Education and Science Quotes

Here are some nice quotes, sayings and downright clichés related to education, science and innovation that I have come across over the last while as I read and researched for this blog and my ebook.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” [John W. Gardner, former Secretary of Education under President Lyndon Johnson. Even then there were worries about spoon-feeding and rote learning.]

“21st Century Skills” [Numerous. I have no idea what these are.]

“Education is a human field that longs to be as exact as a physical science, but isn’t.” [Tom Bennett in his excellent and entertaining book, “Teacher Proof”]

“It is quite possible to use mathematical concepts correctly without being able to say exactly what they mean. This might sound like a bad idea, but the use is often easier to teach and a deeper understanding of the meaning often follows of its own accord” [Timothy Gowers, mathematician and Fields medalist]

 “It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way. Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe.” [John von Neumann basically saying the same thing as Gowers but in a more convoluted way.]

 “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand” [Albert Einstein. Who am I to disagree with the great man but I don’t agree with the first sentence and don’t really know what he’s saying in the second.]

 “My mum works in a hospital and one of the nurses recommended this ring for relief from snoring. Another person who worked there then backed it up and said he had tried it and although it had taken three weeks to kick in, he was convinced it worked just fine”. [Some bloke on a bulletin board site illustrating how the scientific method has not permeated into mass consciousness]

 “I can’t prove it, but I am pretty sure that people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can’t prove. People who are sometimes consumed by false beliefs do better than those who insist on evidence before they believe and act. People who are sometimes swept away by emotions do better in life than those who calculate every move. These advantages have, I believe, shaped mental capacities for intense emotion and passionate beliefs because they give a selective advantage in certain situations.” [Thought provoking stuff from Randolph Neese, University of Michigan psychiatrist]

 “I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.” [Richard Feynman. You could fill a book with quotes from Feynman.]

 “The historic curse of the Irish is not alcohol, it’s not stupidity, but ignorance.” [James Watson proving Feynman’s point]

 “Trinity College Dublin, the only Irish University controlled by academics rather than business interests, far outshines its Irish rivals. Of course, Trinity academics too have had to trim to current national and international orthodoxies, but their ability to continue to prioritise educational and academic values needs to be replicated throughout the system.” [An eminent Irish historian showing that Feynman’s point applies to fields other than science. From an ‘anti-managerialism’ article in the Irish Times.]

“I have appointed scientists on the whole that didn’t get first-class honours degrees, deliberately, quite specifically, because, actually, I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university and didn’t just focus entirely on getting that first”. [Fertility pioneer and celebrity scientist, Lord Winston. Can’t imagine this strategy is based on a scientific analysis of any kind – pure prejudice really.]

 “I believe, but cannot prove, that religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons, particularly awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions.” [Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at the University of Virginia. Something for a certain Richard Dawkins to ponder perhaps.]

 “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.” [Carl Sagan – I’m including this because I think it sounds plausible but is ultimately wrong.]

 “All the questions in section A were fully anticipated and wouldn’t have posed any difficulty for students who were prepared. The questions in section B were similar to those posed in the sample paper provided during the year.” [Secondary school teacher commenting on the Project Maths paper in 2013. Predictability raises its ugly head.]

 “With all the needed emphasis on leadership, organisation and teamwork, the individual has remained supreme – of paramount importance. It is in the mind of a single person that creative ideas and concepts are born”. [Mervin Kelly, former President of Bell Labs. Taken from the excellent book by John Gertner, “The Idea Factory – Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation“]

 “The disease has contributed much more to science than science has contributed to the disease”. [Jack Riordan, co-discover of the gene for CF. The same could be said about a lot of conditions I suspect. Beware of scientists bearing cures I say.]

 “You know what women are like; once they hear you have a PhD in chemical engineering, they’re all over you”. [Character in 1980s TV series, “Moonlighting”. He was wrong.]

 “Just sitting around after work, thinking, Jesus I wish I was back in college! This craic of leaving work behind at the door at the end of the day is boring the hole off me.” [Email from former student. If only he thought like that when he was a student]

 “To give yourself the best possible chance of playing to your potential, you must prepare for every eventuality. That means practice.” [Seve Ballesteros – late, great golfer with advice that applies just as much to learning.]

 “As we attempt to master an activity, neural connections of varying degrees of utility or disutility form. Certain of us have nervous systems that are predisposed to develop quickly along the lines needed to master specific activities or classes of activities that happen to be available in one or more cultures. Accordingly, assuming such exposure, we will appear talented and become experts quickly. The rest of us can still achieve some expertise, but it will take longer, require more effective teaching, and draw on intellectual faculties and brain networks that the talented person does not have to use. [Howard Gardner, eminent Harvard psychologist. Interesting take on why some us are destined to be journeymen.]

 “Innovation inside the box” [Phrase used by David Robertson, author of Brick By Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry”]

 “Recent statistics show that eighty percent of the jobs you will have in the future don’t even exist yet [Mark Lautman inventing a new cliché. By the way, that person on the check-out in Tesco is actually a Currency Transfer Technician. They’re new.]

 “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” [Confucius. Sounds like it might be a profound insight into learning but isn’t. Easily refuted]

 “He who can, does; he who does, cannot teach.”[Me!]


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Education and Science Quotes

  1. Greg Foley says:

    Forgot this scary one:

    “I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-importance—so as to increase the value we each place on our own and others’ lives.”

    Nicholas Humphrey, Psychologist, LSE

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