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person that studies a science
Solvay conference, 1911.
Scientists differ from ordinary mortals by their ability to admire loquacious and complicated delusions.
~ Anatole France

Scientists, in a broad sense, are persons engaged in the systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method.

This article is about the subject "scientist", not about reflections of individual scientists
CONTENT : A - F , G - L , M - R , S - Z , See also , External links


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
  • Scientists tend to resist interdisciplinary inquiries into their own territory. In many instances, such parochialism is founded on the fear that intrusion from other disciplines would compete unfairly for limited financial resources and thus diminish their own opportunity for research.
  • Many people, including many important and well-respected scientists, just don’t want there to be anything beyond nature. They don’t want a supernatural being to affect nature.
    • Michael Behe, molecular biologist, says in Darwin’s Black Box.
  • Scientists today … have to be able to interpret their findings just as skillfully as they conduct their research. If not, a lot of priceless new knowledge will have to wait for a better man.
    • Wernher von Braun in his Introduction for Dagobert David Runes (ed.), A Treasury of World Science (1962), viii.
  • There is a noticeable general difference between the sciences and mathematics on the one hand, and the humanities and social sciences on the other. It's a first approximation, but one that is real. In the former, the factors of integrity tend to dominate more over the factors of ideology. It's not that scientists are more honest people. It's just that nature is a harsh taskmaster. You can lie or distort the story of the French Revolution as long as you like, and nothing will happen. Propose a false theory in chemistry, and it'll be refuted tomorrow.
  • I have watched the #metoo campaign as avidly as anyone. I have gone to bed each night wondering who will be outed as a sexual harasser in the morning, whether it will be another one of my political heroes or someone we all recognize from mainstream media or Hollywood. We’ve seen many of these perpetrators lose jobs, be forced to resign, and face economic difficulty because of their abhorrent behaviors.
    But I have not gone to bed a single night in all these months wondering what scientist would be sacked in the morning because of his transgressions—let alone be publicly outed—because scientist-harassers rarely lose their jobs.
  • Are people who engage in sexual misconduct actually making scientific advances that would not be made without them? I’d say it’s more likely that swifter, greater advances would have occurred if there were fewer perpetrators limiting opportunities for their victims. When part of your brain has to be occupied with workplace stress—from unwanted sexual advances to witnessing abuse between colleagues—you have less to give to your science.
    If we punish these perpetrators, especially by taking away their funding, won’t their trainees suffer? I wonder how many grad students would be better off, relieved of the pressures of working for a predator. As federal funding agencies grapple with this problem, they have begun to figure out solutions, such as assigning a new principal investigator if the original one can’t continue. It doesn’t kill the project or leave students and staff out of their jobs. Removing the perpetrator from a project also saves the pedigree of the trainees; few want their published work tainted with the name of a known sexual harasser.
    The last concern is the trickiest: Why don’t we do anything when we know about the perpetrators in our midst? So far, consequences for scientist-harassers are few and far between. In academia it’s common to get sanctions like “no more female grad students” or “no more undergraduate teaching” or “please work at home for now.” These are mild punishments at best, but departments are unsure what other options they have—and universities don’t make it easy to fire professors. The institutions know that perpetrators generally have more resources than victims and are more likely to sue if they are fired. It is a good financial decision, then, to do nothing about a perpetrator, even if they are guilty.
    So this is where we find ourselves today: In many professions sexual misconduct is now cause for dismissal. In the sciences, not so much. What’s more, many science workplaces use legal definitions of sexual harassment to set the standard for workplace conduct. If that is the bar that has to be met for a disgusting behavior to be considered actionable by a university, research institute, or field station, it is a high one. An enormous range of disrespectful and even frightening behavior can slip under that bar, even though it damages the careers of victims and bystanders, holding back scientific advancement.
  • Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    • Arthur C. Clarke "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination" in Profiles of the Future (1962)
  • Scientists and doctors to me, are at the leading edge of what all human beings do all of the time; which is to change, everything. We’ve never been satisfied with what we’re given. We don’t accept the earth as a given. We change our body chemistry, our physiology, our biology, our biochemistry. We clear the forest, we build our own environment, we climate control it . . . And, the interface between that impulse and the human body often is doctors, biologists, and biochemists.
  • What is a scientist after all? It is a curious person looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on.
    • Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1971) Christian Science Monitor. 21 July 1971; cited in: Alan F. Pater, Jason R. Pater (1972) What They Said in 1971: The Standard Source Book for the World's. p. 536
  • [S]cientists are required to back up their claims not with private feelings but with publicly checkable evidence. Their experiments must have rigorous controls to eliminate spurious effects. And statistical analysis eliminates the suspicion (or at least measures the likelihood) that the apparent effect might have happened by chance alone...
    • Richard Dawkins (1996) "Human gullibility beyond belief,— the “paranormal” in the media". The Sunday Times. 1996-08-25. 
  • Scientists are just as vulnerable to wishful thinking, just as likely to be tempted by base motives, just as venal and gullible and forgetful as the rest of humankind. Scientists don't consider themselves to be saints; they don't even pretend to be priests (who according to tradition are supposed to do a better job than the rest of us at fighting off human temptation and frailty). Scientists take themselves to be just as weak and fallible as anybody else, but recognizing those very sources of error in themselves and in the groups to which they belong, they have devised elaborate systems to tie their own hands, forcibly preventing their frailties and prejudices from infecting their results.
  • So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.
    • Albert Einstein (1944) Letter to Robert A. Thorton, Physics Professor at University of Puerto Rico (7 December 1944)
  • The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair...
  • The genuine scientist is not moved by praise or blame, nor does he preach. He unveils the universe and people come eagerly, without being pushed, to behold a new revelation: the order, the harmony, the magnificence of creation! And as man becomes conscious of the stupendous laws that govern the universe in perfect harmony, he begins to realize how small he is. He sees the pettiness of human existence, with its ambitions and intrigues, its 'I am better than thou' creed. This is the beginning of cosmic religion within him; fellowship and human service become his moral code. And without such moral foundations, we are hopelessly doomed.
  • Everyone here would die for the sake of truth. Everyone here lies constantly for the tiniest chance of personal gain. This is what it means to be a scientist.
  • We scientists are clever — too clever — are you not satisfied? Is four square miles in one bomb not enough? Men are still thinking. Just tell us how big you want it.


  • My profession often gets bad press for a variety of sins, both actual and imagined: arrogance, venality, insensitivity to moral issues about the use of knowledge, pandering to sources of funding with insufficient worry about attendant degradation of values. As an advocate for science, I plead “mildly guilty now and then” to all these charges. Scientists are human beings subject to all the foibles and temptations of ordinary life. Some of us are moral rocks; others are reeds. I like to think (though I have no proof) that we are better, on average, than members of many other callings on a variety of issues central to the practice of good science: willingness to alter received opinion in the face of uncomfortable data, dedication to discovering and publicizing our best and most honest account of nature's factuality, judgment of colleagues on the might of their ideas rather than the power of their positions.
  • I do not like to see all the fine boys turning to the study of law, instead of to the study of science or technology. … Japan wants no more lawyers now; and I think the professions of literature and of teaching give small promise. What Japan needs are scientific men; and she will need more and more of them every year.
    • Lafcadio Hearn, in letter to Masanobu Ōtani (1894), collected in Elizabeth Bisland The Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (1922), Vol. 14, 273.
  • By a recent estimate, nearly half the bills before the U.S. Congress have a substantial science-technology component and some two-thirds of the District of Columbia Circuit Court’s case load now involves review of action by federal administrative agencies; and more and more of such cases relate to matters on the frontiers of technology.
    If the layman cannot participate in decision making, he will have to turn himself over, essentially blind, to a hermetic elite. … [The fundamental question becomes] are we still capable of self-government and therefore freedom?
    Margaret Mead wrote in a 1959 issue of Daedalus about scientists elevated to the status of priests. Now there is a name for this elevation, when you are in the hands of—one hopes—a benevolent elite, when you have no control over your political decisions. From the point of view of John Locke, the name for this is slavery.
    • Gerald Holton, quoted in 'Where is Science Taking Us? Gerald Holton Maps the Possible Routes', The Chronicle of Higher Education (18 May 1981). In Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (1982), 80.
  • Scientists are supposed to live in ivory towers. Their darkrooms and their vibration-proof benches are supposed to isolate their activities from the disturbances of common life. What they tell us is supposed to be for the ages, not for the next election. But the reality may be otherwise.
    • Simon LeVay (1996) Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 9


  • Science for its part speaks against the special importance of any object of science, including human beings. … Science as opposed to religion recognizes nothing sacred either outside man or within him. But collectively, science is the assertion of man over non-man, surely an unembarrassed claim to importance and rule. Yet as individuals, scientists are anonymous factors in the scientific enterprise, each one substitutable for another. For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named.
    • Harvey Mansfield (2007) How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science
  • Our problem is : What are the underlying desires or wishes, that lead some scientists to insist upon mechanistic conceptions, and others equally eminent, to espouse some form of scientific vitalism ? For in psychology, as in other sciences, a materialistic or vitalistic bias may be found at the root of nearly all factional schools, or contentious groups. Sometimes, of course, the underlying desire relates solely to the advancement of the personal fortunes of the workers concerned ; and such purely egoistic motives probably play a considerable part in the evolution of every scientific doctrine. In addition to this, however, originators and promulgators of conceptual systems of thought, nearly always possess hidden desires to push science in this direction or that, " for science's own sake ". The goal selected is the one that accords most closely with the basic emotional set of the scientific agitator. And the emotional sets of scientists may be classified, broadly, into two elementary groups, materialistic and vitalistic.
  • A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.
    • Peter Medawar & Jean Medawar (1985) Aristotle to Zoos: A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology
  • There must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.
    • Robert Oppenheimer (1949) in: "J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Lincoln Barnett in: LIFE, Okt 10, 1949. p. 136
  • Some 500,000 scientists all over the world are devoting their knowledge to the search for weaponry more sophisticated and more deadly.
    • Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, stated reinforcing his warning to the United Nations. Cited in the article: Apocalypse—What Is It?, The Watchtower magazine, 2/15, 1986.
  • A scientist is happy, not in resting on his attainments but in the steady acquisition of fresh knowledge.
    • Max Planck (1936) The philosophy of physics. p. 32
  • A scientist worthy of the name, above all a mathematician, experiences in his work the same impression as an artist; his pleasure is as great and of the same nature.
    • Henri Poincaré (1890) "Notice sur Halphen," Journal de l'École Polytechnique (Paris, 1890), 60ème cahier, p. 143
  • The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
    • Henri Poincaré (1908) Science and Method. Part I. Ch. 1 : The Selection of Facts, p. 22


  • A fundamental value in the scientific outlook is concern with the best available map of reality. The scientist will always seek a description of events which enables him to predict most by assuming least. He thus already prefers a particular form of behavior. If moralities are systems of preferences, here is at least one point at which science cannot be said to be completely without preferences. Science prefers good maps.
    • Anatol Rapoport Science and the goals of man: a study in semantic orientation. Greenwood Press, 1950/1971. p. 224; Partly cited in: Book review by Harold G. Wren, in Louisiana Law Review, Vol 13, nr 4, May 1953
  • In schools, for example, there are courses in the criticism of literature, art criticism, and so forth. The arts are supposed to be 'not real.' It is quite safe, therefore, to criticize them in that regard -- to see how a story or a painting is constructed, or more importantly, to critically analyze the structure of ideas, themes, or beliefs that appear, say, in the poem or work of fiction. When children are taught science, there is no criticism allowed. They are told, 'This is how things are.' Science's reasons are given as the only true statements about reality, with which no student is expected to quarrel. Any strong intellectual explorations or counter versions of reality have appeared in science fiction, for example. Here scientists, many being science-fiction buffs, can channel their own intellectual questioning into a safe form. 'This is, after all, merely imaginative and not to be taken seriously.'
    • Jane Roberts in The God of Jane: A Psychic Manifesto, p. 145-146
  • 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.
    • Carl Sagan (1987) Keynote address at CSICOP conference, as quoted in Do Science and the Bible Conflict? (2003) by Judson Poling, p. 30
  • It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
  • As a result of scientific man's creativity there arises an ordered, illumined, determined world, imprinted with the stamp of creative intellect, of pure reason and clear cognition. From the midst of the order and lawfulness we hear a new song, the song of the creature to the Creator, the song of the cosmos to its Maker.
  • Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.
    • Nikola Tesla (1934) cited in: Cheney, Uth & Glenn (1999) Tesla: master of lightning. p. 137
  • It seems that scientists are often attracted to beautiful theories in the way that insects are attracted to flowers — not by logical deduction, but by something like a sense of smell.
  • Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study.
  • No matter how honest scientists think they are, they are still influenced by various unconscious assumptions that prevent them from attaining true objectivity. Expressed in a sentence, Fort's principle goes something like this: People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.
  • … it is shameful that there are so few women in science... In China there are many, many women in physics. There is a misconception in America that women scientists are all dowdy spinsters. This is the fault of men. In Chinese society, a woman is valued for what she is, and men encourage her to accomplishments yet she remains eternally feminine.
    • Chien-Shiung Wu As quoted in "Queen of Physics", Newsweek (20 May 1963) no. 61, 20.

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