Talk:Ernest Rutherford

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This is the talk page for discussing improvements to the Ernest Rutherford page.

I have to say that some of these are among the most stupid and/or arrogant quotes about science I have ever heard, especially the one about physics and stamp collecting. I doubt the man had any understanding of how most knowledge in most sciences is actually gained. 23:46, 7 November 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Long time after the fact to respond but in his era the massive journal industry did not exist and most communication was between researchers--hence stamp collecting. So, he was not being silly or out of touch but he was merely commenting on the conditions as they were. Many of the things he said were related to his lifetime as one would expect from a person who was cogent enough to recognise where and when he was living. malangthon 04:3121 April 2010 (EPT)

Long long after the fact --- neither of you got what Rutherford was going for. The quote about stamp collecting has been said numerous times, by such luminaries as Feynman (see the "map of a cat" story). The quote is saying that collecting data without a firm theoretical basis is pseudo-science ("stamp collecting"). It is intended to be insulting at "how most knowledge in most sciences is actually gained". It's not about a particular era, and has nothing to do with the journal industry. It has to do with the productivity of data collection in the absence of firm theoretical reasoning to evaluate that data. If you are insulted by it, or consider it arrogant --- well, the speakers would in fact intend you to feel insulted by it. For further evidence, see "string and sealing wax" story. The man had a firm understanding of science --- but from the perspective of an incredibly productive field during an incredibly productive era --- I don't think he would have been a fan of most science being done today. 21:31, 29 January 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

There is no evidence Rutherford actually said this. The earliest source I've seen actually suggests otherwise: "I must not go as far as someone who was overheard after a lecture of Rutherford's to say 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting.'" From A. G. Bogle, "A Preview of Biophysics," The New Zealand Science Review 10 (1952): 158. (link)

Weakly sourced quotations[edit]

I think these quotations are not complete enough. Three of the four 'sourced' quotations have no date associated (and none of the unsourced quotations), most give no information about where the statement was made, and nearly all are a minimal length giving no context. For such a well-known physicist, I would hope this page can be expanded and better referenced. Path <3

String and Sealing Wax...[edit]

Could some one source the great quote " If you can't do it with string and sealing wax on a lab bench it probably isn't worth doing at all." I believe it was in an edition of one of his magnum opus texts but my copies are in storage at present.. (See also: Fritz Haber and Hadron Collider)--Oracleofottawa 04:16, 25 October 2010 (UTC) demenapadoReply[reply]


  • All scientific men will be delighted to extend their warmest congratulations to Tesla and to express their appreciation of his great contributions to science.
  • I have always been very proud of the fact that I am a New Zealander.
  • I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter.
    • On splitting the atom
  • I'm a simple man myself.
  • If your result needs a statistician then you should design a better experiment.
    • Variant: If you need statistics, you did the wrong experiment.
    • Variant: If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.
  • That man is an Euclidian point: position without substance.
    • About a self-important person
    • This might be derivative of someone else's remarks — I can find no source for it, and the closest thing yet located in Google searches is in Lord Chatham : A War Minister in the Making (1958) by Owen Aubrey Sherrard, where the author is apparently speaking about Frederick II of Prussia : "Frederick fulfilled to a marvel the definition of a point — position without substance. He had nothing to offer in himself but assiduity in seeking popular applause and an involuntary skill in stirring his parents to enmity. Beyond that lay emptiness which death was to confirm." That is probably all the time I will devote to the matter for now. ~ Kalki (talk · contributions) 21:12, 15 April 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • That's the last potato I will ever dig.
    • Upon being admitted to Cambridge University - family anecdote
  • The energy produced by breaking down the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformations of these atoms is taking moonshine.
  • The more physics you have the less engineering you need.
  • The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the "social sciences" is: some do, some don't.
  • You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10 or 12 to 1.
  • If you can't explain your research to the cleaning lady, it's not worth doing
    • i.e. if you can't explain your research in laymans terms, you probably don't understand it yourself

—This unsigned comment is by InvisibleSun (talkcontribs) 13:44, 23 March 2009‎ .

The unsourced is probably "You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 1012 [trillion]] to 1." --Kkmurray (talk) 03:44, 4 August 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]


-- 16:44, 18 June 2014 (UTC)Rick Bennett 18 JUN 2014 I believe I see the term bazaar being used where bizarre is the appropriate homophone.Reply[reply]