Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/November 1895/Fragments of Science

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Fragments of Science.

Nature's Defenses against Disease.—It is maintained by Dr. C. Theodore Williams, of the Hospital for Consumptives, Brompton, England, that in most of the specific modes of treating consumption, particularly in the antiseptic modes, the greatest factor of all—the resisting power of the organism to disease—is ignored, and that it is to this that the physician should lend his aid and support. For if his means are effectual he can ward off disease, or if a patient has been already attacked he can limit its inroads and possibly arrest it altogether. The history of the treatment of phthisis shows that life in the pure air, judicious exercise, light, nourishing dietary, and such aids as cod-liver oil and tonics have effected more than all the bacillicide treatment put together. These all act on the old principle of helping Nature to help herself and reducing the vulnerability of the patient to attack. The weapons of resistance which Nature lends the human body are the leucocytes or phagocytes, studied by Metchnikoff, which absorb the bacilli and destroy their energy. Another destroyer of bacilli is the serum of certain animals; and a third method of destruction is seen in the process of fibrosis, which is largely present in chronic consumption. In a well-organized, well-developed, and therefore well-protected person the bacilli are overwhelmed by the irruption of phagocytes at the point of entry, and immunity is the result. In one of less protective power they may enter and be carried along by the lymphatics to the lymphatic glands, where they undergo digestion and destruction. When, however, the tubercle bacilli gain an entrance, and settle, and destroy the tissues, as in the case of the lung, the most that can be hoped for is that the progress may be obstructed by fibrous growth, or that, through developing and expanding the healthy lung in the neighborhood, pressure may be brought to bear on the diseased portion, inducing a drying process incompatible with the life of bacilli. This process is encouraged by living at high altitudes. The problem of treatment resolves itself principally into means to increase the number and activity of the phagocytes and thus render more probable the destruction of the tubercle bacilli. Moreover, whatever improves the quality of the phagocytes would also improve and enrich the blood and lymph serum, of which they form a principal part. To this quality the author attributes the virtue of cod-liver oil—to which he has found, he says, no substitute comparable. Sunshine and pure air are the best bacillicides. At Davos and St. Moritz phthisical patients almost invariably sleep with open windows throughout the winter, when the thermometer not uncommonly registers -4° F., or 36° below the freezing point, care, of course, being taken to heat the room with stoves, to provide plenty of blankets and coverlets, and to see that the current of external air is not directed on to the patient, but always first ascends to the ceiling. The universal testimony of medical men is to the effect that no harm, and much good, results from this practice. One effect is that patients accustom themselves to living at a lower temperature without noticing it. At Davos, Leysin, and Falkenstein there are covered terraces or long, sheltered corridors, open on one side to the air and protected from wind, where a large number of phthisical patients in various stages of disease recline on couches for the greatest part of the day in all weathers. In the winter there is no heating apparatus, and warmth is kept up by fur clothing and abundant covering.

Requisites of a Public Museum.——"If public libraries, why not public museums?" asked Prof. E. S. Morse in the Atlantic Monthly a year ago. Having discussed the subject in a general way, he comes to the application: "First and foremost, then, the town museum should illustrate the natural products of the immediate region. By natural products is meant, of course, the animals, plants, rocks, and minerals found in the county, or possibly in the State; for a county collection would require but a few extralimital forms to compass the State. Second, a general collection of similar material from elsewhere, to show the relation of the county to the rest of the world. Anatomical, physiological, and morphological series should next find place in such a museum. The minor factors of natural selection, such as protective, alluring, and warning coloration, mimicry, etc., should be illustrated, as far as possible, from collections made in the immediate neighborhood. And, finally, a series of forms to show the phylogenetic development of the animal kingdom should in some way be given. Such a series would require large floor space, and the solution of many perplexing problems as to form of cases and methods of display. Yet a scheme of this sort must ultimately be devised." Such an idea has been attained in part by the Peabody Academy of Science in Salem, the collections of which comprise, first, a remarkable series of the animals and plants, rocks, minerals, and archaeological specimens collected in the county of Essex, which are continually increasing as new forms are added; an epitome collection of the animal kingdom, brought from all parts of the world; and an ethnological collection, arranged by countries. These collections are all fully and clearly labeled. At close intervals throughout the entire collection special colored labels are displayed, calling attention by title and shelf number to books in the public library referring to the immediate groups. Courses of lectures are given in the Academy Hall every year, which are practically free to the public.

Life in Balochistan.—An interesing lecture on the northern Balochis, a hill tribe of Balochistan on the northwestern frontier of India, was recently read before the Indian Section of the Society of Arts by Mr. Oswald U. Yates, a gentleman who, while engaged in Government work, spent seventeen years in the neighborhood of these people and gave much of his time to a study of their language, history, and customs. The Balochis are Mohammedans, but not very assiduous votaries; none have been converted to Christianity, however. They are probably a mixture of Kurd and Arab. Their language is quite similar to Persian—so much so that Pottinger, who visited Balochistan in 1830, and who was familiar with Persian, could after a few weeks understand most of what was said to him. In order to be a respected citizen, a Balochi must have long, curly black hair, the longer the better; and a long beard is also considered desirable. They are very superstitious. On certain days they believe it is bad luck to go in certain directions; they are guided in this by a rhyme, which translated is:

"On the 1st and 11th I will not go east.
On the 5th and 15th I will not go west.
On the 3d and 13th I will not go south.
On the 7th and 17th I will not go north.

They augur coming events from an examination of the lines on the shoulder blade of a newly killed goat. Goats are also made use of in discovering the sites of disused wells, this, however, is not peculiar to the Balochis. Their method of irrigating is rather unique. "Before the commencement of the rains, the fields are inclosed by lofty embankments, varying in height from three to ten feet, and inside these banks (called latbandi) the water from the hill torrents is admitted; when one is full the next is filled. The banks are made by bullocks; a board about eighteen inches long and twelve inches broad is attached to a pair of bullocks, who drag it, along almost vertically until a heap of earth is raised in front of it; this board is then thrown flat by means of a cord and dragged on to the bank, with the earth on top of it and there its load is deposited. As soon as the water has sunk into the ground plowing commences, and the seed is sown"; millet is the chief crop. They kill all male colts as soon as they are born. "The reason for killing them is that they can not be taken on marauding expeditions owing to their neighing on seeing a mare." They use the Persian saddle and are very good horsemen. Adultery is punished by the death of both man and woman. They firmly believe in the ordeal by fire. One of the most trying of their tests is the following: In a large vessel filled with scalding hot water are placed two stones of different colors; one of these stones, unknown to the supposed criminal, has been labeled the guilty-stone. In order to establish his innocence he has not only got to choose the other stone, but also remove it from the boiling water by using his naked hand and arm.

The Care of Milk.—The composition of milk admirably adapts it to the growth of all kinds of bacteria; this growth causes in it undesirable chemical changes. As secreted in a healthy animal milk contains no microorganisms of a dangerous character; but during and subsequent to the process of milking its contamination is inevitable. Various forms of disease—consumption, typhoid and scarlet fevers, diphtheria, etc.—have been in numerous instances traced to an infected milk supply, and it is unquestionable that much of the stomach and intestinal trouble so fatal to young children during the summer months is caused by unhygienic milk. It is plain, therefore, that the elimination of living germs from milk is quite essential to its safe use as a food, especially for infants. The most scrupulous cleanliness has been found inadequate; hence some artificial process becomes necessary. There are two methods in common use, pasteurization and sterilization. The former heats the milk to about 160° F., and the latter to over 212° F. The pasteurizing process, while not quite so thorough, kills any growing bacteria that may be present, and has the advantage over sterilization, of leaving the physical condition and flavor of the milk practically unchanged. A method of pasteurization for family use is as follows: "1. Use only fresh milk (not more than twelve hours old) for this purpose. 2. Place the milk in clean bottles or fruit cans, filling to a uniform level. (If pint and quart cans are used at the same time, an inverted dish or piece of wood will equalize the level.) Set these in a flat-bottomed tin pail and fill with warm water to same level as milk. An inverted pie tin punched with holes will serve as a stand on which to place the bottles during the heating process. 3. Heat water in pail until the temperature reaches 160° F.; then remove from fire, cover with a cloth or tin cover, and allow the whole to stand for half an hour. 4. Remove bottles of milk and cool them as rapidly as possible without danger to bottles, and store in a refrigerator." The following suggestions to buyers of commercially sterilized milk are worthy of note: "1. Label on bottle should show that the material was pasteurized not more than one day previous to delivery. 2. Shake the bottle thoroughly before opening, so as to remix the contents as much as possible. 3. The paper disk should not be replaced after it is once removed. Invert over neck of the bottle a clean, dry tumbler or glass to prevent anything from falling into the bottle. 4. Any unused milk or cream that has been put in another vessel should not be poured back into original bottle again. 5. Keep the original bottle in the coldest part of the refrigerator as much as possible. When so treated, properly pasteurized cream or milk ought to keep perfectly sweet for several (two to four) days, even in the height of the summer season."

Improvement of Crops.—In presenting a new theory respecting the improvement of crops, J. C. Arthur propounds as fundamental, interacting principles, that a decrease in nutrition during the period of growth of an organism favors the development of the reproductive parts at the expense of the vegetative parts. The converse, that an increase in nutrition favors the vegetative parts at the expense of the reproductive parts, is also equally true, and that as a general law large seeds produce stronger plants with a greater capacity for reproduction than small seeds of the same kind. In the economy of Nature, as the food supply is lessened, a greater effort is made on behalf of the parent plants to enhance the chances for perpetuity, but at the same time the largest seeds, having the greatest potentiality, stand the best chance in the future struggle, and, although the best, nourished plants produce the fewest seeds, their greater size gives them decided advantages over seeds from starved plants. The two laws acting together, therefore, aid in maintaining the perpetuity of the species and its full measure of vigor. The two categories of methods for the improvement of crops are the enrichment and cultivation of the soil and the selection of seed, especially of large seed. It is desirable to know that intensive farming will give a better return in all crops grown for fodder, or for the roots, or other portions of the vegetative part of plants, than in those grown for grain and fruit. In either case, but more especially in the latter, the highest vigor and best returns can be obtained only by the use of the best and heaviest seed. When this is done high tillage will increase the yield and make possible the greater improvement of succeeding crops.

Happiness of Animals.—"What makes the happiness of wild animals?" asks a writer in the London Spectator. What the happiness of wild creatures consists in, he continues, "can perhaps be best judged by their daily habits. Within certain limits they are free to choose their life, and presumably they choose what pleases them best' In nearly every case this is one of pure routine. It consists in a daily repetition of a limited series of actions, the greater number of which seem to give them satisfaction rather than pleasure, but make up in the aggregate the sum of animal happiness. Unlike the domestic dog, which welcomes any break in the monotony of life, they never, except in the courting season, seem to seek change, or adventure, or excitement. It may be doubted whether, if the food supply were plentiful and constant, animals or birds would ever care to move beyond the circle in which they can find enough for their daily wants. The probable whereabouts of deer at any time in the twenty-four hours, and their occupation) whether feeding, sleeping, or resting, are known with the utmost certainty by those whose business it is to watch the forest, and could be predicted for any month in the year. . . . The adventurous life, if it is found anywhere among wild creatures, belongs to the carnivorous animals. Yet most of these only wander just so far as is necessary to find their prey, and then prefer to kill some creature that will provide a meal for more than one day. They are naturally indolent, and active only from necessity." Even lack of space is not a serious drawback to the happiness of most animals at the London "Zoo." "The lions and tigers feel the confinement of their inner cages and often strike impatiently at the doors which separate them in winter from their summer palaces, and the wild cattle would enjoy life far more if a roomy paddock could be added to their pens. No hawks or eagles can be happy in cages, because exercise in flight is essential to their health. Parrots, on the other hand, dislike exercise, and consequently live to the great est age of any creatures in the gardens Bears seem to share this dislike for unnecessary movements, and 'my lords the elephants,' and all the camels, with true Oriental indifference, would prefer to stand at day doing nothing, if they were not compelled to earn their living by carrying visitors, All the reptiles lead the life of lotus-eaters, and, so far as their brief day lasts, the tropical butterflies in their cages seem equally happy with those which flit among the flowers that line the garden walks."

Picturesque Arctic Nature.—How small, says Julius von Payer, is the matter for artistic reproduction in the old civilized world compared with the rest of the globe! "Has the desert been depicted in such a manner as it undoubtedly deserves to be? Or the Tundra, the primeval forest of the Dark Continent, the swampy shores of Lake Chad, the bridle-path of the Cordilleras, the Tibetan mountain lake, or the coral islands? What of the animal world, if we except our domestic animals and some wild game: the Indian beasts of prey; the African pachyderms; the troops of monkeys or tortoises of Brazil? And then the scenes of human activity: the negro battles; the dreamy, still life of the South Sea islanders; the buffalo hunters; Yakuts so hardened as to sleep almost naked in the snow; India-rubber collectors on the Amazons; Patagonian giants; Niam Niam dwarfs, etc." The author especially commends the polar regions as artistically attractive, where great effects are produced with little color by the varying charms of light conferring life upon even the most monotonous views. In the four years and a half he spent there he was ever charmed by the change in pictures of Nature. "What a magic spell, for instance, is produced even by the twilight. . . . the time without bright light, almost without shade; that of soft, dreamy silhouettes, of the clear green sky, and the pale, silvery tone of the mountains! The snow is now melted, and the blue sea-ice lies bare, scarcely tinged with red by the setting sun. Even the long winter night possesses its artistic charm from the midday arch of light, or the moon, which changes the channels beneath into rivers of silver. The arctic sky alone would enrapture the painter. As the returning sun nears the horizon, every color glows forth, a border of light dividing the part of the atmosphere still in the shadow of the earth from that already lighted up." Then there are the infinitely varied phenomena of refraction, with Fata Morgana, giving the most curiously odd and unlike appearances to various objects; vapor effects; the ice blink; variations of snow and bare ground; pastures with reindeer and musk oxen; and vegetation, for, "although there is never the thick flora of our meadows, yet one meets with limited areas either yellow with Papava nudicaule or Ranunculus, or carmine with Silene or Saxifraga, or blue with forget-me-not, or white with Crastium. East Greenland has its huge Kaiser Franz Josef fiord, surpassing the fiord of Norway, and the whole of Greenland furnishes surpassing mountain landscapes; Spitzbergen has a profile like a saw; and Novaya Zemlya is a table land, buttressed by mountain cones."

Forest Protection in the United States.—In a paper published in the Proceedings of the American Forestry Association, Mr. George H. Parsons, of Colorado Springs, shows that measures for the protection of forests were taken by some of the colonies as early as in the seventeenth century. These provisions were continued everywhere after the formal organization of the Government of the United States, and now each State and Territory has some law, providing more or less severe punishment to any person setting fire to woodland or prairie. But as it is very difficult to find the offender, or to convict him afterward, laws of this class are operative, if at all, by their threat rather than by their execution, and with few exceptions have become dead letters. The only States said to be comparatively free from forest fires are Maine and Massachusetts, and especially New York, whose forest commissioner reports that they are now a thing of the past. Laws encouraging the planting and growing of timber and shade trees are found on the statutes of twenty-two States and Territories, having been adopted more generally in the prairie States. They have been the means of covering with trees thousands of acres, and have driven the prairies many miles westward. Kansas is credited with the largest area planted with forest trees, and Nebraska comes next. These laws have done much good, but, after all, tree-planting along roadsides, and in small, isolated clumps, is not forestry, and legislation of this kind, though indirectly aiding the cause in an educational way, does not preserve or create forests. In the same direction of education is the appointment of Arbor Day, which has become a legal holiday in thirty States and Territories. Being celebrated in the public schools, it is made a most important factor in creating an interest in trees and a knowledge of plant life among people at their most impressionable age. Regular forest commissioners or commissions have been appointed in ten States. They began work actively and enthusiastically, but it is now a question whether they are able to do much good. Politics is gnawing their vitals out.

A Volcanic Dust Deposit In Kansas.—A large deposit of volcanic dust is described in Science by H. J. Harney as existing in central Kansas, in McPherson County, north of the watershed between the Smoky Hill and Little Arkansas, and in the great depression extending from Salina to the Little Arkansas. The exposure is about fifteen miles long, from two to four feet thick, from forty to fifty feet high, rests on a bed of clay, and is overlaid by a bed of yellow marl. At the lowest point the dust is well assorted and stratified; at the higher points it shows signs of having been deposited in shallow water. It is composed chiefly of silica, with small proportions of ferric and aluminum oxides, protoxide of manganese, water, lime, and traces of other substances. The microscope shows it as consisting almost wholly of microscopic, transparent, silicious flakes of various irregular forms.

Geological Society of America.—The seventh summer meeting of the Geological Society of America was held at Springfield, Mass., Prof. N. S. Shaler presiding. A paper was read by C. H. Hitchcock on the Champlain Glacial Epoch, which was regarded as corresponding with Prof. James Geikie's Mecklenbergian Epoch. In a paper on the Glacial Genesee Lakes, H. L. Fairchild exhibited the relations of the Genesee River drainage basin to surrounding river systems, and endeavoured to determine the glacial history of the region. In his paper on the Bearing of Physiography on Uniformitarianism, W. M. Davis maintained that the success in the interpretation of Nature by means of the physiographic study of land forms confirmed the correctness of the postulates of uniformitarianism and brought to its support a series of facts not in the beginning of the study supposed to bear upon it. J. C. Branner described the decomposition of rocks going on in Brazil as being more profound there than in temperate regions. The chief mechanical agency promoting it is the daily change of temperature to which rocks exposed to the sun are subject, which causes exfoliation and the admission of a number of destructive agencies and reactions. Among these agencies are rain, bringing down corroding acids, insects, and plants. Many papers of more special interest were read on subjects of stratigraphical, glacial, and economical geology, and paleontology. A committee which had been appointed in 1898 to secure the expropriation of the region about Mount Rainier as a public park reported that it had presented the case to a committee of the United States Senate, but had failed to have a bill recommended. The committee was continued, to make another effort.

The French Scientific Association.—The French Association for the Advancement of Science met for 1895 in Bordeaux, where its first meeting was held in 1872. The maire, in welcoming the association, referred to the changes which had taken place in the city since then—all for good, and largely for the diffusion of knowledge and the promotion of public comfort. The number of primary schools had been tripled; the Lyceum, in whose halls the sectional meetings were held, had been built, and faculties of law, science, letters, and medicine and pharmacy had been established and an observatory erected; all attracting an attendance of more than two thousand students, and giving the place all the privileges of a university except the name. Museums also and art galleries had been founded, and benevolent institutions brought into existence. All these, the maire intimated, were the results of the scientific activity which began with the meeting of 1872. The president, M. Émile Trélat, took salubrity as the subject of his address, in which he gave a felicitous description of the ideal city of health. The work of the previous meeting of the association, which was held at Caen, and the history of the association during the year, were reviewed by the secretary, M. Livon. The association lost many of its distinguished members during the year, among whom were Baron Adolphe d'Eichthal, one of the founders, a benefactor, and president in 1875 at Nantes; Verneuil, the eminent doctor, president in 1885 at Grenoble; Gustave Cotteau, several times president of the Geological Section; Alphonse Guérin, Ferdinand de Lesseps, Recipen, and Armand Lalande, founders; Victor Duruy, and others; and among the foreign associates the Russian mathematician Tchebichef and Carl Vogt, who had attended a number of the meetings. It appears from the financial reports presented by M. Émile Galante, treasurer, that the year's receipts of the association were 86,244 francs.

Infectiousness of Milk.—The Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture has issued a report of work done under its auspices on the above subject. It being already well established that there was much danger of the milk being contaminated if the cow from which it came had tuberculosis of the udder, attention was restricted to the question whether the milk was ever infected when the disease was confined to other parts of the animal. Bacilli were found in the milk from twelve out of thirty-six tuberculous cows. Milk from six out of fifteen infected cows produced bacilli when inoculated into guinea-pigs, and the milk of four out of nineteen cows produced bacilli in rabbits. Bacilli developed in two out of forty-eight rabbits, five out of twelve pigs, and eight out of twenty-one calves to which milk from tuberculous cows was fed. It is interesting to note that microscopic examination revealed bacilli in only one out of thirty-three samples of milk ordinarily supplied to consumers in Boston, but bacilli appeared in rabbits after inoculation with three of the samples which gave negative results under the microscope. A circular sent to eighteen hundred physicians and veterinarians asking "Have you ever seen a case of tuberculosis which it seemed possible to you to trace to a milk supply as a cause?" brought replies from one thousand and thirteen, eight of whom reported cases where they believed children had been infected by mother's milk, and eleven reported cases in which children had been infected by cow's milk, while sixteen spoke of suspicious cases which they had not been able to verify. Some results of inquiries as to the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis and as to tuberculosis among Hebrews are also given.

Extermination of British Species.—In the inaugural address of the president of the Cheltenham, England, Natural History Society, Dr. E. T. Wilson, on Man and the Extinction of Species, are some historical notes on the disappearance of certain species in the British Islands. Within limited areas, the author says, species were not unfrequently eradicated before the use of firearms, as the beaver m England, which, though once common, was in the twelfth century only to be found in one river in Wales and one in Scotland; and wolves, which were practically exterminated in four years after the demand by Edgar for a tribute of five hundred heads annually from his Welsh subjects. "But even the introduction of firearms at first did little beyond giving man an increased advantage in his contest with the more formidable of the lower animals. Far otherwise is it, however, when man, the primitive hunter, gives place to man the tiller of the soil, man the cultivator, who fells forests, drains marshes, plows prairies, and in a thousand ways alters the face of Nature." To most of the larger quadrupeds, and to many birds, space is of vital importance, and space is being rapidly curtailed. The bustard, described by Bewick as common on the plains of Wiltshire, Dorset, and Yorkshire, has disappeared before advancing cultivation. The egret and the crane, once common in Scotland, are now among the rarest of visitors. Drainage in the broads and fens has led to the banishment of many former inhabitants, such as the grey lag goose, and in many parts the bearded tit. Between 1825 and 1855 the avocet, the bustard, and the godwit ceased breeding in Norfolk. About the same time the ruff became uncommon, and the bittern left off breeding regularly in 1850. Eagles and large hawks, such as the kite and the buzzard, and among mammals the otter and even the harmless badger, are becoming rarer year by year before the gun or the trap of the gamekeeper; while the trade collector, with his demand for whole clutches of eggs, contributes to the destruction of some of the rarer species. In 1893 an item was published that two sloops had visited the island of Foula in the Shetland?, the chief breeding station of the great skua, and carried off several dozens of the eggs, and there was reason to believe that not a single young bird was reared on the island during the breeding season of that year.

The Feigning of Death.—The probability of this phenomenon being a pure reflex, in most animals, is indicated by the following experiment on a currant moth, whose powers of "shamming" are so familiar, which is described in a recent letter to Nature by a Mr. Oswald H. Latter: "The moth was first seized by one wing, and it at once feigned death; thereupon its head was cut off with a pair of scissors, and the animal continued to feign death. I use the expression advisedly, for absolute immobility was maintained for some seconds and then violent fluttering ensued, causing the animal to rush wildly about the table, but failing to lift it into the air. In this condition any impulse, such as touching or pinching, induced a repetition of 'shamming.' After a strong impulse the shamming was prolonged, and, indeed, a direct connection was obvious between the strength of stimulus and the length of period of quiescence. This power of response to stimulus was maintained for two days, and then weak fluttering set in for some hours, followed by death. "We are forced, then, to conclude that here, at any rate, death-feigning is a purely reflex phenomenon, and that the sensory stimulus received by the surface of the body caused inhibitory impulses to arise reflexly from the ganglia of the central nerve chain, and prevented all movement of the locomotor muscles. In confirmation of this it may be mentioned that denuding the wing of its scales over any area caused a marked diminution of sensitiveness over the area so treated. Since all stages between sensory hairs and ordinary scales occur in Lepidoptera., it is not unreasonable to assume that the scales still function as tactile end organs in spite of their modification subserving decorative purposes."