All science is either physics or stamp collecting

6 results back to index


Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton

All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Bayesian statistics, biofilm, bioinformatics, David Attenborough, Ernest Rutherford, germ theory of disease, Isaac Newton, lateral thinking, North Sea oil, nuclear winter

The extinction of the dinosaurs happened 66 million years ago, so how on Earth could a scientist hope to investigate it scientifically? What is science? This was the point being made by Sir Ernest Rutherford – the New Zealand-born physicist who made his name at the University of Cambridge with the discovery of the half-life of radioactive elements – when he stated, around 1920, that ‘all science is either physics or stamp collecting’. Many hard-nosed physicists might agree with him even today. Nonetheless, he was ruling that much of chemistry, biology, geology, and the applied sciences in medicine and agriculture was not scientific. I’m sure Rutherford viewed the sciences in a series, reading from left to right from ‘strong’ to ‘weak’. At the strong end were mathematics and physics – his sciences, where experiments are designed and can be repeated with the same outcomes endlessly.


pages: 420 words: 124,202

The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen

"Robert Solow", Albert Einstein, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, barriers to entry, collective bargaining, computer age, Copley Medal, creative destruction, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, delayed gratification, Fellow of the Royal Society, Flynn Effect, fudge factor, full employment, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, iterative process, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, knowledge economy, moral hazard, Network effects, Panopticon Jeremy Bentham, Paul Samuelson, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Singer: altruism, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, rent-seeking, Ronald Coase, Simon Kuznets, spinning jenny, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, transcontinental railway, zero-sum game, éminence grise

CHAPTER FOUR A VERY GREAT QUANTITY OF HEAT concerning the discovery of fatty earth; the consequences of the deforestation of Europe; the limitations of waterpower; the experimental importance of a Scotsman’s ice cube; and the search for the most valuable jewel in Britain THE GREAT SCIENTIST AND engineer William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, made his reputation on discoveries in basic physics, electricity, and thermodynamics, but he may be remembered just as well for his talent for aphorism. Among the best known of Kelvin’s quotations is the assertion that “all science is either physics or stamp collecting” (while one probably best forgotten is the confident “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”). But the most relevant for a history of the Industrial Revolution is this: “the steam engine has done much more for science1 than science has done for the steam engine.” For an aphorism to achieve immortality (at least of the sort certified by Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations), it needs to be both true and simple, and while Kelvin’s is true, it is not simple, but simplistic.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Kickstarter, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

He was much loved by his colleagues and students, but he was also known as a gruff authoritarian who was prone to temper tantrums and displays of arrogance. For example, according to Rutherford, physics was the only important science. He believed that it provided a deep and meaningful understanding of the universe, whereas all the other sciences were preoccupied with mere measuring and cataloguing. He once stated: ‘All science is either physics or stamp collecting.’ This blinkered comment backfired when the Nobel Committee awarded him the 1908 chemistry prize. Figure 68 The portrait of Ernest Rutherford was taken when he was in his mid-thirties. He had a disdain for chemists, which was not uncommon among physicists. For example, Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli was angry when his wife left him for a chemist: ‘Had she taken a bullfighter then I would have understood, but an ordinary chemist…’ The second photograph shows a more mature Rutherford with his colleague John Ratcliffe at the Cavendish Laboratory.


pages: 654 words: 204,260

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Brownian motion, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, clean water, Copley Medal, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Growing up in a remote part of a remote country, he was about as far from the mainstream of science as it was possible to be, but in 1895 he won a scholarship that took him to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, which was about to become the hottest place in the world to do physics. Physicists are notoriously scornful of scientists from other fields. When the wife of the great Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli left him for a chemist, he was staggered with disbelief. “Had she taken a bullfighter I would have understood,” he remarked in wonder to a friend. “But a chemist . . .” It was a feeling Rutherford would have understood. “All science is either physics or stamp collecting,” he once said, in a line that has been used many times since. There is a certain engaging irony therefore that when he won the Nobel Prize in 1908, it was in chemistry, not physics. Rutherford was a lucky man—lucky to be a genius, but even luckier to live at a time when physics and chemistry were so exciting and so compatible (his own sentiments notwithstanding). Never again would they quite so comfortably overlap.


pages: 287 words: 87,204

Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, British Empire, Brownian motion, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, lateral thinking, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Solar eclipse in 1919, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, the scientific method, trade route, upwardly mobile

But even before he knew what an alpha particle was, or how such particles could be ejected at high speed from radioactive atoms such as those of uranium or radium, Rutherford was able to use them to study the structure of atoms. Back in England, in 1907 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester, and in 1908 received the Nobel Prize for his work on the transmutation of the elements. The Nobel Committee regarded this as a branch of chemistry, so he was awarded the chemistry prize, even though Rutherford regarded himself as a physicist and once famously said: “All of science is either physics or stamp collecting.” The year after he received the Nobel Prize, Rutherford suggested an experiment, actually carried out by two of his junior colleagues in Manchester, Hans Geiger (1882–1945) and Ernest Marsden (1889–1970), that provided the first insight into the structure of the atom. Geiger and Marsden used alpha particles from a radioactive source to bombard thin sheets of metal foil, and a detector devised by Geiger and Rutherford (the precursor of the famous Geiger counter) to monitor where the alpha particles went after they hit the metal.


pages: 824 words: 218,333

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Asilomar, Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, Benoit Mandelbrot, butterfly effect, dark matter, discovery of DNA, double helix, Drosophila, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, Internet Archive, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, longitudinal study, medical residency, moral hazard, mouse model, New Journalism, out of africa, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Ponzi scheme, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Scientific racism, stem cell, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, Thomas Malthus, twin studies

Mendel, too, had started out as a botanist and a naturalist and radically swerved that discipline by seeking the mechanism that drove heredity and variation. Both Darwin and Mendel observed the natural world to seek deeper causes behind its organization. II. Watson borrowed this memorable phrase from Ernest Rutherford, who, in one of his characteristically brusque moments, had declared, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” III. These libraries were conceived and created by Tom Maniatis in collaboration with Argiris Efstratiadis and Fotis Kafatos. Maniatis had been unable to work on gene cloning at Harvard because of concerns about the safety of recombinant DNA. He had moved to Cold Spring Harbor on Watson’s invitation so that he could work on gene cloning in peace. Einsteins on the Beach There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.