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Cheap Thoughts on Science


Science and Society


A public that does not understand how science works can, all too easily, fall prey to those ignoramuses . . . who make fun of what they do not understand, or to the sloganeers who proclaim scientists to be the mercenary warriors of today, and the tools of the military. The difference . . . between . . . understanding and not understanding . . . is also the difference between respect and admiration on the one side, and hate and fear on the other.
     Isaac Asimov


Science in the service of humanity is technology, but lack of wisdom may make the service harmful.
     Isaac Asimov


Science must be taught well, if a student is to understand the coming decades he must live through.
     Isaac Asimov


The nations may be divided in everything else, but they all share a single body of science.
     Isaac Asimov


The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
     Isaac Asimov


There is an art to science, and science in art; the two are not enemies, but different aspects of the whole.
     Isaac Asimov


... science must not be viewed as a mysterious black box out of which came toys and goodies, for that way laymen would view scientists as a kind of lab-coated priesthood — and, eventually, fear and hate them.
     Isaac Asimov, "Essay 400 — A Way of Thinking" (with Janet Asimov,
     The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1994)


Science with all its faults has brought education and the arts to more people — a larger percentage — than has ever existed before science. In that respect it is science that is the great humanizer. And, if we are going to solve the problems that science has brought us, it will be done by science and in no other way.
     Isaac Asimov, "Essay 400 — A Way of Thinking" (with Janet Asimov,
     The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1994)


There is no field of experience which cannot, in principle, be brought under some form of scientific law, and no type of speculative knowledge about the world which it is, in principle, beyond the power of science to give.
     A. J. Ayer


... a recent survey, conducted by the National Science Foundation ... showed that the average American does not understand basic scientific principles. Naturally, the news media reported this finding as though it was shocking, which is silly. This is, after all, a nation that has produced tournament bass fishing and the Home Shopping Channel; we should be shocked that the average American still knows how to walk erect.
     Dave Barry, "In a world of scientists, no one really knows
     much of anything" (Dave's World, July 8, 1996)


The point is that no amount of knowledge of or about science in itself causes individuals or groups to make good decisions about the many quandaries of life: humans readily subjugate their knowledge to their wishes, believing and doing what they want, all scientific facts and knowledge notwithstanding.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


Scientific research is an investment in the future; trying to make it pay off quickly is as counterproductive as is, in the economic sphere, skimming wealth from corporations through leveraged buy-outs instead of investing for the long haul. Science is part of humanity's cultural heritage. Being educated in science is as important as being educated in philosophy, or psychology, or foreign languages because without it one is ignorant, a primitive savage rather than a civilized human being. And to be scientifically literate is to understand that.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


Studying science is excellent training for the mind, much better than the classically prescribed study of Latin. When you study science in the right way, you learn about reality therapy; and that is worth applying to other things than science. Science can teach that some things are quite definitely wrong; that knowledge is a much better guide than ignorance; and it can teach humility in posing endless questions to which we have no good answers.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


What is the social value of science? Why should we support it with taxes? Answer: It can keep people honest. Emperors and popes used to insist that people subscribe to lies about the Earth, about the relationships among different sorts of people, and about a lot of other things. They cannot lie to that extent anymore. Science can put and keep politicians and prophets in their proper place, at least over some things.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


In fact, we will have to give up taking things for granted, even the apparently simple things. We have to learn to understand nature and not merely to observe it and endure what it imposes on us. Stupidity, from being an amiable individual defect, has become a social crime.
     John Desmond Bernal, The Origin of Life (1967)


... the first reason for teaching science to non scientists is that many of these nonscientists have a genuine desire to learn about science, and this, after all, is the best reason for teaching anything to anyone.
     Jeremy Bernstein, Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos (1993)
     "Science Education for the Nonscientist"


We live in a complex, dangerous, and fascinating world. Science has played a role in creating the dangers, and one hopes that it will aid in creating ways of dealing with these dangers. But most of these problems cannot, and will not, be dealt with by scientists alone. We need all the help we can get, and this help has got to come from a scientifically literate general public. Ignorance of science and technology is becoming the ultimate self-indulgent luxury.
     Jeremy Bernstein, Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos (1993)
     "Science Education for the Nonscientist"


... the scientist would maintain that knowledge in of itself is wholly good, and that there should be and are methods of dealing with misuses of knowledge by the ruffian or the bully other than by suppressing the knowledge.
     Percy Williams Bridgman


Skepticism is seldom anywhere near as much fun [as magic]. It flies in the face of human nature, especially individual pride and egotism, to switch from flamboyant performance art to a system based on criticism and experimentation . . . in which the theory you hold dearest may come crashing down, and you must smile, hold out your hand, and congratulate the snot-nosed grad student who demolished it. ... Magic may seem the underdog right now, but that is a very recent change, and perhaps illusory. As in the days of the Enlightenment, science is still the true rebel in this play. After countless millennia, human nature is awfully hard to overcome.
     David Brin, Otherness (1994)
     "Science versus Magic" (1990)


We Americans have refined self-righteousness to a high art, cherishing the romantic image of smart outsiders against the establishment. New Age types see themselves as brave truth-seekers, opposed by a rigid technological priesthood. No matter that this priesthood is dedicated to self-criticism, and to sharing whatever they learn. Science represents this era's "establishment," and is therefore automatically suspect.
     David Brin, Otherness (1994)
     "What to Say to a UFO" (1994)


There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns a nation, a civilisation, into a regiment of ghosts — obedient ghosts or tortured ghosts.
It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
     Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'
     I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.
     Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973)


It was as if he [the author of a geology textbook] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable.  As the years passed, I began to suspect that this was not altogether private impulse.  There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.
     I now know that there is a happy abundance of science writers who pen the most lucid and thrilling prose — Timothy Ferris, Richard Fortey, and Tim Flannery are three that jump out from a single station of the alphabet land (that’s not even to mention the late but godlike Richard Feynman) — but sadly none of them wrote any textbook I ever used.  All mine were written by men (it was always men) who held the interesting notion that everything became clear when expressed as a formula and the amusingly deluded belief that the children of America would appreciate having chapters end with a section of questions they could mull over in their own time.  So I grew up convinced that science was supremely dull, but suspecting that it needn’t be, and not really thinking about it at all if I could help it  This, too, became my position for a long time.
     Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)


In science, address the few, in literature, the many. In science, the few must dictate opinion to the many; in literature, the many, sooner or later, force their judgment on the few.
     Edward Bulwer-Lytton


Science doesn't merely empower us, as in seeding better technologies; it also helps prevent trouble in the first place. Knowledge can be like a vaccine, immunizing you against false fears and bad moves.
     William H. Calvin, How Brains Think:
     Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now (1996)


Science bestowed immense new powers on man, and, at the same time, created conditions which were largely beyond his comprehension.
     Sir Winston Churchill


One of the factors, ironically enough, which has contributed to popular willingness to accept the incredible is the success of modern science. Because so many technical marvels have been achieved, the public believes that the scientist is a magician who can make anything happen. It does not know where to draw the line between the possible, the plausible, the improbable and the frankly absurd. Admittedly this is often extremely difficult, and even the experts sometimes fall flat on their faces. But usually, all that is required is a little common sense.
     Arthur C. Clarke, Voices from the Sky:
     A Preview of the Coming Space Age (1974)
     "The Lunatic Fringe"


The average adult can usually enjoy something only if it relates to what he knows already, and what he knows about science is in many cases pitifully inadequate.
     Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal
     View of Scientific Discovery (1988)


I want science to be taken seriously, because, after all, it's less ephemeral — it has a more eternal aspect than whatever the politics of the day might be, which, of course, gets the lead in the news.
     Richard Dawkins


It has become almost a cliché to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics.
     Richard Dawkins, "Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder"
     (Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC1, November 12th, 1996)


People certainly blame science for nuclear weapons and similar horrors. It's been said before but needs to be said again: if you want to do evil, science provides the most powerful weapons to do evil; but equally, if you want to do good, science puts into your hands the most powerful tools to do so. The trick is to want the right things, then science will provide you with the most effective methods of achieving them.
     Richard Dawkins "Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder"
     (Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC1, November 12th, 1996)


Science provokes more hostility than ever, sometimes with good reason, often from people who know nothing about it and use their hostility as an excuse not to learn. Depressingly many people still fall for the discredited cliché that scientific explanation corrodes poetic sensibility.
     Richard Dawkins, "Science And Sensibility"
     (London, 24th March 1998)


In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite .
     Paul Dirac


The world of science and the world of literature have much in common. Each is an international club, helping to tie mankind together across barriers of nationality, race, and language.
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)


It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.
     Albert Einstein


Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods — in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
     Albert Einstein Address, California Institute of Technology (1931)


... the things that appear in the newspaper and that seem to excite the adult imagination are always those things which they cannot possibly understand, because they haven't learned anything at all of the much more interesting well-known [to scientists] things that people have found out before. It's not the case with children, thank goodness, for a while — at least until they become adults.
     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)


It is odd, but on the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)


Another of the qualities of science is that it teaches the value of rational thought, as well as the importance of freedom of thought; the positive results that come from doubting that the lessons are all true.
     Richard Feynman, "What is Science?" (speech,
     reprinted in The Physics Teacher, 1966)


I don't believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it's no more complicated than humans can understand. I had a calculus book once that said, "What one fool can do, another can." What we've been able to work out about nature may look abstract and threatening to someone who hasn't studied it, but it was fools who did it, and in the next generation, all the fools will understand it.
     Richard Feynman, "The Smartest Man in the
     World" (interview, Omni magazine, 1979)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


Another value of science is the fun called intellectual enjoyment which some people get from reading and learning and thinking about it, and which others get from working in it. This is an important point, one which is not considered enough by those who tell us it is our social responsibility to reflect on the impact of science on society. Is this mere personal enjoyment of value to society as a whole? No! But it is also a responsibility to consider the aim of society itself. Is it to arrange matters so that people can enjoy things? If so, then the enjoyment of science is as important as anything else.
     Richard Feynman, "The Value of Science" (speech, 1955)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


When we read about this in the newspaper, it says "Scientists say this discovery may have importance in the search for a cure for cancer." The paper is only interested in the use of the idea, not the idea itself. Hardly anyone can understand the importance of an idea, it is so remarkable. Except that, possibly, some children catch on. And when a child catches on to an idea like that, we have a scientist.
     Richard Feynman, "The Value of Science" (speech, 1955)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. ... Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don't know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.
     Richard Feynman, "The Value of Science" (speech, 1955)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.
     Richard Feynman, "The Value of Science" (speech, 1955)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


But if a thing is not scientific, if it cannot be subjected to the test of observation, this does not mean that it is dead, or wrong, or stupid. We are not trying to argue that science is somehow good and other things are somehow not good. Scientists take all those things that can be analyzed by observation, and thus the things called science are found out. But there are some things left out, for which the method does not work. This does not mean that those things are unimportant. They are, in fact, in many ways the most important.
     Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All: Thoughts
     of a Citizen Scientist
(1963; published 1998)


If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas. There would be nothing worth checking, because we would know what is true. So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, "How can you live without knowing?" I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.
     Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All: Thoughts
     of a Citizen Scientist
(1963; published 1998)


Applications aren't the only thing in the world. It's interesting in understanding what the world is made of. It's the same interest, the curiosity of man that makes him build telescopes. What is the use of discovering the age of the universe? Or what are these quasars that are exploding at long distances? I mean what's the use of all that astronomy? There isn't any. Nonetheless, it's interesting. So it's the same kind of exploration of our world that I'm following and it's curiosity that I'm satisfying. If human curiosity represents a need, the attempt to satisfy curiosity, then this is practical in the sense that it is that. That's the way I would look at it at the present time. I would not put out any promise that it would be practical in some economic sense.
     Richard Feynman, "Richard Feynman Builds a Universe"
     (unpublished interview, AAAS, 1999); reprinted in
     The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)


The science of dunking may seem trivial, and in one sense it is. Scientists' questions often seem like a child's idle curiosity, the sort of thing that we should have outgrown when we reached adulthood, so that we could concentrate on more serious things like making money or waging war. To myself and other scientists, though, asking "why?" is one of the most serious things that we can do. Sometimes we try to justify it by practical outcomes. To me, that is a mistake, whether the outcome is landing a man on the moon or finding a better way to dunk a cookie. The real reason that a scientist asks "why?" is because he or she shares with the rest of the community the most basic of human aspirations — wanting to understand the world and how it world. As members of a thinking species, we all have such aspirations, and express them every time we ponder religious beliefs, or our relationships with other people, or feelings of any kind. Scientists find a similar sense of excitement in addressing a particular area of life's great canvas — the behavior of the material world.
     In compensation for the narrowness of our compass, scientists have gotten further in understanding the material world than psychologists, philosophers, and theologians have in their attempts to understand people and their relationships with each other or with the world. It has often happened (as in the case of Laplace) that questions about commonplace phenomena have produced answers to other, and sometimes more important, questions. In the rest of this book, the science of the commonplace is used to open doors for non-scientists. It has often opened doors for scientists as well.
     Len Fisher, How to Dunk a Doughnut:
     The Science of Everyday Life


It was once thought that science would make that mysterious and intricate complex, called Nature, somehow simpler and easier to grasp for the mind. Instead science has become a structure which, as a whole, is not at all simpler than Nature. . . . It is easier to find one's way in the woods that in botany.
     Ludwik Fleck "Nauka i srodowisko" (1926) as quoted by Ilana
     Lowy in Organisms and the Origins of Self (Alfred I. Tauber, ed.)


Each of you might find it an amusing exercise to write down twenty reasons why your science is valuable to society: anyone who accepts public monies ought to be able in good conscience to explain why he or she deserves such support. My own list ranges from developing new knowledge to enhancing national prestige to other such weighty reasons as providing an entire population class for exploitation by underemployed venture capitalists and attorneys and enabling interesting, content-laden conversations to take place at cocktail parties throughout the country.
     Marye Anne Fox, in Albert H. Teich, Stephen D. Nelson, and Celia
     McEnaney, eds., AAAS Science and Technology Policy Yearbook (1993)


Einstein's relativity did not speak to human values. Those were, or were not, relative for reasons unrelated to the physics of objects moving at near-light speed. Borrowing metaphors from the technical sciences could be a dangerous practice.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)


Science and art belong to the whole world, and the barriers of nationality vanish before them.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Science is an integral part of culture. It's not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It's one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition.
     Stephen Jay Gould, Independent (London, 24 Jan 1990)


Many people make an unfortunate and invalid separation between heart and mind, or feeling and intellect. In some contemporary traditions, abetted by attitudes stereotypically centered upon Southern California, feelings are exalted as more "real" and the only proper basis for action, while intellect gets short shrift as a hang-up of outmoded elitism. Statistics, in this absurd dichotomy, often becomes the symbol of the enemy. As Hilaire Belloc wrote, "Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death."
     Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus (1991)
     "The Median Isn't The Message"


Science is not to be regarded merely as a storehouse of facts to be used for material purposes, but as one of the great human endeavours to be ranked with arts and religion as the guide and expression of man's fearless quest for truth.
     Sir Richard Arman Gregory


A science is said to be useful if its development tends to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or more directly promotes the destruction of human life.
     Godfrey H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology (1941)


... the overall effect of science is inexorably democratizing, in the deepest sense of the word — by making available to a wider range of people the necessities and comforts that in a previous age were reserved for a privileged elite.
     Roald Hoffmann, The Same and Not the Same (1995)


In order to survive and to progress, mankind cannot know too much. Salvation can hardly be thought of as the reward for ignorance. Mankind has been given its mind in order that it may find out where it is, what it is, and who it is, and how it may assume the responsibility for itself which is the chief obligation incurred in gaining knowledge.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)


Was not the universe of Dante and Milton so powerful and "gloriously romantic" precisely because it incorporated, and thereby rendered meaningful, the contemporary scientific cosmology alongside the moral and aesthetic conceptions? Leaving aside the question of whether Dante's and Milton's contemporaries by and large were living in a rich and fragrant world of gladness, love, and beauty, it is fair to speculate that if our new cosmos is felt to be cold, inglorious, and unromantic, it is not the new cosmology which may be at fault, but the absence of new Dantes and Miltons.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)


But making science again a part of every intelligent person's educational resource is the minimum requirement — not because science is more important than other field, but because it is an integral part of a sound contemporary worldview.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)


Poets rush in where scientists fear to tread.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)


To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "On the Educational
     Value of the Natural History Sciences" (1854)


[E]very time a savage tracks his game he employs a minuteness of observation, and an accuracy of inductive and deductive reasoning which, applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science . . . [T]he intellectual labour of a "good hunter or warrior" considerably exceeds that of an ordinary Englishman.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "Mr. Darwin's Critics" (1871)


Nothing has tended more to retard the advancement of science than the disposition in vulgar minds to vilify what they cannot comprehend.
     Samuel Johnson


Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.
     Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation (1970)


In the end, what science does is change the way we think about the world and our place within it. To be scientifically illiterate is to remain essentially uncultured. And the chief virtue of cultural activity — be it art, music, literature, or science — is the way it enriches our lives.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics:
     A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)


There are times, such as when the state school board in Kansas in 1999 removed evolution from its science curriculum, when I am reminded of Lavoisier, and shudder at the damage that can be done by ignorance combined with power. Even the magnificent modern edifice called science, built up over half a millennium of small increments toward the truth, is not safe from the vicissitudes of the political world. If, as Carl Sagan claimed, science is a "candle in the dark," banishing demons that haunted the benighted eras of mankind, it burns tenuously at best. One generation of ignorance, steeped in myth and mysticism, all that may be needed to snuff it out.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, Atom: An Odyssey From the
     Big Bang to Life on Earth ... and Beyond (2001)


Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think about them.
     Charles Lamb, letter to Thomas Manning (2 Jan 1810)


People will tell you that science, philosophy, and religion have nowadays all come together. So they have in a sense . . . they have come together as three people may come together at a funeral. The funeral is that of Dead Certainty.
     Stephen Leacock


In his "Defense of Poetry," the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley contended that one of the sacred tasks of the artist is to "absorb the new knowledge of the sciences and assimilate it to human needs, color it with human passions, transform it into the blood and bone of human nature." Not many romantic poets rushed to accept Shelley's challenge, which may explain the present sorry state of our nation and planet. If we had Byron and Keats and Shelley and their French, Italian, and Urdu equivalents explaining science, the science literacy of the general public would be far higher than it is now.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)


Here's something shocking. According to a study by the National Science Foundation, 70 percent of Americans do not understand science. Here's the sad part: 30 percent don't even know what 70 percent means.
     Jay Leno, quoted in the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate 
(June 16, 2002; article by Malcolm Ritter, AP science writer)


Money can't buy ideas, that's for sure, but lack of it can prevent one having them.
     Peter Medawar, "The Cost-Benefit Analysis of
     Pure Research" (Hospital Practice, Sept 1973)


I am afraid we shall have to regard the funding of 'pure' research as a tax levied upon society that is not dissimilar in kind from that which maintains art galleries and opera houses — a 'civilization tax', perhaps.
     Peter Medawar, "The Cost-Benefit Analysis of
     Pure Research" (Hospital Practice, Sept 1973)


It is the great glory as it is also the great threat of science that everything which is in principle possible can be done if the intention to do it is sufficiently resolute. Scientists may exult in the glory, but in the middle of the twentieth century the reaction of ordinary people is more often to cower at the threat.
     Peter Medawar, "The Threat and the Glory"
     (New York Review of Books, 27 October 1977)


It is the great glory and also the great threat of science that anything which is possible in principle — which does not flout a bedrock law of physics — can be done if the intention to do it is sufficiently resolute and long sustained.
     Peter Medawar, "On Living a Bit Longer"
     (from Memoir of a Thinking Radish)


I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of science to exterminate the human race.
     Thomas Love Peacock


Science is part of our culture. Culture isn't only art and music and literature, it's also understanding what the world is made of and how it functions.
     Max Perutz


Perhaps the reason we, as a people, are disconnected from science is that we are disconnected from the natural world that science describes. ... Science is the conviction that the world is ruled by something more than chance and the whims of gods. Science is confidence that the human mind can make some sense of nature's complexity, and, almost paradoxically, science is humility in the face of nature's complexity. Science is respect for the evidence of the senses — seeing things as they are, and not as we wish them to be. And science is the courage and self-confidence to accept nature's indifference to our personal predicaments.
     Chet Raymo, The Virgin and the Mousetrap:
     Essays in Search of the Soul of Science (1991)


He who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is the benefactor of mankind, but he who obscurely worked to find the laws of such growth is the intellectual superior as well as the greater benefactor of mankind.
     Henry Augustus Rowland, in D. S. Greeberg,
     The Politics of Pure Science (1967)


There is ... in our day, a powerful antidote to nonsense, which hardly existed in earlier times — I mean science. Science cannot be ignored or rejected, because it is bound up with modern technique; it is essential alike to prosperity in peace and to victory in war. That is, perhaps from an intellectual point of view, the most hopeful feature of our age, and the one which makes it most likely that we shall escape complete submersion in some new or old superstition.
     Bertrand Russell


Some men are so impressed by what science knows that they forget what it does not know; others are so much more interested in what it does not know than in what it does that they belittle its achievements.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "Philosophy for Laymen"


It is essential for men of science to take an interest in the administration of their own affairs or else the professional civil servant will step in — and then the Lord help you.
     Ernest Rutherford, Bulletin of the Institute
     of Physics 1950, 1, no. 1, cover


Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.
     Carl Sagan


While ritual, emotion and reasoning are all significant aspects of human nature, the most nearly unique human characteristic is the ability to associate abstractly and to reason. Curiosity and the urge to solve problems are the emotional hallmarks of our species; and the most characteristically human activities are mathematics, science, technology, music and the arts — a somewhat broader range of subjects than is usually included under the "humanities." Indeed, in its common usage this very word seems to reflect a peculiar narrowness of vision about what is human.
     Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations
     on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977)


There is a lurking fear, made explicit in the Faust legend, that some things are not "meant" to be known, that some inquiries are too dangerous for human beings to make. ... All inquiries carry with them some element of risk. There is no guarantee that the universe will conform to our predispositions. But I do not see how we can deal with the universe — both the outside and the inside universe — without studying it. The best way to avoid abuses is for the populace in general to be scientifically literate, to understand the implications of such investigations.
     Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain: Reflections
     on the Romance of Science (1979)
     "Broca's Brain"


There is an uneasiness about thinking, about intellectual endeavour ... that permeates the society, and that is clearly extremely dangerous. ... I think it is an essential aspect of the national health and well-being to have not just professional scientists who are happy and healthy but to have a broad population of citizens who are comfortable with science and ask tough questions and make informed decisions.
     Carl Sagan (speech, 1993)


Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
     Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision
     of the Human Future in Space (1994)


Science has taught us that, because we have a talent for deceiving ourselves, subjectivity may not freely reign.
     Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision
     of the Human Future in Space (1994)


The method of science, as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem, is far more important than the findings of science.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World:
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us — and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World:
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


Irritatingly, science claims to set limits on what we can do, even in principle. Who says we can't travel faster than light? They used to say that about sound, didn't they? Who's going to stop us, if we have really powerful instruments, from measuring the position and the momentum of an electron simultaneously? ... Who dares to set limits on human ingenuity? In fact, Nature does. In fact, a fairly comprehensive and very brief statement of the laws of Nature, of how the Universe works, is contained in just such a list of prohibited acts. Tellingly, pseudoscience and superstition tend to recognize no constraints in Nature. Instead, "all things are possible." They promise a limitless production budget, however often their adherents have been disappointed and betrayed.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World:
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


The predictive powers of some areas, at least, of science are phenomenal. They are the clearest counterargument I can imagine to those who say, "Oh, science is situational; science is just the current fashion; science is the promotion of the self-interests of those in power." Sure there is some of that. Surely if there's any powerful tool, those in power will try to use it, or even monopolize it. Surely scientists, being people, grow up in a society and reflect the prejudices of that society. How could it be otherwise? Some scientists have been nationalists; some have been racists; some have been sexists. But that doesn't undermine the validity of science. It's just a consequence of being human.
     Carl Sagan, "Wonder and Skepticism"
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 24)


There is a reward structure in science that is very interesting: Our highest honors go to those who disprove the findings of the most revered among us. ... Now think of what other areas of human society have such a reward structure, in which we revere those who prove that the fundamental doctrines that we have adopted are wrong. Think of it in politics, or in economics, or in religion; think of it in how we organize our society. Often, it's exactly the opposite: There we reward those who reassure us that what we've been told is right, that we need not concern ourselves about it. This difference, I believe, is at least a basic reason why we've made so much progress in science, and so little in some other areas.
     Carl Sagan, "Wonder and Skepticism"
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 24)


The inadvertent side effects of technology can challenge the environment on which our very lives depend. That means that we must understand science and technology; we must anticipate longterm consequences in a very clever way — not just the bottom line on the profit-and-loss column for the corporation for this year, but the consequences for the nation and the species 10, 20, 50, 100 years in the future.
     Carl Sagan, "Wonder and Skepticism"
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 24)


Who are we? The answer to this question is not only one of the tasks, but the task of science.
     Erwin Schrödinger, Science and Humanism (1951)


As scientists, we need to provide the best information we can. After that, it's a value call.
     William J. Schull


If it seems we are being told from all sides today that man is a failure, it is, ironically enough, because we are being judged in terms of a whole new set of standards in a world where almost everything seems possible, and now almost every want, every injustice and every wrong seems unbearable.
     Glenn T. Seaborg, A Scientist Speaks Out: A Personal
     Perspective on Science, Society and Change


All problems are finally scientific problems.
     George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor's Dilemma (1913)


Scientific ideas have affected the relationship of man to society, his ideas of God, and his image of himself. Science has influenced the way people write poetry and the way they paint pictures. In the hands of bigots, it has provided a theoretical justification for the sterilization of some human beings and the enslavement of others. Science, as a source of ideas, is a major character in the human drama.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)


"Whatever the Sun may be," said D. H. Lawrence, "it is certainly not a ball of flaming gas." Helios, the sun god, has more sex appeal than a cloud of gas, however hot. Lawrence spoke for my friend Jill, and for many others who see science systematically chipping away at the mysterious, but generally benign, unknown and arrogantly replacing it with the dull, prosaic, down-to-earth known. The mechanical universe, the "ice-cold clock," is not something you want to curl up with on a winter's night. Genesis 9:13 reads: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth." The scientist's rainbow is the result of the different refractive indices of the various frequencies of light that make up solar radiation. But man evidently prefers mystery to math, and the intrusion of science into the movements of the planets and the stars, into the living cell and into that final sanctuary of the spirit, the mind, has undoubtedly cast a chill over that warm, blurred garden, the theocentric universe. The scientist, ruthlessly buying up desirable property, appears to many people to be building an automated factory in the middle of the garden. For this reason, science has, for some, become an unwanted neighbor.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)


Scientific theories tell us what is possible; myths tell us what is desirable. Both are needed to guide proper action.
     John Maynard Smith, Science and myth


Literary intellectuals at one pole — at the other scientists. — ... Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension.
     Baron C. P. [Charles Percy] Snow, The Two
     Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959)


Most humans on this planet use the fruits of science in every phase of their lives. I become very irritated at those who decry science while accepting its every benefit. It is especially ironic how the antiscientists use modern communications to get their messages to the public.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search
     for a World Beyond the Senses (1990)


It might be thought that the politico-economic-social structure of Europe in the early 19th century was determined by the military alignments in Europe of the period. This is another misapprehension. It was, perhaps surprisingly, determined by the allotropy of tin. This shiny familiar metal turns below 13ºC into a yellow powder . . . The buttons on the uniforms of the soldiers of Napoleon's armies were largely composed of tin and in the long drown out campaign against the Russians, the buttons turned to powder and fell off the soldiers' uniforms. This made them more concerned with wrapping their uniforms round them in the hostile climate than pointing their rifles at the Russians. The retreat from Moscow . . . was the result.
     Charles J. M. Stirling, The Future of Science Has Begun: The
     Communication of Science to the Public, Science and The Media


Science grows and Beauty dwindles.
     Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After (1886)


The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behavior control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.
     Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail (1979)


What is called science today consists of a haphazard heap of information, united by nothing, often utterly unnecessary, and not only failing to present one unquestionable truth, but as often as not containing the grossest errors, today put forward as truths, and tomorrow overthrown.
     Leo Tolstoy
          [See quote by Weinberg below]


[Of science] It gives us no answer to our question, what shall we do and how shall we live?
     Leo Tolstoy, What is Art? (1898)
          [Since when is it supposed to?]


Practically every scientific claim ever made was, or should have been, accompanied by a tandem measure of the reliability of the claim.  When reporting scientific discoveries, the popular press hardly ever conveys these inherent uncertainties in the data or the interpretation.  This seemingly innocent omission carries a subtle, misguided message:  If it’s a scientific study, the results are exact and correct.  These same news reports often declare that scientists, having previously thought one thing, are now forced to think something else; or are forced to return to the mythic “drawing board” in a stupor.  As a consequence, if you get all your science from press accounts than you might be led to believe that scientists arrogantly, yet aimlessly, bounce back and forth between one perceived truth and another without ever contributing to a base of objective knowledge.
     Neil de Grasse Tyson, The Sky is Not the Limit: 
     Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist


If politicians and scientists were lazier, how much happier we should all be. []
     Evelyn Waugh
          [Maybe lazier artists and writers would also be a boon.]


The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
     Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes (1977)


We may need to rely again on the influence of science to preserve a sane world. It is not the certainty of scientific knowledge that fits it for this role, but its uncertainty. Seeing scientists change their minds again and again about matters that can be studied directly in laboratory experiments, how can one take seriously the claims of religious tradition or sacred writings to certain knowledge about matters beyond human experience?
     Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's
     Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature (1993)


Science cannot develop unless it is pursued for the sake of pure knowledge and insight. It will not survive unless it is used intensely and wisely for the betterment of humanity and not as an instrument of domination. Human existence depends upon compassion and curiosity. Curiosity without compassion is inhuman; compassion without curiosity is ineffectual.
     Victor F. Weisskopf, "Science Yesterday,
     Today, and Tomorrow" (speech, 1993)


The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.
     Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)


Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, H. G. Wells's Dr. Moreau and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World . . . are evidence of a powerfully emotive anti-science movement. Science is dangerous, so the message goes — it dehumanizes; it takes away free will; it is materialistic and arrogant. It removes magic from the world and makes it prosaic. But note where these ideas come from — not from the evidence of history, but from creative artists who have moulded science by their own imagination.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)