Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/October 1898/Minor Paragraphs

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Dr. James Hall, the veteran geologist, one of the last survivors of the pioneers of the science in the United States, and one of the founders of the American Association, died at Echo Hill, Bethlehem, N. H., August 7th, at the ripe old age of eighty-seven years. Notwithstanding his advanced age, he was able last year to make the long journey to Russia to attend the International Geological Congress. After his return thence his health began to fail, but until a very short time before his death he intended to be present at the meeting of the American Association just held in Boston. His fame was worldwide, and his eminence as one of the leading geologists of his time was very generally recognized in Europe as well as in America. Two years ago the American Association, in Buffalo, devoted a special session to his honor. An account of his life and his work in geology was published, with a portrait, in the Popular Science Monthly for November, 1884. An account, contributed by him, of the New York State Geological Survey, his chief scientific achievement, will also be found in the Monthly for April, 1883.

Among the results of a study of the negroes of Farmville, Va., contributed by Mr. W. E. B. Dubois to the Bulletin of the Department of Labor, is the conviction of a growing differentiation of classes among these people. The study brings to light facts favorable and unfavorable, and conditions good, bad, and indifferent. One visitor might find these people idle, unreliable, careless with their money, and lewd; while another would say that they were industrious, owners of property, and slowly but steadily advancing in education and morals—according to the particular group to which his attention was most directed. The question is not whether the negro is lazy and criminal, or industrious and ambitious, but, rather, "What, in a given community, is the proportion of lazy to industrious negroes, and what is the tendency to development in these classes?" Bearing this in mind, it seems fair to conclude, after an impartial study of the Farmville conditions, that the industrious and property-accumulating class of the negro citizens "best represents, on the whole, the general tendencies of the group. At the same time, the mass of sloth and immorality is still large and threatening." One of the most encouraging signs is that "the whole group life of the Farmville negroes is pervaded by a peculiar hopefulness on the part of the people themselves. No one of them doubts in the least but that one day black people will have all rights they are now struggling for, and that the negro will be recognized among the earth's great peoples."

The recognition by Mayor Quincy, of Boston, in his welcoming address to the American Association, of the value of science in civic administration was only just, but of a kind that is rarely offered from the official side. "Your work," the mayor said, "has a very direct relation to the work in which the people of the city of Boston are engaged in their corporate capacity and the work which their municipal government is trying to prepare for them. As I regard it, the work of good municipal government is the task of securing the practical application of the principles of science to the great fund of knowledge which has been won for us by science. I am continually impressed in my practical relation to the work of this great city with the vital relation which science bears to that work. More efficient government is to be sought along the lines of affairs which lie within the scope of our municipal government, and this is to be won for us by the investigators who have increased our knowledge of science within the last fifty years. . . . I am proud to say that we give a high place in everyday work to men of science who are giving technical application to the principles which have come to light through the investigations of abstract science. Work in the future will demand a fuller employment of men of science."

The situation as to antarctic exploration is described by the President of the Royal Geographical Society as including a German expedition in course of organization on a liberal scale; the hope that the Norwegian Government may send out an expedition, perhaps under the leadership of Dr. Nansen; the Belgian expedition under M. de Gerlache; and the expedition under Mr. Borchgrevink, which is in an advanced state of preparation, and will shortly leave for Australia and South Victoria Land. The ship of this expedition, the Southern Cross, has been designed by the builder of the Fram, and has ten feet of solid oak at her bows, while she is thirty-two inches in thickness at her weakest point. Provision of sledges and dogs is made for the inland journey on the South Victorian continent, and the expedition will make it an object to explore that land and investigate the seas between there and Australia. Mr. Borchgrevink will take with him stores for three years and a supply of carrier pigeons.

The vice-presidential address of Prof. Frank P. Whitman to the Physical Section of the American Association embodied a review of the present theories of color vision. The speaker regarded it as clearly proved that the number of color sensations is small, and that all hypotheses of a large number are untenable. The vision of white light is not a compound sensation, no matter how complex the light may be physically, but it is at the same time not a purely independent one, for there are some evident relations between it and vision by faint light, in which all the colors fade and tend to become white. A definite and highly probable function has been assigned to the visual purple, that of adaptation, and of causing or aiding vision in faint light. The number and variety of known human phenomena are very great and constantly increasing. Their interrelations grow every day more complex, and the actual mechanism governing those relations still remains almost entirely unknown. The various theories have at length arrived at such a stage of flexibility that, thanks to subsidiary hypotheses, almost any kind of visual result might be explainable. Perhaps the most hopeful line of research is that which, like the study of the visual purple, seeks to find a relation between color sensations and physical properties.

The address of Prof. A. S. Packard, as chairman of the Zoölogical Section of the American Association, was devoted to a review of a Half Century of Evolution and the bearings of the theory on the problems of the nature and origin of life. The immediate effect of the acceptance of evolution on scientific study was, the speaker said, a happy one. Collectors, instead of narrowly gathering a specimen or two for their cabinets and being content therewith, are led to look at other things during their field excursions; protective mimicry, for example, or the relation of form to environment. The race of "species makers" is diminishing, while students of geographical distribution are taking their place, and the relation of form to past geographical changes is now discussed in a more philosophical way than heretofore. Speaking of the relations of new forms and new classes to geological changes, Professor Packard was careful to indicate that their probable origin lay rather in the results of the gradual extension of the land masses and the opening of new areas.

Weighing the merits of the various plans that have been proposed for preventing or tempering the floods of the Mississippi, Mr. William Starling finds that storage reservoirs have but little effect in reducing the height the water will reach in the stream below. Cut-offs increase the gradient and speed of the flow, destroying the balance, and the stream rapidly excavates a new bend, restoring the former condition. Artificial outlets have as little effect on the height of the stream above as storage reservoirs on that below. The author intimates that the most effective remedy lies in levees properly constructed. The old levees, the unsoundness of which has cast a prejudice against the system, were hastily and improperly made. Stumps were left in the ground, and logs, rails, etc., were thrown into the bank, which, rotting, left holes, weak spots, that the water was sure to find. Now, all decaying material is carefully kept out, and sound earth is used—"which is a good-enough material, . . . but the bank must be carefully built of sufficient dimensions, and, especially in the case of a light or treacherous underground, must have its base extended by a banquette. As to cost, it may be briefly said that levees are the least expensive means of reclaiming overflowed lands that have ever been proposed."

The agency of bacteria in promoting the fermentation or ripening of cheese has been recognized for some time, and has been taken practical advantage of by manufacturers. Messrs. S. M. Babcock and H. L. Russell, of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, have, however, become satisfied that profound changes of a physical and chemical nature also occur in milk from which bacterial fermentatives have been excluded. In these experiments the casein of the milk underwent practically the same series of decomposition changes—the conversion of the insoluble casein into soluble proteids—as are to be found in a ripening cheese. From continued experiments the authors concluded that these changes were of a non-vital character, and were produced by enzymes; and by the usual physiological methods, proteid-converting (proteolytic) enzymes were separated, which, applied to milk, exercised a curdling as well as a digestive function.

A Cambodian people called the Pnongs are described by M. Adhémard Leclère, French resident at Kratie, as of the type of the North American Indians, well formed, and of good appearance, but with badly shaped mouths. The women are not so handsome, strong, or intelligent as the men. The Pnongs readily learn to read and write. Their costume consists of a long shawl, which folds elegantly round the body. The children are never left alone for an instant, but are constantly attended by their father or mother. They recognize a god, whom they call Brah, but their faith seems to resolve itself into a doctrine of ghosts. They eat everything, including grasshoppers, snakes, frogs, and the placenta of cows and buffaloes. For a choice drink they make a kind of spirit of rice. They smoke in wooden pipes a mild tobacco, which they dry and cut very fine, and chew various substances. They have a highly developed sense of smell, and profess to be able to distinguish different individuals and animals, metals, and other substances, with their eyes shut. They have no dances or music, but on certain solemn occasions beat gongs; and they have no funeral ceremonies. They have an art of carving small statues. They keep their promises, and have no patience with a man who breaks his word.