As soon as the circumstances of an experiment are well known, we stop gathering statistics. ... The effect will occur always without exception, because the cause of the phenomena is accurately defined. Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined,Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined, can we compile statistics. ... we must learn therefore that we compile statistics only when we cannot possibly help it; for in my opinion, statistics can never yield scientific truth.
Progress is achieved by exchanging our theories for new ones which go further than the old, until we find one based on a larger number of facts. ... Theories are only hypotheses, verified by more or less numerous facts. Those verified by the most facts are the best, but even then they are never final, never to be absolutely believed.
In these researches I followed the principles of the experimental method that we have established, i.e., that, in presence of a well-noted, new fact which contradicts a theory, instead of keeping the theory and abandoning the fact, I should keep and study the fact, and I hastened to give up the theory.
Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Of necessity, they observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can see, in its results,only a confirmation of their theory. In this way they distort observation and often neglect very important facts because they do not further their aim.
When a physician is called to a patient, he should decide on the diagnosis, then the prognosis, and then the treatment. ... Physicians must know the evolution of the disease, its duration and gravity in order to predict its course and outcome. Here statistics intervene to guide physicians, by teaching them the proportion of mortal cases, and if observation has also shown that the successful and unsuccessful cases can be recognized by certain signs, then the prognosis is more certain.
Even mistaken hypotheses and theories are of use in leading to discoveries. This remark is true in all the sciences. The alchemists founded chemistry by pursuing chimerical problems and theories which are false. In physical science, which is more advanced than biology, we might still cite men of science who make great discoveries by relying on false theories. It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles.
The physiologist is not a man of the world, he is a scientist, a man caught and absorbed by a scientific idea that he pursues; he no longer hears the cries of the animals, no longer sees the flowing blood, he sees only his idea: organisms that hide from him problems that he wants to discover. He doesn't feel that he is in a horrible carnage; under the influence of a scientific idea, he pursues with delight a nervous filament inside stinking and livid flesh that for any other person would be an object of disgust and horror.
To be worthy of the name, an experimenter must be at once theorist and practitioner. While he must completely master the art of establishing experimental facts, which are the materials of science, he must also clearly understand the scientific principles which guide his reasoning through the varied experimental study of natural phenomena. We cannot separate these two things: head and hand. An able hand, without a head to direct it, is a blind tool; the head is powerless without its executive hand.
It has often been said that, to make discoveries, one must be ignorant. This opinion, mistaken in itself, nevertheless conceals a truth. It means that it is better to know nothing than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we constantly seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them.
The first entirely vital action, so termed because it is not effected outside the influence of life, consists in the creation of the glycogenic material in the living hepatic tissue. The second entirely chemical action, which can be effected outside the influence of life, consists in the transformation of the glycogenic material into sugar by means of a ferment.
Laplace considers astronomy a science of observation, because we can only observe the movements of the planets; we cannot reach them, indeed, to alter their course and to experiment with them. "On earth," said Laplace, "we make phenomena vary by experiments; in the sky, we carefully define all the phenomena presented to us by celestial motion." Certain physicians call medicine a science of observations, because they wrongly think that experimentation is inapplicable to it.
In the patient who succumbed, the cause of death was evidently something which was not found in the patient who recovered; this something we must determine, and then we can act on the phenomena or recognize and foresee them accurately. But not by statistics shall we succeed in this; never have statistics taught anything, and never can they teach anything about the nature of the phenomenon.
Men who have excessive faith in their theories ... make poor observations, because they choose among the results of their experiments only what suits their object, neglecting whatever is unrelated to it and carefully setting aside everything which might tend toward the idea they wish to combat
I do not ... reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. ... Statistics ... apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. ... There will always be some indeterminism ... in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man's intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
In a word, I consider hospitals only as the entrance to scientific medicine; they are the first field of observation which a physician enters; but the true sanctuary of medical science is a laboratory; only there can he seek explanations of life in the normal and pathological states by means of experimental analysis.
Ardent desire for knowledge, in fact, is the one motive attracting and supporting investigators in their efforts; and just this knowledge, really grasped and yet always flying before them, becomes at once their sole torment and their sole happiness. Those who do not know the torment of the unknown cannot have the joy of discovery which is certainly the liveliest that the mind of man can ever feel.