Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/383

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379
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

A NATIONAL DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH

The physicians of the country and the American Medical Association have long advocated the establishment of a department of public health as part of the national government, and they now have the cooperation of an influential committee of one hundred, which had its origin at the Ithaca meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Norton, of Yale University, there read a paper on the economic advisability of a national department of health in which he pointed out the waste due to preventable death and disease. Apart from the incalculable misery, the saving in money that could be effected in this country was placed at from two to four billion dollars a year. Professor Fisher, of Yale University, who was chairman of the section of economic and social science of the association, is chairman of the committee of one hundred, which includes many of those most active in all good works, such as Presidents Eliot, Hadley, Angell and Gilman, Drs. Welch, Bryant and Biggs, the surgeon generals of the army and navy, Messrs. Felix Adler and Lyman Abbott, and others of equal influence. It may not be easy for such a committee to agree on a definite plan, but their recommendations should carry great weight with the president and the congress.

The first question appears to be as to whether a national department of health with a cabinet officer should be advocated or whether only a bureau should be recommended for the present. It is a curious fact that our cabinet is smaller and less democratic than that of any other great nation. We alone have no ministry of education. Certainly the fusion of the war and navy departments with one secretary only and the establishment of three new departments and cabinet ministers—one of science, one of education and one of health—would more nearly represent what should be the proper functions of government than our present system. But this is a question for the future. A less radical reorganization, and one within the range of possibility, should sensible people unite to advocate it, would be the transference of pensions from the Department of the Interior to the army and navy, where they belong, leaving the Department of the Interior free to become essentially a department of science, education and health, whose representative in the cabinet should be a man such as President Eliot or Dr. Welch. Apart from pensions and the land office (which latter might be transferred to the Department of Agriculture or of Commerce and Labor), the Department of the Interior now consists of the Bureau of Education and of Indian Affairs, the Patent Office and the Geological Survey. If bureaus of science, of public health and of fine arts were added, the Department of the Interior would become a 'Cultusministerium.' It appears likely that the most that can be accomplished by the committee of one hundred and the American Medical Association at present would be the establishment of a Bureau of Health coordinate with the Bureau of Education under the Department of the Interior. The function of these two bureaus for the present would be mainly that of coordination and the collection and diffusion of information, but they would be free to develop as rapidly as the general sentiment of the country permitted.