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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Rejected Quotes (26 quotes)

A discovery must be, by definition, at variance with existing knowledge. During my lifetime, I made two. Both were rejected offhand by the popes of the field. Had I predicted these discoveries in my applications, and had those authorities been my judges, it is evident what their decisions would have been.
In 'Dionysians and Apollonians', Science (2 Jun 1972), 176, 966. Reprinted in Mary Ritchie Key, The Relationship of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication (1980), 318.
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A schism has taken place among the chemists. A particular set of them in France have undertaken to remodel all the terms of the science, and to give every substance a new name, the composition, and especially the termination of which, shall define the relation in which it stands to other substances of the same family, But the science seems too much in its infancy as yet, for this reformation; because in fact, the reformation of this year must be reformed again the next year, and so on, changing the names of substances as often as new experiments develop properties in them undiscovered before. The new nomenclature has, accordingly, been already proved to need numerous and important reformations. ... It is espoused by the minority here, and by the very few, indeed, of the foreign chemists. It is particularly rejected in England.
Letter to Dr. Willard (Paris, 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 3, 15.
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All possible truth is practical. To ask whether our conception of chair or table corresponds to the real chair or table apart from the uses to which they may be put, is as utterly meaningless and vain as to inquire whether a musical tone is red or yellow. No other conceivable relation than this between ideas and things can exist. The unknowable is what I cannot react upon. The active part of our nature is not only an essential part of cognition itself, but it always has a voice in determining what shall be believed and what rejected.
The Muscular Perception of Space (1878), 446.
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And if you want the exact moment in time, it was conceived mentally on 8th March in this year one thousand six hundred and eighteen, but submitted to calculation in an unlucky way, and therefore rejected as false, and finally returning on the 15th of May and adopting a new line of attack, stormed the darkness of my mind. So strong was the support from the combination of my labour of seventeen years on the observations of Brahe and the present study, which conspired together, that at first I believed I was dreaming, and assuming my conclusion among my basic premises. But it is absolutely certain and exact that the proportion between the periodic times of any two planets is precisely the sesquialterate proportion of their mean distances.
Harmonice Mundi, The Harmony of the World (1619), book V, ch. 3. Trans. E. J. Aiton, A. M. Duncan and J. V. Field (1997), 411.
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Another error is a conceit that … the best has still prevailed and suppressed the rest: so as, if a man should begin the labor of a new search, he were but like to light upon somewhat formerly rejected, and by rejection brought into oblivion; as if the multitude, or the wisest for the multitude’s sake, were not ready to give passage rather to that which is popular and superficial, than to that which is substantial and profound: for the truth is, that time seemeth to be of the nature of a river or stream, which carrieth down to us that which is light and blown up, and sinketh and drowneth that which is weighty and solid.
Advancement of Learning, Book 1. Collected in The Works of Francis Bacon (1826), Vol 1, 36.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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Do not expect to be hailed as a hero when you make your great discovery. More likely you will be a ratbag—maybe failed by your examiners. Your statistics, or your observations, or your literature study, or your something else will be patently deficient. Do not doubt that in our enlightened age the really important advances are and will be rejected more often than acclaimed. Nor should we doubt that in our own professional lifetime we too will repudiate with like pontifical finality the most significant insight ever to reach our desk.
Theories of the Earth and Universe (1988), 365.
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Every discoverer of a new truth, or inventor of the method which evolves it, makes a dozen, perhaps fifty, useless combinations, experiments, or trials for one successful one. In the realm of electricity or of mechanics there is no objection to this. But when such rejected failures involve a torture of animals, sometimes fearful in its character, there is a distinct objection to it.
From 'Vivisection', an original paper in Surgical Anaesthesia: Addresses, and Other Papers (1894, 1900), 369-370.
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History warns us … that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions; and, as matters now stand, it is hardly rash to anticipate that, in another twenty years, the new generation, educated under the influences of the present day, will be in danger of accepting the main doctrines of the “Origin of Species,” with as little reflection, and it may be with as little justification, as so many of our contemporaries, twenty years ago, rejected them.
'The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species' (1880). In Collected Essays, Vol. 2: Darwiniana (1893), 229.
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I do not maintain that the chief value of the study of arithmetic consists in the lessons of morality that arise from this study. I claim only that, to be impressed from day to day, that there is something that is right as an answer to the questions with which one is able to grapple, and that there is a wrong answer—that there are ways in which the right answer can be established as right, that these ways automatically reject error and slovenliness, and that the learner is able himself to manipulate these ways and to arrive at the establishment of the true as opposed to the untrue, this relentless hewing to the line and stopping at the line, must color distinctly the thought life of the pupil with more than a tinge of morality. … To be neighborly with truth, to feel one’s self somewhat facile in ways of recognizing and establishing what is right, what is correct, to find the wrong persistently and unfailingly rejected as of no value, to feel that one can apply these ways for himself, that one can think and work independently, have a real, a positive, and a purifying effect upon moral character. They are the quiet, steady undertones of the work that always appeal to the learner for the sanction of his best judgment, and these are the really significant matters in school work. It is not the noise and bluster, not even the dramatics or the polemics from the teacher’s desk, that abide longest and leave the deepest and stablest imprint upon character. It is these still, small voices that speak unmistakably for the right and against the wrong and the erroneous that really form human character. When the school subjects are arranged on the basis of the degree to which they contribute to the moral upbuilding of human character good arithmetic will be well up the list.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 18. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 69.
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I have long since come to see that no one deserves either praise or blame for the ideas that come to him, but only for the actions resulting therefrom. Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us—we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we can not reject or change them at will. It is for the common good that the promulgation of ideas should be free—uninfluenced by either praise or blame, reward or punishment. But the actions which result from our ideas may properly be so treated, because it is only by patient thought and work, that new ideas, if good and true, become adopted and utilized; while, if untrue or if not adequately presented to the world, they are rejected or forgotten.
In 'The Origin of the Theory of Natural Selection', Popular Science Monthly (1909), 74, 400.
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I have therefore tried to show the tendency displayed throughout history, by the most profound investigators, to pass from the world of the senses to a world where vision becomes spiritual, where principles are elaborated, and from which the explorer emerges with conceptions and conclusions, to be approved or rejected according as they coincide with sensible things.
Heat, A Mode of Motion (1880, 1915), 6th ed., viii.
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In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
In 'Self-Reliance', The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870), Vol. 1, 241.
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It will be a general expression of the facts that have been detailed, relating to the changes and transitions by electricity, in common philosophical language, to say, that hydrogen, the alkaline substances, the metals, and certain metallic oxides, are all attracted by negatively electrified metallic surfaces; and contrariwise, that oxygen and acid substances are attracted by positively electrified metallic surfaces and rejected by negatively electrified metallic surfaces; and these attractive and repulsive forces are sufficiently energetic to destroy or suspend the usual operation of elective affinity.
Bakerian Lecture, 'On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1807, 97, 28-29.
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Most of the crackpot papers which are submitted to The Physical Review are rejected, not because it is impossible to understand them, but because it is possible. Those which are impossible to understand are usually published. When the great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer himself it will be only half-understood; to everybody else it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.
In 'Innovation in Physics', Scientific American (Sep 1958), 199. Collected in From Eros to Gaia (1993).
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Much later, when I discussed the problem with Einstein, he remarked that the introduction of the cosmological term was the biggest blunder he ever made in his life. But this “blunder,” rejected by Einstein, is still sometimes used by cosmologists even today, and the cosmological constant denoted by the Greek letter Λ rears its ugly head again and again and again.
My World Line (1970). Cited in Edward Robert Harrison, Cosmology: the Science of the Universe (2000), 379, which adds: “The Λ force is referred to by various names, such as the cosmological constant, cosmological term, cosmical constant or cosmical term.”
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No other explanation of living forms is allowed than heredity, and any which is founded on another basis must be rejected. The present fashion requires that even the smallest and most indifferent inquiry must be dressed in phylogenetic costume, and whilst in former centuries authors professed to read in every natural detail some intention of the creator mundi, modern scientists have the aspiration to pick out from every occasional observation a fragment of the ancestral history of the living world.
'On the Principles of Animal Morphology', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2 Apr 1888), 15, 294. Original as Letter to Mr John Murray, communicated to the Society by Professor Sir William Turner. Page given as in collected volume published 1889.
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On becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge a man's character by the outline of his features. He doubted whether anyone with my nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. I think he was well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin: Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1896), 50.
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Quantum mechanics and relativity, taken together, are extraordinarily restrictive, and they therefore provide us with a great logical machine. We can explore with our minds any number of possible universes consisting of all kinds of mythical particles and interactions, but all except a very few can be rejected on a priori grounds because they are not simultaneously consistent with special relativity and quantum mechanics. Hopefully in the end we will find that only one theory is consistent with both and that theory will determine the nature of our particular universe.
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Revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse.
In Areopagitica: A speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenced printing to the Parliament of England (23 Nov 1644), 4.
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The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.
From Aphorism 45, Novum Organum, Book I (1620). Collected in James Spedding (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, 55.
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We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.
Speech (10 Nov 1948) preceding Armistice Day, Collected Writings (1967), Vol. 1. Quoted in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Apr 1952), 8, No. 4, 114.
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We inhabit a complex world. Some boundaries are sharp and permit clean and definite distinctions. But nature also includes continua that cannot be neatly parceled into two piles of unambiguous yeses and noes. Biologists have rejected, as fatally flawed in principle, all attempts by antiabortionists to define an unambiguous ‘beginning of life,’ because we know so well that the sequence from ovulation or spermatogenesis to birth is an unbreakable continuum–and surely no one will define masturbation as murder.
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What has been learned in physics stays learned. People talk about scientific revolutions. The social and political connotations of revolution evoke a picture of a body of doctrine being rejected, to be replaced by another equally vulnerable to refutation. It is not like that at all. The history of physics has seen profound changes indeed in the way that physicists have thought about fundamental questions. But each change was a widening of vision, an accession of insight and understanding. The introduction, one might say the recognition, by man (led by Einstein) of relativity in the first decade of this century and the formulation of quantum mechanics in the third decade are such landmarks. The only intellectual casualty attending the discovery of quantum mechanics was the unmourned demise of the patchwork quantum theory with which certain experimental facts had been stubbornly refusing to agree. As a scientist, or as any thinking person with curiosity about the basic workings of nature, the reaction to quantum mechanics would have to be: “Ah! So that’s the way it really is!” There is no good analogy to the advent of quantum mechanics, but if a political-social analogy is to be made, it is not a revolution but the discovery of the New World.
From Physics Survey Committee, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 'The Nature of Physics', in report Physics in Perspective (1973), 61-62. As cited in I. Bernard Cohen, Revolution in Science (1985), 554-555.
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What the use of P [the significance level] implies, therefore, is that a hypothesis that may be true may be rejected because it has not predicted observable results that have not occurred.
Theory of Probability (1939), 316.
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You have heard of the new chemical nomenclature endeavored to be introduced by Lavoisier, Fourcroy, &c. Other chemists of this country, of equal note, reject it, and prove in my opinion that it is premature, insufficient and false. These latter are joined by the British chemists; and upon the whole, I think the new nomenclature will be rejected, after doing more harm than good. There are some good publications in it, which must be translated into the ordinary chemical language before they will be useful.
Letter to Dr. Currie (Paris, 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 2, 544.
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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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