Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/202

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Methods of Research by Institutions

Some time could profitably be spent on a consideration of the general agencies engaged in furthering research work and the methods employed for doing so. Being, however, connected with a "research institution," I should consider myself incompetent to enter upon a free and unbiased discussion of the methods of such organizations for the furthering of research work. Suffice it to say that it appears sometimes to be overlooked that the most valuable asset of a research organization is the research spirit of its workers, without it no amount of funds could accomplish the desired end. My remarks will be chiefly confined to a brief discussion of the methods to be used in certain investigations of a world-wide character. Craving your indulgence once more, I shall take as an example the general magnetic survey of the earth as representative of the kind of world-embracing research enterprises I have in mind.

Alexander von Humboldt, whose mental grasp was extraordinary in more than one science, set forth the following plan in his "Cosmos" for a general magnetic survey of the globe.[1]

Four times in every century an expedition of three ships should be sent out to examine as nearly as posible at the same time the state of the magnetism, of the earth, so far as it can be investigated in those parts which are covered by the ocean. . . . Land expeditions should be combined with these voyages. . . .

May the year.1850 be marked as the first normal epoch in which the materials for a magnetic chart shall be collected, and may permanent scientific institutions (academies) impose upon themselves the practise of reminding, every twenty-five or thirty years, governments, favorable to the advance of navigation, of the importance of an undertaking whose great cosmical importance depends on its long continued repetition.

Here was a noble project, universally conceded to be not only of the greatest scientific interest, but also of the greatest practical importance. Yet why is it that this grand plan has never been carried out by the foremost nations in friendly concert? Have our academies, as Humboldt suggested, never "imposed upon themselves the practise of reminding every twenty-five or thirty years governments, favorable to the advance of navigation, of the importance of an undertaking" of this character?

Instead of working along a common and definite plan, the magnetic operations hitherto have consisted of more or less isolated and incomplete surveys, independently undertaken by various nations and distributed over a great number of years. Not even for a single epoch has it been possible to construct the magnetic charts on the basis of homogeneous material, distributed over the greater part of the earth, with some attempt, at least, at uniformity. And as to the possibility of

  1. The quotation is from E. C. Otté's translation of the "Cosmos," vol. II., pp. 719-720.