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Cheap Thoughts on Science




It startled him even more when just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn't stand was a smart-ass.
     Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)


"You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you're a fool."
     Wonko the Sane in Douglas Adams, 
     So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (1985)


I'm convinced that a controlled disrespect for authority is essential to a scientist. All the good experimental physicists I have known have had an intense curiosity that no Keep Out sign could mute. Physicists do, of course, show a healthy respect for High Voltage, Radiation, and Liquid Hydrogen signs. They are not reckless. I can think of only six who have been killed on the job.
     Luis Walter Alvarez, Adventures of a Physicist


There is no democracy is physics. We can't say that some second-rate guy has as much right to an opinion as Fermi.
     Luis Walter Alvarez, in D. S. Greenberg, 
     The Politics of Pure Science (1967)


[Richard P.] Feynman's cryptic remark, "no one is that much smarter . . .," to me, implies something Feynman kept emphasizing: that the key to his achievements was not anything "magical" but the right attitude, the focus on nature's reality, the focus on asking the right questions, the willingness to try (and to discard) unconventional answers, the sensitive ear for phoniness, self-deception, bombast, and conventional but unproven assumptions.
     P. W. Anderson, review of James Gleick's 
     Genius, Science, 1993, 259, 22


To get to know, to discover, to publish — this is the destiny of a scientist.
     François Arago


Give me a firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth [with the lever].


Eureka! [I have found!]


A scientist is as weak and human as any man, but the pursuit of science may ennoble him even against his will.
     Isaac Asimov


During the century after Newton, it was still possible for a man of unusual attainments to master all fields of scientific knowledge. But by 1800, this had become entirely impracticable.
     Isaac Asimov


Pierre Curie, a brilliant scientist, happened to marry a still more brilliant one — Marie, the famous Madame Curie — and is the only great scientist in history who is consistently identified as the husband of someone else.
     Isaac Asimov


When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right. [Comment on Clarke's First Law]
     Isaac Asimov (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1977)


The man of science appears to be the only man who has something to say, just now — and the only man who does not know how to say it.
     Sir James M. Barrie, quoted in Applied Physics, 1963, 2, 973


Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.
     Bernard Baruch


Science progresses not because scientists as a whole are passionately open-minded but because different scientists are passionately closed-minded about different things.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


The investigator should have a robust faith — and yet not believe.
     Claude Bernard


The true worth of an experimenter consists in his pursuing not only what he seeks in his experiment, but also what he did not seek.
     Claude Bernard


Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.
     Niels Bohr, New York Times Book 
     Review (October 20, 1957)


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.
     Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973)


The scientist is a lover of truth for the very love of truth itself, wherever it may lead.
     Luther Burbank


The truth is, Pavlov's dog trained Pavlov to ring his bell just before the dog salivated.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life — so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.
     Matt Cartmill


A scientific autobiography belongs to a most awkward literary genre. If the difficulties facing a man trying to record his life are great — and few have overcome them successfully — they are compounded in the case of scientists, of whom many lead monotonous and uneventful lives and who, besides, often do not know how to write . . .
     Erwin Chargaff, Science, 1968, 1448, clix


Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
     Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future (1962; rev. 1973)
          [see also comment by Asimov, 1977]


The Republic has no need of scientists.
     Jean Baptiste Coffinhal, ordering the execution of the 
     French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, May 1794
          [see also Joseph LaGrange]


The first man of science was he who looked into a thing, not to learn whether it furnished him with food, or shelter, or weapons, or tools, armaments, or playwiths but who sought to know it for the gratification of knowing.
     Samuel Taylor Coleridge


A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that . . . he is going to be a beginner all his life.
     R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan (1942)


In the long run it pays the scientist to be honest, not only by not making false statements, but by giving full expression to facts that are opposed to his views. Moral slovenliness is visited with far severer penalties in the scientific than in the business world.
     F. Cramer


Galvani was mistaken about the amount of electricity in frogs, but he had some good ideas, too, for the galvanometer is named in his honor, and you don't have galvanometers named after you merely for making a mistake about a frog.
     Will Cuppy


There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down error instead of establishing the truth.
     Marie [Sklodowska] Curie


I have long discovered that geologists never read each other's works, and that the only object in writing a book is a proof of earnestness.
     Charles Darwin


Scientists are funny people. Not just the great ones who think they've discovered the secret of life or of the brain or of the common cold. Even ordinary day-to-day scientists are funny, because they all think that the world makes sense! Most people know better.
     Betsy Divine & Joel E. Cohen, Absolute Zero Gravity: 
     Science Jokes, Quotes, and Anecdotes (1992)


The average student emerges at the end of the Ph.D. program, already middle-aged, overspecialized, poorly prepared for the world outside, and almost unemployable except in a narrow area of specialization. Large numbers of students for whom the program is inappropriate are trapped in it, because the Ph.D. has become a union card required for entry into the scientific job market.
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)
     "To Teach or Not to Teach" (1990)


We would be watching the fish, who in turn would watch us; meanwhile, the team of psychologists would watch us watching the fish, and using a special two-way television monitoring system, we could watch ourselves watch the watchers while they watched us watching them — and the fish. That was okay, part of the program. Being watched by various media representatives was something else.
     Sylvia A. Earle, Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans (1995)


Einstein was attending a music salon in Germany before the second world war, with the violinist S. Suzuki. Two Japanese women played a German piece of music and a woman in the audience exclaimed: "How wonderful! It sounds so German!" Einstein responded: "Madam, people are all the same."
     Albert Einstein


For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.
     Albert Einstein


... one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.
     Albert Einstein


There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
     Albert Einstein


It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth . . . was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the "merely personal," from an existence which is dominated by wishes, hopes and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us as human beings and which stands before us like a great eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in devoted occupation with it. . . . The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise, but it has proved itself as trustworthy, and I have never regretted having chosen it.
     Albert Einstein, Autobiographical Notes


Fermi was asked what characteristics physics Nobelists had in common. He answered, "I cannot think of a single one, not even intelligence."
     Enrico Fermi


I am Professor Feynman, in spite of this suit-coat. I usually give lectures in shirtsleeves, but when I started out of the hotel this morning my wife said, "You must wear a suit." I said, "But I usually give lectures in shirtsleeves." She said, "Yes, but this time you don't know what you're talking about so you had better make a good impression. . . . ." So, I got a coat.
     Richard Feynman, "What Is and What Should Be the Role of Scientific 
     Culture in Modern Society" (Galileo Symposium, Italy, 1964)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short 
     Works of Richard P. Feynman
(Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


I've always been very one-sided about science and when I was younger I concentrated almost all my effort on it. I didn't have time to learn and I didn't have much patience with what's called the humanities, even though in the university there were humanities that you had to take. I tried my best to avoid somehow learning anything and working at it. It was only afterwards, when I got older, that I got more relaxed, that I've spread out a little bit. I've learned to draw and I read a little bit, but I'm really still a very one-sided person and I don't know a great deal. I have a limited intelligence and I use it in a particular direction.
     Richard Feynman, "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" 
     (interview, BBC, Horizon, 1981; shown in US on Nova)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short 
     Works of Richard P. Feynman
(Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said "Look at how pretty the stars shine!" He said, "Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine." She merely laughed at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man who, at that moment, knew why stars shine. Well, it is sad to be alone, but that is the way it is in this world.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher (1995)
     "The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences"


The real accomplishment of modern science and technology consists in taking ordinary men, informing them narrowly and deeply and then, through appropriate organization, arranging to have their knowledge combined with that of other specialized but equally ordinary men. This dispenses with the need for genius. The resulting performance, though less inspiring, is far more predictable.
     John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State (1967)


Children and scientists share an outlook on life. If I do this, what will happen? is both the motto of the child at play and the defining refrain of the physical scientist. ... The unfamiliar and the strange — these are the domain of all children and scientists.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)


In a private moment a reporter for Time made a suggestion he loved: that he simply say, "Listen, buddy, if I could tell you in a minute what I did, it wouldn't be worth the Nobel Prize."
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)


Scientists still ask the what if questions. What if Edison had not invented the electric light — how much longer would it have taken? What if Heisenberg had not invented the S matrix? What if Fleming had not discovered penicillin? Or (the king of such questions) what if Einstein had not invented general relativity? "I always find questions like that ... odd," Feynman wrote to a correspondent who posed one. Science tends to be created as it is needed. "We are not that much smarter than each other," he said.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)
          [see also Anderson, 1993]


A science is any discipline in which the fool of his generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation.
     Max Gluckman, Politics, Law and Ritual (1965)


As for what I have done as a poet, I take no pride in whatever. Excellent poets have lived at the same time with me, poets more excellent lived before me, and others will come after me. But that in my country I am the only person who knows the truth in the difficult science of colors — of that, I say, I am not a little proud, and here have a consciousness of superiority to many.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


There is no truth beyond magic ... reality is strange. Many people think reality is prosaic. I don't. We don't explain things away in science. We get closer to the mystery.
     Brian Goodwin, quoted by Roger Lewin in Complexity (1992)


Every student who enters upon a scientific pursuit, especially if at a somewhat advanced period of life, will find not only that he has much to learn, but much also to unlearn.
     Sir John Herschel


The caricature of the nerdy scientist in his/her lab coat, complete with pocket protector, uttering incomprehensible jargon is bad enough. But the implied character of the person behind the wardrobe is worse: strait-jacketed by conservatism, too quick to demand hard data, hell-bent on reducing life's mysteries to uninteresting sets of numbers and graphs. Mysteries aren't reduced by science — they take their place in grander landscapes. They are made elegant. The truth is that scientists love a mystery as much as anyone (it's their business to chase mysteries after all) even when, as in this case, there is almost no chance it will be solved. Why? Because it's intriguing, challenging, and fun.
     Jay Ingram, The Barmaid's Brain and other 
     Strange Tales from Science (1998)
     "The Burning Mirrors of Syracuse"


Knowledge is an attitude, a passion, actually an illicit attitude. For the compulsion to know is just like dipsomania, erotomania, homicidal mania, in producing a character that is out of balance. It is not at all true that the scientist goes after truth. It goes after him.
     Søren Kierkegaard


Although the universe is under no obligation to make sense, students in pursuit of the Ph.D. are.
     Robert P. Kirshner, "Exploding Stars and the Expanding Universe," 
     Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1991, 32, 233-244


It required only a moment to sever that head, but a century will not be sufficient to produce another like it.
     Joseph LaGrange, on the guillotining of Antoine Lavoisier in 1794


Physicists today feel the same emotions that scientists have felt for centuries. The life of a physicist is filled with anxiety, pain, hardship, tension, attacks of hopelessness, depression, and discouragement. But these are punctuated by flashes of exhilaration, laughter, joy, and exultation. These epiphanies come at unpredictable times. Often they are generated simply by the sudden understanding of something new and important, something beautiful, that someone else has revealed. However, if you are mortal, like most of the scientists I know, the far sweeter moments come when you yourself discover some new fact about the universe. It's astonishing how often this happens at 3 A.M., when you are alone in the lab and you have learned something profound, and you realize that not one of the other five billion people on earth knows what you now know. Or so you hope. You will, of course, hasten to tell them as soon as possible. This is known as "publishing."
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


The sequence of theorist, experimenter, and discovery has occasionally been compared to the sequence of farmer, pig, truffle. The farmer leads the pig to an area where there might be truffles. The pig searches diligently for the truffles. Finally, he locates one, and just as he is about to devour it, the farmer snatches it away.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


Today we have two groups of physicists both with the common aim of understanding the universe but with a large difference in cultural outlook, skills, and work habits. Theorists tend to come in late to work, attend grueling symposiums on Greek islands or Swiss mountaintops, take real vacations, and are at home to take out the garbage much more frequently. They tend to worry about insomnia. ... Experimenters don't come in late — they never went home. During an intense period of lab work, the outside world vanishes and the obsession is total. Sleep is when you can curl up on the accelerator floor for an hour.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


When I talk about the pain and hardship of a scientist's life, I'm speaking of more than existential angst. Galileo's work was condemned by the Church; Madame Curie paid with her life, a victim of leukemia wrought by radiation poisoning. Too many of us develop cataracts. None of us gets enough sleep. Most of what we know about the universe we know thanks to a lot of guys (and ladies) who stayed up late at night.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


A scientist's life, the author says, is indeed conflictual, formed by battles, defeats, and victories: but the adversary is always and only the unknown, the problem to be solved, the mystery to be clarified. It is never a matter of civil war; even though of different opinions, or of different political leanings, scientists dispute each other, they compete, but they do not battle: they are bound together by a strong alliance, by the common faith "in the validity of Maxwell's or Boltzmann's equations," and by the common acceptance of Darwinism and the molecular structure of DNA.
     Primo Levi, The Mirror Maker (1989)
     "Bacteria Roulette" (June 6, 1985)


The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he's one who asks the right questions.
     Claude Lévi-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit (1964)


The scientist is a practical man and his are practical (i.e., practically attainable) aims. He does not seek the ultimate but the proximate. He does not speak of the last analysis but rather of the next approximation. His are not those beautiful structures so delicately designed that a single flaw may cause the collapse of the whole. The scientist builds slowly and with a gross but solid kind of masonry. If dissatisfied with any of his work, even if it be near the very foundations, he can replace that part without damage to the remainder. On the whole he is satisfied with his work, for while science may never be wholly right it certainly is never wholly wrong; and it seems to be improving from decade to decade.
     Gilbert Newton Lewis


It is a good morning exercise for a research scientists to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young.
     Konrad Lorenz


A scientist's biographer deals with much duller material than does a chronicler of Kings . . . I have found most biographies of scientists remarkably uninteresting and their autobiographies even more so . . .
     Salvador Luria


How can we have any new ideas or fresh outlooks when 90 per cent of all the scientists who have ever lived have still not died?
     Alan Lindsay Mackay, Scientific World 1969, 13, 17-21


To be creative, scientists need libraries and laboratories and the company of other scientists; certainly a quiet and untroubled life is a help. A scientist's work is in no way deepened or made more cogent by privation, anxiety, distress, or emotional harassment. To be sure, the private lives of scientists may be strangely and even comically mixed up, but not in ways that have any special bearing n the nature and quality of their work. If a scientist were to cut off an ear, no one would interpret such an action as evidence of an unhappy torment of creativity; nor will a scientist be excused any bizarrerie, however extravagant, on the grounds that he is a scientist, however brilliant.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)


There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics. What sort of mind or temperament can all these people be supposed to have in common? Obligative scientists must be very rare, and most people who are in fact scientists could easily have been something else instead.
     Peter Medawar, "Hypothesis and Imagination" 
     (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963)


Simultaneous discovery is utterly commonplace, and it was only the rarity of scientists, not the inherent improbability of the phenomenon, that made it remarkable in the past. Scientists on the same road may be expected to arrive at the same destination, often not far apart.
     Peter Medawar, "The Act of Creation" 
     (New Statesman, 19 June 1964)


Scientists are entitled to be proud of their accomplishments, and what accomplishments can they call 'theirs' except the things they have done or thought of first? People who criticize scientists for wanting to enjoy the satisfaction of intellectual ownership are confusing possessiveness with pride of possession. Meanness, secretiveness and, sharp practice are as much despised by scientists as by other decent people in the world of ordinary everyday affairs; nor, in my experience, is generosity less common among them, or less highly esteemed.
     Peter Medawar, "Lucky Jim" (New York 
     Review of Books
, 28 March 1968)

But Watson had one towering advantage over all of them [i.e., his classmates in other disciplines]: in addition to being extremely clever he had something important to be clever about. This is an advantage which scientists enjoy over most other people engaged in intellectual pursuits, and they enjoy it at all levels of capability. To be a first-rate scientist it is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) to be extremely clever, anyhow in a pyrotechnic sense. One of the great social revolutions brought about by scientific research has been the democratization of learning. Anyone who combines strong common sense with an ordinary degree of imaginativeness can become a creative scientist, and a happy one besides, in so far as happiness depends upon being able to develop to the limit of one's abilities.
     Peter Medawar, "Lucky Jim" (New York 
     Review of Books
, 28 March 1968)


Watson's childlike vision makes them seem like the creatures of a Wonderland, all at a strange contentious noisy tea-party which made room for him because for people like him, at this particular kind of party, there is always room.
     Peter Medawar, "Lucky Jim" (New York 
     Review of Books
, 28 March 1968)


A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.
     Peter and Jean Medawar, Aristotle to Zoos: 
     A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology (1985)


I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
     Isaac Newton, in David Brewster, Memoirs of the Life, 
     Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (1855)


In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.
     Sir William Osler


Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies in my tenacity.
     Louis Pasteur


When you believe you have found an important scientific fact, and are feverishly curious to publish it, constrain yourself for days, weeks, years sometimes, fight yourself, try and ruin your own experiments, and only proclaim your discovery after having exhausted all contrary hypotheses. But when, after so many efforts you have at last arrived at a certainty, your joy is one of the greatest which can be felt by a human soul.
     Louis Pasteur


Scientists have a strong urge to write papers but only a relatively mild one to read them.
     Dereck de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science


I think physicists are the Peter Pans of the human race. They never grow up, and they keep their curiosity.
     Isidor Isaac Rabi


The scientist does not defy the universe. He accepts it. It is his dish to savor, his realm to explore; it is his adventure and never-ending delight. It is complaisant and elusive but never dull. It is wonderful both in the small and in the large. In short, its exploration is the highest occupation for a gentleman.
     Isidor Isaac Rabi


There isn't a scientific community. It is a culture. It is a very undisciplined organisation.
     Isidor Isaac Rabi, in D. S. Greenberg, 
     The Politics of Pure Science (1967)


That science can be a refuge from the world is a conviction common among men and women who turn to it. Abraham Pais remarks that Einstein "once commented that he had sold himself body and soul to science, being in flight from the 'I' and the 'we' to the 'it.'" But science as a means of escaping from the familiar world of birth and childhood and language when that world mounts an overwhelming threat — science as a way out, a portable culture, an international fellowship and the only abiding certitude — must become a more desperate and therefore a more total dependency.
     Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)


The boy and the young man rebelled to protect the child within — the "victorious child," Erik Erikson has it in Einstein's case, the child with its uninhibited creativity preserved into adulthood. Einstein grazes the point in a letter to James Franck:
     "I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up."
     Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)


It makes no sense to complain about a lack of imagination in scientists when their failure is simply that they cannot make the world be what it is not, and they cannot make the world do what it cannot do.
     Milton A. Rothman, The Science Gap: Dispelling the Myths 
     and Understanding the Reality of Science (1992)


I've just been reading some of my early papers and you know, when I'd finished, I said to myself, "Rutherford, my boy, you used to be a damned clever fellow."
     Ernest Rutherford


I am a scientist, a member of a most fortunate species. The lives of most people are filled with ephemera. All too soon, much of humanity becomes mired in the tepid tracks of their short lives. But a happy few of us have the privilege to live with and explore the eternal.
     Robert L. Sinsheimer, in The Strands of a Life: 
     The Science of DNA and the Art of Education


If I set out to prove something, I am no real scientist — I have to learn to follow where the facts lead me — I have to learn to whip my prejudices.
     Lazzaro Spallanzani


Insufficient data is not sufficient, Mr. Spock. You're the Science Officer, you're supposed to have sufficient data all the time.
     Captain Kirk, "The Immunity Syndrome"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"You got a better idea?"
"I'm the Science Officer. It's my job to have a better idea."
     Kira and Dax, "Paradise"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


The design of a book is the pattern of a reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer. This is completely understood about poetry or fiction, but it is too seldom realized about books of fact. And yet the impulse which drives a man to poetry will send another man into the tide pools and force him to try to report what he finds there. Why is an expedition to Tibet undertaken, or a sea bottom dredged? Why do men, sitting at the microscope, examine the calcareous plates of a sea-cucumber, and, finding a new arrangement and number, feel an exaltation and give the new species a name, and write about it possessively? It would be good to know the impulse truly, not to be confused by the "services to science" platitudes or the other little mazes into which we entice our minds so that they will not know what we are doing.
     John Steinbeck, introduction to The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1941, 1951)


There is a curious idea among unscientific men that in scientific writing there is a common plateau of perfectionism. Nothing could be more untrue. The reports of biologists are the measure, not of the science, but of the men themselves. There are as few scientific giants as any other kind. In some reports it is impossible, because of inept expression, to relate the descriptions to the living animals. In some papers collecting places are so mixed or ignored that the animals mentioned cannot be found at all. The same conditioning forces itself into specification as it does into any other kind of observation, and the same faults of carelessness will be found in scientific reports as in the witness chair of a criminal court. It has seemed sometimes that the little men in scientific work assumed the awe-fullness of a priesthood to hide their deficiencies, as the witch-doctor does with his stilts and high masks, as the priesthoods of all cults have, with secret or unfamiliar languages and symbols. It is usually found that only the little stuffy men object to what is called "popularization," by which they mean writing with a clarity understandable to one not familiar with the tricks and codes of the cult. We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields? A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men.
     John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1941, 1951)


The real scientist . . . is ready to bear privations and, if need be, starvation rather than let anyone dictate to him which direction his work must take.
     Albert Szent-Györgi, Science Needs Freedom (1943)


No doubt, a scientist isn't necessarily penalized for being a complex, versatile, eccentric individual with lots of extra-scientific interests. But it certainly doesn't help him a bit.
     Stephen Toulmin, Civilization and Science
     in Conflict or Collaboration (1972)


Great question in science — questions like the ones Herschel raised about the structure of the universe — are seldom answered by ivory-tower types engaging in pure thought. They are answered by people who are willing to get down into the trenches and grapple with nature. If that means casting your own telescope mirrors, as Herschel did, so be it.
     James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God: In Search 
     of the Principle of Universality (1989)


Such is professional jealousy; a scientist will never show any kindness for a theory which he did not start himself. There is no feeling of brotherhood among these people. Indeed, they always resent it when I call them brother. To show how far their ungenerosity can carry them, I will state that I offered to let Prof. H——y publish my great theory as his own discovery; I even begged him to do it; I even proposed to print it myself as his theory. Instead of thanking me, he said that if I tried to fasten that theory on him he would sue me for slander.
     Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (1880)


But that is the way of the scientist. He will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory; then he is so happy in his achievement that as a rule he overlooks the main chief fact of all — that his accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage to him, he does not answer your letters; when you call to convince him, the servant prevaricates and you do not get in. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money of them.
     Mark Twain, "The Bee" (1902?)


That is their way, those plagues, those scientists — peg, peg, peg — dig, dig, dig — plod, plod, plod. I wish I could catch a cargo of them for my place; it would be an economy. Yes, for years, you see. They never give up. Patience, hope, faith, perseverance; it is the way of all the breed.
     Mark Twain, "Sold to Satan" (1904)


The supply of professional astrophysicists in the world has held for some time at a steady ratio of one in a million people, which is not nearly enough.  But it does mean that if you find yourself sitting next to an astrophysicist on the airplane then you had better ask all your pent-up questions about the universe.  You do not know when your next encounter will be.
     Neil de Grasse Tyson, The Sky is Not the Limit: 
          Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist


One had to be a Newton to notice that the moon is falling, when everyone sees that it doesn't fall.
     Paul Valéry


One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.
     James D. Watson


Science has become adult; I am not sure whether scientists have.
     Victor F. Weisskopf, in  A. R. Michaelis & H. Harvey (eds.), 
     Scientists in Search of their Conscience


We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a scientist. [The first use of the word.]
     William Whewell, The Philosophy of the 
     Inductive Sciences (1840, 1847)


Both Newton and Darwin were driven by the data and were forced to recognize that they couldn't explain everything. It may be a characteristic of great scientists to know what to accept and what to leave out.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)


When it was suggested to Pasteur that many of his great achievements depended on luck, he replied — I'm sure with more than a little irritation — 'In the field of observation in science, fortune only favours the prepared mind.' It is not by chance that it is always the great scientists who have the luck.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)


The image of the disinterested, dispassionate scientist is no less false than that of the mad scientist who is willing to destroy the world for knowledge.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)