Speaking of Science

January 2015's selection of notable quotes

By The Scientist Staff | January 1, 2015

© ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/ABLUECUPWe know researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices.

Timo Hannay, managing director of Digital Science, which is owned by Macmillan Publishers, in a statement announcing a move by the publisher to make the contents of all journals under Nature Publishing Group freely readable online to users sent a link to a paper by a subscriber (December 2)


To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access. With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing. Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway.

—Open-access advocate and senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, John Wilbanks, in a comment about the announcement of the new Macmillan Publishers policy that all Nature Publishing Group journals will be free to read online if subscribers share a link (Nature News, December 2)


The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.

—University of Cambridge theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, talking to the BBC about the dangers of developing artificial intelligence (December 2)


We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely. 

—Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, in his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge


Because I was an “unperson” I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income.

James Watson, Chancellor Emeritus of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and codiscoverer of the double-helical structure of DNA, describing his partial motivation for auctioning off his 1962 Nobel Prize medal, which sold on December 4 for $4.1 million (Financial Times, November 28)


In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable. James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind, and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him.

—Russian entrepreneur Alisher Usmanov, speaking to The New York Times about his decision to return James Watson’s 1962 Nobel Prize medal after paying more than $4.1 million for it at auction (December 9)


The idea that stress plays a role in illness is becoming more and more well defined. It happens both directly and indirectly, directly through mechanisms that we partially understand but not fully, and indirectly through changes in behavior. 

Dean Ornish, University of California, San Francisco, professor of medicine and founder of the university’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute, describing science’s emerging understanding of the physiological impacts of emotional stress (December 2008)

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

January 15, 2015

Thank you, Doctor Hawking, but your comment begs the question, "What would the artificial intelligence then 'do' after it 'superceded' us?"  Would it take over the world?  Why?  How?  In reality, it's like making the comparison between a person with a Ph.D. and a person who went to trade school.  Are the latter "superceded"?  So, who's fixing the car?  In the end, the reaction of us poor dummies in response to whatever the superceding artificial intelligence does would be, "F*ck 'em."

Avatar of: Brent Beach

Brent Beach

Posts: 9

Replied to a comment from Paul Stein made on January 15, 2015

January 16, 2015

Are you saying that the AI thing that takes over from us must be nice? Must be rational? Mut have a reason for whatever it does that makes sense to us?

Why do the 0.01% keep on wanting more? They have an aquisitive bent that is not satisfied by aquisition. In fact, that becomes even stronger the more they acquire.

Why would an emergent AI thing not also decide that power/money/? was its goal? That dominating humans was the path to that goal? And it succeeded in morphing itself into something that could achieve that goal?

Not saying it will, but we are looking into uncharted waters here.

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