Category Archives: Quotes

The Monday Quote #9

Most of my Monday Quotes so far have come from scientists or philosophers of science. Today’s comes from William Melvin “Bill” Hicks (1961-1994), an American comedian and musician who died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 32. There’s a lot of talk going around the social networking sites today about pro-lifers because yet another has threatened to murder someone. Murderously violent pro-lifers often remind me of Bill because of some of his stand-up sets.

“Pro-lifers murdering doctors. Pro-lifers murdering people. It’s irony on a base level.”

“Boy, I’ve never seen an issue so divisive, its like a civil war ain’t it? Even amongst my friends, who are all very intelligent. They are totally divided on abortion. It’s unbelievable. Some of my friends, for instance, think these pro-life people are annoying idiots. Other friends think these pro-life people are evil fucks. How are we going to come to a consensus? You ought to hear the arguments around my house: they’re annoying, they’re idiots, they’re evil, they’re fucks! Brothers, sisters, come together. Cant we for once just join hands and think of them as evil annoying idiot fucks?”

So I thought today I’d just share another memorable quote from Bill about pro-lifers since that seems to be the hot topic today. And of course as a little tribute to someone who is still greatly missed.

“We’re pro life.”

What does that make me? You know what I’m saying? If you’re so pro-life do me a fucking favour. Don’t block med clinics, OK? Lock arms… and block cemeteries. Let’s see how fucking committed you are to this premise.

“She can’t come in.”

“She was 96, she was hit by a bus.”

“There’s options.”

“Have we got to have her stuffed? What are you talking about? She’s dead!”

“We’re pro-life, get her out of that casket! She’s not going, we’re pro-life people. There will be no death on this planet.”

Pro-life. Here’s my actual theory, beyond the huge, hilarious jokes I have… Here’s my real theory though… If you’re so pro-life and you’re so pro-child, then adopt one that’s already here, that’s very unwanted and very alone, who needs someone to take care of it, to get it out of a horrible situation. And people say, “well then why don’t you do that?” and I say “because I hate fucking kids and couldn’t care less”. Couldn’t give a fuck. Don’t care at all about abortion. It’s your choice, case closed, the end, bottom line.

– Bill Hicks, comedian, satirist, and musician.

AbortionBill HicksPro lifeThe Monday Quote

The Monday Quote #8

Sir Julian S Huxley (1887-1975) led quite an academic life. As you can tell from his title, he was knighted in 1958. He won the 1953 Kalinga Prize for popularisation of science, the 1956 Darwin Medal of the Royal Society, and the 1958 Darwin–Wallace Medal of the Linnaean Society. He even directed a wildlife film that won an Oscar for Best Documentary. Quite a legendary man. But looking back through the years, our appreciation and respect falters when we judge his views on eugenics. Huxley served as both Vice President and then President of the British Eugenics Society before and after World War II. He also coined the term “transhumanism”, which is still used today to describe bettering humans through science and technology, though he included eugenics as a tool for achieving transhumanism.

With such success as a scientist and science-communicator, and with such controversial views, he seems a prime target for memorable quotes. It would be quite easy to find a great creationism-bashing quote from Huxley, or a controversial view on race. But the whole point of this series of posts is to go over weirder quotes, the types that might not appear in a quick biography of a person. I’ve chosen to avoid the controversy altogether. The following quote is taken directly from a scientific paper, yet would seem quite out of place in modern papers. While others were slaving away in labs with mice pressing levers, Huxley was contributing to behavioural biology while having what seems to be a rather pleasant time outdoors.

“A good glass, a notebook, some patience, and a spare fortnight in the spring – with these I not only managed to discover many unknown facts about the crested grebe, but also had one of the pleasantest of holidays. Go thou and do likewise.”

– Julian S Huxley (1914). The Courtship habits of the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus); with an addition to the Theory of Sexual Selection. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 84(3), pp. 491–562.

Great Cresed GrebeHuxleyJulian S HuxleyScience sounds quite pleasantThe Monday Quote

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.

Hyman

“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.

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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.

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“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

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