Let's have a break

Below is a range of quotations about situations pesticide fate modellers are bound to have experienced. If you don't understand the quote or can't relate to it, please go back to your machine and do more pesticide fate modelling before reading this page again ;-)

- Science
- Computers and models
- Project management
- Murphy's law
- Selected quotes from the scientific literature


- Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence

- An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing

- The specialist learns more and more about less and less until, finally, he knows everything about nothing; whereas the generalist learns less and less about more and more until, finally, he knows nothing about everything.

- Tell a man you've just successfully predicted the fate of a compound for the next 30 years for the whole of the country and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have a touch to be sure

- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

- If mathematically you end up with the incorrect answer, try multiplying by the page number

- Any simple theory will be worded in the most complicated way

- When working toward the solution of a problem, it always help if you know the answer

- Numbers are symbols for things; the number and the thing are not the same

- Like other occult practices of divination, statistics has a private jargon deliberately contrived to obscure its methods from non-practitioners

- The more ridiculous a belief system, the higher the probability of success

- Most problems have either many answers or no answer. Only a few problems have a single answer.

- A statement may be true independently of illogical reasoning

- Most general statements are false, including this one

- The moment you have worked out an answer, start checking it, it probably isn't right

- Being sure mistakes will occur is a good frame of mind for catching them

- If everything seems to be coming your way, you're probably in the wrong lane

- Any system or program, however complicated, if looked exactly the right way, will become even more complicated

- Some mistakes are too fun to make only once

- If the assumptions are wrong, the conclusions aren't likely to be very good

- If you explain so clearly that nobody can misunderstand, somebody will

- If you do something which you are sure will meet everyone's approval, somebody won't like it

- Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on as though nothing had happened

- The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible

- The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; note that the population is growing.

- People will accept your ides much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first

- If at first you don't succeed, transform your dataset

- Undetectable errors are infinite in variety, in contrast to detectable errors, which by definition are limited

- History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history.

- The number of different hypotheses erected to explain a given biological phenomena is inversely proportional to the available knowledge

- The number of errors in any piece of writing rises in proportion to the writer's reliance on secondary sources

- Any facts which, when included in the argument, give the desired result, are fair facts for the argument.

- never replicate a successful experiment

- Science is Truth. Don't be misled by facts.

- Do not believe in miracles. Rely on them.

- Ideas endure and prosper in inverse proportion to their soundness and validity

- Trivial matters are handled promptly; important matters are never resolved.

- Complex problems have simple, easy to understand wrong answers

- Every time you come up with a terrific idea, you find that someone else thought of it first

- Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity and other environmental variables, any experimental organism will do as it damn well pleases.

- Progress does not consist of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.

- The real world is a special case

- Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other

- Any experiment is reproducible until another laboratory tries to repeat it

- If a thing is done wrong often enough, it becomes right

- Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.

- If another scientist thought your research was more important than his, he would drop what he is doing and do what you are doing.

- Any simple idea will be worded in the most complicated way

- Only a mediocre person is always at his best

- For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; and it is always wrong

- You can't tell how deep a puddle is until you step into it

- There is a solution to every problem; the only difficulty is to find it

- If two wrongs don't make a right, try three

- The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomena is infinite

- Any theory can be made to fit any facts by means of appropriate additional assumptions

- The first sample is always the best

- The chief cause of problems is solutions

- Given any problem containing n equations, there will be n+1 unknowns

- If you think you're wrong, you're wrong. Corollary: if you think you're wrong, you're right

- If it happens, it must be possible

- If enough data are collected, anything may be proven by statistical methods

- Anything can be made to work if you fiddle around with it long enough
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Computers & models

- A computer makes as many mistakes in 2 seconds as 20 men working 20 years make

- The faster a computer is, the faster it will reach the crashed state

- If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist

- The new hardware will break down as soon as the old is disconnected and out

- If it's good, they'll stop making it

- The attention span of a computer is only as long as its electrical cord

- There's always one more bug

- In any program, any error which can creep in will eventually do so

- Not until the program has been released for a year will the most harmful error be discovered

- When all else fails, read the user manual

- If the input editor has been designed to reject all bad input, an ingenious idiot will discover a method to get bad data

- Any error in any calculation will be in the direction of maximum harm

- When anything is used to its full potential, it will break

- The fewer functions any device is required to perform, the more perfectly it can perform those functions

- A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure

- Build a system that even a fool can use, and only a fool will want to use it

- Most accidents in well-designed systems involve two or more events of low probability occurring in the worst possible combination
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Project management

- After adding two weeks to the schedule for the unexpected delays, add two more for the unexpected, unexpected delays

- A carelessly planned project takes three times longer than expected. A carefully planned project takes only twice as long.

- A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost

- To spot the expert, pick the one who predicts the job will take the longest and cost the most

- Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he/she is supposed to be doing at the moment

- Anything is possible, but nothing is easy

- Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget

- The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing

- In any decisive situation, the amount of relevant information available is inversely proportional to the importance of the decision

- To beat the bureaucracy, make your problem their problem

- The larger the project, the less time there is to do it

- If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we've solved it

- Negative expectations yield negative results. Positive expectations yield negative results.

- When it is not necessary to make a decision, it is necessary not to make a decision

- We're all going down the same road in different directions

- Once a job is fouled up, anything done to improve it only makes it worse

- Teamwork is essential: it allows you to blame someone else

- If more than one person is responsible for a miscalculation, no one will be at fault

- n+1 trivial tasks are expected to be accomplished in the same time as n trivial tasks. n+1 trivial tasks take twice as long as n trivial tasks.

- You can never do merely one thing

- It is better to have a horrible ending than to have horrors without end

- A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow

- All delivery promises mist be multiplied by a factor of 2.0

- Never tell them what you wouldn't do

- Procrastination avoids boredom; one never has the feeling that there is nothing important to do

- One's man brain plus one other will produce about one half as many ideas as one man would have produced alone. These two plus two more will produce half again as many ideas. These four plus four more begin to represent a creative meeting and the ratio changes to one quarter as many.

- The more innocuous the modification appears to be, the further its influence will extend and the more plans will have to be redrawn

- If it looks easy, it's tough. If it looks tough, it's damn well impossible

- If you want a track team to win the high jump you find one person who can jump seven feet, not seven people who can jump one foot

- Nothing is impossible for the man/woman who doesn't have to do it himself/herself
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Murphy's law

Murphy's law is a theory initially based on the observation that whatever the side of the bread you put your butter on, the buttered side will fall on the carpet first.

- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong

- If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway

- If there's a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong

- If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.

- Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse

- If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something

- It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious

- Things get worse under pressure

- Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value

- If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one the will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong

- The chance of the bread falling with the buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet

- You never run out of things that can go wrong

- Everything that goes up must come down

- Any instrument when dropped will roll into the least accessible corner

- Any attempt to print Murphy's law will jam the printer

- When the plane you are on is late, the plane you want to transfer to is on time

- Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.

- Deliveries that normally take one day will take five when you are waiting for an important item

- If it can be borrowed and it can be broken, you will borrow it and you will break it

- Whenever one word or letter can change the entire meaning of a sentence, the probability of an error being made will be in direct proportion to the embarrassment it will cause

- If on an actuarial basis there is a 50-50 chance that something will go wrong, it will actually go wrong nine times out of ten

- Things will get worse before they will get better. Who said things would get better?

- After things have gone from bad to worse, the cycle will repeat itself

- If an experiment works, something has gone wrong

- If it can break, it will, but only after the warranty expires

- The probability of anything happening is in inverse ratio to its desirability

- Anything that happens enough times to irritate you will happen at least once more

- If the experiment works, you must be using the wrong equipment

- Anything that begins well ends badly. Anything that begins badly ends worse
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Selected quotes from the scientific literature

- "The models have many limitations and the net result today is that we are able to get the wrong answer much faster and with much flashier graphics than we could just a few years ago."
Gustafson D.I. (1995). Use of computer models to assess exposure to agricultural chemicals via drinking water. The Science of the Total Environment, 171:35-42.

- "The achievement of scientific work of high quality requires the deployment of sophisticated craft skills, as well as the motivating force of commitment and morale."
Costanza R., Funtowicz S.O. & Ravetz J.R. (1992). Assessing and communicating data quality in policy-relevant research. Environmental Management, 16:121-131.

- "Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds your stuff to any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends on what you put in; and as the grandest mill in the world will not extract wheat flour from peascods, so pages of formulae will not get a definite result out of loose data."
Huxley T.H. (1869). "Geological Reform". Published in Collected Essays, vol. 8, 1894.

Thanks to Bob Eganhouse (US Geological Survey, USA) for this quote.

- "Risk assessment should (...) be a scientific process and not some sort of black art".
Hamer M. (2000). Ecological Risk Assessment for Agricultural Pesticides. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 2:104-109.
Thanks to Stefan Reichenberger (University of Giessen, Germany) for this quote.
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[Credits] Most of the above has been compiled from a page dedicated to Murphy's law.

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