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Thursday, 2 February 2017

The sad tale of Jennings Carmichael

I mentioned Jennings Carmichael in passing, when discussing the convicts who came to Australia, but I think it's time to look at her experience in a bit more detail.

To save you jumping over to that link and fossicking through it, here is what I said about her there:

Workhouses still existed in 1904, when an Australian poet named Jennings Carmichael died after her husband deserted her. Her three sons were placed in an English workhouse until Australians found out about them in 1909, and took up a collection to pay the boys' fares back to Australia. (See Jennings Carmichael: Her Children in a Workhouse, The Argus, April 16, 1910, p. 4,  and see other articles in Trove which are tagged 'Jennings Carmichael'. You will see the tag when you go to the link above: click on the tag, and at last count, 103 other articles will be listed: it seems we volunteers who do the tagging have been busy).


Grace Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Jennings Carmichael, otherwise known as Mrs Francis Mullis, lived from 1867 to 1904. She was born at Ballarat in Victoria, but died in Leyton Workhouse in England after her husband deserted her in Britain. All in all, her life was one of tragedy: her father died when she was three, and her mother then remarried, taking ‘Betsy’ with her to Orbost on the Snowy River. Her three sons, left in another workhouse were later brought by public subscription to Australia, where they changed their names from Mullis to Carmichael.

The history of this shocking case can be followed in the newspapers of the day. A group of dedicated volunteers (the writer of these words among them) have been tracking down, correcting and tagging all of the news stories related to Jennings Carmichael in the Trove Historic Newspapers collection at the National Library of Australia. You can find these items here: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?l-publictag=Jennings+Carmichael

Much of the information on this little-known and unfortunate poet has since been provided by her extended family, who also provided the text of Let there be no tomorrow and Wattle Day Tribute, which appears on her grave in England.

Wattle Day Tribute

Ah, little flower,
I loved of old
Dear little downy
Heads of gold.
— Jennings Carmichael.

Let there be no tomorrow

1.
Let there be no tomorrow
But one long fair today
Today of the ripen Autumn,
Today of the pensive May.
Let there be no tomorrow
Swiftly the moments fly,
While the sun shines o’er the valley
and the calm stream idles by.
2.
Let there be no tomorrow
But here for a little space,
Let only the day’s completeness
Be felt in its fleeting grace.
Tho’ Autumn thoughts are round us
Colouring vale and hill
Yet dreams of the Summer are with us,
In all their sweetness still.
3.
Let there be no tomorrow
Skies of transcendent blue
Let there be no tomorrow
Leaves of Autumnal hue
So sky, and leafage and valley
Ripe in the season’s prime
may hold forever a picture
In the golden frame of time.
4.
Let there be no tomorrow
Into our sunlight cast
Changing the glowing present
Into the faded past
Let there be no tomorrow
Bearing our wealth away,
So sweet is the picture painted,
By the thoughts that are mine today.
— Jennings Carmichael.


My reason for going into it in more detail is that the English-speaking world seems to be descending into another round of the same vicious and cruel economic thuggery that characterised the world before about 1900. When later students come to look at the return of our most recent descent, they may find some convenient source material here.




Sunday, 29 January 2017

Australia's mystery poet

Who was ‘Hugo’? I have no idea, but there are two of his poems available in the newspapers of his day, both in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1831. One of these, Zodiac Light, was competent by fairly ordinary, but The Gin shows a new awareness among the white people of the colony. I speculate that ‘Hugo’ was born between 1800 and 1810, in the colony, and grew up with Aboriginal playmates. He writes as one who knows the bush — and the Aborigines’ plight.

This poem was first published as “Original Poetry” in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 July 1831, page 4. It offers early instances of several words like gin, gunya and waratah.

(As I have a strong interest in such things, I have found an even earlier case of waratah from 1804. Oddly, there seems to have been no other mention of the plant until 1826, when the modern spelling first appeared. By 1831, Hugo was out-of-date in his terms. The real question must be: what happened to him?)

The Gin
“Where spreads the sloping shaded turf
By Coodge’s* smooth and sandy bay,
And roars the ever-ceaseless surf,
I’ve built my gunya for to-day.

“The gum-tree with its glitt’ring leaves
Is sparkling in the sunny light,
And round my leafy home it weaves
Its dancing shade with flow’rets bright.

“And beauteous things around are spread;
The burwan*, with its graceful bend
And cone of nuts, and o’er my head
The flowering vines their fragrance lend.

“The grass-tree, too, is waving there,
The fern-tree sweeping o’er the stream,
The fan-palm, curious as rare.
And warretaws* with crimson beam.

“Around them all the glecinæ*
Its dainty tendrils careless winds,
Gemming their green with blossoms gay,
One common flower each bush-shrub finds.

“Fresh water, too, is tumbling o’er
The shell-strewn rocks into the sea;
‘Midst them I seek the hidden store,
To heap the rich repast for thee.

“But where is Bian?—where is he?
My husband comes not to my meal:
Why does he not the white man flee,
Nor let their god his senses steal?

“Lingers he yet in Sydney streets?
Accursed race! to you we owe,
No more the heart contented beats.
But droops with sickness, pain, and woe.

“Oh ! for the days my mother tells,
Ere yet the white man knew our land;
When silent all our hills and dells,
The game was at the huntsman’s hand.

“Then roamed we o’er the sunny hill,
Or sought the gully’s grassy way,
With ease our frugal nets could fill
From forest, plain, or glen, or bay.

“Where sported once the kangaroo,
Their uncouth cattle trend the soil,
Or corn-crops spring, and quick renew,
Beneath the foolish white man’s toil.

“On sunny spots, by coast and creek,
Near the fresh stream we sat us down ;
Now fenced, and shelterless, and bleak,
They’re haunted by the white man’s frown.

She climbed the rock—she gazed afar—
The sun behind those mountains blue
Had sunk; faint gleamed the Western star,
And in the East a rainbow hue

Was mingling with the darkling sea;
When gradual rose the zodiac light,
And over rock, and stream, and tree,
Spread out its chastened radiance bright.

So calm, so soft, so sweet a ray,
It lingers on the horizon’s shore;
The echo of the brighter day,
That bless’d the world on hour before.

But sudden fades the beam that shone,
And lit the earth like fairy spell;
Whilst in the East, the sky’s deep tone
Proclaims the daylight’s last farewell.

“Fast comes the night, and Bian yet
Returns not to his leafy bed;
My hair is with the night-dew wet
Sleep comes not to this aching bead.

“The screeching cockatoo’s at rest;
From yonder flat the curlew’s wail
Comes mournful to this sorrowing breast,
And keenly blows the Southern gale.

“Avaunt ye from our merry land!
‘Ye that so boast our souls to save,
Yet treat us with such niggard hand:
We have no hope but in the grave.”

Thus sung Toongulla’s wretched child,
As o’er her sleeping babe she hung.
Mourning her doom, to lead a wild
And cheerless life the rocks among.

Their health destroyed—their sense depraved
The game, their food, for ever gone;
Let me invoke religion’s aid
To shield them from this double storm
Glycine sp.   (Peter Macinnis)

Of physical and moral ill;
We owe them all that we possess
The forest, plain, the glen, the hill,
Were theirs;—to slight is to oppress.

— Hugo

Footnotes:
* Coodge: Coogee
* burwan: burrawang
* warretaw: waratah.

* glecinæ: probably  Glycine sp., a member of the Fabaceae

Waratah, Telopea speciosissima (Peter Macinnis)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Announcing Australian Backyard Earth Scientist

As promised last week, here is some news. At a rough guess, the book is 12 months away, maybe more. (Note inserted January 16: the book is now complete, and submitted for editing and design.)

Back in October, my favourite publisher, the National Library of Australia, asked me if I was interested in doing a sequel to Australian Backyard Explorer and Australian Backyard Naturalist.

The title they suggested was Australian Backyard Geologist, but they wanted a lot of climate science in there, so I proposed that we call it Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, and we agreed on that title.

Part of the reason I was so keen is that I am well-advanced on Not Your Usual Rocks, a work on straight geology for older readers, and you can get a sample of that from this link. When I looked at that just now, I realised that not one word or item of content from that link has found it into the book.

For that matter, little of my search for the unconformity at the base of the Sydney Basin has come in, either, so Not Your Usual Rocks is still a viable proposition, and that was always my intention.

I jumped the gun, and before I got formal approval to do the book, I was up to the fourth draft. I am now zone-refining the seventh and eighth drafts, and I still don't have the contract.

Anyhow, this explains why I have been occasionally remiss of late. It also explains why I went to visit and photograph Sydney's volcano a while back, and a few other things.

Here are a few of the pics we may use: there are 320 in the first rough grab.


Using a clinometer.








Midnight sun, North Cape, Norway.












Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), Iceland, with columnar jointing.

 Simulated sedimentation.

















Looking for spiders, Sahara.









Iceberg, but is that  a polar bear on the right?

 The Amazon dropping as the dry season develops.

Reykjanes, Iceland: the rift that makes the Atlantic get larger.
 Iceland: classical glacial valley (these are amazingly hard to find!).
 Lenticular cloud at midnight, Norway
Petroglyphs, Alta, Norway.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Australia's colonial poet laureate

Michael Massey Robinson was transported in 1798 for writing a criminal poem. Others came free or were born free, and as we will see shortly, they wrote poetry that many would regard as a crime against good taste. Robinson’s poem was written as part of a criminal act.

Called Old Ham Fresh Drest, the poem was an attempt to demand money with menaces from one James Oldham Oldham, an ironmonger in Holborn, who had been apprenticed to a Mr. Dolly. When Oldham completed his apprenticeship, Dolly took him on as a partner. Dolly then became ill and bed-ridden, so Oldham ran the business until Dolly died, in about 1774. Some 13 months later, Oldham married the widow Dolly. He later became an alderman of London.

Well before that, an attorney called Peake told the neighbours that Oldham was responsible for Dolly’s death, but as Dolly was not yet in his grave, a coroner examined the case and declared that the death was due to natural causes. Peake kept up his claims, and Oldham sued him and won £500 in damages.

The case went all the way to the House of Lords, but Oldham still won. In 1796, Robinson went a letter to Robinson under a false name. He claimed to be acting for the author of a poem making the same allegations. He explained that the author was in prison and needed money.
Oldham entered into negotiations with the blackmailer, placing an advertisement in the Daily Advertiser, seeking a meeting. The blackmailer instructed him to send “a Banknote in a letter addressed to R.R., to the Cambridge coffee-house, at the top of Newman-street in Goodge-street …” This letter was to be placed in a letter rack there.

Oldham played for time, saying he wanted to see the manuscript that he was being asked to buy, and some twenty six-line stanzas were sent to him. A sample of four verses will show the nature of the writing:

“THE DEED WILL OUT,” the phantom cried,
And forwards mov’d from side to side
To intercept his rout;
Whilst our pale traveller dismay’d,
With falt’ring speech address’d the shade,
And ask’d, “WHAT DEED WILL OUT?”

“Pause thee a while, and list!”—it said,
And sigh’d and shook its aged head.
(Our hero trembling stood!)
“Why in the early scenes of age,
“Didst thou in such a deed engage?
“Remember—BLOOD for BLOOD

“Of years, not five times five are past,
“Since, circled round thy humble waist,
“The dingy apron hung,—
“Thy heart then no foul mischief brew’d;
“Thy mind a moral track pursu’d;
“And guileless was thy tongue:

“Till dire ambition, like a fiend,
“That hurls destruction, without end,
“On each devoted slave,
“Burst forth. —Then lust assum’d a name
“To hide a secret guilty flame,
“And doom me to the grave!

Oldham told his clerk to deliver the letters and then watch to see who collected them. One letter was collected without him seeing anybody, but the second one was collected by Robinson, and he was seen by both the clerk and a waiter. Oldham’s attorney, a Mr. Sarrell, with his (Sarrell’s) clerk, a Bow Street (police) officer named Rivett and another man then arrested Robinson. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, but this was commuted — at Oldham’s request.

Robinson was then aged 52, but he lived on to the ripe old age of 82. On the way out, his superior manners led to him being allowed to dine with the petty officers, and he was allocated wine each day. One Richard Dore was travelling to Sydney to take up the post of deputy jusge advocate, and by careful cultivation, two weeks after landing in Sydney, he had a conditional pardon and a post as Dore’s secretary.

He was convicted of accepting bribes and spent some time on Norfolk Island, but by 1810, he was chief clerk in the secretary’s office under Lachlan Macquarie, and the composer, each year, of an ode on the day of the king’s birthday. In 1819, Macquarie gave him two cows “for his services as Poet Laureate”.

Five verses from one of the odes will suffice. This was for the King’s birthday in 1811:

ODE FOR the KING’s BIRTH-DAY.
BY MR. MICHAEL ROBINSON.
To trace the mystic Course of TIME
Thro’ each revolving Age,
The MUSE aspires, with Views sublime,
And, wondering, turns the Page !—

That Page, where Hist’ry’s treasur’d Lore
Legends unfolds of Days of yore, 
When Rome her sov’reign Flag unfurl’d,
Rose the proud Mistress of the World;

And, rich in Arts, in Arms renown’d,
Aw’d the devoted Nations round;
‘Till LUXURY’S imtemp’rate Trains
Spread Desolation o’er her Plains;

And INDUSTRY, with nerveless Hand,
Retir’d, dejected, from the Land :
Whilst rent by Faction’s wily Spell,
Her Senates droop’d—her Fame and Freedom fell

Not so, yon ISLE, against whose sacred Shore
Bellona bids reluctant Thunders roar!
Not so, our ALBION, whose imperial Shield
Still waves triumphant in the tented Field!

An unbiased judge might be drawn to the opinion that Michael Massey Robinson’s criminal poetry had become a continuing habit.


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Setting a thief to catch a thief

I've been seriously busy, so here's a piece I prepared earlier.


When I was overseas ten years back, I had fun, but I was also working — gathering information for writing projects in hand, but I ended up in London the day that England was eliminated from the World Cup. It was a hot day, I was in Earl's Court in a pub with a stuffed kangaroo, and firm intentions of making the British Library on the Monday. I never made it, but that was another story.

Sunday, though, was a different matter, and I met both my goals. I had some unfinished business in Chelsea, left over from 1993. Then, I had failed to see inside Carlyle's house or the Chelsea Physic Garden, though I found a rare statue of William Huskisson, the first man to be run over by a train. So I went back to Chelsea, knowing that this time I would see all three — if I could find Mr. Huskisson.

I took off across-country (as much as one can in built-up London), passing Chelsea Pensioners and other curiosities, following a set of signs to Carlyle's House that were surely created to confuse potential German paratroopers in World War II, but I eventually got there, just after they opened.

I told the lady I wanted to see the chair, assuming she would know that I mean the one that Jenny sat in before jumping up to kiss Leigh Hunt. If that means nothing, it's a reference to a poem that Leigh Hunt wrote:

Jenny kiss'd me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss'd me.

Apparently only a few people recall the story, but the guardian knew it, and we admired the chair, which regrettably, I could not photograph, due to some grotesque administrator with mad notions about copyright. I looked around, recalled the venomous comment that "it was good of God to allow Mr and Mrs Carlyle to marry, thus making only two people unhappy, not four" and chided myself for recollecting it.

Then I took me off to the Chelsea Physic Garden (http://www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk/) which was created as a place where doctors and others (physicians as they were dubbed then) could come to see the plants that were of known or assumed medicinal value.

After hearing an interview that Robyn Williams played on ABC Radio National's The Science Show, I knew that there were some beds of poisonous plants, and I had a professional interest in those.

Poison is a funny thing: people are scared of it, and when I say I am interested in poisons, people look at me oddly. I feel a bit like Jo in Little Women, whose enthusiasms led her into deep waters:

"Eager to find material for stories, and bent on making them original in plot, if not masterly in execution, she searched newspapers for accidents, incidents, and crimes. She excited the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on poisons."

Jo, of course, is a slightly disguised Louisa May Alcott, so it probably happened just as she said — I can certainly believe it. But like Jo, my interest is benign, because I am interested in the good poisons, like antibiotics, disinfectants and other medical objects that are more lethal to the bugs than they are to us.

So I rolled into the garden, looked at the map, and asked where the poison beds were. I got one of those looks, until I explained that I am an Australian botanist who writes (among other things) about poisons. The guide took her finger off the panic button, and showed me where to find the carefully unmarked bed.

It was pretty standard fare, but I went away satisfied, having seen a couple of plants in the flesh, as it were, that I had only known from illustrations, as well as nodding to quite a few old friends.

The point (which I always get to) was that I know and knew that poisons are used to fight many things. I know also that sterile maggots are sometimes used to clean up necrotic tissue around wounds, and that we use leeches still. I have even heard of people taking worms to treat Crohn's disease, and I know about a 19th century man who used bacteria against cancer — I will get to him some other time.

Most of the 19th century pharmacopoeia contained mercury, arsenic or some other virulent element, and even today, most medicines are dangerous in large doses (mind you, 200 kg of potatoes or a hundred cups of coffee will also kill you — they key is the dosage).

But people taking bacteria to eliminate parasites sounded like a new one, so when I heard about this, I went burrowing. And found the lead was a bit wrong. My informant had also missed that the bacterium is one that is well-known around the traps, because a toxin from the bacterium is used in many pest-resistant plant species, like GM cotton.

According to a report a few years back in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (I never throw old notes away), bacterial proteins were being used to counteract hookworm. A protein produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, given orally to laboratory hamsters infected with hookworms was as effective in eliminating the parasites, curing anaemia and restoring weight gain in the hamsters as one of the drugs currently recommended to treat infections in humans.

The protein, called Cry5B, targets both developing, or larval, stages and adult parasites, as well as impairs the excretion of eggs by female worms, said the researchers at Yale and UCSD.

I call it nifty.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas in Australia is different

With ten days to go, we are in the run-up. We have seen a night of record heat, the cicadas are singing, and my friends are sharing stuff, like this Fred Dagg (John Clarke) carol:

We three kings of Orient are 
One on a tractor, two in a car 
One on a scooter 
Tooting his hooter 
Following yonder star
Oh, oh 
Star of wonder 
Star of light 
Star of bewdy, she'll be right 
Star of glory, that's the story 
Following yonder star . ..

My thanks to Toby Fiander for that, and also for finding me a link to Clarke's A Child's Christmas in Warrnambool, a parody on Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. That reminded me of a radio talk I gave, more than 20 years ago, that was somewhat inspired by Thomas. It went out on ABC Radio National on the Ockham's razor program, which I have been appearing on since 1985. Some of the scripts can be found here.

I was about to add it here, but I found that I got there before me. Twice.

First, there is this: An Australian Christmas, posted in 2012.

Then there was A merry Christmas to all my readers in 2014.

I don't think there's much to add, really, except that my favourite Australian Christmas carol is here.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The jolly Hobart parson

This affable bloke is on my list for a more detailed treatment at some stage.  One of the reasons that it won't be too soon is that another book has been given the green light.  More on Australian Backyard Earth Scientist in my next post.  Probably.  It's written, I am cleaning up the 5th draft, so there are probably only three more to go before I get back to playing.

When Robert Knopwood was 8, his father died, leaving massive debts which required that part of the family estate be sold. He went to Cambridge to study for the ministry, but got in with the “hunting and shooting set”. By the time he was ordained as a priest, he was heavily in debt, and had to sell half of his property in 1789, and he must have continued in those ways, because in 1795, he had to sell the remainder.


With no income, he served wherever he could, and was in the West Indies before becoming David Collins’ chaplain as Collins set out to establish a colony in Port Phillip Bay. This was not a success, and Collins took the whole colony off to the Derwent River, establishing Hobart. Knopwood remained in Van Diemen’s Land until his death in 1838.

They were not all happy years, because in spite of getting a number of land grants, Knopwood had no money sense at all, and he was continually hounded by creditors. His diary reveals that he was genuinely ill for many years, but his capacity for liquor was such that people usually assumed his frequent indisposition was alcohol-related.

All the same, until 1819, he ministered to a parish that stretched all the way to Port Dalrymple (Launceston), and his life was by no means horrid. Manning Clark said that Knopwood “… drank wine, smoked a pipe, hunted, fished, and enjoyed the world hugely …”.

Clearly, he fitted in well in a colony where the governor (Collins) had a convict mistress. In Sydney, Lachlan Macquarie had a low opinion of Knopwood.

There was one affair which may have accounted for this: it involved a ship called Argo, 19 barrels containing 2800 gallons, about 12 700 litres, of spirits referred to as “arrack”, and probably made from rice. This had been smuggled ashore, and when it was seized, Knopwood in his role as magistrate, became officially involved. This may have hurt him, because the common gossip at the time was that Knopwood had a hand, and perhaps an interest, in the affair.





Friday, 25 November 2016

Curtiosity about Scientific methods



Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

— Thomas Gray (1716 - 1771) Elegy in a Country Churchyard.


It seems to me that there is a great deal of ballyhoo about scientific method.  I venture to think that the people who talk most about it are the people who do least about it.  Scientific method is what working scientists do, not what other people or even they themselves may say about it.

— P. W. Bridgman (1882 - 1961), Reflections of a Physicist, 1949.


The great tragedy of science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

— Thomas Henry Huxley, (1825 - 1895), Biogenesis and Abiogenesis; Collected Essays viii.


We physicists are always checking to see if there is something the matter with the theory.  That's the game, because if there is something the matter, it's interesting!

— Richard Feynman, QED, Penguin Books, 1990, 8.


It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast.  It keeps him young.

— Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, Methuen University Paperback, 1967, p. 8.


Play is a means by which young animals are trained for the responsibilities and conflicts of adult life.  The higher the animal the longer is the period of play and the more keenly it is enjoyed.  There is something of Peter Pan in all of us and in good scientists more than most.

— Sir Macfarlane Burnet, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1915 - 1965, Melbourne University Press, 1971.

Louis Pasteur, portrait, Musée d'Orsay

Preconceived ideas are like searchlights which illumine the path of the experimenter and serve him as a guide to interrogate nature.  They become a danger only if he transforms them into fixed ideas — this is why I should like to see these profound words inscribed on the threshold of all the temples of science: 'The greatest derangement of the mind is to believe something because one wishes it to be so...'

— Louis Pasteur (1822 - 1895), quoted by Robert S. de Ropp in The New Prometheans, 1972, p. 80.




The story is told in the University of Paris that the philosophers there once disputed among themselves as to the number of teeth in a horse's mouth.  It was argued that the number could not be a multiple of three, because that would imply disrespect to the Trinity; nor could it be a multiple of seven, for God created the World in six days and rested upon the seventh.  Neither the authority or Aristotle nor the ingenuity of the schoolmen could resolve the problem, but it was finally settled by a young man, who opened the mouth of a horse, and counted the teeth.  The doctors of the University were not convinced by this novel and unintellectual procedure; but the opening of the horse's mouth marks the birth of the scientific method.

— Professor Eric Ashby, The Place of Biology in Australian Education, inaugural lecture, Sydney, 1939.


To the Greeks of Aristotle's time, and for two thousand years afterward, scientific truth was best discovered and expressed by deducing the nature of things from a set of self-evident premises, which accounts for Aristotle's believing that women have fewer teeth than men, and that babies are healthier if conceived when the wind is in the north.  Aristotle was twice married but so far as we know, it did not occur to him to ask either of his wives if he could count her teeth.  As for his obstetric opinions, we are safe in assuming he used no questionnaires and hid behind no curtains.  Such acts would have seemed to him both vulgar and unnecessary, for that was not the way to ascertain the truth of things.  The language of deductive logic proved a surer road.

— Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Penguin Books, 1986.


The long chains of simple and easy reasonings by means of which geometers are accustomed to reach the conclusions of their most difficult demonstrations had led me to imagine that all things, to the knowledge of which man is competent, are mutually connected in the same way and that there is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it, provided only that we abstain from accepting the false for the true and always preserve in our thoughts the order necessary for the deduction of one truth from another.

— René Descartes (1596 - 1650), Discourse on Method, 16.


Hypotheses lead persons to try a variety of experiments, in order to ascertain [test] them.  In these experiments new facts generally arise.  These new facts serve to correct the hypothesis which gave occasion to them.  The theory thus corrected serves to discover more new facts, which . . . bring the theory still nearer the truth.

— Joseph Priestley (1733 - 1804), The History and Present State of Electricity, with Original Experiments, 1767. p. 421.


One is at liberty to suppose that somewhere along the way the scientist has intuitively abstracted rules of the game for himself, but there is little reason to believe it.  Though many scientists talk easily and well about particular individual hypotheses that underlie a concrete piece of current research, they are little better than laymen at characterizing the established bases of their field, its legitimate problems and methods.

— Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edition, 1970, p. 47.


According to [Popper], it is the task of the scientist, guided by the knowledge of his time, to propose a theory that takes into account what is known, but which, over and above this, forecasts what future experiments and observations should show.  It is only if a theory submits itself to empirical tests that one can call it scientific.  If such an empirical test goes against the theory, then the theory has been disproved.  If it agrees with the forecasts of the theory, then it becomes the task of the theorist to go on making more and more forecasts, to go on sticking his neck out.  A theory is scientific only as long as it lives dangerously.  If it is not at risk, it is not part of science.

— Sir Hermann Bondi, Setting the Scene.


No scientific theory is a collection of facts.  It will not even do to call a theory true or false in the simple sense in which every fact is either so or not so.

— Jacob Bronowski (1908 -    ), Science and Human Values, Julian Messner, 1956.


In parts of biology — the study of heredity, for example — the first universally received paradigms are still more recent; and it remains an open question what parts of social science have yet acquired such paradigms at all.  History suggests the road to a firm research consensus is extraordinarily arduous.

— Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edition, 1970, p. 15.


Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill-prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations.

— Claude Bernard (1813 - 1878)


It is the greatest discovery in method which science has made that the apparently trivial, the merely curious, may be clues to an understanding of the deepest principles of nature.

  Sir George Paget Thomson (1892- ????)


Science cannot discover truth, but it is an excellent means of discovering error.  The residuum left over after errors are eliminated is usually called scientific truth.

— Kenneth Boulding


It remains true that, on the large lines, Richelieu could afford to be sincere, Bismarck could not; and to be compelled to insincerity in the large lines is a heavy burden, a large tax upon energy.

— Hilaire Belloc (1870 - 1953), 'Richelieu and Bismarck' in Stories Essays and Poems, Everyman Library 948, 1957, 197.


The main difference of modern scientific research from that of the Middle Ages, the secret of its immense successes, lies in its collective character, in the fact that every fruitful experiment is published, every new discovery of relationship explained.

— H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946), quoted in Aubrey's Brief Lives, Penguin Books, p. 69.


Scientists who are more interested in experiments than in ideas are liable to quote Huxley's remark about 'the tragedy of a beautiful theory destroyed by one little fact'.  I found it of enormous interest, mixed rather often with alarm and despondency, to watch over a decade clonal selection theory being destroyed several times by what appeared to be incompatible facts.  Yet, over the same years, virtually every new discovery of general significance made clonal selection seem more and more reasonable.  The little 'hard fact' in biology nearly always includes someone's interpretation and interpretations have a tendency to change.  No single experiment ever established one biological generalisation or refuted another.  Immunology is perhaps one of the most soft-edged of the biological sciences.

— Sir Macfarlane Burnet, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1915 - 1965, Melbourne University Press, 1971.


The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one question grew before.

— Thorstein Veblen (1857 - 1929), The Place of Science in Modern Civilization.


At first useless, these facts had to remain unperceived until the moment when the needs and progress of science provoked us to discover them.

— Etienne Geoffroy St Hilaire (1772 - 1844), quoted by Stephen Jay Gould in 'How does a panda fit?' in An Urchin in the Storm, Penguin, 1987.