NEEDLESS OBSCURITY IN SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS.
After having called attention in a recent issue of the Monthly to certain circumstances leading to the retardation of science, we may now venture to discuss a few of the particular ways in which a scientific writer can perplex his brother workers. Nobody supposes that the ordinary author wishes his contribution to be regarded as a sort of 'puzzle-page' but that is the effect often unintentionally produced. The causes of this are of diverse nature. In these days of ultra-specialization and of hurry, a specialist often inclines to address himself solely to his fellow specialists, or to an even smaller circle—his fellow-specialists of the moment, forgetting those that may come at a later day. There may be in the whole world but two men who will take the trouble to read his paper, or who would really understand its bearings. Whether from modesty or from pride, from desire of brevity or from laziness, our specialist addresses his remarks solely to those two. The student who is not yet quite at the same level, the professor who tries to keep abreast of his subject in general, the worker who comes a few years later and sees things from an altered point of view; all these find themselves 'out of it,' and long investigations are often necessary before they can be sure of the author's meaning.
The same obscurity is achieved by those whose humility leads them to think other folk more learned than themselves, whereas, in writing scientific papers, as in lecturing, political speaking or leader-writing, one should remember the old request of the listener, 'Of course, I know; but speak to me as if I didn't know,' and the practical warning of the playwright, 'Never fog your audience.' Or it may be not so much humanity as the short-sighted egoism of the enthusiast, who assumes that his little corner must needs be known to all the world. But it i» perhaps not so important for our present purpose to discuss the state of mind conducing to obscurity, as it is to point out instances.
Here is a common one. In stratigraphical geology everyone is supposed to know the names of the great systems; and if the names of their main subdivisions are less familiar, they can at all events be readily hunted up in a text-book. But there are an extraordinary number of names nowadays invented for quite small divisions, or for purely local rocks, and many of these names convey of themselves very little meaning. Is there a geologist living who can say offhand what is meant by all or even half of the following names, which are taken at random from some recent publications: Plaisancien, Schlier, Catadupa beds, Calder Limestone, Hornstein, Oberen Mergel-schichten, Feuerstein, Scaglia rosata, Knorrithone, Ferrugineusschichten, Deer Creek Limestone, Semmeringkalke, Diceratien, Moscow shale, Lenneschiefer? The language or the locality may guide one to a rough determination, or a few names of fossils may be an indication to the expert; but when these names are introduced without further explanation, as is actually the case in many of the papers from which these instances are quoted, then perplexity followed by irritation is the natural result. The names just cited are of diverse nature. Calder Limestone and Lenneschiefer are terms of local application and perfectly justifiable; all that we ask is a hint, however guarded, as to the probable horizon of these restricted rocks in comparison with a better known geological