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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”
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Professor Quotes (128 quotes)

Die Politik ist keine Wissenschaft, wie viele der Herren Professoren sich einbilden, sondern eine Kunst, sie ist ebensowenig.
Politics is not a science, as many of the professors imagine, but an art, it is just like that.
Original German in Otto von Bismarck, Horst Kohl, Bismarckreden: 1847-1895 (1899), 255. As quoted in translation in William Roscoe Thayer 'Cavour and Bismarck', The Atlantic (Mar 1909), 103, 343.
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Meine Herren, der Senat ist doch keine Badeanstalt.
The faculty is not a pool changing room.
Indignant reply to the blatent sex discrimination expressed in a colleague’s opposition when Hilbert proposed appointing Emmy Noether as the first woman professor at their university.
Quoted in A L Mackay, Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1994).
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Nun wie gehts?
How goes it?
[Werner’s perennial salutation to research students, hence his nickname, Professor Nunwiegehts.]
Quoted in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 188.
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Question: Explain why pipes burst in cold weather.
Answer: People who have not studied acoustics think that Thor bursts the pipes, but we know that is nothing of the kind for Professor Tyndall has burst the mythologies and has taught us that it is the natural behaviour of water (and bismuth) without which all fish would die and the earth be held in an iron grip. (1881)
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1881), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 186-7, Question 10. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.) Webmaster notes that “fish would die” may refer to being taught that water's greatest density is at 4°C, and sinks below a frozen surface, so bodies of water can remain liquid underneath, to the benefit of the fish. The student was likely taught that bismuth, like water, expands when it freezes.
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[About the demand of the Board of Regents of the University of California that professors sign non-Communist loyalty oaths or lose their jobs within 65 days.] No conceivable damage to the university at the hands of hypothetical Communists among us could possibly have equaled the damage resulting from the unrest, ill-will and suspicion engendered by this series of events.
As quoted in 'Professors in West Call Oath “Indignity”', New York Times (26 Feb 1950), 38.
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[Recalling Professor Ira Remsen's remarks (1895) to a group of his graduate students about to go out with their degrees into the world beyond the university:]
He talked to us for an hour on what was ahead of us; cautioned us against giving up the desire to push ahead by continued study and work. He warned us against allowing our present accomplishments to be the high spot in our lives. He urged us not to wait for a brilliant idea before beginning independent research, and emphasized the fact the Lavoisier's first contribution to chemistry was the analysis of a sample of gypsum. He told us that the fields in which the great masters had worked were still fruitful; the ground had only been scratched and the gleaner could be sure of ample reward.
Quoted in Frederick Hutton Getman, The Life of Ira Remsen (1980), 73.
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A circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other … was my friendship with Professor Henslow … a man who knew every branch of science…. During the latter half of my time at Cambridge [I] took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow.”
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 44.
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A lecture is a process by which the notes of the professor become the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.
Quoted, without source, in Des MacHale, Wit (1999, 2003), 30.
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Louis Agassiz quote: A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As
A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As in a concert all are musicians,—one plays one instrument, and one another, but none all in perfection.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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A precisian professor had the habit of saying: “… quartic polynomial ax4+bx3+cx2+dx+e, where e need not be the base of the natural logarithms.”
Given, without citation, in A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 60. [Note: a precisian is a rigidly precise or punctilious person. —Webmaster]
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A professor is one who can speak on any subject—for precisely fifty minutes.
…...
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A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.
Attributed.
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A professor … may be to produce a perfect mathematical work of art, having every axiom stated, every conclusion drawn with flawless logic, the whole syllabus covered. This sounds excellent, but in practice the result is often that the class does not have the faintest idea of what is going on. … The framework is lacking; students do not know where the subject fits in, and this has a paralyzing effect on the mind.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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A schoolteacher or professor cannot educate individuals, he educates only species. A thought that deserves taking to heart.
Aphorism 5 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 129.
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Adam, the first man, didn’t know anything about the nucleus but Dr. George Gamow, visiting professor from George Washington University, pretends he does. He says for example that the nucleus is 0.00000000000003 feet in diameter. Nobody believes it, but that doesn't make any difference to him.
He also says that the nuclear energy contained in a pound of lithium is enough to run the United States Navy for a period of three years. But to get this energy you would have to heat a mixture of lithium and hydrogen up to 50,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If one has a little stove of this temperature installed at Stanford, it would burn everything alive within a radius of 10,000 miles and broil all the fish in the Pacific Ocean.
If you could go as fast as nuclear particles generally do, it wouldn’t take you more than one ten-thousandth of a second to go to Miller's where you could meet Gamow and get more details.
'Gamow interviews Gamow' Stanford Daily, 25 Jun 1936. In Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historica1 Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 90.
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After having a wash I proceeded to the bar where—believe it or not—there was a white-coated barman who was not only serving drinks but also cigarettes! I hastened forward and rather timidly said ‘Can I have some cigarettes?’
‘What’s your rank?’ was the slightly unexpected reply.
‘I am afraid I haven’t got one,’ I answered.
‘Nonsense—everyone who comes here has a rank.’
‘I’m sorry but I just don’t have one.’
‘Now that puts me in a spot,’ said the barman, ‘for orders about cigarettes in this camp are clear—twenty for officers and ten for other ranks. Tell me what exactly are you?’
Now I really wanted those cigarettes so I drew myself up and said ‘I am the Professor of Chemistry at Manchester University.’
The barman contemplated me for about thirty seconds and then said ‘I’ll give you five.’
Since that day I have had few illusions about the importance of professors!
In A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist (1983), 59. This event took place after a visit to the Defence Research Establishment at Porton to observe a demonstration of a new chemical anti-tank weapon (1941).
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And no one has the right to say that no water-babies exist, till they have seen no water-babies existing; which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water-babies; and a thing which nobody ever did, or perhaps will ever do. But surely [if one were caught] ... they would have put it into spirits, or into the Illustrated News, or perhaps cut it into two halves, poor dear little thing, and sent one to Professor Owen, and one to Professor Huxley, to see what they would each say about it.
The Water-babies (1886), 79-80.
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As a graduate student at Columbia University, I remember the a priori derision of my distinguished stratigraphy professor toward a visiting Australian drifter ... Today my own students would dismiss with even more derision anyone who denied the evident truth of continental drift–a prophetic madman is at least amusing; a superannuated fuddy-duddy is merely pitiful.
…...
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At this point, however, I have no intention whatever of criticizing the false teachings of Galen, who is easily first among the professors of dissection, for I certainly do not wish to start off by gaining a reputation for impiety toward him, the author of all good things, or by seeming insubordinate to his authority. For I am well aware how upset the practitioners (unlike the followers of Aristotle) invariably become nowadays, when they discover in the course of a single dissection that Galen has departed on two hundred or more occasions from the true description of the harmony, function, and action of the human parts, and how grimly they examine the dissected portions as they strive with all the zeal at their command to defend him. Yet even they, drawn by their love of truth, are gradually calming down and placing more faith in their own not ineffective eyes and reason than in Galen’s writings.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, iv, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), Preface, liv.
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Basic research at universities comes in two varieties: research that requires big bucks and research that requires small bucks. Big bucks research is much like government research and in fact usually is government research but done for the government under contract. Like other government research, big bucks academic research is done to understand the nature and structure of the universe or to understand life, which really means that it is either for blowing up the world or extending life, whichever comes first. Again, that's the government's motivation. The universities' motivation for conducting big bucks research is to bring money in to support professors and graduate students and to wax the floors of ivy-covered buildings. While we think they are busy teaching and learning, these folks are mainly doing big bucks basic research for a living, all the while priding themselves on their terrific summer vacations and lack of a dress code.
Smalls bucks research is the sort of thing that requires paper and pencil, and maybe a blackboard, and is aimed primarily at increasing knowledge in areas of study that don't usually attract big bucks - that is, areas that don't extend life or end it, or both. History, political science, and romance languages are typically small bucks areas of basic research. The real purpose of small bucks research to the universities is to provide a means of deciding, by the quality of their small bucks research, which professors in these areas should get tenure.
Accidental Empires (1992), 78.
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Bertrand Russell had given a talk on the then new quantum mechanics, of whose wonders he was most appreciative. He spoke hard and earnestly in the New Lecture Hall. And when he was done, Professor Whitehead, who presided, thanked him for his efforts, and not least for “leaving the vast darkness of the subject unobscured.”
Quoted in Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind (1955), 102.
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Chemistry is an art that has furnished the world with a great number of useful facts, and has thereby contributed to the improvement of many arts; but these facts lie scattered in many different books, involved in obscure terms, mixed with many falsehoods, and joined to a great deal of false philosophy; so that it is not great wonder that chemistry has not been so much studied as might have been expected with regard to so useful a branch of knowledge, and that many professors are themselves but very superficially acquainted with it. But it was particularly to be expected, that, since it has been taught in universities, the difficulties in this study should have been in some measure removed, that the art should have been put into form, and a system of it attempted—the scattered facts collected and arranged in a proper order. But this has not yet been done; chemistry has not yet been taught but upon a very narrow plan. The teachers of it have still confined themselves to the purposes of pharmacy and medicine, and that comprehends a small branch of chemistry; and even that, by being a single branch, could not by itself be tolerably explained.
John Thomson, An Account of the Life, Lectures and Writings of William Cullen, M.D. (1832), Vol. 1, 40.
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Coming to the question of life being found on other planets, Professor Haldane apologized for discoursing, as a mere biologist, on a subject on which we had been expecting a lecture by a physicist [J. D. Bernal]. He mentioned three hypotheses:
(a) That life had a supernatural origin,
(b) That it originated from inorganic materials, and (c) That life is a constituent of the Universe and can only arise from pre-existing life. The first hypothesis, he said, should be taken seriously, and he would proceed to do so. From the fact that there are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals, he concluded that the Creator, if he exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet which would support life.
In Mark Williamson, 'Haldane’s Special Preference', The Linnean, 1992, 8, 14.
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Descartes' immortal conclusion cogito ergo sum was recently subjected to destruction testing by a group of graduate researchers at Princeton led by Professors Montjuic and Lauterbrunnen, and now reads, in the Shorter Harvard Orthodoxy:
(a) I think, therefore I am; or
(b) Perhaps I thought, therefore I was; but
(c) These days, I tend to leave that side of things to my wife.
Tom Holt
Ye Gods! (1992), 223.
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Descartes, the father of modern philosophy … would never—so he assures us—have been led to construct his philosophy if he had had only one teacher, for then he would have believed what he had been told; but, finding that his professors disagreed with each other, he was forced to conclude that no existing doctrine was certain.
From 'Philosophy For Laymen', collected in Unpopular Essays (1950, 1996), 57.
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Enlist a great mathematician and a distinguished Grecian; your problem will be solved. Such men can teach in a dwelling-house as well as in a palace. Part of the apparatus they will bring; part we will furnish.
Advice given to the Trustees of Johns Hopkins University on the choice of a professorial staff. In Report of the President of Johns Hopkins University (1888), 29. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 122.
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Every species of plant and animal is determined by a pool of germ plasm that has been most carefully selected over a period of hundreds of millions of years. We can understand now why it is that mutations in these carefully selected organisms almost invariably are detrimental.The situation can be suggested by a statement by Dr. J.B.S. Haldane: “My clock is not keeping perfect time. It is conceivable that it will run better if I shoot a bullet through it; but it is much more probable that it will stop altogether.” Professor George Beadle, in this connection, has asked: “What is the chance that a typographical error would improve Hamlet?”
In No More War! (1958), Chap. 4, 53.
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Four college students taking a class together, had done so well through the semester, and each had an “A”. They were so confident, the weekend before finals, they went out partying with friends. Consequently, on Monday, they overslept and missed the final. They explained to the professor that they had gone to a remote mountain cabin for the weekend to study, but, unfortunately, they had a flat tire on the way back, didn’t have a spare, and couldn’t get help for a long time. As a result, they missed the final. The professor kindly agreed they could make up the final the following day. When they arrived the next morning, he placed them each in separate rooms, handed each one a test booklet, and told them to begin. The the first problem was simple, worth 5 points. Turning the page they found the next question, written: “(For 95 points): Which tire?”
Anonymous
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From him [Wilard Bennett] I learned how different a working laboratory is from a student laboratory. The answers are not known!
[While an undergraduate, doing experimental measurements in the laboratory of his professor, at Ohio State University.]
From autobiography on Nobel Prize website.
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Good work is no done by “humble” men. It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and his own importance in it. A man who is always asking “Is what I do worth while?” and “Am I the right person to do it?” will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others. He must shut his eyes a little and think a little more of his subject and himself than they deserve. This is not too difficult: it is harder not to make his subject and himself ridiculous by shutting his eyes too tightly.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 66.
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However much the pits may be apparent, yet none, as far as can be comprehended by the senses, passes through the septum of the heart from the right ventricle into the left. I have not seen even the most obscure passages by which the septum of the ventricles is pervious, although they are mentioned by professors of anatomy since they are convinced that blood is carried from the right ventricle into the left. As a result—as I shall declare more openly elsewhere—I am in no little doubt regarding the function of the heart in this part.
In De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem [Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] (revised ed. 1555), 734. Quoted and trans. in Charles Donald O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1964), 281.
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Hypotheses like professors, when they are seen not to work any longer in the laboratory, should disappear.
Sir Harold Hartley, 'Henry Armstrong', in Studies in the History of Chemistry (1971), 199.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I could more easily believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.
on a report on a meteorite shower which fell in Weston, Connecticut in 1807, in Our Stone-pelted Planet by H. H. Nininger (1933).
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I have a true aversion to teaching. The perennial business of a professor of mathematics is only to teach the ABC of his science; most of the few pupils who go a step further, and usually to keep the metaphor, remain in the process of gathering information, become only Halbwisser [one who has superficial knowledge of the subject], for the rarer talents do not want to have themselves educated by lecture courses, but train themselves. And with this thankless work the professor loses his precious time.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (26 Oct 1802). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 414.
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I have been described on more than one occasion as belonging to something called the 'Functional School of Social Anthropology' and even as being its leader, or one of its leaders. This Functional School does not really exist; it is a myth invented by Professor Malinowski ... There is no place in natural science for 'schools' in this sense, and I regard social anthropology as a branch of natural science. ... I conceive of social anthropology as the theoretical natural science of human society, that is, the investigation of social phenomena by methods essentially similar to those used in the physical and biological sciences. I am quite willing to call the subject 'comparative sociology', if anyone so wishes.
In A. Kuper, Anthropologists and Anthropology: The Modern British School (1983), 36.
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I have never had any student or pupil under me to aid me with assistance; but have always prepared and made my experiments with my own hands, working & thinking at the same time. I do not think I could work in company, or think aloud, or explain my thoughts at the time. Sometimes I and my assistant have been in the Laboratory for hours & days together, he preparing some lecture apparatus or cleaning up, & scarcely a word has passed between us; — all this being a consequence of the solitary & isolated system of investigation; in contradistinction to that pursued by a Professor with his aids & pupils as in your Universities.
Letter to C. Ransteed, 16 Dec 1857. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 888.
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I have reviewed this work elsewhere under the title 'Natural Products Chemistry 1950 to 1980-A Personal View.' It is with some relish that I recall the flood of reprint requests prompted by the following footnote on the title page: 'Selected personal statements by the author were removed by the editor without Professor Djerassi's consent. An uncensored version of this paper can be obtained by writing to Professor C. Djerassi'.
Steroids Made it Possible (1990), 14.
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I heard Professor Cannon lecture last night, going partly on your account. His subject was a physiological substitute for war—which is international sports and I suppose motorcycle races—to encourage the secretion of the adrenal glands!
Letter from James McKeen Cattell to his son, McKeen. In S. Benison, A. C. Barger and E. L. Wolfe, Walter B Cannon: The Life and Times of a Young Scientist (1987), 319.
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I may conclude this chapter by quoting a saying of Professor Agassiz, that whenever a new and startling fact is brought to light in science, people first say, 'it is not true,' then that 'it is contrary to religion,' and lastly, 'that everybody knew it before.'
The Antiquity of Man (1863), 105.
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I suspect that the most important effect of World War II on physical science lay in the change in the attitude of people to science. The politicians and the public were convinced that science was useful and were in no position to argue about the details. A professor of physics might be more sinister than he was in the 1930s, but he was no longer an old fool with a beard in a comic-strip. The scientists or at any rate the physicists, had changed their attitude. They not only believed in the interest of science for themselves, they had acquired also a belief that the tax-payer should and would pay for it and would, in some unspecified length of run, benefit by it.
'The Effect of World War II on the Development of Knowledge in the Physical Sciences', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1975, Series A, 342, 532.
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I was at my best at a little past forty, when I was a professor at Oxford.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 148.
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I would beg the wise and learned fathers (of the church) to consider with all diligence the difference which exists between matters of mere opinion and matters of demonstration. ... [I]t is not in the power of professors of the demonstrative sciences to alter their opinions at will, so as to be now of one way of thinking and now of another. ... [D]emonstrated conclusions about things in nature of the heavens, do not admit of being altered with the same ease as opinions to what is permissible or not, under a contract, mortgage, or bill of exchange.
Letter to Cristina di Lorena, Grand Duchess of Tuscany (the mother of his patron Cosmo), 1615. Quoted in Sedley Taylor, 'Galileo and Papal Infallibility' (Dec 1873), in Macmillan's Magazine: November 1873 to April 1874 (1874) Vol 29, 94.
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I would never use a long word, even, where a short one would answer the purpose. I know there are professors in this country who “ligate” arteries. Other surgeons only tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well.
'Scholastic and Bedside Teaching', Introductory Lecture to the Medical Class of Harvard University (6 Nov 1867). In Medical Essays 1842-1882 (1891), 302.
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If this is what the McCarran Act means in practice, it seems to us a form of organized cultural suicide.
In a letter co-signed with his Princeton University physics professor colleagues, Walker Bleakney and Milton G. White, protesting that Nobel Prize-winning, Cambridge professor, Dirac having been invited for a year's visit to Princeton, had been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department under section 212A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (McCarran Act). Quoting a report in Physics Today, this regulation includes 'categories of undesireables ranging from vagrants to stowaways.' The real reason remains unclear, but was perhaps related to Dirac's prior science-related visits to Russia. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy's rabid anti-Communism hearings.
'Letters to the Times: Denial of Visa to Physicist Seen as Loss to American Science'. New York Times (3 Jun 1954), 26. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 108.
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If you're going to spend a long time locked in somebody's basement, take a professor with you.
Speaking at Westfield State College's 157th Commencement. Quoted on webpage www.wsc.ma.edu/math/faculty/fleron/quotes.
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In 1945 J.A. Ratcliffe … suggested that I [join his group at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge] to start an investigation of the radio emission from the Sun, which had recently been discovered accidentally with radar equipment. … [B]oth Ratcliffe and Sir Lawrence Bragg, then Cavendish Professor, gave enormous support and encouragement to me. Bragg’s own work on X-ray crystallography involved techniques very similar to those we were developing for “aperture synthesis,” and he always showed a delighted interest in the way our work progressed.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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In the beginning of the year 1800 the illustrious professor conceived the idea of forming a long column by piling up, in succession, a disc of copper, a disc of zinc, and a disc of wet cloth, with scrupulous attention to not changing this order. What could be expected beforehand from such a combination? Well, I do not hesitate to say, this apparently inert mass, this bizarre assembly, this pile of so many couples of unequal metals separated by a little liquid is, in the singularity of effect, the most marvellous instrument which men have yet invented, the telescope and the steam engine not excepted.
In François Arago, 'Bloge for Volta' (1831), Oeuvres Completes de François Arago (1854), Vol. 1, 219-20.
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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 the spring of 1760, [I] went to William and Mary college, where I continued two years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life, that Dr. William Small of Scotland, was then Professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed.
In Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Adgate Lipscomb (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 1, 3.
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It is a very strange thing to reflect that but for the invention of Professor Haber the Germans could not have continued the War after their original stack of nitrates was exhausted. The invention of this single man has enabled them, utilising the interval in which their accumulations were used up, not only to maintain an almost unlimited supply of explosives for all purposes, but to provide amply for the needs of agriculture in chemical manures. It is a remarkable fact, and shows on what obscure and accidental incidents the fortunes of possible the whole world may turn in these days of scientific discovery.
[During World War I, Fritz Haber and Karl Bosch invented a large scale process to cause the direct combination of hydrogen and nitrogen gases to chemically synthesize ammonia, thus providing a replacement for sodium nitrate in the manufacture of explosives and fertilizers.]
Parliamentary debate (25 Apr 1918). In Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth (ed.), Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008), 469. by Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth
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It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it. Pauli was such a good theoretical physicist that something usually broke in the lab whenever he merely stepped across the threshold. A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli's presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck's laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck's laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station. You may believe this anecdote or not, but there are many other observations concerning the reality of the Pauli Effect!
From Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory (1966), 64. Note the so-called Pauli Effect is merely anecdotal to provide humor about supposed parapsychology phenomena in coincidences involving Pauli; it should not be confused with scientifically significant Pauli Exclusion Principle.
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It may be said of many palaeontologists, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper said recently of 18th century historians: “Their most serious error was to measure the past by the present”.
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 26.
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It will be noticed that the fundamental theorem proved above bears some remarkable resemblances to the second law of thermodynamics. Both are properties of populations, or aggregates, true irrespective of the nature of the units which compose them; both are statistical laws; each requires the constant increase of a measurable quantity, in the one case the entropy of a physical system and in the other the fitness, measured by m, of a biological population. As in the physical world we can conceive the theoretical systems in which dissipative forces are wholly absent, and in which the entropy consequently remains constant, so we can conceive, though we need not expect to find, biological populations in which the genetic variance is absolutely zero, and in which fitness does not increase. Professor Eddington has recently remarked that “The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of nature.” It is not a little instructive that so similar a law should hold the supreme position among the biological sciences. While it is possible that both may ultimately be absorbed by some more general principle, for the present we should note that the laws as they stand present profound differences—-(1) The systems considered in thermodynamics are permanent; species on the contrary are liable to extinction, although biological improvement must be expected to occur up to the end of their existence. (2) Fitness, although measured by a uniform method, is qualitatively different for every different organism, whereas entropy, like temperature, is taken to have the same meaning for all physical systems. (3) Fitness may be increased or decreased by changes in the environment, without reacting quantitatively upon that environment. (4) Entropy changes are exceptional in the physical world in being irreversible, while irreversible evolutionary changes form no exception among biological phenomena. Finally, (5) entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world, at least from the human standpoint of the utilization of energy, while evolutionary changes are generally recognized as producing progressively higher organization in the organic world.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 36.
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It’s funny how worms can turn leaves into silk.
But funnier far is the cow:
She changes a field of green grass into milk
And not a professor knows how.
In Dorothy Caruso, Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death (1963), 42. Written for Michael Pupin, who made a similar statement in prose: “Look at those animals and remember the greatest scientists in the world have never discovered how to make grass into milk.”
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I’ve never made a discovery myself, unless by accident. If you write glibly, you fool people. When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and … asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn’t have one and he looked startled. “You mean you’re in the same racket I am,” he said, “you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?” That’s really what I do.
Quoted in Sally Helgeson, 'Every Day', Bookletter (6 Dec 1976), 3, No. 8, 3. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 8-9.
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Let U = the University, G = Greek, and P = Professor, Then GP = Greek Professor; let this be reduced to its lowest terms and call the result J.
From an essay concerning the Regius Professorship of Greek, The New Method of Evaluating as Applied to π (1865), as quoted and cited in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 159. Collingwood explains parenthetically, after "result J", “[i.e., Jowett]”, which was not in the original publication of “The New Method…”.
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Looking at the thunder machine which had been set up, I saw not the slightest indication of the presence of electricity. However, while they were putting the food on the table, I obtained extraordinary electric sparks from the wire. My wife and others approached from it, for the reason that I wished to have witnesses see the various colors of fire about which the departed Professor Richmann used to argue with me. Suddenly it thundered most violently at the exact time that I was holding my hand to the metal, and sparks crackled. All fled away from me, and my wife implored that I go away. Curiosity kept me there two or three minutes more, until they told me that the soup was getting cold. By that time the force of electricity greatly subsided. I had sat at table only a few minutes when the man servant of the departed Richmann suddenly opened the door, all in tears and out of breath from fear. I thought that some one had beaten him as he was on his way to me, but he said, with difficulty, that the professor had been injured by thunder… . Nonetheless, Mr. Richmann died a splendid death, fulfilling a duty of his profession.
As quoted in Boris Menshutkin, 'Lomonosov: Excerpts', collected in Thomas Riha (ed.), Readings for Introduction to Russian Civilization (1963), Vol. 2, 30.
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Lord Kelvin, unable to meet his classes one day, posted the following notice on the door of his lecture room, “Professor Thomson will not meet his classes today.” The disappointed class decided to play a joke on the professor. Erasing the “c” they left the legend to read, “Professor Thomson will not meet his lasses today.” When the class assembled the next day in anticipation of the effect of their joke, they were astonished and chagrined to find that the professor had outwitted them. The legend of yesterday was now found to read, “Professor Thomson will not meet his asses today.”
From Address (2 Nov 1908) at the University of Washington. Footnote: E.T. Bell attributes the same anecdote to J.S. Blackie, Professor of Greek at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 180.
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Money. It has such an inherent power to run itself clear of taint that human ingenuity cannot devise the means of making it work permanent mischief, any more than means can be found of torturing people beyond what they can bear. Even if a man founds a College of Technical Instruction, the chances are ten to one that no one will be taught anything and that it will have been practically left to a number of excellent professors who will know very well what to do with it.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 221.
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My interest in Science had many roots. Some came from my mother … while I was in my early teens. She fell in love with science,… [from] classes on the Foundations of Physical Science. … I was infected by [her] professor second hand, through hundreds of hours of conversations at my mother’s knees. It was from my mother that I first learned of Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin. We spent hours together collecting single-celled organisms from a local pond and watching them with a microscope.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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Of all the constituents of the human body, bone is the hardest, the driest, the earthiest, and the coldest; and, excepting only the teeth, it is devoid of sensation. God, the great Creator of all things, formed its substance to this specification with good reason, intending it to be like a foundation for the whole body; for in the fabric of the human body bones perform the same function as do walls and beams in houses, poles in tents, and keels and ribs in boats.
Bones Differentiated by Function
Some bones, by reason of their strength, form as it were props for the body; these include the tibia, the femur, the spinal vertebrae, and most of the bony framework. Others are like bastions, defense walls, and ramparts, affording natural protection to other parts; examples are the skull, the spines and transverse processes of the vertebrae, the breast bone, the ribs. Others stand in front of the joints between certain bones, to ensure that the joint does not move too loosely or bend to too acute an angle. This is the function of the tiny bones, likened by the professors of anatomy to the size of a sesame seed, which are attached to the second internode of the thumb, the first internode of the other four fingers and the first internodes of the five toes. The teeth, on the other hand, serve specifically to cut, crush, pound and grind our food, and similarly the two ossicles in the organ of hearing perform a specifically auditory function.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, 1, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in 'Nature of Bone; Function of Bones', On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), 1.
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Of my own age I may say … I was x years old in the year x × x. … I dare say Professor De Morgan, or some of your mathematical correspondents, will be able to find my age.
In Notes and Queries: Volume Twelve: July—December 1855 (4 Aug 1855), Vol. 12 No. 301, 94. The reply is signed as by M. However De Morgan is identified as author in C.O. Tuckey, 'Noughts and Crosses', The Mathematical Gazette (Dec 1929), 14, No. 204, 577, which points out: M “contributed other replies that were certainly from the pen of De Morgan.” Furthermore, De Morgan, mathematician, born in 1806, was 43 in the year 1849 (43 × 43, which is the only reasonable solution for an adult writing in 1855 since 42² = 1764).
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Oh, my dear Kepler, how I wish that we could have one hearty laugh together. Here, at Padua, is the principal professor of philosophy, whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass, [telescope] which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? what shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly! and to hear the professor of philosophy at Pisa laboring before the grand duke with logical arguments, as if with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky.
From Letter to Johannes Kepler. As translated in John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Life of Galileo Galilei: With Illustrations of the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy (1832), 92-93.
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On one occasion committee members were asked by the chairman, who was also in charge of the project, to agree that a certain machine be run at a power which was ten percent lower than the design value. [Franz Eugen] Simon objected, arguing that “design value” should mean what it said. Thereupon the chairman remarked, “Professor Simon, don’t you see that we are not talking about science, but about engineering, which is an art.” Simon was persistent: “What would happen if the machine were run at full power?” “It might get too hot.” “But, Mr. Chairman,” came Simon’s rejoinder, “Can’t artists use thermometers?”
(1908). From N. Kurti, 'Franz Eugen Simon', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1958), 4, 247.
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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 Professor, which doth have tenure,
Feared be thy name.
Thy sets partition,
Thy maps commute,
In groups as in vector spaces.
Give us this day our daily notation,
And forgive us our obtuseness,
As we forgive tutors who cannot help us.
Lead us not into Lye rings,
But deliver us from eigenvalues,
For thine is the logic, the notation, and the accent,
That confuses us forever.
Amen.
Anonymous
'Algebra Prayer' by an unnamed University of Toronto mathematics student. On the Department of Mathematics, University of Toronto web site.
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Professor Ayrton said that we were gradually coming within thinkable distance of the realization of a prophecy he had ventured to make four years before, of a time when, if a person wanted to call to a friend he knew not where, he would call in a very loud electromagnetic voice, heard by him who had the electromagnetic ear, silent to him who had it not. “Where are you?” he would say. A small reply would come, “I am at the bottom of a coalmine, or crossing the Andes, or in the middle of the Atlantic.” Or, perhaps in spite of all the calling, no reply would come, and the person would then know that his friend was dead. Think of what this would mean ... a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.
[His prophecy of cell phones, as a comment on Marconi's paper, 'Syntonic Wireless Telegraphy,' read before the Society of Arts, 15 May 1901, about his early radio signal experiments.]
From Engineering Magazine (Jul 1901) as described in 'Marconi and his Transatlantic Signal', The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (1902), Vol. 63, 782.
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Professor Bethe … is a man who has this characteristic: If there’s a good experimental number you’ve got to figure it out from theory. So, he forced the quantum electrodynamics of the day to give him an answer [for the experimentally measured Lamb-shift of hydrogen], … and thus, made the most important discovery in the history of the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He worked this out on the train from Ithaca, New York to Schenectady.
Bethe calculated, what Lamb had experimentally just measured, for the separation of the 2S½ and 2P½ of hydrogen. Both theory and measurement yielded about one thousand megacycles for the Lamb-shift. Feynman was at the time associated with Bethe at Cornell. In Feynman’s Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 170.
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Professor Brown: “Since this slide was made,” he opined, “My students have re-examined the errant points and I am happy to report that all fall close to the [straight] line.” Questioner: “Professor Brown, I am delighted that the points which fell off the line proved, on reinvestigation, to be in compliance. I wonder, however, if you have had your students reinvestigate all these points that previously fell on the line to find out how many no longer do so?”
Quoted in D. A. Davenport, 'The Invective Effect', Chemtech, September 1987, 530.
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Professor Cayley has since informed me that the theorem about whose origin I was in doubt, will be found in Schläfli’s De Eliminatione. This is not the first unconscious plagiarism I have been guilty of towards this eminent man whose friendship I am proud to claim. A more glaring case occurs in a note by me in the Comptes Rendus, on the twenty-seven straight lines of cubic surfaces, where I believe I have followed (like one walking in his sleep), down to the very nomenclature and notation, the substance of a portion of a paper inserted by Schlafli in the Mathematical Journal, which bears my name as one of the editors upon the face.
In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1864), 642.
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Professor Dewar
Is a better man than you are,
None of you asses
Can condense gases.
E. C. Bentley, Biography for Beginners (1905). Collected in Complete Clerihews (2008), 39.
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Professor Sylvester’s first high class at the new university Johns Hopkins consisted of only one student, G. B. Halsted, who had persisted in urging Sylvester to lecture on the modem algebra. The attempt to lecture on this subject led him into new investigations in quantics.
In Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 264.
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Professor Tyndall once said the finest inspiration he ever received was from an old man who could scarcely read. This man acted as his servant. Each morning the old man would knock on the door of the scientist and call, “Arise, Sir: it is near seven o'clock and you have great work to do today.”
A Thousand & One Epigrams: Selected from the Writings of Elbert Hubbard (1911), 72.
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Professor von Pirquet has come to this country exactly at the right time to aid us. He has shown us how to detect tuberculosis before it has become so developed as to be contagious and has so taken hold of the individual as to be recognized by any other means. In thousands of cases I for my part am unable to detect tuberculosis in infancy or early childhood without the aid of the tuberculin test which Prof. von Pirquet has shown to be the best. He has taught us how by tubercular skin tests, to detect it. ... What Dr. von Pirquet has done already will make his name go down to posterity as one of the great reformers in tuberculin tests and as one who has done an immense amount of good to humanity. The skin test in twenty-four hours will show you whether the case is tubercular.
Discussion on 'The Relation of Tuberculosis to Infant Mortality', read at the third mid-year meeting of the American Academy of Medicine, New Haven, Conn, (4 Nov 1909). In Bulletin of the American Academy of Medicine (1910), 11, 78.
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Professor Whitehead has recently restored a seventeenth century phrase—"climate of opinion." The phrase is much needed. Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained.
In The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932, 2003), 5
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Professor [Max] Planck, of Berlin, the famous originator of the Quantum Theory, once remarked to me that in early life he had thought of studying economics, but had found it too difficult! Professor Planck could easily master the whole corpus of mathematical economics in a few days. He did not mean that! But the amalgam of logic and intuition and the wide knowledge of facts, most of which are not precise, which is required for economic interpretation in its highest form is, quite truly, overwhelmingly difficult for those whose gift mainly consists in the power to imagine and pursue to their furthest points the implications and prior conditions of comparatively simple facts which are known with a high degree of precision.
'Alfred Marshall: 1842-1924' (1924). In Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), Essays in Biography (1933), 191-2
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Professor, how can you bring yourself to enter this chemical building that has Ionic columns?
[Kahlenberg, a physical chemist, was an opponent of ionic theory.]
Quoted in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 106.
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Professors have a tendency to think that independent, creative thinking cannot be done by non-science students, and that only advanced science majors have learned enough of the material to think critically about it. I believe this attitude is false. … [Ask] students to use their native intelligence to actually confront subtle scientific issues.
In Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research (2013), ix.
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Professors in every branch of the sciences, prefer their own theories to truth: the reason is that their theories are private property, but truth is common stock.
Reflection 378, in Lacon: or Many things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think (1820), 169.
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Professors of the Dismal Science, I perceive the length of your tether is now pretty well run; and I must request you to talk a little lower in the future.
'The Present Time', Latter Day Pamphlets (1850), in Collected Works (1850), Vol.19, 54.
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Question: Why are Professors like the Mafia?
Answer: Because they usually only kill their own.
Anonymous
As given in William Reville, 'The Science of Writing a Good Joke', The Irish Times (5 Jun 2000).
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Science ... must be absorbed in order to inculcate that wonderful humility before the facts of nature that comes from close attention to a textbook, and that unwillingness to learn from Authority that comes from making almost verbatim lecture notes and handing them back to the professor.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 141.
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Science in England, in America, is jealous of theory, hates the name of love and moral purpose. There's revenge for this humanity. What manner of man does science make? The boy is not attracted. He says, I do not wish to be such a kind of man as my professor is.
In essay. 'Beauty', collected in The Conduct of Life (1860), 250.
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Science is in a literal sense constructive of new facts. It has no fixed body of facts passively awaiting explanation, for successful theories allow the construction of new instruments—electron microscopes and deep space probes—and the exploration of phenomena that were beyond description—the behavior of transistors, recombinant DNA, and elementary particles, for example. This is a key point in the progressive nature of science—not only are there more elegant or accurate analyses of phenomena already known, but there is also extension of the range of phenomena that exist to be described and explained.
Co-author with Michael A. Arbib, English-born professor of computer science and biomedical engineering (1940-)
Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (1986), 8.
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Since my first discussions of ecological problems with Professor John Day around 1950 and since reading Konrad Lorenz's “King Solomon's Ring,” I have become increasingly interested in the study of animals for what they might teach us about man, and the study of man as an animal. I have become increasingly disenchanted with what the thinkers of the so-called Age of Enlightenment tell us about the nature of man, and with what the formal religions and doctrinaire political theorists tell us about the same subject.
'Autobiography of Allan M. Cormack,' Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1979, editted by Wilhelm Odelberg.
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Some guns were fired to give notice that the departure of the balloon was near. ... Means were used, I am told, to prevent the great balloon's rising so high as might endanger its bursting. Several bags of sand were taken on board before the cord that held it down was cut, and the whole weight being then too much to be lifted, such a quantity was discharged as would permit its rising slowly. Thus it would sooner arrive at that region where it would be in equilibrio with the surrounding air, and by discharging more sand afterwards, it might go higher if desired. Between one and two o’clock, all eyes were gratified with seeing it rise majestically from above the trees, and ascend gradually above the buildings, a most beautiful spectacle. When it was about two hundred feet high, the brave adventurers held out and waved a little white pennant, on both sides of their car, to salute the spectators, who returned loud claps of applause. The wind was very little, so that the object though moving to the northward, continued long in view; and it was a great while before the admiring people began to disperse. The persons embarked were Mr. Charles, professor of experimental philosophy, and a zealous promoter of that science; and one of the Messrs Robert, the very ingenious constructors of the machine.
While U.S. ambassador to France, writing about witnessing, from his carriage outside the garden of Tuileries, Paris, the first manned balloon ascent using hydrogen gas on the afternoon of 1 Dec 1783. A few days earlier, he had watched the first manned ascent in Montgolfier's hot-air balloon, on 21 Nov 1783.
Letter to Sir Charles Banks (1 Dec 1783). In The Writings of Benjamin Franklin: 1783-1788 (1906), Vol. 9, 119-120.
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The appearance of Professor Benjamin Peirce, whose long gray hair, straggling grizzled beard and unusually bright eyes sparkling under a soft felt hat, as he walked briskly but rather ungracefully across the college yard, fitted very well with the opinion current among us that we were looking upon a real live genius, who had a touch of the prophet in his make-up.
Writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a former student of Peirce, in 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 5.
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The best part of working at a university is the students. They come in fresh, enthusiastic, open to ideas, unscarred by the battles of life. They don't realize it, but they're the recipients of the best our society can offer. If a mind is ever free to be creative, that's the time. They come in believing textbooks are authoritative but eventually they figure out that textbooks and professors don't know everything, and then they start to think on their own. Then, I begin learning from them.
As quoted in autobiography of Stephen Chu in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 120.
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The following is one of the many stories told of “old Donald McFarlane” the faithful assistant of Sir William Thomson.
The father of a new student when bringing him to the University, after calling to see the Professor [Thomson] drew his assistant to one side and besought him to tell him what his son must do that he might stand well with the Professor. “You want your son to stand weel with the Profeessorr?” asked McFarlane. “Yes.” “Weel, then, he must just have a guid bellyful o’ mathematics!”
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 1, 420, footnote. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster]
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The great object is to find the theory of the matter [of X-rays] before anyone else, for nearly every professor in Europe is now on the warpath.
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The law is a sort of hocus-pocus science, that smiles in yer face while it picks yer pocket; and the glorious uncertainty of it is of mair use to the professors than the justice of it.
Love à la Mode, Act 2. Scene 1. In John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1868), 304.
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The man who inspired me most, I think, was Dr. Alfred Blalock, who was professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins. He was a rather simple man with a burning curiosity. It was through his curiosity that he made many real contributions to medical science.
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The professor may choose familiar topics as a starting point. The students collect material, work problems, observe regularities, frame hypotheses, discover and prove theorems for themselves. … the student knows what he is doing and where he is going; he is secure in his mastery of the subject, strengthened in confidence of himself. He has had the experience of discovering mathematics. He no longer thinks of mathematics as static dogma learned by rote. He sees mathematics as something growing and developing, mathematical concepts as something continually revised and enriched in the light of new knowledge. The course may have covered a very limited region, but it should leave the student ready to explore further on his own.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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The rigid career path of a professor at a modern university is that One Must Build the Big Research Group, recruit doctoral students more vigorously than the head football coach, bombard the federal agencies with grant applications more numerous than the pollen falling from the heavens in spring, and leave the paper writing and the research to the postdocs, research associates, and students who do all the bench work and all the computer programming. A professor is chained to his previous topics by his Big Group, his network of contacts built up laboriously over decades, and the impossibility of large funding except in areas where the grantee has grown the group from a corner of the building to an entire floor. The senior tenure-track faculty at a research university–the “silverbacks” in anthropological jargon–are bound by invisible chains stronger than the strongest steel to a narrow range of what the Prevailing Consensus agrees are Very Important Problems. The aspiring scientist is confronted with the reality that his mentors are all business managers.
In his Foreword to Cornelius Lanczos, Discourse on Fourier Series, ix-x.
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The so-called science of psychology is now in chaos, with no sign that order is soon to be restored. It is hard to find two of its professors who agree, and when the phenomenon is encountered it usually turns out that one of them is not a psychologist at all, but simply a teacher of psychology. … Not even anthropology offers a larger assortment of conflicting theories, or a more gaudy band of steaming and blood-sweating professors.
From book review (of Psychology: A Simplification) in American Mercury (Jul 1927), 582-583. Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 317.
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The story is told of Lord Kelvin, a famous Scotch physicist of the last century, that after he had given a lecture on atoms and molecules, one of his students came to him with the question, “Professor, what is your idea of the structure of the atom.”
“What,” said Kelvin, “The structure of the atom? Why, don’t you know, the very word ‘atom’ means the thing that can’t be cut. How then can it have a structure?”
“That,” remarked the facetious young man, “shows the disadvantage of knowing Greek.”
As described in 'Assault on Atoms' (Read 23 Apr 1931 at Symposium—The Changing World) Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1931), 70, No. 3, 219.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The vast outpourings of publications by Professor Djerassi and his cohorts marks him as one of the most prolific scientific writers of our day... a plot of N, the papers published by Professor Djerassi in a given year, against T, the year (starting with 1945, T = 0) gives a good straight-line relationship. This line follows the equation N = 2.413T + 1.690 ... Assuming that the inevitable inflection point on the logistic curve is still some 10 years away, this equation predicts (a) a total of about 444 papers by the end of this year, (b) the average production of one paper per week or more every year beginning in 1966, and (c) the winning of the all-time productivity world championship in 10 years from now, in 1973. In that year Professor Djerassi should surpass the record of 995 items held by ...
Steroids Made it Possible (1990), 11-12.
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There are no enemies in science, professor, only phenomena to study.
Movie, The Thing (from Another World) (1951). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 320.
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There is a story that once, not long after he came to Berlin, Planck forgot which room had been assigned to him for a lecture and stopped at the entrance office of the university to find out. Please tell me, he asked the elderly man in charge, 'In which room does Professor Planck lecture today?' The old man patted him on the shoulder 'Don't go there, young fellow,' he said 'You are much too young to understand the lectures of our learned Professor Planck'.
Anonymous
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics: Physicists and the Quantum Theory (1987), 46.
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There is no profession so incompatible with original enquiry as is a Scotch Professorship, where one’s income depends on the numbers of pupils. Is there one Professor in Edinburgh pursuing science with zeal? Are they not all occupied as showmen whose principal object is to attract pupils and make money?
Brewster to J. D. Forbes, 11 February 1830 (St. Andrew's University Library). Quoted in William Cochlan, 'Sir David Brewster: An Outline Biography', in J.R.R. Christie (ed.), Martyr of Science: Sir David Brewster, 1781-1868 (1984), 13.
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There is no Professor of Wit at either University. Surely they might as reasonably have a professor of wit as of poetry.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 221.
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There may be a golden ignorance. If Professor Bell had known how difficult a task he was attempting, he would never have given us the telephone.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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There’s a touch of the priesthood in the academic world, a sense that a scholar should not be distracted by the mundane tasks of day-to-day living. I used to have great stretches of time to work. Now I have research thoughts while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sure it’s impossible to write down ideas while reading “Curious George” to a two-year-old. On the other hand, as my husband was leaving graduate school for his first job, his thesis advisor told him, “You may wonder how a professor gets any research done when one has to teach, advise students, serve on committees, referee papers, write letters of recommendation, interview prospective faculty. Well, I take long showers.”
In 'In Her Own Words: Six Mathematicians Comment on Their Lives and Careers: Susan Landau', Notices of the AMS (Sep 1991), 38, No. 7, 704.
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These hormones still belong to the physiologist and to the clinical investigator as much as, if not more than, to the practicing physician. But as Professor Starling said many years ago, 'The physiology of today is the medicine of tomorrow'.
'The Reversibility of Certain Rheumatic and Non-rheumatic Conditions by the use of Cortisone or of the Pituitary Adrenocorticotropic Hormone', Nobel Lecture, 11 Dec 1950. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1942- 1962 (1964), 334.
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They hold that the function of universities is to make learning repellent and thus to prevent its becoming dangerously common. And they discharge this beneficent function all the more efficiently because they do it unconsciously and automatically. The professors think they are advancing healthy intellectual assimilation and digestion when they are in reality little better than cancer on the stomach.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 32.
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This [cyanide] poison is for professors of chemistry only. You, as a professor of mechanics, will have to use the rope.
Said during the Nazi occupation of Norway.
Quoted in Kaufman, Industrial Chemist and Chemical Manufacturer, Jan 1988.
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Today, everybody remembers Galileo. How many can name the bishops and professors who refused to look through his telescope?
…...
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Universities hire professors the way some men choose wives—they want the ones the others will admire.
In Why the Professor Can’t Teach: Mathematics and the Dilemma of University Education (1977), 92.
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We no more deny the essential value of religion because we hold most religions false, and most professors of religion liars, than we deny that of science because we can see no great difference between men of science and theologians.
Geoffrey Keynes and Brian Hill (eds.), Samuel Butler’s Notebooks (1951), 194.
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Were I wrong, one professor would have been quite enough.
In response to a book in which 100 Nazi professors charged him with scientific error, in The Washington Post, December 12, 1978.
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Whatever universe a professor believes in must at any rate be a universe that lends itself to lengthy discourse. A universe definable in two sentences is something for which the professorial intellect has no use. No faith in anything of that cheap kind!
First of eight lectures on ‘Pragmatism: A New Name For an Old Way of Thinking’ given at the Lowell Institute, Boston and the Departments of Philosophy and Psychology, Columbia University. In The Popular Science Monthly (Mar 1907), 193.
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When I came back from Munich, it was September, and I was Professor of Mathematics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Later I learned that I had been the Department’s third choice, after two numerical analysts had turned the invitation down; the decision to invite me had not been an easy one, on the one hand because I had not really studied mathematics, and on the other hand because of my sandals, my beard and my ‘arrogance’ (whatever that may be).
…...
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When I saw the alpha-helix and saw what a beautiful, elegant structure it was, I was thunderstruck and was furious with myself for not having built this, but on the other hand, I wondered, was it really right?
So I cycled home for lunch and was so preoccupied with the turmoil in my mind that didn’t respond to anything. Then I had an idea, so I cycled back to the lab. I realized that I had a horse hair in a drawer. I set it up on the X-ray camera and gave it a two hour exposure, then took the film to the dark room with my heart in my mouth, wondering what it showed, and when I developed it, there was the 1.5 angstrom reflection which I had predicted and which excluded all structures other than the alpha-helix.
So on Monday morning I stormed into my professor’s office, into Bragg’s office and showed him this, and Bragg said, 'Whatever made you think of that?' And I said, 'Because I was so furious with myself for having missed that beautiful structure.' To which Bragg replied coldly, 'I wish I had made you angry earlier.'
From transcript of audio of Max Perutz in BBC programme, 'Lifestory: Linus Pauling' (1997). On 'Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA' webpage 'I Wish I Had Made You Angry Earlier.'
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Yet as I cast my eye over the whole course of science I behold instances of false science, even more pretentious and popular than that of Einstein gradually fading into ineptitude under the searchlight; and I have no doubt that there will arise a new generation who will look with a wonder and amazement, deeper than now accompany Einstein, at our galaxy of thinkers, men of science, popular critics, authoritative professors and witty dramatists, who have been satisfied to waive their common sense in view of Einstein's absurdities.
In Elizabeth Dilling, A "Who's Who" and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots (1934), 49.
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You don’t know who he was? Half the particles in the universe obey him!
[Reply by a physics professor when a student asked who Bose was.]
Anonymous
Quoted in 'Original Vision, Forgotten Hero', The Calcutta Telegraph (3 Jan 2012)
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You have all heard of that celebrated painter who would never allow any one to mix his colors for him. He always insisted on doing that himself, and at last one of his students, whose curiosity had been aroused, said: “Professor, what do you mix your colors with?” “With brains, sir,” said the professor. Now, that is what we have to do with our observations.
From Address (22 May 1914) to the graduating class of the Friends’ School, Washington, D.C. Printed in 'Discovery and Invention', The National Geographic Magazine (1914), 25, 650.
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You must not say that this cannot be, or that that is contrary to nature. You do not know what Nature is, or what she can do; and nobody knows; not even Sir Roderick Murchison, or Professor Huxley, or Mr. Darwin, or Professor Faraday, or Mr. Grove, or any other of the great men whom good boys are taught to respect. They are very wise men; and you must listen respectfully to all they say: but even if they should say, which I am sure they never would, “That cannot exist. That is contrary to nature,” you must wait a little, and see; for perhaps even they may be wrong.
The Water-babies (1886), 81.
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[Blackett] came one morning, deep in thought, into the G (technical) Office at Stanmore. It was a bitterly cold day, and the staff were shivering in a garret warmed over only with an oil-stove. Without a word of greeting, Blackett stepped silently up on to the table and stood there pondering with his feet among the plans. After ten minutes somebody coughed uneasily and said, diffidently: “Wouldn’t you like a chair, sir … or something?” “No, thank you,” said Professor Blackett, “it is necessary to apply scientific methods. Hot air rises. The warmest spot in this room, therefore, will be near the ceiling.” At this, Colonel Krohn, my technical G.S.O., stepped up on the table beside the Professor, and for the next half-hour, the two stayed there in silence. At the end of this period Professor Blackett stepped down from the table saying: “Well! That’s that problem solved.” And so it was.
Anecdote as told by General Sir Frederick Pile, in Frederick Pile, Ack-Ack: Britain’s Defence Against Air Attack During Second World War (1949), 161. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 7.
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[Godfrey H. Hardy] personified the popular idea of the absent-minded professor. But those who formed the idea that he was merely an absent-minded professor would receive a shock in conversation, where he displayed amazing vitality on every subject under the sun. ... He was interested in the game of chess, but was frankly puzzled by something in its nature which seemed to come into conflict with his mathematical principles.
The Times
In 'Prof. G. H. Hardy: A Mathematician of Genius,' Obituary The Times.
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[Having already asserted his opposition to communism in every respect by signing the regents' oath, his answer to a question why a non-Communist professor should refuse to take a non-Communist oath as a condition of University employment was that to do so would imply it was] up to an accused person to clear himself. ... That sort of thing is going on in Washington today and is a cause of alarm to thoughtful citizens. It is the method used in totalitarian countries. It sounds un-American to people who don’t like to be pushed around. If someone says I ought to do a certain thing the burden should be on him to show I why I should, not on me to show why I should not.
As quoted in 'Educator Scores Oath For Faculty', New York Times (16 Apr 1950), 31.
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[Niels Bohr] is a national pride to his fellow Danes. In Denmark, Bohr’s standing is only slightly less than that of the royal family and Hans Christian Anderson. When the wife of an American physicist casually told a gentleman seated next to her on a Copenhagen streetcar that her husband was studying under Professor Bohr, the old man jumped to his feet, swept off his hat with a flourish and bowed deeply.
Quoted in Bill Becker, 'Pioneer of the Atom', New York Times Sunday Magazine (20 Oct 1957), 52.
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[Professor Pauling] confesses that he had harboured the feeling that sooner or later he would be the one to get the DNA structure; and although he was pleased with the double-helix, he ‘rather wished the idea had been his’.
‘The Need to Understand’, New Scientist (1971), 50, 755.
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[Professor W.L. Bragg asserts that] In sodium chloride there appear to be no molecules represented by NaCl. The equality in number of sodium and chlorine atoms is arrived at by a chess-board pattern of these atoms; it is a result of geometry and not of a pairing-off of the atoms.
In Henry E. Armstrong, 'Poor Common Salt!', Nature (1927), 120, 478.
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[The French Academy of Sciences is] the receptacle of a crowd of mediocrities and ignoramuses whose places have been made as college professors, herb collectors, village veterinarians and assistant engineers of bridges and roads.
Said at a meeting at the University of Toulouse, 1 Feb 1911. Quoted in M. J. Nye, Science in the Provinces (1986), 136.
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…as our friend Zach has often noted, in our days those who do the best for astronomy are not the salaried university professors, but so-called dillettanti, physicians, jurists, and so forth.Lamenting the fragmentary time left to a professor has remaining after fulfilling his teaching duties.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (26 Oct 1802). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 415.
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…persons, with big wigs many of them and austere aspect, whom I take to be Professors of the Dismal Science…
Coining “Dismal Science” as a nickname for Political Economy (though used earlier referring to social science in an article, Dec 1849).
'The Present Time', Latter Day Pamphlets, No. 1—Feb 1850, (1850), 43.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Robert Fulton
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- 60 -
Francis Galton
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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