I’ve been a registered dietitian for a few years now, long enough to observe lots of evolution in nutrition science. Nuts and avocados went from bad, especially for weight loss, to good. Cheese appears to be transitioning from sometimes and only in moderation to maybe okay. Same story with whole milk, whole milk yogurt, and lean beef, to name just a few. But that’s the nature of science — it evolves as tools become more sophisticated and lines of questioning deepen. A lot of folks don’t understand that and assume that scientists don’t know what they’re talking about because they keep changing their minds. Superimpose our current culture where beliefs trump science, and science takes a serious beating.

I was reminded of the nature of the scientific process while reading a book chosen by my book club, “Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore. The book tells the charming fictionalized history of the relationships among Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and attorney Paul Cravath in the late 1800s. In addition to the story, I’ve particularly enjoyed reading the chapter opener quotes that are credited to historical figures. Many pertain to the scientific process, and I thought I would share them here:

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” Thomas Edison
  • “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” Thomas Edison
  • “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this–you haven’t.” Thomas Edison
  • “Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification–the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.” Karl Popper
  • “Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: There will always be some who misunderstand you.” Karl Popper
  • “No matter how many instances of white swans we have observed, that does not justify the inference that all swans are white.” Karl Popper
  • “Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.” Karl Popper
  • “A scientific revolution is not fully reducible to a reinterpretation of … stable data. In the first place, the data are not unequivocally stable.” Thomas Kuhn
  • “Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward, logical manner imagined by outsiders.” James Watson
  • “What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what is going on.” Jacques Cousteau
  • “At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes–an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.” Carl Sagan
  • “Headlines, in a way, are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline, and gradual improvement is not.” Bill Gates
  • “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” Steve Jobs
  • “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson