Speaking of Science

March 2012's selection of notable quotes

Mar 1, 2012
The Scientist Staff


The disaster at Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, provide unique opportunities to assess the risks and hazards of prolonged exposure to mutagenic contaminants that likely have relevance for other communities inhabiting the regions affected by these disasters.

A.P. Møller et al., “Abundance of birds in Fukushima as judged from Chernobyl,” Environmental Pollution, 164:36-39, 2012.

In the roughly 115 years since Roentgen discovered X-rays we have learned a lot about the values and hazards of exposure to ionizing radiation. But we still have a hell of a lot to learn.

William Schull, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, expert on the health effects of the atomic bombs, referring to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in Japan (The Scientist, Mar. 22, 2011)

Both our life spans and our five senses are inadequate to the task of comprehension: The most powerful mechanism of organic change lies well beyond our everyday experience.

—Smith College evolutionary biologist Robert L. Dorit, in a recent American Scientist article entitled, “Rereading Darwin” (Jan.-Feb. 2012)

Although the scientific process tries to makes sense of problems by isolating every variable, reality doesn’t work like that. Instead, we live in a world in which everything is knotted together, an impregnable tangle of causes and effects. Even when a system is dissected into its basic parts, those parts are still influenced by a whirligig of forces we can’t understand or haven’t considered or don’t think matter. Hamlet was right: There really are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

—Science writer Jonah Lehrer in a Wired article entitled, “Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us” (Dec. 16, 2011)

Anyone who legitimizes the assassination of scientists in Tehran jeopardizes the personal security of scientists on the other side. The next phase of the assassination war is liable to turn international scientific conferences into arenas of assassination.

—Professor Avner Cohen of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, writing in the Israeli paper Haaretz about the January assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mustafa Ahmadi Roshan (Jan. 16, 2012)

Why is self-organization so beautiful to my atheistic self? Because if complex, adaptive systems don’t require a blue print, they don’t require a blue print maker. If they don’t require lightning bolts, they don’t require Someone hurtling lightning bolts.

—Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, in response to the question, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” posed by Edge.org (Feb. 9, 2012)