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

Specialization Quotes (23 quotes)

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
In Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 265.
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A mathematician who can only generalise is like a monkey who can only climb UP a tree. ... And a mathematician who can only specialise is like a monkey who can only climb DOWN a tree. In fact neither the up monkey nor the down monkey is a viable creature. A real monkey must find food and escape his enemies and so must be able to incessantly climb up and down. A real mathematician must be able to generalise and specialise. ... There is, I think, a moral for the teacher. A teacher of traditional mathematics is in danger of becoming a down monkey, and a teacher of modern mathematics an up monkey. The down teacher dishing out one routine problem after another may never get off the ground, never attain any general idea. and the up teacher dishing out one definition after the other may never climb down from his verbiage, may never get down to solid ground, to something of tangible interest for his pupils.
From 'A Story With A Moral', Mathematical Gazette (Jun 1973), 57, No. 400, 86-87
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All living organisms are but leaves on the same tree of life. The various functions of plants and animals and their specialized organs are manifestations of the same living matter. This adapts itself to different jobs and circumstances, but operates on the same basic principles. Muscle contraction is only one of these adaptations. In principle it would not matter whether we studied nerve, kidney or muscle to understand the basic principles of life. In practice, however, it matters a great deal.
'Muscle Research', Scientific American, 1949, 180 (6), 22.
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Be a physical chemist, an organic chemist, an analytical chemist, if you will; but above all be a Chemist.
[Admonishing his students to avoid over-specialization.]
F. H. Getman, The Life of Ira Remsen (1940), 71.
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But while I accept specialization in the practice, I reject it utterly in the theory of science.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 25.
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In an age of specialization people are proud to be able to do one thing well, but if that is all they know about, they are missing out on much else life has to offer.
As given in John Rennie, 'Dennis Flanagan, A Proud “Renaissance Hack”', Scientific American (26 Jan 2005).
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In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. … The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.
Opening statement, in transcript of talk to the Caltech Lunch Forum (2 May 1956), 'The Relation of Science and Religion', collected in Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (1999, 2005), 245-246.
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It is tautological to say that an organism is adapted to its environment. It is even tautological to say that an organism is physiologically adapted to its environment. However, just as in the case of many morphological characters, it is unwarranted to conclude that all aspects of the physiology of an organism have evolved in reference to a specific milieu. It is equally gratuitous to assume that an organism will inevitably show physiological specializations in its adaptation to a particular set of conditions. All that can be concluded is that the functional capacities of an organism are sufficient to have allowed persistence within its environment. On one hand, the history of an evolutionary line may place serious constraints upon the types of further physiological changes that are readily feasible. Some changes might require excessive restructuring of the genome or might involve maladaptive changes in related functions. On the other hand, a taxon which is successful in occupying a variety of environments may be less impressive in individual physiological capacities than one with a far more limited distribution.
In W.R. Dawson, G.A. Bartholomew, and A.F. Bennett, 'A Reappraisal of the Aquatic Specializations of the Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)', Evolution (1977), 31, 891.
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It seems that the increased number of scientific workers, their being split up into groups whose studies are limited to a small subject, and over-specialization have brought about a shrinking of intelligence. There is no doubt that the quality of any human group decreases when the number of the individuals composing this group increases beyond certain limits… The best way to increase the intelligence of scientists would be to decrease their number.
Man the Unknown (1935), 48-9.
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More and more of out colleagues fail to understand our work because of the high specialization of research problems. We must not be discouraged if the products of our labor are not read or even known to exist. The joy of research must be found in doing since every other harvest is uncertain.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 20.
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Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized accomplishment.
Max Weber
From a Speech (1918) presented at Munich University, published in 1919, and collected in 'Wissenschaft als Beruf', Gessammelte Aufsδtze zur Wissenschaftslehre (1922), 524-525. As given in H.H. Gerth and C. Wright-Mills (translators and eds.), 'Science as a Vocation', Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946), 135.
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Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends.
From interview with Benjamin Fine, 'Einstein Stresses Critical Thinking', New York Times (5 Oct 1952), 37.
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Painting is but one single small mode of expressing my own cosmology, which enables me, through my genius and paranoia, to create a synthesis of nature impossible even for the scientist, because the scientist is too much involved in his specialization.
As quoted in 'Playboy Interview: Salvador Dalν, a candid conversation with the flamboyantly eccentric grand vizier of surrealism', Playboy Magazine (Jul 1964), 46, 48. Quoted and cited in Michael R. Taylor, 'God and the Atom: Salvador Dalν’s Mystical Manifesto and the Contested Origins of Nuclear Painting', Avant-garde Studies (Fall 2016), No. 2, 10.
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Scientists tend to resist interdisciplinary inquiries into their own territory. In many instances, such parochialism is founded on the fear that intrusion from other disciplines would compete unfairly for limited financial resources and thus diminish their own opportunity for research.
[Naming territorial dominance, greed, and fear of the unknown, as some of the influences on the increasing specialization of science]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),192.
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Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they are specialized, are just as ordinary, pig-headed, and unreasonable as everybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous.
Sense and Nonsense in Psychology (1957), 108.
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Specialization has gotten out of hand. There are more branches in the tree of knowledge than there are in the tree of life. A petrologist studies rocks; a pedologist studies soils. The first one sieves the soil and throws away the rocks. The second one picks up the rocks and brushes off the soil. Out in the field, they bump into each other only like Laurel and Hardy, by accident, when they are both backing up.
In The Next One Hundred Years (1990).
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The complexity of contemporary biology has led to an extreme specialization, which has inevitably been followed by a breakdown in communication between disciplines. Partly as a result of this, the members of each specialty tend to feel that their own work is fundamental and that the work of other groups, although sometimes technically ingenious, is trivial or at best only peripheral to an understanding of truly basic problems and issues. There is a familiar resolution to this problem but it is sometimes difficulty to accept emotionally. This is the idea that there are a number of levels of biological integration and that each level offers problems and insights that are unique to it; further, that each level finds its explanations of mechanism in the levels below, and its significances in the levels above it.
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 39.
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The frontiers of science are separated now by long years of study, by specialized vocabularies, arts, techniques, and knowledge from the common heritage even of a most civilized society; and anyone working at the frontier of such science is in that sense a very long way from home, a long way too from the practical arts that were its matrix and origin, as indeed they were of what we today call art.
Address at the close of the year-long Bicentennial Celebration of Columbia University (26 Dec 54). Printed in 'Prospects in the Arts and Sciences', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Feb 1955), 52.
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The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, “The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics.” It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoiter and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 1-2.
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The theory here developed is that mega-evolution normally occurs among small populations that become preadaptive and evolve continuously (without saltation, but at exceptionally rapid rates) to radically different ecological positions. The typical pattern involved is probably this: A large population is fragmented into numerous small isolated lines of descent. Within these, inadaptive differentiation and random fixation of mutations occur. Among many such inadaptive lines one or a few are preadaptive, i.e., some of their characters tend to fit them for available ecological stations quite different from those occupied by their immediate ancestors. Such groups are subjected to strong selection pressure and evolve rapidly in the further direction of adaptation to the new status. The very few lines that successfully achieve this perfected adaptation then become abundant and expand widely, at the same time becoming differentiated and specialized on lower levels within the broad new ecological zone.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 123.
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Those of us who were familiar with the state of inorganic chemistry in universities twenty to thirty years ago will recall that at that time it was widely regarded as a dull and uninteresting part of the undergraduate course. Usually, it was taught almost entirely in the early years of the course and then chiefly as a collection of largely unconnected facts. On the whole, students concluded that, apart from some relationships dependent upon the Periodic table, there was no system in inorganic chemistry comparable with that to be found in organic chemistry, and none of the rigour and logic which characterised physical chemistry. It was widely believed that the opportunities for research in inorganic chemistry were few, and that in any case the problems were dull and uninspiring; as a result, relatively few people specialized in the subject... So long as inorganic chemistry is regarded as, in years gone by, as consisting simply of the preparations and analysis of elements and compounds, its lack of appeal is only to be expected. The stage is now past and for the purpose of our discussion we shall define inorganic chemistry today as the integrated study of the formation, composition, structure and reactions of the chemical elements and compounds, excepting most of those of carbon.
Inaugural Lecture delivered at University College, London (1 Mar 1956). In The Renaissance of Inorganic Chemistry (1956), 4-5.
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To eliminate the discrepancy between men's plans and the results achieved, a new approach is necessary. Morphological thinking suggests that this new approach cannot be realized through increased teaching of specialized knowledge. This morphological analysis suggests that the essential fact has been overlooked that every human is potentially a genius. Education and dissemination of knowledge must assume a form which allows each student to absorb whatever develops his own genius, lest he become frustrated. The same outlook applies to the genius of the peoples as a whole.
Halley Lecture for 1948, delivered at Oxford (12 May 1948). In "Morphological Astronomy", The Observatory (1948), 68, 143.
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We should remember that there was once a discipline called natural philosophy. Unfortunately, this discipline seems not to exist today. It has been renamed science, but science of today is in danger of losing much of the natural philosophy aspect.
[Pointing out the increasing specialization of science during the century to explain the resistance to his ideas,]
(1986) Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),192.
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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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