Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/230

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226
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE PRESENT PROBLEMS OF PALEONTOLOGY.[1]
By HENRY FAIRFIELD OSBORN,
DA COSTA PROFESSOR OF ZOOLOGY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. CURATOR OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY, AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.
GEOLOGIST AND PALEONTOLOGIST, UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

I CONGRATULATE myself that it has fallen to my lot to set forth some of the chief contemporary problems of paleontology, as well as to make an exposition of the prevailing methods of thought in this branch of biology. At the same time I regret that I can cover only one-half of the field, namely, that of the paleontology of the vertebrates. From lack of time and of the special knowledge required to do a great subject justice I am compelled to omit the science of invertebrate fossils and the important biological inductions made by the many able workers in this field. There is positively much in common between the inductions derived from vertebrate and invertebrate evolution and I believe a great service would be rendered to biology by a philosophical comparison and contrast of the methods and results of vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology.

The science of vertebrate fossils is in an extremely healthy state at present. The devotees of the science were never more numerous, never more inspired and certainly never so united in aim as at present. We have suffered some heavy personal losses, not only among the chiefs, but among the younger leaders of the science in recent years; Cope, Marsh, Zittel, Kowalevsky, Baur and Hatcher have gone, but they live in their works and their influence, which vary with the peculiar or characteristic genius of each.

As in every other branch of science, problems multiply like the heads of hydra; no sooner is one laid low than a number of new ones appear; yet we stand on the shoulders of preceding generations, so that if our philosophical vision be correct we gain a wider horizon, while the horizon itself is constantly expanding by discovery.

In discovery the chief theater of interest shifts from continent to continent in an unexpected and almost sensational manner. In 1870, all eyes were centered on North America and especially on Rocky Mountain exploration; for many ensuing years, new and even unthought of orders of beings came to the surface of knowledge, revolutionizing our thought, firmly establishing the evolution theory and

  1. Address delivered before the Section of Zoology of the International Congress of Arts and Science, September 22, 1904.