Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/March 1901/The Progress of Science

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

In the numerous reviews of the nineteenth century published in the magazines and in the daily press, science occupies the most prominent place. The news of the world for a day, as we read it in the newspaper, or for a month, as given in certain journals, may contain no reference to science, yet the contemporary events which at the time excite such general interest are forgotten, while the quiet progress of science gradually emerges in its true proportions. The century witnessed other great achievements—music in Germany, poetry in England, the novel in France, Russia and England—but these are like royal palaces, beautiful and complete, more likely now to decay than to grow. Science, on the other hand, has laid the foundations on which the future rests. The applications of science to the arts and to commerce, permitting one man to do what formerly required ten, and giving more nearly than ever before to each the return of his labor, have made modern democracy possible. The methods of science, slowly spreading and exerting their control, have made democracy comparatively safe. The results of science will help to make democracy worth the while. Thus, to take an example, there is now sufficient wealth to permit the education of each child; scientific methods will ultimately determine how he shall be educated, and science offers the material to be used in the training. It may be that we shall some day arrive at a scientific scholasticism, for atrophy and degeneration are no less real than growth and progress, but it seems probable that the history of the twentieth century will be chiefly a history of science.

 

The death of Queen Victoria closes an era in the history of a great nation; but, like the century, it is a somewhat artificial period. The monarchy in Great Britain is primarily a social institution, and it does not appear that the Queen exerted any influence on the development of science, except in so far as her sane and kindly character tended to maintain the peace and morality that are favorable to science. The death of the Prince Consort, forty years ago, was a distinct loss to science, for he was interested in scientific and educational problems, and showed in the case of the Exhibition of 1851 that he could exert powerful influence on their behalf. Queen Victoria was a German woman of domestic and religious type, and she was doubtless ignorant of the contributions to the physical sciences made by her subjects, while she regarded with aversion the advances in the natural sciences due to Darwin. Still, in the social heirarchy, of which the Queen was the head, science was recognized to a greater extent than ever before. Lords Kelvin, Lister, Playfair and Avebury were elevated to the peerage wholly or in part for scientific work, and minor titles have been conferred in many cases. Scientific men occupy a higher social and political position in Great Britain than in the United States, and this has been an outcome of the Victorian Age. It is not, however, due to the favor of a court, but to the great men of science of the period, and to the fact that many of these belong to the higher social classes. King Edward VII. will preside with dignity at scientific functions, but it is not likely that he will attempt to exert an active influence on behalf of science. Still, he was educated under the direction of a scientific man, Lord Playfair, and he is said to be well informed in the sciences. It is possible that he will not only give the social recognition which is not out value, but will, like the late Prince Consort, favor the direct encouragement of science by the Government.

 

A prophet is not needed to tell us that the relations between the Government and science will be closer in the twentieth century than ever before. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now annually spent by the leading nations in preparing for wars which may not occur, while only a small provision is made for the industrial wars continually in progress. In spite of recent events, it is likely that wars with ships and armies will gradually cease, and, while they continue, the results will depend increasingly on industrial and scientific factors. It is not so important for us to own warships as to know how to build and man them. It is not so essential to alter the rifle each time an improvement is made as to be able to invent and make the best rifle when needed. But supremacy among the nations no longer depends chiefly on performance in time of war. The rivalry in trade and manufactures, the struggle for material success and intellectual preeminence has become increasingly severe. As one species has supplanted another, not so much by directly opposing it, as by fitting itself better to the environment, so that nation will now survive and supplant others which is best able to adjust itself to existing conditions. First in importance are certain moral qualities which at present the State can not greatly forward; but next after these are the training and efficient use of intellectual traits, and here much can be accomplished by proper organization and the offering of opportunity. In the United States the establishment of unrivaled scientific and educational institutions would have an important function in unifying the nation and giving expression to its spirit. The patriotism and loyalty which in Great Britain find their emblem in the monarch must here seek other expression. They could take no better form than pride in the scientific and educational institutions of the nation.

 

As a matter of fact, the United States Government does make larger provision for scientific work than any other nation. The bills now before Congress will assign to this purpose perhaps $9,000,000. This is by no means a small sum, yet it is only 12 cents from each of us, and there is every reason to advocate its increase as rapidly as men can be found to whom the money may be safely entrusted. The Department of Agriculture and the Geological Survey have earned the confidence of the country, and their appropriations will be increased. Thus the House has approved an item allotting an additional $100,000 to the Division of Forestry. It is probable that the arts and manufactures would profit more by the establishment of a department corresponding to the Department of Agriculture than by the continuation of a protective tariff. A step in this direction will doubtless be made by this or the next Congress in the authorization of a National Standardizing Bureau. The bill has been approved by committees of the Senate and of the House, and only pressure of other business is likely to interfere with its immediate adoption. As we have already explained, the United States is in this direction far behind nations with smaller resources, and it is satisfactory to know that this state of affairs will not long continue.

 

There are two directions in which the appropriations of the Government for scientific work should be increased, and there are special reasons why these should be urged by men of science not engaged in the Government service. We refer to proper salaries for certain of the scientific men at Washington and the adequate support of the United States National Museum. It is unwise for scientific men employed by the Government to ask for an increase of salary, as they thereby lose influence and are regarded as self-seeking. A strong presentation of the unfairness of the present state of things should be made by those unconnected with the Government service. Every business man knows— and Congress is largely composed of able business men—that it is unwise to pay inadequate salaries to those who fill responsible offices. Thus the present agricultural appropriation bill, as approved by the House, allots $187,520 to the Division of Forestry, of which $2,500 is for the salary of the chief. Now the efficiency with which this large sum is expended depends on the chief, and it is clearly economical to secure the services of the best man in America. Such men are found, attracted by the great opportunities for advancing science offered by the Government service, but they are often called away to other work of equal importance with larger salary. Thus an officer of the Department of Agriculture receiving $1,800 has this year accepted a position under the Japanese Government with a salary of $7,000. Men from the Government bureaus will be found in all our universities, while it is but seldom that a man will go from a university position to Washington. The present agricultural appropriation bill contained a modest increase of salary for some of the scientific officers, but the provisions were regarded as out of order on the ground that they were new legislation. It is to be hoped that a bill will be introduced at once containing these provisions for the reorganization of the Department of Agriculture.

 

The needs of the United States National Museum should be urged by men of science throughout the country, because its organization is such that it has no really responsible head, whose duty it is to present its claims to Congress. The museum has developed under the Smithsonian Institution, but, as Joseph Henry pointed out, the functions of the two institutions are entirely different. It may possibly be best for the museum to remain under the Smithsonian Institution, owing to administrative reasons; but it should at least have the autonomy possessed by the Bureau of American Ethnology with an independent director. The sheds in which the great, though somewhat unsymmetrical, collections are housed at Washington are a reproach both to science and to the Government. New York City has spent millions of dollars on the building for its museum, while the National Government has done practically nothing. Every member of Congress takes pride in the National Library, and no one regrets the millions of dollars that it cost. It is but right to give material expression in the best form possible to the intellectual life of the nation. But why should not the museum have a building equally representative, and funds for the increase of its collections by well-organized scientific expeditions? It will doubtless have them if we wait long enough, but there are more efficient ways to obtain things than by waiting.

 

Senator Morgan has introduced a bill establishing a National Observatory of the United States on almost exactly the lines recommended in the last issue of this journal. There is now a real opportunity to secure a reform, advocated for years by our leading astronomers, and all interested in science should unite in urging the passage of the present measure. The text of Senator Morgan's bill is as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the United States Naval Observatory shall hereafter be known as the National Observatory of the United States and shall be governed by a director thereof, who shall report directly to and be under the supervision of the Secretary of the Navy.

Section 2.—That the Director of the National Observatory shall be an eminent astronomer, appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, at a salary of five thousand dollars per annum, and shall be selected from the astronomers of the National Academy of Sciences unless, in the judgment of the President, an American astronomer of higher scientific and executive qualifications shall be found.

Section 3.—That the Secretary of the Navy may detail for duty as astronomers at the National Observatory such professors of mathematics and other officers of the Navy as he shall deem necessary in the interests of the public service; but on and after the passage of this act no appointments shall be made of such professors unless required for service at the Naval Academy.

Section 4.—That there shall be a Board of Visitors of the National Observatory, to consist of one Senator, one member of the House of Representatives, and three astronomers of eminence, to be selected by the Secretary of the Navy. The Board of Visitors shall make an annual visitation, or more frequent visitations, of the Observatory, advise with the director thereof as to the scientific work to be prosecuted, and report to the Secretary of the Navy on the work and needs of the observatory on or before the first day of November in-each-year. The members of the said board may receive an allowance not exceeding ten dollars per day each during their actual presence in the city of Washington while engaged on the duty of the board, and their necessary traveling expenses; but no officer of the Government appointed on the board shall receive any additional compensation for such duty above his actual expenses.

 

The probability that a National Standardizing Bureau will be authorized by the present Congress adds interest to the plans of the National Physical Laboratory recently established in Great Britain. Experimental work, somewhat limited in character, has for a long while been carried on at Kew Observatory, and it was hoped that the new laboratories might be erected near by. Plans were drawn up for a physical building to cost $30,000, and an engineering building to cost $20,000. There was, however, opposition to the erection of these buildings in the Old Deer Park, and in October the Government decided to assign to the laboratory Bushey House and the surrounding grounds, 25 acres in extent. The building as it now stands will be turned into a laboratory for the more delicate measurements, and a new laboratory for engineering will be erected. The work that it is proposed to carry out, as soon as the buildings can be occupied, includes the connection between the magnetic quality and the physical, chemical and electrical properties of iron and of its alloys, the testing of steam gauges and various kinds of springs, standard screws and electrical measuring instruments, and optic and thermometric determinations. These subjects have an evident connection with trade and industry, and there is every reason to suppose that the cost of the laboratory will be saved many fold every year by economies in the arts and manufactures, while at the same time physical measurements can be carried out in an institution of this character which no university would be likely to undertake. It should be noted that the National Physical Laboratory is under the direct control of the Royal Society, which insures the highest attainable degree of efficiency.

 

A valuable contribution to the study of the inert gases of the atmosphere is made by Professors Liveing and Dewar in a paper read before the Royal Society on December 13. The gases were obtained by liquefying air by contact with the walls of a vessel at atmospheric pressure cooled below 7 200° C. Some 200 ccm. of liquid air were thus condensed, and the more volatile portion was then distilled over into a receiver cooled with liquid hydrogen. This portion, consisting of about 10 ccm. was then passed into spectrum tubes, first, however, traversing a U-tube immersed also in liquid hydrogen. In this manner the gas was completely freed from every trace of nitrogen, argon and compounds of carbon. The tubes showed the spectra of hydrogen, helium and neon with great brilliancy, but also a large number of lines which could not be referred to any known origin. This shows conclusively that a sensible proportion of hydrogen exists in the earth's atmosphere, a point which has been much disputed in the past. If it be true, as has been shown mathematically, that owing to the velocity of the hydrogen molecule, the earth cannot retain this gas in its atmosphere, then there must be a continued accession of hydrogen to the atmosphere from interplanetary space. If this is the case, it is probable that there must be a similar transfer of other gases, and therefore the authors of the paper sought in the spectra evidence of the presence of the characteristic lines of the spectra of nebuæ, of the corona, and of the aurora. Nebular lines were found in the tubes as above prepared; but in one, the gas of which had not been passed through the U-tube, and which contained traces of nitrogen and argon, a line was found very close to the principal green nebular ray, which did not appear in the other tubes, and which may indicate that the substance that is luminous in the nebulæ is really present in the earth's atmosphere. Several lines were found which may possibly be referred to coronal rays, but further study is necessary before this can be established. Still, more doubt attaches to the auroral rays, one of which seems to be identical with a strong ray of argon. The ingenious method devised for the collection of the gases, the demonstration of the presence of hydrogen in the atmosphere, and the possibilities opened up by this manner of attack render this research notable.

 

The progress which has been made in recent years in determining the useful and injurious dairy bacteria, and the means of controlling their growth, has greatly promoted the intelligent production and handling of milk for household consumption and in butter-making. In this work a number of the agricultural experiment stations have taken an important part. The Storrs Experiment Station in Connecticut is among this number, and its twelfth annual report, just issued, gives an interesting résumé of the something over two hundred types of bacteria which Professor Conn has found in dairy products during the ten years he has been engaged in this work. On the basis of his studies he proposes a classification of dairy bacteria. Although the total number of species found in dairy products is large, only a comparatively few occur with very great regularity. Professor Conn concludes that those of the region represented by his investigations consist chiefly of three groups of closely related bacteria. Of these the most abundant are Bacterium acidi lactici I. (Esten) and B. acidi lactici II. (new species), which constitute the first group. The former occurs almost universally in milk and cream, is nearly always present in sour milk, and has been found by far the most abundant in all samples of ripened cream examined. The second form, while very abundant in sour milk and cream, occurs in less numbers. Several of the pure commercial cultures for ripening cream in butter-making consist of bacteria of this type. The next most important group is represented by a species regarded as identical with B. lactis aerogenes, and includes a number of types of great similiarity, but with different physiological characters. It has been found almost universally in milk, but never in very great numbers. Some of the pure cultures used in Europe for cream ripening appear to belong to this group. Typical sour milk, with its tendency to fragmentation and its sour odor, Professor Conn thinks, is never developed without the aid of some of the organisms of this group. The third type is the Micrococcus lactis varians of the author. It is common in fresh milk, and is thought to exist in the milk ducts, which is not the case with the preceding types, the source of contamination with which is believed to be entirely external. It is commonly overgrown by the lactic organisms and is less common in old milk. While the classification of dairy bacteria is regarded as necessarily a tentative one, it is offered as a basis for bringing together the work of American dairy bacteriologists.

 

Another paper in this report bearing on the subject of dairying relates to the use of milk of tuberculous cows—a matter of more than usual interest in view of the attention which is being given to the general subject of tuberculosis and its transmission. Experiments in using the milk of tuberculous cows for feeding calves at the Storrs Station have been in progress for several years. During the first two years, when the cows had the disease only in its earliest stages, the young cattle which received their milk and ran with them constantly, exhibited no signs of the disease as far as could be detected by the tuberculin test or physical examination. But the result for the next year and a half was quite different. Five calves were fed the milk of these same cows, and all five responded to the tuberculin test and proved to be diseased. The physical condition of three of the cows indicated that during the last year the disease had progressed decidedly in them. While the results indicate that the danger from the spread of tuberculosis to other animals through the milk is not always as great as has been supposed, they suggest the exercise of greater precaution in excluding from use for supplying family milk all cows in which the disease is sufficiently advanced to be detected. Experiments at a number of places have shown that the milk of tuberculous cows may be pasteurized and safely used for raising calves, but precautions should be taken to insure confining its use to this purpose.

 

Professor E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, has been awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.—The Helmholtz medal of the Prussian Academy of Sciences has been conferred on Sir George Gabriel Stokes, of Cambridge University, this medal having been previously conferred only on Professor Virchow and Lord Kelvin.—Sir Archibald Geikie has retired from the directorship of the Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland.—We note with regret the death of Elisha Gray, the American inventor; of M. Ch. Hermite, the French mathematician; of Professor Max vo« Pettenkofer, the bacteriologist; of Frederic W. H. Myers, secretary of the Society for Psychical Research; and of Miles Rock, the American geodesist.—The International Zoological Congress will hold its fifth session in Berlin, beginning on August 12.—The Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America will hold its next meeting in December.—William H. Crocker, of San Francisco, has offered to defray the expenses of a solar eclipse expedition to be sent by the University of California from the Lick Observatory to Sumatra to observe the total eclipse of the sun on May 17.—A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives directing the general Government, through the Secretary of the Interior, to secure title to the cliff dwellers' region of New Mexico for park and scientific purposes, and one in the Senate appropriating $5,000,000 for the purchase of land in the Appalachian Mountains for a national forest reserve.—Mr. Joseph White Sprague has left his estate, valued at $200,000, so that it will ultimately revert to the Smithsonian Institution.—Johns Hopkins University has received a conditional gift of land for a new site valued at $700,000.—The French and German generals have removed from the wall of Pekin the superb astronomical instruments erected two centuries ago by the Jesuit fathers, and propose to send them partly to Berlin and partly to Paris. The American general has protested against this as an act of vandalism.—Dr. Adams Paulsen, director of the Meteorological Institute of Copenhagen, has gone to North Finland to study the aurora. He undertook a similar expedition last winter to North Iceland.—Prof. Baldwin Spencer and Mr. Gillen have arranged for another expedition in continuation of their investigations into the habits and folk-lore of the natives of Central Australia and the Northern Territory.