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The Life and Times of a Dissident Scientist

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Due and detailed thanks to everyone who deserves my thanks would double the length of this memoir, so I can acknowledge only very briefly my debts to my many colleagues, past and present – teachers, colleagues, and students. Your support has been welcome; your criticism has been salutary. Thanks are due also to the many taxpayers who have generously but unwittingly supported my research through several agencies, prominently the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. I also thank with affection my schools Stifford School and Palmer’s School (both now existing in memory only), St. John’s College, Cambridge, and Stanford University. And I acknowledge with profound gratitude my debt to my family and friends who made mine a happy life – well worth living. Finally, I express my sincere thanks to Loren Acton and Mike Wheatland, and an anonymous referee, who reviewed the text and made many suggestions that improved (including shortening) this essay.

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Correspondence to Peter Andrew Sturrock.

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Appendix: Aphorisms

Appendix: Aphorisms

These are a few of the aphorisms that I have collected along the way, which I consider to be relevant to the scientific enterprise.

A.1 Classical Scholars

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. [Francis Bacon]

As the births of living creatures at first are misshapen, so are all innovations, which are the births of time. [Francis Bacon]

A time will come when our descendants will be amazed that we had no knowledge of such obvious things. [Seneca]

A.2 Scientists

A theory does not have to explain all of the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. [Francis Crick]

All the essential ideas in science were born in dramatic conflict between reality and our attempts at understanding. [Albert Einstein]

Ignorance is sometimes bliss in scientific research. [Robert Hanbury Brown]

What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning. [Werner Heisenberg]

It is sometimes considered a paradox that the answer depends not only on the observations, but on the question; it should be a platitude. [Harold Jeffreys]

But when do anomalies begin? We will argue that certain scientific anomalies are recognized only after they are given compelling explanations within a new conceptual framework. [Alan Lightman and Owen Gingerich]

One key to progress in science is an eye for contradictions and an insistence that they be resolved. [Helen Quinn]

What path to explore is important as well as what we notice along the path. And there are always unturned stones along even well-trodden paths. Discovery awaits those who spot and take the trouble to turn those stones. [Charles Townes]

A.3 Historians, Philosophers, Sociologists, Etc.

Even within scientific circles today a new discovery may be ignored or opposed if it is revolutionary in principle and made by someone outside approved circles. [William Beveridge]

What we must aim at is honest, objective judgment of the evidence, freeing our minds as much as possible from opinion not based on fact, and suspend judgment where the evidence is incomplete. [William Beveridge]

Discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, that is, with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the pre-induced expectations that govern normal science. [Thomas Kuhn]

Science has its orthodoxy as well as religion. [Article on Heresy, 1959 Encyclopedia Brittanica]

New ideas should be regarded as precious, and should be carefully nursed, especially if they seem to be a bit wild. [Karl Popper]

Intolerant dogmatism… is one of the main obstacles to science. Indeed, we should not only keep alternative theories alive by discussing them, but we should systematically look for new alternatives; and we should be worried whenever a dominant theory becomes too exclusive. [Karl Popper]

In real life, research is dependent on the human capacity for making predictions that are wrong, and on the even more human gift for bouncing back again. [Lewis Thomas]

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. [Wilfred Trotter]

Faith is a great thing, but it’s doubt that gets you an education. [Mark Twain]

The doctrines which best repay critical examination are those which for the longest period have remained unquestioned. [Alfred North Whitehead]

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Sturrock, P.A. The Life and Times of a Dissident Scientist. Sol Phys 292, 147 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11207-017-1156-6

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