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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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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index U > Category: University

University Quotes (51 quotes)

A research laboratory jealous of its reputation has to develop less formal, more intimate ways of forming a corporate judgment of the work its people do. The best laboratories in university departments are well known for their searching, mutual questioning.
In Editorial, 'Is Science Really a Pack of Lies', Nature (1983), 303, 1257. As quoted and cited in Bradley P. Fuhrman, Jerry J. Zimmerman, Pediatric Critical Care (2011).
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A. R. Todd
Thinks he’s God.
N. F. Mott
Says he’s not.
Anonymous
Quoted by William Lord in The Times (22 Jan 1997), remarking on the competitiveness between the Physics and Chemistry Departments at the University of Cambridge.
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Acceleration of knowledge generation also emphasizes the need for lifelong education. The trained teacher, scientist or engineer can no longer regard what they have learned at the university as supplying their needs for the rest of their lives.
In article Total Quality: Its Origins and its Future (1995), published at the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement.
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After having a wash I proceeded to the bar where—believe it or not—there was a white-coated barman who was not only serving drinks but also cigarettes! I hastened forward and rather timidly said ‘Can I have some cigarettes?’
‘What’s your rank?’ was the slightly unexpected reply.
‘I am afraid I haven’t got one,’ I answered.
‘Nonsense—everyone who comes here has a rank.’
‘I’m sorry but I just don’t have one.’
‘Now that puts me in a spot,’ said the barman, ‘for orders about cigarettes in this camp are clear—twenty for officers and ten for other ranks. Tell me what exactly are you?’
Now I really wanted those cigarettes so I drew myself up and said ‘I am the Professor of Chemistry at Manchester University.’
The barman contemplated me for about thirty seconds and then said ‘I’ll give you five.’
Since that day I have had few illusions about the importance of professors!
In A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist (1983), 59. This event took place after a visit to the Defence Research Establishment at Porton to observe a demonstration of a new chemical anti-tank weapon (1941).
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Any artist or novelist would understand—some of us do not produce their best when directed. We expect the artist, the novelist and the composer to lead solitary lives, often working at home. While a few of these creative individuals exist in institutions or universities, the idea of a majority of established novelists or painters working at the “National Institute for Painting and Fine Art” or a university “Department of Creative Composition” seems mildly amusing. By contrast, alarm greets the idea of a creative scientist working at home. A lone scientist is as unusual as a solitary termite and regarded as irresponsible or worse.
Homage to Gala: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 2.
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As a graduate student at Columbia University, I remember the a priori derision of my distinguished stratigraphy professor toward a visiting Australian drifter ... Today my own students would dismiss with even more derision anyone who denied the evident truth of continental drift–a prophetic madman is at least amusing; a superannuated fuddy-duddy is merely pitiful.
…...
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Babbage … gave the name to the [Cambridge] Analytical Society, which he stated was formed to advocate 'the principles of pure d-ism as opposed to the dot-age of the university.'
History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 451.
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Basic research at universities comes in two varieties: research that requires big bucks and research that requires small bucks. Big bucks research is much like government research and in fact usually is government research but done for the government under contract. Like other government research, big bucks academic research is done to understand the nature and structure of the universe or to understand life, which really means that it is either for blowing up the world or extending life, whichever comes first. Again, that's the government's motivation. The universities' motivation for conducting big bucks research is to bring money in to support professors and graduate students and to wax the floors of ivy-covered buildings. While we think they are busy teaching and learning, these folks are mainly doing big bucks basic research for a living, all the while priding themselves on their terrific summer vacations and lack of a dress code.
Smalls bucks research is the sort of thing that requires paper and pencil, and maybe a blackboard, and is aimed primarily at increasing knowledge in areas of study that don't usually attract big bucks - that is, areas that don't extend life or end it, or both. History, political science, and romance languages are typically small bucks areas of basic research. The real purpose of small bucks research to the universities is to provide a means of deciding, by the quality of their small bucks research, which professors in these areas should get tenure.
Accidental Empires (1992), 78.
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Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.
In Lincoln Lecture (1880), in Abraham Lincoln: A Lecture (1895), 46.
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During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. At school the boy painfully rises from the particular towards glimpses at general ideas; at the University he should start from general ideas and study their applications to concrete cases.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 26.
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Hitler destroyed the German university with design; we destroyed ours without.
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I believe [the Department of Energy] should be judged not by the money we direct to a particular State or district, company, university or national lab, but by the character of our decisions. The Department of Energy serves the country as a Department of Science, a Department of Innovation, and a Department of Nuclear Security.
In letter (1 Feb 2013) to Energy Department employees announcing his decision not to serve a second term.
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Srinivasa Ramanujan quote: I have not trodden through a conventional university course, but I am striking out a new path for mys
I have not trodden through a conventional university course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as “startling.”
First letter to G.H. Hardy (16 Jan 1913). In Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxiii. Hardy notes he did “seem to remember his telling me that his friends had given him some assistance” in writing the letter because Ramanujan's “knowledge of English, at that stage of his life, could scarcely have been sufficient.”
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I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or the Moon or my glass [telescope].
Opere ed Nas. X, 423. As cited in Alan Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 99. Galileo wished others to use his telescope to see for themselves the moons of Jupiter which he had himself first seen in Jan 1610. If you have a primary source for this letter giving the date it was written, please contact Webmaster.
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In a University we are especially bound to recognise not only the unity of science itself, but the communion of the workers in science. We are too apt to suppose that we are congregated here merely to be within reach of certain appliances of study, such as museums and laboratories, libraries and lecturers, so that each of us may study what he prefers. I suppose that when the bees crowd round the flowers it is for the sake of the honey that they do so, never thinking that it is the dust which they are carrying from flower to flower which is to render possible a more splendid array of flowers, and a busier crowd of bees, in the years to come. We cannot, therefore, do better than improve the shining hour in helping forward the cross-fertilization of the sciences.
'The Telephone', Nature, 15, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 743-4.
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Industry is far more efficient than the university in making use of scientific developments for the public good.
Reported in 1981, as a co-founder of Genentech, Inc., a company to offer gene-splicing products.
'Shaping Life in the Lab'. In Time (9 Mar 1981).
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Let it be understood that the University is a preparatory school: it is life that gives you the “finals”—not college.
Aphorism in The Philistine (Dec 1904), 20, No. 1, 30.
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Mr. Hillaire Belloc has pointed out that science has changed greatly, and for the worse, since it became popular. Some hundred years ago, or more, only very unusual, highly original spirits were attracted to science at all; scientific work was therefore carried out by men of exceptional intelligence. Now, scientists are turned out by mass production in our universities.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 23-24.
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My interest in chemistry was started by reading Robert Kennedy Duncan’s popular books while a high school student in Des Moines, Iowa, so that after some delay when it was possible for me to go to college I had definitely decided to specialize in chemistry.
Letter (4 Apr 1932) to Pauline G. Beery. Hagley Museum and Library Collection, Wilmington, Delaware. 1784.) As cited in Matthew E. Hermes, Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon (1996), 13.
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Not long ago the head of what should be a strictly scientific department in one of the major universities commented on the odd (and ominous) phenomenon that persons who can claim to be scientists on the basis of the technical training that won them the degree of Ph.D. are now found certifying the authenticity of the painted rag that is called the “Turin Shroud” or adducing “scientific” arguments to support hoaxes about the “paranormal” or an antiquated religiosity. “You can hire a scientist [sic],” he said, “to prove anything.” He did not adduce himself as proof of his generalization, but he did boast of his cleverness in confining his own research to areas in which the results would not perturb the Establishment or any vociferous gang of shyster-led fanatics. If such is indeed the status of science and scholarship in our darkling age, Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
…...
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Physick, says Sydenham, is not to bee learned by going to Universities, but hee is for taking apprentices; and says one had as good send a man to Oxford to learn shoemaking as practising physick.
Diary of the Rev. John Ward, M. A. (1648-1769), ed. Charles Severn (1839), 242.
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The best part of working at a university is the students. They come in fresh, enthusiastic, open to ideas, unscarred by the battles of life. They don't realize it, but they're the recipients of the best our society can offer. If a mind is ever free to be creative, that's the time. They come in believing textbooks are authoritative but eventually they figure out that textbooks and professors don't know everything, and then they start to think on their own. Then, I begin learning from them.
As quoted in autobiography of Stephen Chu in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 120.
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The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes. And since the tempo of the production of the literate is continually increasing, the prospect is of ever-swelling bureaucracies.
In 'Scribe, Writer, and Rebel', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 109.
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The Johns Hopkins University certifies that John Wentworth Doe does not know anything but Biochemistry. Please pay no attention to any pronouncements he may make on any other subject, particularly when he joins with others of his kind to save the world from something or other. However, he worked hard for this degree and is potentially a most valuable citizen. Please treat him kindly.
[An imaginary academic diploma reworded to give a more realistic view of the value of the training of scientists.]
'Our Splintered Learning and the Nature of Scientists', Science (15 Apr 1955), 121, 516.
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The new appears as a minority point of view, and hence is unpopular. The function of a university is to give it a sanctuary.
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The rigid career path of a professor at a modern university is that One Must Build the Big Research Group, recruit doctoral students more vigorously than the head football coach, bombard the federal agencies with grant applications more numerous than the pollen falling from the heavens in spring, and leave the paper writing and the research to the postdocs, research associates, and students who do all the bench work and all the computer programming. A professor is chained to his previous topics by his Big Group, his network of contacts built up laboriously over decades, and the impossibility of large funding except in areas where the grantee has grown the group from a corner of the building to an entire floor. The senior tenure-track faculty at a research university–the “silverbacks” in anthropological jargon–are bound by invisible chains stronger than the strongest steel to a narrow range of what the Prevailing Consensus agrees are Very Important Problems. The aspiring scientist is confronted with the reality that his mentors are all business managers.
In his Foreword to Cornelius Lanczos, Discourse on Fourier Series, ix-x.
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The task of a university is to weld together imagination and experience.
In Aims of Education (1929), 140.
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The technical genius which could find answers … was not cooped up in military or civilian bureaucracy, but was to be found in universities and in the people at large.
Quoted by Theodore von Karman, The Wind and Beyond: Theodore von Karman, Pioneer in Aviation and Pathfinder in Science (1967), 268. As cited in Office of Air Force History, Harnessing the Genie: Science and Technology Forecasting for the Air Force 1944-1986 (1988), 186. Arnold was expressing the value of a balance between independent and government science.
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The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively. At least, this is the function which it should perform for society. A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence. This atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration, transforms knowledge. A fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested with all its possibilities. It is no longer a bur. den on the memory: it is energising as the poet of our dreams, and as the architect of our purposes.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 93.
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The University is a Mecca to which students come with something less than perfect faith. It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.
From The Ascent of Man (1973,2011), 275.
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The university is the archive of the Western mind, it's the keeper of the Western culture, ... the guardian of our heritage, the teacher of our teachers, ... the dwelling place of the free mind.
In speech at the fourth bicentennial Conference of Columbia University, quoted in 'Text of Adlai Stevenson's Address at Columbia...', in New York Times (6 Jun 1954), 52.
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The University of Cambridge, in accordance with that law of its evolution, by which, while maintaining the strictest continuity between the successive phases of its history, it adapts itself with more or less promptness to the requirements of the times, has lately instituted a course of Experimental Physics.
'Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics', (1871). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 241.Course;Experiment;Cambridge;History;Promptness;Adapt;Requirement
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The university’s business is the conservation of useless knowledge; and what the university itself apparently fails to see is that this enterprise is not only noble but indispensable as well, that society can not exist unless it goes on.
…...
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There is a story that once, not long after he came to Berlin, Planck forgot which room had been assigned to him for a lecture and stopped at the entrance office of the university to find out. Please tell me, he asked the elderly man in charge, 'In which room does Professor Planck lecture today?' The old man patted him on the shoulder 'Don't go there, young fellow,' he said 'You are much too young to understand the lectures of our learned Professor Planck'.
Anonymous
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics: Physicists and the Quantum Theory (1987), 46.
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There is a tolerably general agreement about what a university is not. It is not a place of professional education.
Address (Feb 1867) to the University of St. Andrews upon inauguration as Rector. The Living Age (16 Mar 1867), 92, 643.
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There is no Professor of Wit at either University. Surely they might as reasonably have a professor of wit as of poetry.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 221.
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They hold that the function of universities is to make learning repellent and thus to prevent its becoming dangerously common. And they discharge this beneficent function all the more efficiently because they do it unconsciously and automatically. The professors think they are advancing healthy intellectual assimilation and digestion when they are in reality little better than cancer on the stomach.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 32.
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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This was what the universities were turning out nowadays. The science-is-a-sacred-cow boys. People who believe you could pour mankind into a test-tube and titrate it, and come up with all the answers to the problems of the human race.
The Day the World Ended (1953). Quoted in Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations (2005), 320-321.
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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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We are in the presence of a recruiting drive systematically and deliberately undertaken by American business, by American universities, and to a lesser extent, American government, often initiated by talent scouts specially sent over here to buy British brains and preempt them for service of the U.S.A. … I look forward earnestly to the day when some reform of the American system of school education enables them to produce their own scientists so that, in an amiable free trade of talent, there may be adequate interchange between our country and theirs, and not a one-way traffic.
Speaking as Britain's Minister of Science in the House of Lords (27 Feb 1963). In 'The Manhunters: British Minister Blames American Recruiters for Emigration of Scientists', Science Magazine (8 Mar 1963), 893. See also the reply from the leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson, by using the link below.
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We have corrupted the term research to mean study and experiment and development toward selected objectives, and we have even espoused secret and classified projects. This was not the old meaning of university research. We need a new term, or the revival of a still older one, to refer to the dedicated activities of the scholar, the intensive study of special aspects of a subject for its own sake, motivated by the love of knowledge and truth.
In 'Technology and National Research Policy', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Oct 1953), 292.
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We must protect each other against the attacks of those self-appointed watchdogs of patriotism now abroad in the land who irresponsibly pin red labels on anyone whom they wish to destroy. ... [Academic professionals are the only person competant to differentiate between honest independents and the Communists.] This is our responsibility. It is not a pleasant task. But if it is left to outsiders, the distinction is not likely to be made and those independent critics of social institutions among us who are one of the glories of a true university could be silenced.
As quoted by William L. Laurence in 'Professors Urged to Guard Freedom', New York Times (19 Sep 1952), 17.
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We thought of universities as the cathedrals of the modern world. In the middle ages, the cathedral was the center and symbol of the city. In the modern world, its place could be taken by the university.
L.A. Times (21 Jul 1999)
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We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.
From First Inaugural Address (20 Jan 2009)
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When I came back from Munich, it was September, and I was Professor of Mathematics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Later I learned that I had been the Department’s third choice, after two numerical analysts had turned the invitation down; the decision to invite me had not been an easy one, on the one hand because I had not really studied mathematics, and on the other hand because of my sandals, my beard and my ‘arrogance’ (whatever that may be).
…...
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[Before the time of Benjamin Peirce it never occurred to anyone that mathematical research] was one of the things for which a mathematical department existed. Today it is a commonplace in all the leading universities. Peirce stood alone—a mountain peak whose absolute height might be hard to measure, but which towered above all the surrounding country.
In 'The Story of Mathematics at Harvard', Harvard Alumni Bulletin (3 Jan 1924), 26, 376. Cited by R. C. Archibald in 'Benjamin Peirce: V. Biographical Sketch', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 10.
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[Having already asserted his opposition to communism in every respect by signing the regents' oath, his answer to a question why a non-Communist professor should refuse to take a non-Communist oath as a condition of University employment was that to do so would imply it was] up to an accused person to clear himself. ... That sort of thing is going on in Washington today and is a cause of alarm to thoughtful citizens. It is the method used in totalitarian countries. It sounds un-American to people who don’t like to be pushed around. If someone says I ought to do a certain thing the burden should be on him to show I why I should, not on me to show why I should not.
As quoted in 'Educator Scores Oath For Faculty', New York Times (16 Apr 1950), 31.
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[Receiving a university scholarship] was fundamentally important to me, to be able to afford going to school, and I still believe so strongly in the value of public education and state-funded universities.
As quoted in Anna Azvolinsky, 'Fearless About Folding', The Scientist (Jan 2016).
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[The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946),
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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 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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