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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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Science Quotes (39 quotes)

~~[Attributed]~~ Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae.
Half of science is asking the right questions.
Also translated as, “To ask the proper question is half of knowing.” Also seen translated as “Half of science is putting forth the right questions,” in Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), 92. This quote, or a variant, is widely found widely in quote collections and books, but seemingly always without explicit primary source citation. It may have been derived from “Prudens interrogatio quasi dimidium sapientiae.” (A prudent question is, as it were, one half of wisdom), as printed in The Works of Francis Bacon: Philosophical Works (1857), 635. Webmaster has not, as yet, identified a verbatim primary source for the subject quote in Latin. Meanwhile, note the the sense of “scientiae” in Bacon’s time meant “a corpus of human knowledge” rather than the more specific use of the word “science” today. (Sometimes the quote is found attributed to Roger Bacon, which Webmaster, for lack of evidence, currently believes is likely not correct.) [Please contact Webmaster if you can help.]
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A reasonable content for general education today, then, seems to me to be as follows: First, a command of the principal linguistic tools essential to the pursuit of either science or art. Second, a familiarity with the scientific method and with its principal applications to both physical and social problems. And third, appreciation and practice of the arts, including literature. Furthermore, these three fields should be so integrated toward a common purpose that the question of their relative importance would not even arise. One does not ask which is the most important leg of a tripod.
In 'Education in a Scientific Age', Can Science Save Us? (1947, 2nd ed. 1961), 74-75.
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Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century.
In History of Western Philosophy (1979, 2004) 484.
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ASTRONOMY. Delightful science. Of use only to sailors. In speaking of it, make fun of astrology.
In The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas (1881), trans. Jaques Barzun (1968), 16.
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Descriptive science is powerless to portray for me the bird or the flower or the friend I love; only art and literature can do that. Science deals with fixed concepts, art with fluid concepts.
From essay, 'A Prophet of the Soul', Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 210.
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Engineering…is both an art and a science, and as a science it consists for the most part of mathematics applied to physics and mechanics. It is of necessity, therefore, a measuring science, and a congress of engineers ought, in the nature of things, to be interested in anything relating to progress in metrology.
From Address to the International Engineering Congress of the Columbia Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Published in Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers (Oct 1893), 120. Reprinted in 'Fundamental Units of Measure', Smithsonian Report for 1893 (1894), 135.
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Great innovations, whether in art or literature, in science or in nature, seldom take the world by storm. They must be understood before they can be estimated, and must be cultivated before they can be understood.
In Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District: With Atlas (1882), 142.
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Humanity should accept that science has eliminated the justification for believing in cosmic purpose, and that any survival of purpose is inspired only by sentiment.
In 'Will Science Ever Fail?', New Scientist (8 Aug 1992), 135, No. 1883, 32-35.
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I am one of the unpraised, unrewarded millions without whom Statistics would be a bankrupt science. It is we who are born, who marry, who die, in constant ratios. It is we who are born, who marry, who die, in constant ratios; who regularly lose so many umbrellas, post just so many unaddressed letters every year. And there are enthusiasts among us who, without the least thought of their own convenience, allow omnibuses to run over them; or throw themselves month by month, in fixed numbers, from the London bridges.
In 'Where Do I Come In', Trivia (1917,1921), 106.
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I know too much; I have stuffed too many of the facts of History and Science into my intellectuals. My eyes have grown dim over books; believing in geological periods, cave-dwellers, Chinese Dynasties, and the fixed stars has prematurely aged me.
In 'The Burden', Trivia (1917,1921), 156.
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I once had the honour of hearing the great molecular biologist Jacques Monod talking about creativity in science. I have forgotten his exact words, but he said approximately that, when trying to think through a chemical problem, he would ask himself what he would do if he were an electron.
In 'Introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition', The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition (1976, 2006), xi.
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I once heard a physicist and an editor discussing science news. The editor said, “If you told me that the world was flat, I’d put it in banner headlines.” The physicist replied, “I hope you’d also print a denial.” I cite that story … about the role of science in our society … that science is front-page news.
From Draft of Science Speech for Presidential Campaign (1960), held by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Digital Identifier: JFKCAMP1960-0993-005.
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I think, considering what they have had to fight against, that women have been wonderful. I see no end to their development in science, as in the arts and professions and in business, if they have the will to work.
In Genevieve Parkhurst, 'Dr. Sabin, Scientist: Winner Of Pictorial Review’s Achievement Award', Pictorial Review (Jan 1930), 71.
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I would not want to generalize to the extent that adversity is the only road to effective innovative science, or art, but the progress of science is often spectacularly disorderly. James Joyce once commented that he survived by “cunning and exile”.
In 'Homo Scientificus According to Beckett', collected in William Beranek, Jr. (ed.),Science, Scientists, and Society, (1972), 135-. Excerpted in Ann E. Kammer, Science, Sex, and Society (1979), 278.
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I’m sure that science can’t ever explain everything and I can give you the reasons for that decision … I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think is the secret of the universe.
In It’s Been a Good Life (2009), 258, cited as from I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), 481.
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If it [a hypothesis] disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement, is the key to science: it doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is; it doesn’t make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is—if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong; that’s all there is to it.
Verbatim from Lecture No. 7, 'Seeking New Laws', Messenger Lectures, Cornell, (1964) in video and transcript online at caltech.edu website. Also in Christopher Sykes, No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1994), 143. This quote continues one elsewhere on the Richard Feynman Quotations webpage, which begins: “In general, we look for a new law by…”.
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It is fair to say that astronomy is still just about the only science in which the amateur can make valuable contributions today, and in which the work is welcomed by professionals. For example, amateurs search for new comets and ‘new stars’ or novae, and since they generally know the sky much better than their professional colleagues they have a fine record of success. Routinely, they keep watch on objects such as variable stars, and they monitor the surfaces of the planets in a way that professionals have neither the time nor the inclination to do.
From 'Introduction', The Amateur Astronomer (11th Ed., 1990), 1-2.
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It is only necessary to check the comic books and Reader’s Digest to see the extent of the influence of applied science on the popular imagination. How much it is used to provide an atmosphere of endless thrill and excitement, quite apart from its accidental menace or utility, one can decide from such typical daily headlines as these:
London, March 10, 1947, Reuters: ROCKET TO MOON SEEN POSSIBLE BUT THOUSANDS TO DIE IN ATTEMPT
Cleveland, January 5, 1948.: LIFE SPAN OF 100, BE YOUNG AT 80, ATOM PREDICTION
Washington, June 11, 1947: SCIENTISTS AWAIT COW’S DEATH TO SOLVE MATHEMATICS PROBLEM
Needham Market, Suffolk, England. (U.P.): VICAR PROPOSES BABIES FOR YEARNING SPINSTERS, TEST-TUBE BABIES WILL PRODUCE ROBOTS
Washington, D.C., January 3, 1948. U.S. FLYER PASSING SONIC BARRIER OPENS NEW VISTAS OF DESTRUCTION ONE OF BRAVEST ACTS IN HISTORY
Those headlines represent “human interest” attempts to gear science to the human nervous system.
In The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1967), 93.
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Much of American life for the previous twenty-five years had been defined by this adversary. American budgets, politics, weapons, foreign policy, science, research, and domestic priorities and the lives of millions of military-age Americans were influenced almost as much by what happened in Moscow as by what happened in Washington.
In My American Journey (1996), 165.
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Narration by flashback is now used by almost all novelists… The method of the sleuth does have some relation to contemporary science as well as to art. One of the procedures in modern chemical research, for example, is to take a compound or a chemical reaction and then to work backwards from that to the formula which will produce that compound or reaction.
In The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1967), 106.
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Nearly everybody agrees that, whatever other troubles the advancement of science may have brought in its wake, it has released us from some age-long fears and insecurities. The natural sciences have undoubtedly given us a large measure of control over many of our traditional [natural] enemies.
In Ch. 1, 'Prescientific Thoughtways in a Technological Age', Can Science Save Us? (1947, 2nd ed. 1961), 1-2.
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One of the main duties of science is the correlation of phenomena, apparently disconnected and even contradictory.
Opening sentence of Pt. 1, Ch. 1, 'The Discovery of Radioactivity: Radioactivity, a New Science', The Interpretation of Radium and the Structure of the Atom (4th ed., 1920), 1.
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Science did not germinate and grow on a healthy prairie of ignorance but in a noisome jungle of magic and superstition, which again and again choked the seedlings of knowledge.
In A Shorter History of Science (1944), 5.
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Science Fiction, SF, is related to the mainstream of writing much as ghost stories were related to it in the past. Possibly tales of the supernatural were a by-product of a waning religious faith and possibly SF is a by-product of our increasing loss of faith in science.
In 'Utopia and Utopias',A Moving Target (1982), 174.
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Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next ten.
In Address to Joint Session of Congress (16 Sep 1969). Printed in 'Transcript of Astronauts’ Addresses to Congress', New York Times (17 Sep 1969), 30.
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Science I have defined as a series of concepts or conceptual schemes arising out of experiment and observation and leading to new experiments and new observations. From the experimental work and careful observations of nature come the scientific facts that are tied together by the concepts and conceptual schemes of modern science.
In 'Introduction', James Bryant Conant and Leonard K. Nash, Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science (1957), x.
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Science is not a mechanism but a human progress, and not a set of findings but the search for them.
In Science and Human Values (1956), 63.
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Science rejects the indeterminate.
In An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 55, as translated by Henry Copley Greene. From the original French by Claude Bernard: “La science repousse l’indeterminé.” (1865), 96. Also seen in alternate translation as: “Science repulses the indefinite.”
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Society is becoming increasingly aware of the power of science to bring weal or woe to mankind. But now when it is seen that the same science that brings prosperity and comfort may lead to depression and discomfort, men are beginning to look with mixed feelings at this monster which society may exalt or persecute, but cannot view with indifference. Perhaps my topic today should have read “Ought Scientists to be Burnt at the Stake?” I shall not attempt to decide this question, but only to present in a cursory way some of the pros and cons … But if scientists are to be destroyed, let them not alone by the victims; every creative thought must be extirpated. A philosopher’s epigram may kindle a world war. So scientist, inventor, artist, poet and every sort of troublous enthusiast must together be brought before the bar of the new inquisition
As quoted in Lecture (1981), American Chemical Society, Symposium of the Division of Chemical Education on Gilbert Newton Lewis Melvin Calvin, 'Gilbert Newton Lewis: His Influence on Physical-Organic Chemists at Berkeley', published in Chemical Biodynamics Division, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Proceedings (Mar 1982).
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Technology is the science of arranging life so that one need not experience it.
Anonymous
…...
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The man who would discard the effort of the human intellect, and the science of Nature, from Religion, forgets … that the visible works of God are the principal medium by which he displays the attributes of his nature to intelligent beings—that the study and contemplation of these works employ the faculties of intelligences of a superior order.
From 'Introduction', The Christian Philosopher: Or, The Connection of Science and Philosophy With Religion (1840), 20.
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The stern and stony eye of science seeks answers that are not grounded in the fundamentality of purpose.
In 'Will Science Ever Fail?', New Scientist (8 Aug 1992), 135, No. 1883, 32.
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The underlying concepts that unlock nature must be shown to arise early and in the simplest cultures of man from his basic and specific faculties. And the development of science which joins them in more and more complex conjunctions must be seen to be equally human: discoveries are made by men, not merely by minds, so that they are alive and charged with individuality.
In 'Foreward', The Ascent of Man, (1973), 13-14.
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The war on drugs must be a metaphorical war. But that … has to do with our stubborn determination not to come to grips with what a drug is: … our refusal to recognize that the term “drug” is not only a medical but also a political concept. … In short, while seemingly the word “drug” is a part of the vocabulary of science, it is even more importantly a part of the vocabulary of politics. … A drug is either good or bad, effective or ineffective, therapeutic or noxious, licit or illicit. … We deploy them simultaneously as technical tools in our fight against medical diseases and as scapegoats in our struggle for personal security and political stability.
From 'The Morality of Drug Controls', collected in Ronald Hamowy (ed.), Dealing with Drugs: Consequences of Government Control (1987), 328.
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The wisest man could ask no more of fate
Than to be simple, modest, manly, true,
Safe from the many, honored by the few;
Nothing to count in world, or church, or state,
But inwardly in secret to be great;
To feel mysterious nature ever new,
To touch, if not to grasp, her endless clue,
And learn by each discovery how to wait,
To widen knowledge and escape the praise;
Wisely to teach because more wise to learn;
To toil for science, not to draw men’s gate,
But for her love of self denial stern;
That such a man could spring from our decays
Fans the soul’s nobler faith until it burn.
Elegy to Dr. Leidy for introduction to the inauguration of the Joseph Leidy Memorial Lectureship. As published in 'The Joseph Leidy Lecture: Introduction by the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania', Science (30 May 1913), 37, No. 961, 809.
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The word science … is a prestige word of great potency. It is therefore attached to all manner of social programs, in order that they may shine by the reflected glory of the neon light and the radio tube. Indeed, a great many accredited social scientists, in the sense of practicing economists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and above all “political” scientists.
In Ch. 1, 'Prescientific Thoughtways in a Technological Age', Can Science Save Us? (1947, 2nd ed. 1961), 4.
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There should be no mystery in our use of the word science; it means knowledge, not theory nor speculation nor hypothesis, but hard facts, and the framework of laws to which they belong.
In 'The Meteorological Work of the U.S. Signal Service, 1870 to 1891', U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Bulletin No. 11, Report of the International Meteorological Congress, Chicago, Ill., August 21-24, 1893 (1894), 242.
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Where science stopped, imagination began.
In Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft (1990), 15. Explaining how specialists put forward explanations for origins of the mysterious, such as the carved stone statues (moai) on Easter island.
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While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed—and that success will belong to every one of us.
Televised address (5 Apr 2020), after outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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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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