Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/68

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68
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE WORK OF THE NATURALIST IN THE WORLD.[1]

By Prof. CHARLES SEDGWICK MINOT.

THERE can be no broader question, touching us all, than the influence of our profession upon the world. With your permission I will present a series of considerations in regard to our professional careers which ought, in my opinion, to receive more attention than hitherto. I am aware that in doing this I depart very far from our custom, your previous presidents having each dealt with some broad but specific problem of natural history in their formal addresses. I must leave it to your judgment whether or not I have done wisely in not following, in the present address, the example of my distinguished predecessors.

The object of the naturalist is to discover the truth about Nature, and to record his discoveries in a form which will render them available to others. Original research is the pivot of knowledge.

We will examine:

First. The conditions of success in research.

Second. The effect of the naturalist's career on his character.

Third. The influence of the naturalist on mankind.

I. The Conditions of Success in Research. — That the fundamental condition is the love of truth goes without saying. It is an axiom which, before this audience, requires no proof. But, though we all acknowledge Truth to be our sovereign, I fear there is not one of us whose loyalty to her is perfect — not one of us who can say that his allegiance to the truth has never swerved for the sake of competing influences. Yet Truth is the most absolute of despots, and if any man adheres to Error instead, Truth will triumph over him at last and rob him of all the honor which he thought to win. The disloyal investigator may for a time win honor, but in the end the falsity of his claims becomes known and his reputation shrivels. In our own time we have seen the German founder of brilliant embryological theories lose caste because he did not have the discretion to wait to learn whether his ideas were true. Certain great naturalists have suffered in reputation from their inability to accept Darwinian theories, for, had it been possible for them to join with Darwin, their greatness would be to us still greater. A man may be of the highest ability, yet will he rank low among naturalists unless he is quick and sure in his recognition and inflexible in his devotion, to truth.

Perfect truth is our ideal, but we encounter so many, many

  1. Presidential address delivered before the American Society of Naturalists at the annual meeting in Baltimore, December 27, 1894.