Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/282

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
268
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

welcome Wiggins because he aims not to instruct, but to excite and terrify—because be undertakes to tell them things about which other men are silent. The medical quack promises everything; the meteorological and astronomical quack threatens everything; and both achieve popularity. Human nature likes strong sensations.

Once more Wiggins has been put to shame, or put to what any other man would regard as shame; but what guarantee have we that he will not, after the lapse of a few months, don his prophetic robes again and fill the land with the noise of his foolish babblings? None: the probability is that we have not heard the last of Mr, Wiggins by a great deal. It will show a moderation on his part on which we have no reason to count, if he withdraws altogether from the notice of a public that is abundantly willing to forget his past blunders, on the sole condition of his propounding new terrors in complete disregard of all the principles of science.

What we see and lament to see in this whole business is, the evidence afforded of the very slight extent to which true scientific knowledge has as yet permeated the public mind. Large portions of our population are at the mercy of charlatans of every profession and of every type. Some of these prey upon their pockets, some upon their health, some upon their emotions. There is knowledge in the world that ought to be the heritage of all, but that really is confined to a few. The masses have no means of distinguishing between the man who speaks in the name of acquired and organized science and the man who uses a scientific terminology, that he himself only half understands, for the purpose of getting himself talked about. Their sympathies, however, rather go out toward the latter, for the simple reason that, instead of making his statements in guarded language, and building upon the previously ascertained facts of science, he throws all reserve to the winds, and speaks out of the fullness of his ignorance in a tone of the most absolute authority.

It seems trite to say that what is wanted is the more general diffusion of sound scientific knowledge; and yet,with the vast agencies that are now being employed in popular education, it should not be impossible, one would think, to do something to guard the community at large against ridiculous and hurtful delusions such as those which "Professor" Wiggins, with the aid of the press, has been instrumental in creating. We do not see why, in our public schools, some effective instruction might not be given in the spirit and methods of science. It might be shown how the early ages of scientific inquiry were marked by the predominance of the most extravagant fancies and ambitions; and that these had their use in stimulating to researches that would not else have been undertaken. Had the stars not been supposed to control human destinies, they would not have been made the object of so attentive a study in the ancient world. Had men not conceived the possibility of transmuting the baser metals into gold, the rise of the science of chemistry would probably have been long postponed. But to-day the true guide in scientific investigation is scientific analogy. The edifice of universal knowledge is being built up little by little through the contributions of patient students everywhere. To but few is it given to discover the operation of any widely acting law; and these are more prone to announce their discoveries in a modest, tentative fashion—as did Darwin when he published his "Origin of Species" —than to burst forth upon the world with loud and confident as- sertions.

It might also be shown how widespread and well-organized are the agencies now established for the study of physical phenomena, how many earnest men, equipped with all the knowledge of the age in so far as the sciences