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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index M > Category: Mediocre

Mediocre Quotes (14 quotes)

A first-rate laboratory is one in which mediocre scientists can produce outstanding work.
Quoted by M. G. K. Menon in his commemoration lecture on H. J. Bhabba, Royal Institution 1967.
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A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás, Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 24.
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A mathematician of the first rank, Laplace quickly revealed himself as only a mediocre administrator; from his first work we saw that we had been deceived. Laplace saw no question from its true point of view; he sought subtleties everywhere; had only doubtful ideas, and finally carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration.
As quoted in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1937, 1965), 182. Without citation, except, “As it is often quoted as … Napoleon’s famous estimate of Laplace, of which he is reported to have delivered himself while he was a prisoner at St. Helena.” Laplace had a six-week tenure in the Ministry of the Interior.
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After all, it is only the mediocre who are always at their best.
Likely a false attribution, although often seen but without citation. For a much earlier version (1904), with primary source, see the page for Max Beerbohm: “Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best.” Also of questionable originality, often seen but without citation, is W. Somerset Maugham: “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.” For example in John Peers, Gordon Bennett, 1,001 logical laws, accurate axioms,… (1979), 92.
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Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
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I wish that one would be persuaded that psychological experiments, especially those on the complex functions, are not improved [by large studies]; the statistical method gives only mediocre results; some recent examples demonstrate that. The American authors, who love to do things big, often publish experiments that have been conducted on hundreds and thousands of people; they instinctively obey the prejudice that the persuasiveness of a work is proportional to the number of observations. This is only an illusion.
L' Études expérimentale de l'intelligence (1903), 299.
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Mediocre men often have the most acquired knowledge. It is in the darker. It is in the darker regions of science that great men are recognized; they are marked by ideas which light up phenomena hitherto obscure and carry science forward.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (reprint 1999), 42.
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So is not mathematical analysis then not just a vain game of the mind? To the physicist it can only give a convenient language; but isn’t that a mediocre service, which after all we could have done without; and, it is not even to be feared that this artificial language be a veil, interposed between reality and the physicist’s eye? Far from that, without this language most of the intimate analogies of things would forever have remained unknown to us; and we would never have had knowledge of the internal harmony of the world, which is, as we shall see, the only true objective reality.
From La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 3, giving translation "approximately" in the footnote of the opening epigraph in the original French: “L’analyse mathématique, n’est elle donc qu’un vain jeu d’esprit? Elle ne peut pas donner au physicien qu’un langage commode; n’est-ce pa là un médiocre service, dont on aurait pu se passer à la rigueur; et même n’est il pas à craindre que ce langage artificiel ne soit pas un voile interposé entre la réalité at l’oeil du physicien? Loin de là, sans ce langage, la pluspart des anaologies intimes des choses nous seraient demeurées à jamais inconnues; et nous aurions toujours ignoré l’harmonie interne du monde, qui est, nous le verrons, la seule véritable réalité objective.” Another translation, with a longer quote, beginning “Without this language…”, is on the Henri Poincaré Quotes" page of this website.
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The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
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The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
In Thoughts of a Christian Optimist: The Words of William Arthur Ward (1968), 16
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The superior doctor prevents sickness; The mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; The inferior doctor treats actual sickness.
Chinese Proverb. In North Manchurian Plague Prevention Service Reports (1925-1926) (1926), 292, 305.
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The world is full of signals that we don’t perceive. Tiny creatures live in a different world of unfamiliar forces. Many animals of our scale greatly exceed our range of perception for sensations familiar to us ... What an imperceptive lot we are. Surrounded by so much, so fascinating and so real, that we do not see (hear, smell, touch, taste) in nature, yet so gullible and so seduced by claims for novel power that we mistake the tricks of mediocre magicians for glimpses of a psychic world beyond our ken. The paranormal may be a fantasy; it is certainly a haven for charlatans. But ‘parahuman’ powers of perception lie all about us in birds, bees, and bacteria.
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To the distracting occupations belong especially my lecture courses which I am holding this winter for the first time, and which now cost much more of my time than I like. Meanwhile I hope that the second time this expenditure of time will be much less, otherwise I would never be able to reconcile myself to it, even practical (astronomical) work must give far more satisfaction than if one brings up to B a couple more mediocre heads which otherwise would have stopped at A.
Letter to Friedrich Bessel (4 Dec 1808). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 415.
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What, then, is it in particular that can be learned from teachers of special distinction? Above all, what they teach is high standards. We measure everything, including ourselves, by comparisons; and in the absence of someone with outstanding ability there is a risk that we easily come to believe that we are excellent and much better than the next man. Mediocre people may appear big to themselves (and to others) if they are surrounded by small circumstances. By the same token, big people feel dwarfed in the company of giants, and this is a most useful feeling. So what the giants of science teach us is to see ourselves modestly and not to overrate ourselves.
Reminiscences and Reflections (1981), 175.
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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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