Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/90

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78
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
ARCTIC EXPLORATION AND ITS OBJECT.

By Dr. FRANZ BOAS.

THE severe sufferings of the last Arctic expeditions, and the losses of life and property they occasioned, have depressed the public mind in regard to Arctic explorations. Great hopes have given way to the conviction of the impossibility of penetrating the ice-bound seas and accomplishing the task which formerly seemed easy. The effect of these failures is even more profound than we could anticipate; for scientists themselves, and other men of intelligence and influence, now doubt if Arctic expeditions could be of any use either for mankind or for science. And the public mind to-day is so thoroughly imbued with these ideas, that it is necessary for every geographer to combat them with all his power.

We may be allowed to pass by the objections of men who measure the advantage of every study and of every enterprise by their influence on commercial welfare. The scientist's objections are those we wish to refute. Many do not consider the discovery of new lands and new seas a task worthy a life's work, as they do not consider it a benefit for science—for their science, which is the deduction of laws from facts. They do not regard the composition of the wonderful picture of the world, as Humboldt tried to delineate in his "Cosmos" a science equal in its worth to the one which abstracts physical laws that govern matter in the worlds as well as in the atoms. However, cosmography, the study of the world and its development, is not at all inferior to physics, the study of its laws.

Geography is one of the branches of science which represent the world as we see it today, and as it is developed into its present state. In its method and subject it is related to astronomy and history. Its domain is the study of the surface of our planet, as it has been developed by the physical action of land, atmosphere, and water, as well as by the relations between land and the organisms which live on it. Regarding geography thus in its proper place in the system of sciences, we can not be allowed to consider any one of its objects as of no consequence and not worthy of being pursued with the same perseverance as those of physics, of astronomy, or natural history. In every branch of science the connection between the phenomena and processes, and the reasons for their distribution in space and time, can only be understood by the most thorough and detailed investigation.

If it be granted that every fact added to our knowledge is of value for science, not by itself, but by connecting other facts already known, there is no reason for excluding geographical researches from this principle, or to consider discoveries of unknown regions as trifling.

For the scientist it is not the benefit of commerce which makes