60.
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You hear headlines from time to time about the Amazon rainforest disappearing at a greater or lesser rate.... The real story is that over time the rate has stayed just the same. Year after year, decade after decade, we have failed to stop or really even decrease deforestation...
Online transcript of interview, segment 'Amazon Deforestation' on NPR radio program, Living on Earth (25 Feb 2005).
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You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.
…...
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You must have short range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures.
…...
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Your aim is no better than your knowledge of chemistry.
[On being shot at by a Polish student whom Werner had failed in an examination.]
In G. B. Kauffman, Alfred Werner (1966), 59.
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[Philosopher Lao-tse] is not dogmatic, and he does not go in for big, universal ideas. For instance, I like what he says about failure and success, “Failure is the foundation of success and the means by which it is achieved. Success is the lurking place of failure; but who can tell when the turning point will come?”
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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