Speaking of Science

November 2013's selection of notable quotes

By The Scientist Staff | November 1, 2013

SCIENCE STALLED: The government shutdown has shuttered landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial, and hobbled science.REIVAX/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS  

How many potential future Nobel Prize winners are struggling to find research support today, or have been sent home on furlough? How many of them are wondering whether they should do something else—or move to another country? It is a bitter irony for the future of our nation’s health that NIH is being hamstrung this way, just when the science is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, on the impact of the US government shutdown (The New York Times, October 7)


If you applied this rule to scientists,
a sizable proportion of them might be in jail today.

— Stanford University pediatrician and biostatistician Steven Goodman, on a federal court decision to convict W. Scott Harkonen, former CEO of InterMune, of fraud by overstating a drug’s benefit in a press release (The Washington Post, September 23)


Science is the most powerful way to do whatever it is you want to do. If you want to do good, it’s the most powerful way of doing good. If you want to do evil, it’s the most powerful way to do evil.

—University of Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, responding to a question about whether religious fanaticism or scientific advancement would lead to mankind’s ultimate undoing (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, September 24)


I think that we’ve stopped evolving. Because if natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, is the main mechanism of evolution—there may be other things, but it does look as though that’s the case—then we’ve stopped natural selection.

—British naturalist and animal documentary filmmaker David Attenborough
(RadioTimes, September 9)


As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter. . . . Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.

Suzanne LaBarre, online content director of Popular Science, on the decision to stop allowing user comments on stories posted on the magazine’s website (www.popsci.com, September 24)


Fifteen years from now, somebody is going to say it’s the 489th neuron from the back of your ear that made you do it. That’s going to be hard to dismiss.

Joshua Sanes, Brainbow coinventor and director of Harvard’s Center for Brain Science, speaking to future law students at Fordham University about mapping the wiring of the human brain (The New York Times, September 17)

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Avatar of: Howard A, Doughty

Howard A, Doughty

Posts: 11

November 21, 2013



Mr. Attenborough may be right in saying (or at least implying) that humanity has taken control of its own evolution, whether by manipulating reproduction through legislation or biological intervention, setting stage for massive innovations in genetic engineering and extracting information from the epigenome that will allow us to design ourselves not far in the future.

I'd only add that, to the store of "breeding" strategies with which we have domesticated cattle, sheep, dogs, cats (sort of) and many other two and four-footed sources of food and entertainment, we are now able to use the same or even more imaginative biological interventions to create whole new species and to further refine those that already exist. In fact, we are getting so good at insinuating ourselves into the DNA of other creatures that (inadvertently, of course), we have managed to create whole new varieties of "superbugs" ...

Of course, messing with the internal structures of life is only part of what we do. In saying that we have taken over from nature as the "natural-selector supreme," Mr. Attenborough neglects to mention (though I know he's well aware of it) that our relentless contributions of toxins to the air, land and sea are exterminating countless species of plants and animals. Through our manifold interventions, nature is (so to speak) being denatured.

With such pessimistic prognostications, I feel we must seek out the source of the problem, if we are to sort out how to mend our ways, pay penance for our hubris and attempt to blend our undoubted intelligence with a modicum of wisdom. The most likely origin of our almost cosmic vandalism is actually rather easy to find. We need simply consult The Book of Genesis I-26, 28, wherein God creates our species ex nihilo and gave us "dominion" over the Earth, instructs us to "subdue" it and urges us to "be fruitful and multiply."

I'm not sure if God was just having a bad "day" when he awarded us responsibility for stewardship over the Earth, whether the entire process has just been an elegant if somewhat cruel practical joke from the get-go, or whether the story was just old Moses passing some antique wind.

Whatever the case may be, it is surely time either to broaden the conscious human purposes to which our scientific and technological skills are put, or else to dispense with them altogether.


Avatar of: agular17


Posts: 5

December 7, 2013

How many potential Nobel prize researchers are strugling to get research support? About 1/100 of the amount of agenda driven hacks, third rate minds with second rate agendas. So al in all we humans may come out ahead, because the truly gifted will still find a way, that is part of their genius. The truly agenda driven, will loose interest and find some other pursuit, or drift back to McDonalds.

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