Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/761

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.



THE American Association for the Advancement of Science held its twenty-third meeting at Hartford, in August, under the presidency of Dr. Le Conte, with a very good attendance. The address of the retiring president, Prof. Lovering, was an elaborate and able document, devoted to the discussion of prominent questions in modern physics; and a large number of miscellaneous papers, of the usual interest, were contributed to the proceedings. But while the Hartford meeting was one of average interest, in respect of the amount and quality of its scientific work, it was especially important in relation to the history of the domestic management of the Association. The constitution was revised, and the revision had reference to old and radical difficulties in the organization. As the American Association is the leading representative of the interests of American science, and as there is not a little misapprehension on the part of the public regarding its aims and policy, it will be desirable to give a brief account of its origin and character, that the import of the recent changes may be made intelligible.

The usefulness of organizations for the promotion of scientific objects is nowhere questioned. It is indispensable that scientific men should associate in order to carry on their work, and societies devoted to scientific objects, general and special, have accordingly sprung up within the last two centuries in all the leading civilized nations. The astronomers, the botanists, the geologists, the zoologists, the chemists, have all had their societies for the promotion, of research and the extension of knowledge in their respective departments, while other institutions have aimed at the same ends by more comprehensive plans of organization. These associations naturally confined their membership to the cultivators of special original research in their several departments. But, with the rapid growth of science in later years, with the multiplication of its interests and the recognition of their powerful bearing upon public welfare, it began to be seen that the old organizations were inadequate to the general wants, and that new associations must be called into existence better adapted to meet them. One of the earliest expressions of this tendency was seen in the formation of the "British Association for the Advancement of Science," which was established in 1831, and held its first meeting at York, under the presidency of Earl Fitzwilliam, F.R.S. It was to be of a migratory character, holding its annual sessions in different towns; and it admitted to membership all who attended the first meeting, and in general all members of scientific societies, scientific professors, and those devoting themselves in any way to the promotion of scientific objects. There was obviously no intention that membership of the British Association was to be used or construed in the way of valuable indorsement of scientific position. The objects to be attained were general, and by no means the least of them was to act upon the public mind in such a way as to awaken a taste for scientific pursuits, to diffuse information, and incite an increasing interest in scientific matters. The aim of the organization was thus stated in the constitution: "The Association contemplates no interference with the ground occupied by other institutions. Its objects are—to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific inquiry; to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the British Empire,