Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I was both surprised and humiliated to find on my return from Bering Sea, a few days ago, a large correspondence from persons who had taken the "Sympsychograph" seriously. I had not the slightest idea that any one capable of "reading bound books" would be deceived by the meaningless phrases in that bit of burlesque. I intended it as a piece of gentle satire on the "wizards" and "impressionists" who follow in the wake of scientific work which attracts attention, and who pour their vagaries into the long ears of the daily newspaper.

The important element of one's belief arises from the way in which that belief is formed. No one was capable of understanding my story who did not at once see the incongruity of it. One might as well believe in Mahatmas and Odic forces as in cathode radiation or evolution if he does not have any clear ideas or a clear conception of the basis on which generalizations rest. One writer speaks of the article in question as a hoax upon an innocent public; but a public which has swallowed the alleged experiments of Inglis Rogers and other impressionists as scientific truth, and does not see any difference between the methods of these persons and the methods of Röntgen and Helmholtz, is not an innocent public. A vast amount of suffering In our society arises from the fact that men are ready to follow any notion in medicine, in politics, or in social reform, no matter how absurd, if it contains an element of mystery, or if it proposes to make life a little easier for men incapable of clear thinking.

I had a serious moral in the fable, and this, at the risk of trying to explain a joke, I shall give.

The methods ascribed to the "Astral Camera Club" are those which never have yielded and never can yield any results to science. Scientific investigators are not "wizards," their discoveries are not presaged by uncanny feelings nor green darkness, nor is there anything "occult" about their ways of working. They are simply men of unusual persistence and steady common sense. Everything easy was found out long ago, and additions to knowledge can only come from mastery of past achievements and mathematical accuracy in the registration of small details. The progress of science is not marked by surprises and contradictions. The result of scientific inquiry comes as a surprise only to those ignorant of the steps in investigation which leads up to it.

The discovery that the peculiar rays called "X" by Röntgen could be made to cast shadows on a sensitized plate does not imply that thought can be photographed. One might sooner expect to photograph the songs of birds than "the cat's idea of man."

The great power which exact knowledge gives adds nothing to the probability of the mythology of our own or other times. The "power of mind over matter" is not a form of hysterics. It depends on exact knowledge of the nature of material things. It is no occult influence showing itself in neurotic "adepts" by uncanny lights, under "astral" conditions. It is greatest by daylight, with sane men, with whom science is simply enlightened "common sense."

David Starr Jordan.

Palo Alto, Cal., October 10, 1896.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In his interesting and valuable contribution to the literature of vivisection, in the October number of your periodical. Prof. Hodge makes one or two statements which are decidedly erroneous, and which I beg you will permit me to correct. Quoting from an article of my own on the same subject, published over twelve years ago in Lippincott's, he states that "a recent writer has actually cited mortality statistics to prove the futility of vivisection." This deduction is wholly incorrect. The very book from which he quotes, again and again affirms the use of vivisection. Exaggerated claims of potency, such as were rife when this article was written, some fourteen years ago, may certainly be challenged, without being carelessly translated into affirmation of "futility"; just as one may believe in experiments regarding aërial navigation without looking forward to lunar voyages.

With the gratuitous imputation of "unfairness" in the selection of statistics I am more seriously concerned, for no charge more vitally affects the character of scientific work. Prof. Hodge admits, as he is forced to do, that "the figures do show that in England, since 1850, certain organic diseases have been on the increase, despite the slight advance in our knowledge of them." Well, that also is my own conclusion. Such facts as these "afford the strongest possible argument for the side of research." Again I agree with your learned contributor, although I should give the word "research" a wider meaning than he intends. But there was "unfairness" in the selection of diseases; "almost without exception these maladies lie very deep in the hereditary tendencies of the race." Well, I suppose death itself may be said to "lie very deep in our hereditary tendencies"; but, except in some such exceedingly broad sense, I certainly question the accuracy of his assertion. In my tables (see Lippincott's, August, 1884) only fifteen different classes of organic diseases were tabulated, and among them were apoplexy, aneurism, diabetes, insanity, paralysis, cancer, diseases of the heart, the brain, the kidneys, and the liver. From these causes only result the deaths of two thirds of the English race over the age of twenty years; and, as a rule, fatality increases with advancing age. Are these maladies "almost without exception "caused by" hereditary tendencies"? When the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the fullness of years, falls dead from apoplexy, is it because "defectives leave enfeebled progeny"? I certainly differ with your learned contributor on this point. There was no unfairness whatever in concentrating attention upon organic diseases, provided it was distinctly admitted—as it was in the same article—that "during later years there has been a diminished mortality in England from the lesser prevalence of zymotic diseases," which nobody in 1884 was pretending to "cure."

One point more. Admitting the justification of vivisection per se, are we compelled to adopt the further evident conclusion of Prof. Hodge that it should be free to proceed to any lengths whatever, as in Continental Europe? Because certain forms of vivisection are justifiable, are all? It is at this point we part company. He is a brave man who can announce in these days a new theological dogma, that "God clearly gives to man every sanction to cause any amount of physical pain which he may find expedient to unravel his laws." Certainly that is a dogma of the highest import; everything is justifiable; its far-reaching consequences touch humanity itself. With that doctrine I thoroughly disagree, upheld though it be by so eminent a teacher as Prof. Hodge. Permit me rather to range myself with one whose work for science entitles him to even greater respect. On the wall of my library hangs a printed statement of views concerning this very subject, from which allow me to quote. "Within certain limitations, we regard vivisection to be so justified by utility as to be legitimate, expedient, and right. Beyond those boundaries it is cruel, monstrous, and wrong. Experimentation . . . we consider justifiable when employed to determine the action of new remedies; for tests of suspected poisons, for the study of new methods of surgical procedure or in the search for the causation of disease. . . . On the other hand, we regard as cruel and wrong the infliction of torment upon animals in the search for physiological facts which have no conceivable relation to the treatment of human diseases; or experiments that seem to be made only for the purpose of gratifying a heartless curiosity. . . . The practice, whether in public or in private, should be restricted by law to certain definite objects, and surrounded by every possible safeguard against license and abuse."

That statement, sir, is signed by Herbert Spencer. With every word of it I agree.

Albert Leffingwell, M. D.
Hamilton Club, Brooklyn, October 15, 1896.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I have been a reader of your periodical since 1873, and naturally during that time I have occasionally met with statements by some of its contributors that I felt were open to criticism—opinions that I thought a little weak. But never through all those years have I met with such a reckless misrepresentation as is contained in Helen Zimmern's first paper, in the September number, on Enrico Ferri on Homicide. In a sentence, about the middle of page 682, she says, "Infanticide, elevated to a custom and a method in Malthusianism." Such a statement would be unworthy a correspondent of a decent newspaper; but, that any contributor to the Popular Science Monthly should, whatever his personal intolerance of the population question, have the temerity to hazard such a false presentment of the theory (axiom I would call it) laid down by the Rev. Mr. Malthus, and the remedy he suggested, is, to say the least, hardly complimentary to the presumable information or intelligence of its readers.

The difference in the ratio of increase of population and that of subsistence, which Mr. Malthus, rightly or wrongly, submitted as being a fundamental law, and the remedy, wisely or unwisely, he suggested of deferred marriages, are all that can be laid to his charge. Surely these are not sufficient grounds to justify the accusation against him of advocating "infanticide"! It reminds one of the old trick of many of the clergy, associating immorality with atheism.

Certainly, there is now a numerous and rapidly growing class, recognizing the irrevocable nature of the law of population, but, at the same time, the impracticability of Mr. Malthus's remedy, who adopt and recommend preventive means. Yet, how even such can be accused of "infanticide" any more consistently than others who practice abstinence (which is just one method of prevention) it is difficult to perceive.

I feel that this is no occasion for ventilating my own particular views on the population question or Malthusianism; still, I have always been surprised at observing the avoidance of the subject manifested on the part of many men of high standing who yet recognize and accept its truths. It is this sort of neglect or cowardice, I think, which emboldens some minds to gratify their resentment of opinions or views they have a sentimental repugnance to by indulging in the sly thrust; trusting to the perhaps unpopular nature of the matter for their immunity from consequences.

I can not conceive Helen Zimmern being as ignorant of Malthus's writings as the words I quote from her paper would imply; and I am very unwilling to suppose she would willfully misrepresent.

Respectfully,Arthur F. Palmer.
152 Crawford Road, Cleveland, Ohio,
September 30, 1896.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Of course the name "Alaska" is a slip of the pen with Madame Le Plongeon in the September Popular Science Monthly, whatever other locality the distinguished writer may have had in mind. The only pottery to be seen in Alaska is exceedingly rude, perhaps the worst in the world. The Athapascans of the interior boil food in baskets and boxes, with hot stones. The thngit (Koloschan) of the coast have no pottery, using boxes of alder and other woods for vessels. The Aleuts have no pottery and no substitutes therefor, except such dishes as they make from driftwood. But the Eskimo tribes about Bristol Bay do mix up mud with hair and blood to form their lamps and grease bowls. Excepting this rude ware, there was no pottery made by the Pacific coast tribes between the Santa Barbara Islands, Lower California, and the Eskimo of Bristol Bay. Thirty-five of the families or stocks of Indians north of Mexico are not known to have ever practiced making pottery.

Otis T. Mason.
Washington, D. C, September 7, 1896.