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Science Literacy Quotes

It is astonishing to realize that until Galileo performed his experiments on the acceleration of gravity in the early seventeenth century, nobody questioned Aristotle’s falling balls. Nobody said, Show Me!

[A] television advertisement must illustrate the scientific method to substantiate any claim.… That is why stains are lifted, ring-around-the-collar is removed, paper towels become soaked, excess stomach acid is absorbed, and headaches go away—all during the commercial.

On the light pollution in New York City and the lack of starry nights:

I didn’t even know there were stars to look at to not see. If you don’t know that they’re there, you don’t know that you’re missing them.

Exceptional Research Opportunities Program meeting, HHMI, May 15 and 16, 2008

We fail in even the simplest of all scientific observations—nobody looks up anymore.

For your own safety, do not ever tell an astrophysicist, I hope all your stars are twinkling.

And I don’t care what else anyone has ever told you, the Sun is white, not yellow. Human color perception is a complicated business, but if the Sun were yellow, like a yellow lightbulb, then white stuff such as snow would reflect this light and appear yellow—a snow condition confirmed to happen only near fire hydrants.

I suppose I can live with missing decimals, missing floors to tall buildings, and floors that are named instead of numbered. A more serious problem is the limited capacity of the human mind to grasp the relative magnitudes of large numbers. Counting at the rate of one number per second…[t]o count to a trillion takes 32,000 years, which is as much time as has elapsed since people first drew on cave walls.

[T]here is a theorem that colloquially translates, You cannot comb the hair on a bowling ball. … Clearly, none of these mathematicians had Afros, because to “comb” an Afro is to pick it straight away from the scalp. If bowling balls had Afros, then yes, they could be combed without violation of mathematical theorems.

As a child, I knew that at night, with the lights out, infrared vision would discover monsters hiding in the bedroom closet only if they were warm-blooded. But everybody knows that your average bedroom monster is reptilian and cold-blooded. Infrared vision would thus miss a bedroom monster completely…

Regarding a 14-year-old student at a school science fair:

He invited people to sign a petition that demanded either strict control of, or a total ban on, dihydrogen monoxide.… Yes, 86 percent of the passersby voted to ban water (H2O) from the environment. Maybe that’s what really happened to all the water on Mars.

Last I checked, Bill Gates was worth $50 billion. If the average employed adult, who is walking in a hurry, will pick up a quarter from the sidewalk, but not a dime, then the corresponding amount of money (given their relative wealth) that Bill Gates would ignore if he saw it lying on the street is $25,000.

A common way to compute density is, of course, to take the ratio of an object’s mass to its volume. But other types of densities exist, such as the resistance of somebody’s brain to the imparting of common sense….

People like it when they understand something that they previously thought they couldn’t understand. It’s a sense of empowerment.

Exceptional Research Opportunities Program meeting, HHMI, May 15 and 16, 2008

On the claim that McDonalds has sold 100 billion hamburgers:

You can make a stack high enough to reach the moon and back, and only then will you have used your 100 billion hamburgers. This is terrifying news to cows.

One thing is for certain, the more profoundly baffled you have been in your life, the more open your mind becomes to new ideas.