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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index M > Category: Merit

Merit Quotes (50 quotes)

A Miracle is a Violation of the Laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable Experience has established these Laws, the Proof against a Miracle, from the very Nature of the Fact, is as entire as any Argument from Experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all Men must die; that Lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the Air; that Fire consumes Wood, and is extinguished by Water; unless it be, that these Events are found agreeable to the Laws of Nature, and there is required a Violation of these Laws, or in other Words, a Miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteem'd a Miracle, if it ever happen in the common Course of Nature... There must, therefore, be a uniform Experience against every miraculous Event, otherwise the Event would not merit that Appellation. And as a uniform Experience amounts to a Proof, there is here a direct and full Proof, from the Nature of the Fact, against the Existence of any Miracle; nor can such a Proof be destroy'd, or the Miracle render'd credible, but by an opposite Proof, which is superior.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 180-181.
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Alfred Nobel - pitiable half-creature, should have been stifled by humane doctor when he made his entry yelling into life. Greatest merits: Keeps his nails clean and is never a burden to anyone. Greatest fault: Lacks family, cheerful spirits, and strong stomach. Greatest and only petition: Not to be buried alive. Greatest sin: Does not worship Mammon. Important events in his life: None.
Letter (1887) from Alfred to his brother, Ludwig. In Erik Bergengre, Alfred Nobel: the Man and His Work (1960), 177.
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Another advantage of a mathematical statement is that it is so definite that it might be definitely wrong; and if it is found to be wrong, there is a plenteous choice of amendments ready in the mathematicians’ stock of formulae. Some verbal statements have not this merit; they are so vague that they could hardly be wrong, and are correspondingly useless.
From 'Mathematics of War and Foreign Politics', in James R. Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1248.
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Building goes on briskly at the therapeutic Tower of Babel; what one recommends another condemns; what one gives in large doses another scarce dares to prescribe in small doses; and what one vaunts as a novelty another thinks not worth rescuing from merited oblivion. All is confusion, contradiction, inconceivable chaos. Every country, every place, almost every doctor, have their own pet remedies, without which they imagine their patients can not be cured; and all this changes every year, aye every mouth.
Weekly Medical Gazette, of Vienna
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For even they who compose treatises of medicine or natural philosophy in verse are denominated Poets: yet Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common except their metre; the former, therefore, justly merits the name of the Poet; while the other should rather be called a Physiologist than a Poet.
Aristotle
Aristotle’s Treatise on Poetry, I:2, trans. Thomas Twining (1957), 103
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Frege has the merit of ... finding a third assertion by recognising the world of logic which is neither mental nor physical.
Our Knowledge of the External World (1914), 201.
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Guessing right for the wrong reason does not merit scientific immortality.
…...
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I appeal to the contemptible speech made lately by Sir Robert Peel to an applauding House of Commons. 'Orders of merit,' said he, 'were the proper rewards of the military' (the desolators of the world in all ages). 'Men of science are better left to the applause of their own hearts.' Most learned Legislator! Most liberal cotton-spinner! Was your title the proper reward of military prowess? Pity you hold not the dungeon-keys of an English Inquisition! Perhaps Science, like creeds, would flourish best under a little persecution.
Chemical Recreations (1834), 232.
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I no longer count as one of my merits that I always tell the truth as much as possible; it has become my metier.
Letter to Albert Einstein, 8 Dec 1932. Quoted in P. Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988), xvii.
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If it is impossible to judge merit and guilt in the field of natural science, then it is not possible in any field, and historical research becomes an idle, empty activity.
Reden und Abhandlungen (1874). Trans. W. H. Brock.
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If this “critical openminded attitude” … is wanted, the question at once arises, Is it science that should be studied in order to achieve it? Why not study law? A judge has to do everything that a scientist is exhorted to do in the way of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, and then judging impartially on the merits of the case as well as he can. … Why not a course in Sherlock Holmes? The detectives, or at least the detective-story writers, join with the scientists in excoriating “dogmatic prejudice, lying, falsification of facts, and data, and willful fallacious reasoning.”
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 191.
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If we justify war, it is because all peoples always justify the traits of which they find themselves possessed, not because war will bear an objective examination of its merits.
In 'The Diversity of Cultures', Patterns of Culture (1934, 2005), 31.
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In Institutions of a lower grade [secondary schools], it [geology] receives far less attention than its merits deserve. Why should not a science, whose facts possess a thrilling interest; whose reasonings are admirably adapted for mental discipline, and often severely tax the strongest powers; and whose results are, many of them, as grand and ennobling as those of Astronomy itself; … why should not such a science be thought as essential in education as the kindred branches of Chemistry and Astronomy?
In 'Preface', Elementary Geology (1840, 1841), vi.
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In my first publication I might have claimed that I had come to the conclusion, as a result of serious study of the literature and deep thought, that valuable antibacterial substances were made by moulds and that I set out to investigate the problem. That would have been untrue and I preferred to tell the truth that penicillin started as a chance observation. My only merit is that I did not neglect the observation and that I pursued the subject as a bacteriologist. My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.
'Penicillin', Nobel Lecture, 11 Dec 1945. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964), 83.
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In science it is a service of the highest merit to seek out those fragmentary truths attained by the ancients, and to develop them further.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 198.
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In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 255.
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In scientific matters ... the greatest discoverer differs from the most arduous imitator and apprentice only in degree, whereas he differs in kind from someone whom nature has endowed for fine art. But saying this does not disparage those great men to whom the human race owes so much in contrast to those whom nature has endowed for fine art. For the scientists' talent lies in continuing to increase the perfection of our cognitions and on all the dependent benefits, as well as in imparting that same knowledge to others; and in these respects they are far superior to those who merit the honour of being called geniuses. For the latter's art stops at some point, because a boundary is set for it beyond which it cannot go and which has probably long since been reached and cannot be extended further.
The Critique of Judgement (1790), trans. J. C. Meredith (1991), 72.
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In the school of political projectors, I was but ill entertained, the professors appearing, in my judgment, wholly out of their senses; which is a scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy people were proposing schemes for persuading monarchs to choose favourites upon the score of their wisdom, capacity, and virtue; of teaching ministers to consult the public good; of rewarding merit, great abilities, and eminent services; of instructing princes to know their true interest, by placing it on the same foundation with that of their people; of choosing for employment persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible chimeras, that never entered before into the heart of man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth.
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 6, 232.
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In this great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, as even Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety. All this the vast apparent provision in the starry mansions seem to promise: What ought we then not to do, to preserve our natural birthright to it and to merit such inheritance, which alas we think created all to gratify alone a race of vain-glorious gigantic beings, while they are confined to this world, chained like so many atoms to a grain of sand.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 132.
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In truth, ideas and principles are independent of men; the application of them and their illustration is man's duty and merit. The time will come when the author of a view shall be set aside, and the view only taken cognizance of. This will be the millennium of Science.
Notes of hints to Mr Ramsey, Professor of Geology, University College London, 1847. In George Wilson and Archibald Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes F.R.S. (1861), 429.
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It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that for any organisation to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader.
In 'What I Believe', Forum and Century (1930), 84, 193-194.
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It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.
Quoted in Return to Mathematical Circles H. Eves (Boston 1988).
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It is not merely as an investigator and discoverer, but as a high-principled and unassuming man, that Scheele merits our warmest admiration. His aim and object was the discovery of truth. The letters of the man reveal to us in the most pleasant way his high scientific ideal, his genuinely philosophic temper, and his simple mode of thought. “It is the truth alone that we desire to know, and what joy there is in discovering it!” With these words he himself characterizes his own efforts.
From History of Chemistry (1899). As quoted in Victor Robinson, Pathfinders in Medicine (1912), 121.
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It is one of the chief merits of proofs that they instil a certain scepticism as to the result proved.
In The Principles of Mathematics (1903), Vol. 1, 360.
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It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.
Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925 (1925), 291.
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It is the invaluable merit of the great Basle mathematician Leonhard Euler, to have freed the analytical calculus from all geometric bounds, and thus to have established analysis as an independent science, which from his time on has maintained an unchallenged leadership in the field of mathematics.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 12. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 153. Seen incorrectly attributed to Thomas Reid in N. Rose, Mathematical and Maxims and Minims (1988).
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It often happens that men, even of the best understandings and greatest circumspection, are guilty of that fault in reasoning which the writers on logick call the insufficient, or imperfect enumeration of parts, or cases: insomuch that I will venture to assert, that this is the chief, and almost the only, source of the vast number of erroneous opinions, and those too very often in matters of great importance, which we are apt to form on all the subjects we reflect upon, whether they relate to the knowledge of nature, or the merits and motives of human actions. It must therefore be acknowledged, that the art which affords a cure to this weakness, or defect, of our understandings, and teaches us to enumerate all the possible ways in which a given number of things may be mixed and combined together, that we may be certain that we have not omitted anyone arrangement of them that can lead to the object of our inquiry, deserves to be considered as most eminently useful and worthy of our highest esteem and attention. And this is the business of the art, or doctrine of combinations ... It proceeds indeed upon mathematical principles in calculating the number of the combinations of the things proposed: but by the conclusions that are obtained by it, the sagacity of the natural philosopher, the exactness of the historian, the skill and judgement of the physician, and the prudence and foresight of the politician, may be assisted; because the business of all these important professions is but to form reasonable conjectures concerning the several objects which engage their attention, and all wise conjectures are the results of a just and careful examination of the several different effects that may possibly arise from the causes that are capable of producing them.
Ars conjectandi (1713). In F. Maseres, The Doctrine of Permutations and Combinations (1795), 36.
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No matter how we twist and turn we shall always come back to the cell. The eternal merit of Schwann does not lie in his cell theory that has occupied the foreground for so long, and perhaps will soon be given up, but in his description of the development of the various tissues, and in his demonstration that this development (hence all physiological activity) is in the end traceable back to the cell. Now if pathology is nothing but physiology with obstacles, and diseased life nothing but healthy life interfered with by all manner of external and internal influences then pathology too must be referred back to the cell.
In 'Cellular-Pathologie', Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und fur klinische Medizin (1855), 8, 13-14, as translated in LellandJ. Rather, 'Cellular Pathology', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 81.
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No other subject has such clear-cut or unanimously accepted standards, and the men who are remembered are almost always the men who merit it. Mathematical fame, if you have the cash to pay for it, is one of the soundest and steadiest of investments.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 82.
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One merit of mathematics few will deny: it says more in fewer words than any other science.
In 'The Poetry of Mathematics', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1926), 19, No. 5, 293. This is a paraphrase from Voltaire: “One merit of poetry few will deny; it says more and in fewer words than prose.”
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Taking advantage of the method, found by me, of the black staining of the elements of the brain, staining obtained by the prolonged immersion of the pieces, previously hardened with potassium or ammonium bichromate, in a 0.50 or 1.0% solution of silver nitrate, I happened to discover some facts concerning the structure of the cerebral gray matter that I believe merit immediate communication.
'On the Structure of the Gray Matter of the Brain', Gazetta Medica Italiana, 2 Aug 1873. Trans. Maurizio Santini (ed.), Golgi Centennial Symposium: Perspectives in Neurobiology (1975), 647.
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Tedious as it may appear to some to dwell on the discovery of odds and ends that have, no doubt, been thrown away by the owner as rubbish ... yet it is by the study of such trivial details that Archaeology is mainly dependent for determining the date of earthworks. ... Next to coins fragments of pottery afford the most reliable of all evidence ... In my judgement, a fragment of pottery, if it throws light on the history of our own country and people, is of more interest to the scientific collector of evidence in England, than even a work of art and merit that is associated only with races that we are remotely connected with.
On the importance of pottery to an archaeologist.
Excavations in Bokerly and Wansdyke, vol. 3, ix-30. Quoted in Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Proceedings (1895), vol. 8, 180.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The dispute between evolutionists and creation scientists offers textbook writers and teachers a wonderful opportunity to provide students with insights into the philosophy and methods of science. … What students really need to know is … how scientists judge the merit of a theory. Suppose students were taught the criteria of scientific theory evaluation and then were asked to apply these criteria … to the two theories in question. Wouldn’t such a task qualify as authentic science education? … I suspect that when these two theories are put side by side, and students are given the freedom to judge their merit as science, creation theory will fail ignominiously (although natural selection is far from faultless). … It is not only bad science to allow disputes over theory to go unexamined, but also bad education.
In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999), 168.
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The function of Latin literature is its expression of Rome. When to England and France your imagination can add Rome in the background, you have laid firm the foundations of culture. The understanding of Rome leads back to the Mediterranean civilisation of which Rome was the last phase, and it automatically exhibits the geography of Europe, and the functions of seas and rivers and mountains and plains. The merit of this study in the education of youth is its concreteness, its inspiration to action, and the uniform greatness of persons, in their characters and their staging. Their aims were great, their virtues were great, and their vices were great. They had the saving merit of sinning with cart ropes.
In 'The Place of Classics in Education', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 106.
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The history of mathematics, as of any science, is to some extent the story of the continual replacement of one set of misconceptions by another. This is of course no cause for despair, for the newly instated assumptions very often possess the merit of being closer approximations to truth than those that they replace.
In 'Consistency and Completeness—A Résumé', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1956), 63, No.5, 295.
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The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.
In Astronomy and General Physics (1833), Bk. 3, chap. 4, 327.
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The Wegener hypothesis has been so stimulating and has such fundamental implications in geology as to merit respectful and sympathetic interest from every geologist. Some striking arguments in his favor have been advanced, and it would be foolhardy indeed to reject any concept that offers a possible key to the solution of profound problems in the Earth's history.
Published while geologists remained sceptical of Alfred Wegener's idea of Continental Drift, Though unconvinced, he published these thoughts suggesting that critics should be at least be open-minded. His patience was proven justified when two decades later, the theory of plate tectonics provided a mechanism for the motion of the continents.
Some Thoughts on the Evidence for Continental Drift (1944).
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Their theories should be carefully examined and their arguments fairly weighed, but the scientist cannot compel acceptance of any argument he advances, except as, judged upon its merits, it is convincing.
In chapter, 'The Origin of Man', In His Image (1922), 93.
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These symptoms are formed in such a particular way that they form a disease group in themselves and thus merit being designated and described as a definite disease ... It is this group of symptoms which I wish to designate by the name Alcoholismus chronicus.
Alcoholismus chronicus: Chronisk alcoholisjudkom: Ett bidrag till dyskrasiarnas känndom (1849). Trans. quoted in John William Crowley, William L. White, Drunkard's Refuge (2004), 5.
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This method is, to define as the number of a class the class of all classes similar to the given class. Membership of this class of classes (considered as a predicate) is a common property of all the similar classes and of no others; moreover every class of the set of similar classes has to the set of a relation which it has to nothing else, and which every class has to its own set. Thus the conditions are completely fulfilled by this class of classes, and it has the merit of being determinate when a class is given, and of being different for two classes which are not similar. This, then, is an irreproachable definition of the number of a class in purely logical terms.
The Principles of Mathematics (1903), 115.
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This work [an essay by Thomson, ‘On the method of analysing sulphate of zinc’] belongs to those few productions from which science will derive no advantage whatever. Much of the experimental part, even of the fundamental experiments, appears to have been made at the writing-desk; and the greatest civility which his contemporaries can show its author, is to forget it was ever published. … love of science makes it imperative to detect quackery, and expose it to the judgement of every one as it merits
In Jahresbericht (1827), 6, 77 and 181. Woehler's translation quoted in 'Attack of Berzelius on Dr. Thomson's Attempt to Establish the First Principles of Chemistry by Experiment', Philosophical Magazine (Dec 1828), 4, No. 24, 451. The latter article comments, “It well becomes Berzelius to expose fallacy in argument, or detect error in analysis; but let him not pass beyond the limits of fair criticism: let him not arraign the character of the individual., who may be actuated by motives and principles as pure as his own. Intemperate attacks, such as this, reflect back upon their author, and indicate a mind inflamed by pique, jealousy, or some unworthy passion.”
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To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction of merit. General knowledges are those knowledges that idiots possess.
Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'Discourse II', Discourses (c.1808), as given in Geoffrey Keynes, Complete Writings (1957).
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Tobacco has not yet been fully tried before the bar of science. But the tribunal has been prepared and the gathering of evidence has begun and when the final verdict is rendered, it will appear that tobacco is evil and only evil; that as a drug it is far more deadly than alcohol, killing in a dose a thousand times smaller, and that it does not possess a single one of the quasi merits of alcohol.
In Tobaccoism: or, How Tobacco Kills (1922), Preface, 8.
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Were I disposed to consider the comparative merit of each of them [facts or theories in medical practice], I should derive most of the evils of medicine from supposed facts, and ascribe all the remedies which have been uniformly and extensively useful, to such theories as are true. Facts are combined and rendered useful only by means of theories, and the more disposed men are to reason, the more minute and extensive they become in their observations.
Quoted in John Edmonds Stock, Memoirs of the life of Thomas Beddoes (1810), 401.
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What struck me most in England was the perception that only those works which have a practical tendency awake attention and command respect, while the purely scientific, which possess far greater merit are almost unknown. And yet the latter are the proper source from which the others flow. Practice alone can never lead to the discovery of a truth or a principle. In Germany it is quite the contrary. Here in the eyes of scientific men no value, or at least but a trifling one, is placed upon the practical results. The enrichment of science is alone considered worthy attention.
Letter to Michael Faraday (19 Dec 1844). In Bence Jones (ed.), The life and letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 2, 188-189.
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Without theory, practice is but routine born of habit. Theory alone can bring forth and develop the spirit of invention. ... [Do not] share the opinion of those narrow minds who disdain everything in science which has not an immediate application. ... A theoretical discovery has but the merit of its existence: it awakens hope, and that is all. But let it be cultivated, let it grow, and you will see what it will become.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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Your printers have made but one blunder,
Correct it instanter, and then for the thunder!
We’ll see in a jiffy if this Mr S[pencer]
Has the ghost of a claim to be thought a good fencer.
To my vision his merits have still seemed to dwindle,
Since I have found him allied with the great Dr T[yndall]
While I have, for my part, grown cockier and cockier,
Since I found an ally in yourself, Mr L[ockyer]
And am always, in consequence, thoroughly willin’,
To perform in the pages of Nature's M[acmillan].
Postcard from Tait to Lockyer, editor of Nature, cited by H. Dingle, Nature (1969), 224, 829.
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[Louis Rendu, Bishop of Annecy] collects observations, makes experiments, and tries to obtain numerical results; always taking care, however, so to state his premises and qualify his conclusions that nobody shall be led to ascribe to his numbers a greater accuracy than they merit. It is impossible to read his work, and not feel that he was a man of essentially truthful mind and that science missed an ornament when he was appropriated by the Church.
In The Glaciers of the Alps (1860), 299.
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[The error in the teaching of mathematics is that] mathematics is expected either to be immediately attractive to students on its own merits or to be accepted by students solely on the basis of the teacher’s assurance that it will be helpful in later life. [And yet,] mathematlcs is the key to understanding and mastering our physical, social and biological worlds.
In editorial in Focus, a Journal of the Mathematical Association of America (1986), quoted in obituary by Eric Pace, New York Times (11 Jun 1992).
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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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- 60 -
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- 40 -
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