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Who said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”
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Relevance Quotes (16 quotes)

A lot of scientific papers do deal with matters of atheoretical fact ... for example, whenever somebody finds a new “world's largest dinosaur,” which has only slightly more scientific relevance than shooting the record moose. In short, not everything that gets published in scientific journals bears the distinctive hallmarks of science.
In 'Paleoanthropology: Science or Mythical Charter?', Journal of Anthropological Research (Summer 2002), 58, No. 2, 186.
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In the world of science different levels of esteem are accorded to different kinds of specialist. Mathematicians have always been eminently respectable, and so are those who deal with hard lifeless theories about what constitutes the physical world: the astronomers, the physicists, the theoretical chemists. But the more closely the scientist interests himself in matters which are of direct human relevance, the lower his social status. The real scum of the scientific world are the engineers and the sociologists and the psychologists. Indeed, if a psychologist wants to rate as a scientist he must study rats, not human beings. In zoology the same rules apply. It is much more respectable to dissect muscle tissues in a laboratory than to observe the behaviour of a living animal in its natural habitat.
From transcript of BBC radio Reith Lecture (12 Nov 1967), 'A Runaway World', on the bbc.co.uk website.
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Microbiology is usually regarded as having no relevance to the feelings and aspirations of the man of flesh and bone. Yet, never in my professional life do I find myself far removed from the man of flesh and bone. It is not only because microbes are ubiquitous in our environment, and therefore must be studied for the sake of human welfare. More interesting, and far more important in the long run, is the fact that microbes exhibit profound resemblances to man. They resemble him in their physical makeup, in their properties, in their responses to various stimuli; they also display associations with other living things which have perplexing and illuminating analogies with human societies.
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Notable enough, however, are the controversies over the series 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – … whose sum was given by Leibniz as 1/2, although others disagree. … Understanding of this question is to be sought in the word “sum”; this idea, if thus conceived—namely, the sum of a series is said to be that quantity to which it is brought closer as more terms of the series are taken—has relevance only for convergent series, and we should in general give up the idea of sum for divergent series.
…...
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On all levels primary, and secondary and undergraduate - mathematics is taught as an isolated subject with few, if any, ties to the real world. To students, mathematics appears to deal almost entirely with things whlch are of no concern at all to man.
In editorial in Focus, a Journal of the Mathematical Association of America (1986), quoted in obituary by Eric Pace, New York Times (11 Jun 1992).
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Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.
[Co-author with Charles Weingartner.]
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1971), 23.
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The hybridoma technology was a by-product of basic research. Its success in practical applications is to a large extent the result of unexpected and unpredictable properties of the method. It thus represents another clear-cut example of the enormous practical impact of an investment in research which might not have been considered commercially worthwhile, or of immediate medical relevance. It resulted from esoteric speculations, for curiosity’s sake, only motivated by a desire to understand nature.
From Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1984), collected in Tore Frängsmyr and Jan Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures in Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 267-268.
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The institutional goal of science is the extension of certified knowledge. The technical methods employed toward this end provide the relevant definition of knowledge: empirically confirmed and logically consistent predictions. The institutional imperatives (mores) derive from the goal and the methods. The entire structure of technical and moral norms implements the final objective. The technical norm of empirical evidence, adequate, valid and reliable, is a prerequisite for sustained true prediction; the technical norm of logical consistency, a prerequisite for systematic and valid prediction. The mores of science possess a methodologic rationale but they are binding, not only because they are procedurally efficient, but because they are believed right and good. They are moral as well as technical prescriptions. Four sets of institutional imperatives–universalism, communism, disinterestedness, organized scepticism–comprise the ethos of modern science.
Social Theory and Social Structure (1957), 552-3.
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The question of relevance comes before that of truth, because to ask whether a statement is true or false presupposes that it is relevant (so that to try to assert the truth or falsity of an irrelevant statement is a form of confusion)...
From Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980, 2002), 42.
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The test of a theory is its ability to cope with all the relevant phenomena, not its a priori 'reasonableness'. The latter would have proved a poor guide in the development of science, which often makes progress by its encounter with the totally unexpected and initially extremely puzzling.
'From DAMTP [Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics] to Westcott House', Cambridge Review (1981), 103, 61.
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The three of us have worked on the development of the small and totally harmless fruit fly, Drosophila. This animal has been extremely cooperative in our hands - and has revealed to us some of its innermost secrets and tricks for developing from a single celled egg to a complex living being of great beauty and harmony. ... None of us expected that our work would be so successful or that our findings would ever have relevance to medicine.
Nobel Banquet Speech, 10 Dec 1995
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There is no way to guarantee in advance what pure mathematics will later find application. We can only let the process of curiosity and abstraction take place, let mathematicians obsessively take results to their logical extremes, leaving relevance far behind, and wait to see which topics turn out to be extremely useful. If not, when the challenges of the future arrive, we won’t have the right piece of seemingly pointless mathematics to hand.
In 'The Unplanned Impact of Mathematics', Nature (14 Jul 2011), 475, No. 7355, 167.
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There is, then, one great purpose for man and for us today, and that is to try to discover man’s purpose by every means in our power. That is the ultimate relevance of science, and not only of science, but of every branch of learning which can improve our understanding. In the words of Tolstoy, “The highest wisdom has but one science, the science of the whole, the science explaining the Creation and man’s place in it.”
In The Times, June 21,1975.
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Thus will the fondest dream of Phallic science be realized: a pristine new planet populated entirely by little boy clones of great scientific entrepreneurs free to smash atoms, accelerate particles, or, if they are so moved, build pyramids—without any social relevance or human responsibility at all.
…...
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When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires - Mali, Songhai, Egypt - had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.
In Current Biography Yearbook (1993), Vol. 54, 280.
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[The error in the teaching of mathematics is that] mathematics is expected either to be immediately attractive to students on its own merits or to be accepted by students solely on the basis of the teacher’s assurance that it will be helpful in later life. [And yet,] mathematlcs is the key to understanding and mastering our physical, social and biological worlds.
In editorial in Focus, a Journal of the Mathematical Association of America (1986), quoted in obituary by Eric Pace, New York Times (11 Jun 1992).
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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