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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Criticism

Criticism Quotes (36 quotes)

'Normal' science, in Kuhn's sense, exists. It is the activity of the non-revolutionary, or more precisely, the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day... in my view the 'normal' scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for... He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination... I can only say that I see a very great danger in it and in the possibility of its becoming normal... a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization. And this shows why I regard Kuhn's emphasis on the existence of this kind of science as so important.
'Normal Science and its Dangers', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 52-3.
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A common fallacy in much of the adverse criticism to which science is subjected today is that it claims certainty, infallibility and complete emotional objectivity. It would be more nearly true to say that it is based upon wonder, adventure and hope.
Quoted in E. J. Bowen's obituary of Hinshelwood, Chemistry in Britain (1967), Vol. 3, 536.
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Almost everyone... seems to be quite sure that the differences between the methodologies of history and of the natural sciences are vast. For, we are assured, it is well known that in the natural sciences we start from observation and proceed by induction to theory. And is it not obvious that in history we proceed very differently? Yes, I agree that we proceed very differently. But we do so in the natural sciences as well.
In both we start from myths—from traditional prejudices, beset with error—and from these we proceed by criticism: by the critical elimination of errors. In both the role of evidence is, in the main, to correct our mistakes, our prejudices, our tentative theories—that is, to play a part in the critical discussion, in the elimination of error. By correcting our mistakes, we raise new problems. And in order to solve these problems, we invent conjectures, that is, tentative theories, which we submit to critical discussion, directed towards the elimination of error.
The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality (1993), 140.
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As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite ... I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you... And as to the curs which will bark and yelp - you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead - I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.
Letter (23 Nov 1859) to Charles Darwin a few days after the publication of Origin of Species. In Charles Darwin, Frederick Burkhardt, Sydney Smith, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin: 1858-1859 (1992), Vol. 19, 390-391.
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Criticism is as often a trade as a science, requiring, as it does, more health than wit, more labour than capacity, more practice than genius.
In John Timbs (ed.), Laconics; or, The Best Words of the Best Authors (1929), 156.
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Criticism, though dignified from the earliest ages by the labours of men eminent for knowledge and sagacity, has not yet attained the certainty and stability of science.
In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 151.
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Doctors have been exposed—you always will be exposed—to the attacks of those persons who consider their own undisciplined emotions more important than the world's most bitter agonies—the people who would limit and cripple and hamper research because they fear research may be accompanied by a little pain and suffering.
Doctors (1908), 28-9.
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Florey was not an easy personality. His drive and ambition were manifest from the day he arrived ... He could be ruthless and selfish; on the other hand, he could show kindliness, a warm humanity and, at times, sentiment and a sense of humour. He displayed utter integrity and he was scathing of humbug and pretence. His attitude was always—&ldqo;You must take me as you find me” But to cope with him at times, you had to do battle, raise your voice as high as his and never let him shout you down. You had to raise your pitch to his but if you insisted on your right he was always, in the end, very fair. I must say that at times, he went out of his way to cut people down to size with some very destructive criticism. But I must also say in the years I knew him he did not once utter a word of praise about himself.
Personal communication (1970) to Florey's Australian biographer, Lennard Bickel. By letter, Drury described his experience as a peer, being a research collaborator while Florey held a Studentship at Cambridge in the 1920s. This quote appears without naming Drury, in Eric Lax, The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle (2004), 40. Dury is cited in Lennard Bickel, Rise Up to Life: A Biography of Howard Walter Florey Who Gave Penicillin to the World (1972), 24. Also in Eric Lax
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I noticed affixed to a laboratory door the following words: “Les théories passent. Le Grenouille reste. [The theories pass. The frog remains.] &mdashJean Rostand, Carnets d’un biologiste.” There is a risk that in the less severe discipline of criticism the result may turn out to be different; the theories will remain but the frog may disappear.
In An Appetite for Poetry (1989), 5.
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I will simply express my strong belief, that that point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations, until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all, not only in things of natural philosophy, but in every department of dally life.
'Observations On Mental Education', a lecture before the Prince Consort and the Royal Institution, 6 May 1854. Experimental researches in chemistry and physics (1859), 477.
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If this “critical openminded attitude” … is wanted, the question at once arises, Is it science that should be studied in order to achieve it? Why not study law? A judge has to do everything that a scientist is exhorted to do in the way of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, and then judging impartially on the merits of the case as well as he can. … Why not a course in Sherlock Holmes? The detectives, or at least the detective-story writers, join with the scientists in excoriating “dogmatic prejudice, lying, falsification of facts, and data, and willful fallacious reasoning.”
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 191.
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It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights.
Spectator, No. 253. In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 60.
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Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth.
Editorial, Nature (28 Jul 2011), 475, 423-424.
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My thesis is that what we call 'science' is differentiated from the older myths not by being something distinct from a myth, but by being accompanied by a second-order tradition—that of critically discussing the myth. … In a certain sense, science is myth-making just as religion is.
Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (2002), 170-171.
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Nothing enrages me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn math and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities. (1981)
Quoted in K.P. Yaday and Malti Sundram, Encyclopaedia Of Child And Primary Education Development, Vol. 2, 99.
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Occurrences that other men would have noted only with the most casual interest became for Whitney exciting opportunities to experiment. Once he became disturbed by a scientist's seemingly endless pursuit of irrelevant details in the course of an experiment, and criticized this as being as pointless as grabbing beans out of a pot, recording the numbers, and then analyzing the results. Later that day, after he had gone home, his simile began to intrigue him, and he asked himself whether it would really be pointless to count beans gathered in such a random manner. Another man might well have dismissed this as an idle fancy, but to Whitney an opportunity to conduct an experiment was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, he set a pot of beans beside his bed, and for several days each night before retiring he would take as many beans as he could grasp in one hand and make a note of how many were in the handful. After several days had passed he was intrigued to find that the results were not as unrewarding as he had expected. He found that each handful contained more beans than the one before, indicating that with practice he was learning to grasp more and more beans. “This might be called research in morphology, the science of animal structure,” he mused. “My hand was becoming webbed … so I said to myself: never label a real experiment useless, it may reveal something unthought of but worth knowing.”
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 358-359.
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Propose theories which can be criticized. Think about possible decisive falsifying experiments—crucial experiments. But do not give up your theories too easily—not, at any rate, before you have critically examined your criticism.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 126-127.
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Science now finds itself in paradoxical strife with society: admired but mistrusted; offering hope for the future but creating ambiguous choice; richly supported yet unable to fulfill all its promise; boasting remarkable advances but criticized for not serving more directly the goals of society.
How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science (2004), xi.
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The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities—perhaps the only one—in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there. In most other fields of human endeavour there is change, but rarely progress ... And in most fields we do not even know how to evaluate change.
From Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 216. Reproduced in Karl Popper, Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1979), 9.
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The members of the department became like the Athenians who, according to the Apostle Paul, “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Anyone who thought he had a bright idea rushed out to try it out on a colleague. Groups of two or more could be seen every day in offices, before blackboards or even in corridors, arguing vehemently about these 'brain storms.' It is doubtful whether any paper ever emerged for publication that had not run the gauntlet of such criticism. The whole department thus became far greater than the sum of its individual members.
Obituary of Gilbert Newton Lewis, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science (1958), 31, 212.
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The only objections that have occurred to me are, 1st that you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly. . . . And 2nd, it is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all. However, I must read the book two or three times more before I presume to begin picking holes.
Comments after reading Darwin's book, Origin of Species.]
Letter to Charles Darwin (23 Nov 1859). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 214.
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The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 59.
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The scientific tradition is distinguished from the pre-scientific tradition by having two layers. Like the latter, it passes on its theories; but it also passes on a critical attitude towards them.
Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (2002), 66.
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The world little knows how many of the thoughts and theories which have passed through the mind of a scientific investigator, have been crushed in silence and secrecy by his own severe criticism and adverse examination!
'Observations On Mental Education', a lecture before the Prince Consort and the Royal Institution, 6 May 1854. Experimental researches in chemistry and physics (1859), 486.
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There prevails among men of letters, an opinion, that all appearance of science is particularly hateful to Women; and that therefore whoever desires to be well received in female assemblies, 'must qualify himself by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important; must consider argument or criticism as perpetually interdicted; and devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to compliment.
The Rambler, Number 173, 12 Nov 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 3, 152-3.
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This speaker reminds me of my childhood in Budapest. There were gypsy magicians who came to town to entertain us children. But as I recollect, there was one important difference: the gypsy only seemed to violate the laws of nature, he never really violated them!
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 178. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears giving an example of von Kármán’s biting anecdotes at public meetings when criticizing a paper he thought really misleading “pseudoscience.”
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Thus science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths; neither with the collection of observations, nor with the invention of experiments, but with the critical discussion of myths, and of magical techniques and practices.
Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (2002), 66.
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To turn Karl [Popper]'s view on its head, it is precisely the abandonment of critical discourse that marks the transition of science. Once a field has made the transition, critical discourse recurs only at moments of crisis when the bases of the field are again in jeopardy. Only when they must choose between competing theories do scientists behave like philosophers.
'Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 6-7.
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We [may] answer the question: “Why is snow white?” by saying, “For the same reason that soap-suds or whipped eggs are white”—in other words, instead of giving the reason for a fact, we give another example of the same fact. This offering a similar instance, instead of a reason, has often been criticised as one of the forms of logical depravity in men. But manifestly it is not a perverse act of thought, but only an incomplete one. Furnishing parallel cases is the necessary first step towards abstracting the reason imbedded in them all.
In The Principles of Psychology (1918), Vol. 2, 363-364.
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What are they doing, examining last month's costs with a microscope when they should be surveying the horizon with a telescope?
[Acerbic comment about directors of Brunner Mond, where he worked.]
As quoted by Peter Allen in obituary, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1976), 22, 116.
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Why should the leaders of chemical businesses be held responsible for polluting the marine environment with a few grams of effluent, which is sublethal to marine species, while celebrity chefs are turning out endangered fish at several dozen tables a night without enduring a syllable of criticism?
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and what We Eat (2004), 189.
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Widespread intellectual and moral docility may be convenient for leaders in the short term, but it is suicidal for nations in the long term. One of the criteria for national leadership should therefore be a talent for understanding, encouraging, and making constructive use of vigorous criticism.
Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (1998), 189.
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Worship the spirit of criticism. If reduced to itself it is not an awakener of ideas or a stimulant to great things, but, without it, everything is fallible; it always has the last word.
Address at the Inauguration of the Pasteur Institute. In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 443.
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[Alfred Russell] Wallace's sales agent, back in London, heard mutterings from some naturalists that young Mr. Wallace ought to quit theorizing and stick to gathering facts. Besides expressing their condescension toward him in particular, that criticism also reflected a common attitude that fact-gathering, not theory, was the proper business of all naturalists.
In The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions (1996), 41.
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[N]o scientist likes to be criticized. … But you don’t reply to critics: “Wait a minute, wait a minute; this is a really good idea. I’m very fond of it. It’s done you no harm. Please don’t attack it.” That's not the way it goes. The hard but just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away. Don't waste any neurons on what doesn’t work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. Valid criticism is doing you a favor.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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