Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 67.djvu/312

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306
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

PUBLIC INTEREST IN RESEARCH.
By Professor JOHN M. COULTER,

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.

THE subject I propose to discuss seems to me both timely and important. I recognize that to many scientific men it is a subject to which they are indifferent or which may afford them passing amusement. And yet, there appear in it certain possibilities that may be worth consideration. I do not refer to the general public, to whom information concerning research would be like 'casting pearls before swine' but to what may be called the intelligent public, the public that thinks and brings things to pass. To develop in proper order what I have in mind, I shall speak of public interest in research under three divisions: (1) its present condition, (2) its possible condition, and (3) its possible results.

 

1. Its Present Condition.

The most available index of the present interest in research is furnished probably by the newspapers and magazines, which try to respond to the desires of their readers. Even a cursory examination of the material they furnish, which may be said to deal with research, shows that it is scant in amount, sensational in form, and usually wide of the mark. The fact that it is scant in amount is a cause for congratulation if it must involve the two other features. The sensational form is a concession to what is conceived to be public taste; and while to a scientific man this form seems to exhibit the worst possible taste, the serious objection is that to secure the form truth is usually sacrificed. That the real significance of an investigation thus reported is usually missed is not to be wondered at, since the reporter is not the investigator and has no scientific perspective whatsoever. Some of the results of this kind of information are as follows:

Men engaged in research are looked upon in general as inoffensive but curious and useless members of the social order. If an investigator now and then touches upon something that the public regards as useful, he is singled out as a glaring exception, and is held up as an example for us all to follow. If an investigation lends itself to announcement in an exceedingly sensational form, as if it were uncovering deep mysteries, the investigator becomes a 'wizard,' and his lightest utterance is treated as an oracle. The result is that if the intelligent reading public were asked to recite the distinguished names in science,