The Monday Quote #7

Libbie Hymaan (1888-1969) was an American zoologist. Her family disapproved of her desire to pursue an academic career, but we all know if there’s one thing to inspire you to do something, it’s having your parents say not to do it.

“I never received any encouragement from my family to continue my academic career; in fact my determination to attend the University met with derision. At home, scolding and fault-finding were my daily portion”

Hyman wrote an incredibly successful textbook, A Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology (1919), which generated enough income that it allowed her to become an unpaid research assistant at the American Museum of Natural History. There, with no assistance, she accomplished a truly epic piece of work that has been of great use to zoologists since. She wrote and illustrated her six-volume treatise on The Invertebrates, a comprehensive work expertly analysing invertebrate animals. Unfortunately she never covered the entire topic due to ill health, but the first six volumes were an incredible accomplishment for an individual. As well as being the go-to source for invertebrates, Hyman also developed several important theories that had big impacts on modern biology (e.g. she argued, correctly, that echinoderms were more closely related to us chordates than the annelids etc they had often been grouped with).

Despite the incredible impact her work had, I don’t see her name that often. I’d like to give her a mention here on the blog as I’ve always found her workload, her accomplishments, and her background very interesting. I have a couple of quotes that hopefully get across her character, or what I believe her character to be, from everything I’ve read.


“I was brought up in a home devoid of affection and consideration. My father, an ageing man constantly worried about his declining fortunes, took practically no notice of his four children. My mother regarded children as property to be ordered about as she liked and to be used for her benefit. She seemed incapable of feelings of affection. She was also thoroughly infiltrated with the European worship of the male sex. My three brothers were brought up in idleness and irresponsibility, with the result that two of them never earned more than a bare living, whereas I, as a mere child, was required to participate in the endless work of the big ten-room house. For this reason I have violently hated housework all my life.”

“By about 1930 I perceived that I could live on the royalties of my books. About this time, also, Professor Child came to the retiring age. Therefore I resigned my position as research assistant in the zoology department and have had no paid position since. I am amply supported by the royalties of my books, and so was left free to write a treatise on the invertebrates.”

– Libbie Hyman, Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Science.

invertebratesLibbie HymanThe Monday Quote

Symbolic representation and working memory in chimpanzees

I was recently reminded of this gem of a video. Filmed in Japan, all the info is in English captions (though I laughed at the use of Japanese “press space bar to continue” for the chimps).

In my own experience with other people, this video has changed opinions on the intelligence of non-human animals more than any other. It also highlights the fact that “intelligence” is clearly an ambiguous term. We’re more intelligent than chimps if we consider our use of language. But this video demonstrates that if we were to measure intelligence differently, say with working memory, then chimps beat us. And with spatial memory, plenty of other animals beat us. And so on.

This is one of my favourite videos on the internet. Enjoy!

chimpanzeechimpsintelligenceJapanOur intelligent cousinsworking memory

The Monday Quote #6

When it comes to hypotheses being rejected, or even entire theories being disbanded, many non-scientists consider this some kind of failure by science. It is easy to see a negative result as a loss of sorts, as a halt in scientific progress, when the disappointed scientist must take things “back to the drawing board”. But a negative result is still a result. A theory being rejected and superseded  by another is always a good thing. It means there is progress. In football, a goalkeeper never gets the same praise as a striker, despite every save being equally as important as a goal. In science, identifying mistakes in our thinking is just as important as realising we’re right about something, perhaps more important. Either way, it refines our knowledge. Stephen Jay Gould realised that many non-scientists sometimes struggled to appreciate this aspect of science.


“The story of a theory’s failure often strikes readers as sad and unsatisfying. Since science thrives on self-correction, we who practice this most challenging of human arts do not share such a feeling. We may be unhappy if a favored hypothesis loses or chagrined if theories that we proposed prove inadequate. But refutation almost always contains positive lessons that overwhelm disappointment, even when […] no new and comprehensive theory has yet filled the void.”

– Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus (1991), “The Face of Miranda”.

Being wrong is okHypothesisscienceStephen Jay GouldThe Monday Quote

This. Is. AWESOME.

WITCHCRAFT! No, this is actually real. The following video is a demonstration of Ultra-Ever Dry in action.

I describe this as magical water repellent, but apparently…

“Ultra-Ever Dry is a superhydrophobic (water) and oleophobic (hydrocarbons) coating that will completely repel almost any liquid. Ultra-Ever Dry uses proprietary nanotechnology to coat an object and create a barrier of air on its surface. This barrier repels water, oil and other liquids unlike any coating seen before. The other breakthrough associated with Ultra-Ever Dry is the superior coating adherence and abrasion resistance allowing it to be used in all kinds of applications where durability is required.”

There are many demonstrations in the video, and my favourite was probably coating the border but not centre of an object so that the liquid gathered in the middle. But what I really want to know is what happens when liquid is put in a container coated with this stuff… The liquid in those demonstrations usually had a way out. What happens if I coat my bath? Or a drinking glass? How will the water behave? Also, what if we coat the underside of a boat, or a whole submarine? Faster? Slower? No difference?


HydrophobicI think drinking this would be a bad ideaOleophobicUltra-Ever DryWITCHCRAFT

The Monday Quote #5

Many of my favourite quotes come from George Bernard Shaw. From education, to politics, to war, to science, to religion, he had something to say about everything.

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

“No public man in these islands ever believes that the Bible means what it says: he is always convinced that it says what he means.”

“Martyrdom, sir, is what these people like: it is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.”

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?”

“People always get tired of one another. I grow tired of myself whenever I am left alone for ten minutes, and I am certain that I am fonder of myself than anyone can be of another person.”

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

“My speciality is being right when other people are wrong.”

It’s tough to pick a single quote to highlight, but I went with one that has always stuck with me.


“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”

– George Bernard Shaw, The World, 1893.

George Bernard ShawThe Monday Quote