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Laboratories and Experiments


A neat and orderly laboratory is unlikely. It is, after all, so much a place of false starts and multiple attempts.
     Isaac Asimov


Experimentation is the least arrogant method of gaining knowledge. The experimenter humbly asks a question of nature.
     Isaac Asimov


Scientific apparatus offers a window to knowledge, but as they grow more elaborate, scientists spend ever more time washing the windows.
     Isaac Asimov


To test a perfect theory with imperfect instruments did not impress the Greek philosophers as a valid way to gain knowledge.
     Isaac Asimov


The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
     Roger Bacon


Put off your imagination, as you put off your overcoat, when you enter the laboratory. But put it on again, as you put on your overcoat, when you leave.
     Claude Bernard


We must never make experiments to confirm our ideas, but simply to control them.
     Claude Bernard


A first-rate laboratory is one in which mediocre scientists can produce outstanding work.
     Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett


Nobody has yet devised an experiment to show the effect on rats of living my life.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Again the message to experimentalists is: Be sensible but don’t be impressed too much by negative arguments. If at all possible, try it and see what turns up. Theorists almost always dislike this sort of approach.
     Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal 
     View of Scientific Discovery


The observer listens to nature: the experimenter questions and forces her to reveal herself.
     Georges Cuvier


Experience does not ever err, it is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.
     Leonardo da Vinci; quoted in Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983)


I love fools' experiments. I am always making them.
     Charles Darwin, in Francis Darwin (ed.), 
     Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887)


Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.
     Emily Dickinson, Poems, Second Series, xxx (ca. 1880)


The experiment serves two purposes, often independent one from the other: it allows the observation of new facts, hitherto either unsuspected, or not yet well defined; and it determines whether a working hypothesis fits the world of observable facts.
     RenÚ J. Dubos


A theory can be proved by experiment; but no path leads from experiment to the birth of a theory.
     Albert Einstein


A natural law regulates the advance of science. Where only observation can be made, the growth of knowledge creeps; where laboratory experiments can be carried on, knowledge leaps forward.
     Michael Faraday


Science is distinguished not for asserting that nature is rational, but for constantly testing claims to that or any other affect by observation and experiment.
     Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State-
     of-the-Universe(s) Report


Rutherford had no reason to expect such a spectacular effect, but he had done what many scientists with a good experimental instinct do; that is, to try something that could be important if it worked, and not bothering too much about whether it was actually likely to work. The less likely an experiment is to work, the more significant the result is likely to be. In this case, the result was very significant, and led Rutherford to develop the modern picture of the atom, with the "haze of positive charge" actually concentrated as a central lump (the atomic nucleus), substantial enough to deflect alpha-particles that approach too closely.
     Len Fisher, How to Dunk a Doughnut:
     The Science of Everyday Life


Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?
     Victor Hugo, Les MisÚrables (1862)


The farther an experiment is from theory, the closer it is to the Nobel Prize.
     Irene Joliot-Curie


We must trust to nothing but facts: these are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.
     Antoine Lavoisier


Colleague reader, please read this to your uncertain teenager con brio! Tell him or her that (1) experiments often fail, and (2) they don't always fail.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question?
(with Dick Teresi, 1993)


Science is based on a fundamental insight — that the degree to which an idea seems true has nothing to do with whether it is true, and the way to distinguish factual ideas from false ones is to test them by experiment.
     Elizabeth Loftus, “Who is the Cat That Curiosity Killed?” 
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec 1998, p. 60)


All experimentation is criticism. If an experiment does not hold out the possibility of causing one to revise one’s views, it is hard to see why it should be done at all.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)


In the late 1950s a small number of scientists were conducting research with a recently invented device called the maser which was used to produce microwaves. The letters that made up the word stood for "Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation." At least that was the official version; according to a joke current at the time, they really stood for "Money Acquisition Scheme for Expensive Research."
     Richard Morris


It is the weight, not numbers of experiments that is to be regarded.
     Isaac Newton


That man can interrogate as well as observe nature was a lesson slowly learned in his evolution.
     Sir William Osler


Oh, the serene peace of the laboratories and the libraries.
     Louis Pasteur


Without laboratories men of science are soldiers without arms.
     Louis Pasteur


There is no experiment to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.
     Joshua Reynolds


The Physicist's Code: A single good observation is worth a century of bad philosophy.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From 
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond


Principle of Magnification: New discoveries follow on the heels of new equipment.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From 
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond


You know, I am sorry for the poor fellows that haven't got labs to work in.
     Ernest Rutherford


If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.
     Ernest Rutherford


Wherever possible, scientists experiment. Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail. Scientists are intent of testing those theories to the breaking point. They do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious. That there is such a place as the center of the Universe, and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious. That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science 
     As A Candle in the Dark


The instruments of modern science have provided us with greatly enhanced capabilities for gathering data about the universe. With our microscopes, telescopes, and particle detectors, we are no longer bound by the limitations of human sensory apparatus or of our confinement to this tiny planet. And we have learned to rely more on the rational interpretation of the reading of these instruments than on preconceived notions based on everyday experience.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The 
     Search for a World Beyond the Senses


It appears that anything you say about the way that theory and experiment may interact is likely to be correct, and anything you say about the way that theory and experiment must interact is likely to be wrong.
     Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's 
     Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature