I am writing an informative article about physics for the general public, and I was wondering if there is any quote by some famous physicist on the concept that usually physicist care about understanding trends more than predicting precise numbers. In particular, I would like to convey the message that for a physicist developing a general model which explains the trend of multiple physical phenomenas is much more rewarding than developing a very specific model which explains very well one single physical phenomena but is limited to it.

I found Fermi's quote "Better be Approximately Right than Precisely Wrong", but I would prefer something containing the word "trend" (e.g. once I heard a physics professor saying "I don't care about numbers, I care about trends", this would be perfect for my scope, but it would look much better if this was said by some illustrious physicist).

P.S. I am not sure this is the best platform to post this question, any suggestion for more suitable place to ask this is more than Wellcome.

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    No, probably not the best place for such questions. A mailing list of a professional association in physics, I'd think, would be better. – Buffy Mar 21 at 15:41
  • If that were true then the Stefan Boltzman constant could be rounded to 5.7 * 10^-8 ... but it is not - wonder why... – Solar Mike Mar 21 at 16:03
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    I'd say we physicists care about both trends and numbers, but we care about the trends (i.e. how something scales, or its functional form) first. That's required for understanding the overall behavior of a system. But we certainly care about quantitative aspects too - otherwise we wouldn't spend so much time trying to teach people about significant figures or improving measurement techniques. – Anyon Mar 21 at 16:06
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    Let me quote, as a counterargument, the Nobel laureate Steven Chu: "Accurate measurement is at the heart of physics, and in my experience new physics begins at the next decimal place" (quoted by A. J. Wallard, "Metrology and society", in Proceedings of the International School of Physics Enrico Fermi, Course CLXVI, 2006). I'm a metrologist, a field which generated a lot of Nobel prizes, and I know many physicists who would disagree with your idea. I strongly suggest you to rethink your paper. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 21 at 18:40
  • This is clearly in scope and probably not the content of research, but it is a shopping question. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 22 at 5:53

I do not agree that physicists are more concerned to obtain a qualitative analysis than a quantitative one. However, your question is not about my believes, so ...

  1. Einstein: "If I can’t picture it, I don't understand it."
  2. Dirac: I don't know the exact quote, but he said something like: "In order to understand a differential equation I have to be able to predict the limiting cases, and not solving the actual equation".

You will find the exact quotes in the internet.

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