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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index S > Category: Specialist

Specialist Quotes (20 quotes)

A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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A story about the Jack Spratts of medicine [was] told recently by Dr. Charles H. Best, co-discoverer of insulin. He had been invited to a conference of heart specialists in North America. On the eve of the meeting, out of respect for the fat-clogs-the-arteries theory, the delegates sat down to a special banquet served without fats. It was unpalatable but they all ate it as a duty. Next morning Best looked round the breakfast room and saw these same specialists—all in the 40-60 year old, coronary age group—happily tucking into eggs, bacon, buttered toast and coffee with cream.
'Objections To High-Fat Diets', Eat Fat And Grow Slim (1958), Ch. 3.
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Choose your specialist and you choose your disease.
Anonymous
The Westminster Review (18 May 1908)
Science quotes on:  |  Disease (257)

Given one well-trained physician of the highest type and he will do better work for a thousand people than ten specialists.
From speech 'In the Time of Henry Jacob Bigelow', given to the Boston Surgical Society, Medalist Meeting (6 Jun 1921). Printed in Journal of the Medical Association (1921), 77, 601.
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It seems plain and self-evident, yet it needs to be said: the isolated knowledge obtained by a group of specialists in a narrow field has in itself no value whatsoever, but only in its synthesis with all the rest of knowledge and only inasmuch as it really contributes in this synthesis toward answering the demand, ‘Who are we?’
…...
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Modern cytological work involves an intricacy of detail, the significance of which can be appreciated by the specialist alone; but Miss Stevens had a share in a discovery of importance, and her work will be remembered for this, when the minutiae of detailed investigations that she carried out have become incorporated in the general body of the subject.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 468.
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No man can be a pure specialist without being in the strict sense an idiot.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
Science quotes on:  |  Idiot (14)

None of the great discoveries was made by a “specialist” or a “researcher.”
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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So many people today–and even professional scientists–seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest . A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is–in my opinion–the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.
…...
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Specialists never contribute anything to their specialty; Helmholtz wasn’t an eye-specialist, but a German army doctor who invented the ophthalmoscope one Saturday afternoon when there wasn’t anything else to do. Incidentally, he rewrote whole chapters of physics, so that the physicists only know him as one of their own. Robert Mayer wasn’t a physicist, but another country doctor; and Pasteur, who made bacteriology, was a tanner’s son or a chemist, as you will.
In Fischerisms (1930), 7.
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Specialist—A man who knows more and more about less and less.
Modern Hospital (Sep 1939). [Also attributed to Nicholas Butler.]
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1128)

The late James McNeil Whistler had a French poodle of which he was extravagantly fond. This poodle was seized with an affection of the throat, and Whistler had the audacity to send for the great throat specialist, Mackenzie. Sir Morell, when he saw that he had been called to treat a dog, didn't like it much, it was plain. But he said nothing. He prescribed, pocketed a big fee, and drove away.
The next day he sent posthaste for Whistler. And Whistler, thinking he was summoned on some matter connected with his beloved dog, dropped his work and rushed like the wind to Mackenzie's. On his arrival Sir Morell said, gravely: “How do you do, Mr. Whistler? I wanted to see you about having my front door painted.”
Attributed or merely a legend. This anecdote wording is from 'Turn About Is Fair Play', Collier's (26 Mar 1904), 32, No. 26, 24, the earliest version the Webmaster has found so far. It has been variously reworded and printed in a number of books and magazines over the decades since, and is still circulated in the present day. The wording of Mackenzie's remark changes from one version to another, but remains true to the sense of it. In Medical Record (4 Jan 1913), 83, No. 1, 46, a reprinted column from The Universal Medical Record says: “‘X’ relates that he ‘has recently been watching through the weekly papers, of a story anent the artist Whistler and Sir mrell Mackenzie, which, curiously enough, starting in Paris, has now reached the American medical Journals and seems embarked on a long and active career. ... Mr. Ben Trovato, the eminent raconteur, seems for the moment at fault. Still, the natural history of such legends as this leads us to suppose that the story of the laryngologist and the poodle will continue to circulate, till after having served its day it ‘falls on sleep,’ later to be revived by the journalists of the next generation about some heroes of to-day.” Examples of other versions are in La Vulgarisation scientifique: revue mensuelle illustrée (1906); Don C. Seitz Whistler Stories (1913); Lewis C. Henry, Humorous Anecdotes About Famous People (1948); Graeme Garden The Best Medicine (1984); The Reader's Digest (1986), 128, Nos. 765-769, 40. So, in fact, this anecdote has, indeed, been revived for over a century, but is still narrated about Whistler and Mackenzie. Meanwhile, the column in the Medical Record mentioned above comments: “Why Whistler—whose brother, by-the-bye, was almost equally celebrated in the same department of medicine—should have desired the services of a laryngologist for his poodle, heaven only knows.” So, whether to regard this as entirely legend, or perhaps having some foundation of truth, the Webmaster cannot say, but would like to hear from anyone with more historical background to add.
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The scientific enterprise is full of experts on specialist areas but woefully short of people with a unified worldview. This state of affairs can only inhibit progress, and could threaten political and financial support for research.
Commentary, Nature (14 Aug 1997), 619. Quoted in Denis Alexander, Rebuilding the Matrix (2003), 7.
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The specialist is a man who fears the other subjects.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
Science quotes on:  |  Fear (113)

Thinking about the universe has now been handed over to specialists. The rest of us merely read about it.
City Aphorisms, Seventh Selection (1990).
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Thus, remarkably, we do not know the true number of species on earth even to the nearest order of magnitude. My own guess, based on the described fauna and flora and many discussions with entomologists and other specialists, is that the absolute number falls somewhere between five and thirty million.
Conservation for the 21st Century
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When … a large number of renegade specialists and amateurs believe contrary to the most prestigious experts, the latter say, well science is not democratic, it is what the people who know the most say—that is what counts!
In Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science (1998), 273.
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Woe to the specialist who is not a pretty fair generalist and woe to the generalist who is not also a bit of a specialist.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 222.
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[A]s you know, scientific education is fabulously neglected … This is an evil that is inherited, passed on from generation to generation. The majority of educated persons are not interested in science, and are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. Many believe—in their complete ignorance of what science really is—that it has mainly the ancillary task of inventing new machinery, or helping to invent it, for improving our conditions of life. They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. If persons with this outlook decide upon the curriculum of our children, the result is necessarily such as I have just described it.
Opening remarks of the second of four public lectures for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at University College, Dublin (Feb 1950), The Practical Achievements of Science Tending to Obliterate its True Import', collected in Science and Humanism: Physics in Our Time (1951). Reprinted in 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (1996), 113.
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“Any specialty, if important, is too important to be left to the specialists.” After all, the specialist cannot function unless he concentrates more or less entirely on his specialty and, in doing so, he will ignore the vast universe lying outside and miss important elements that ought to help guide his judgment. He therefore needs the help of the nonspecialist, who, while relying on the specialist for key information, can yet supply the necessary judgment based on everything else… Science, therefore, has become too important to be left to the scientists.
In 'The Fascination of Science', The Roving Mind (1983), 123. Asimov begins by extending a quote by George Clemenceau: “War is too important to be left to the generals.”
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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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