Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/November 1900/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.

CHRISTMAS ISLAND.

Those areas of the earth's surface outside of the Polar regions which retain their original fauna and flora unmodified by the action of man and the organisms which accompany him in his migrations are very few and are rapidly passing away. It is obvious that it is of great importance that we should know something of the conditions, animals and plants which exist under such circumstances, in order that the effects of the influx of human beings into a virgin wilderness may be determined and recorded.

Opportunities for such researches are very rare and in a few years will be non-existent. A settlement has recently been made upon the isolated bit of land known as Christmas Island, which lies some two hundred miles southwest of the western part of Java and is separated from it by sea which reaches a depth of three thousand fathoms. At the initiative and expense of Sir John Murray, known from his connection with the Challenger expedition, Mr. C. W. Andrews, of the British Museum, was granted leave of absence for the purpose of making a thorough biological survey of this island, and the report which is the result of his observations and collections, assisted by a number of expert naturalists in working up the material, has just been issued by the Museum. It is believed to be the most elaborate account of the animal and plant life of an oceanic island ever published.

The island is of volcanic origin and comprises, beside igneous rocks, a variety of tertiary and recent limestones. Most of the life upon it is of the Malaysian type, the prevalent winds being from that quarter. However, there is a recognizable portion of it which is related to that of Ceylon and another to that of Australia, though the latter country is nine hundred miles away. About ten per cent, of the plants and forty-five per cent, of the three hundred and nineteen species of animal organisms are regarded as peculiar to the island. There are thirty-one species of birds, five of mammals and six of reptiles, of which sixteen are known only from this island. These figures, of course, exclude all pelagic forms. Altogether, many interesting facts have been brought out and several puzzling questions raised in the discussion of the data which form the basis of this valuable report.

 

PALEONTOLOGY

The absence of a text-book on paleontology in English which in any adequate measure reflected the philosophic illumination of modern zoology has long been a subject of regret. The only manual worthy of the name which has enjoyed any wide reputation among scientific paleontologists has been that of von Zittel, published originally in German, but since well rendered into French with some additions. Dr. C. R. Eastman, of Harvard University, having in view a translation of von Zittel's 'Grundzüge,' with the permission of the author, submitted the different sections of the work to various American specialists for revision. The original work was lavishly illustrated with excellent, mostly original figures, which have been utilized in the present translation. The task of revision was undertaken by a number of experts as a labor of love, in the desire that the deficiency in our text-book literature, above referred to, might be done away with and that English-speaking students might possess a work of reference in which modern ideas of classification and of the relations and development of organic life on the globe would find a place. This task presented many difficulties, both for the revisers and for the editor, and one can not but regret that the cost of illustration and the difficulties of finding a publisher for a wholly new work stood in the way of preparing a manual which should be avowedly, as well as practically, independent. The excellent work of von Zittel, good as it is, was designed on the lines of the science as it was a quarter of a century ago. The revision, though in several departments fundamental, is naturally more or less uneven, the restrictions of space insisted on by the publishers and other causes hampering the freedom of treatment desirable, while the composite nature of the work, part of which was stereotyped before other portions were received in manuscript, has inevitably resulted in some incongruities. However, in spite of such minor deficiencies, the result has been the most notable advance in the treatment of invertebrate paleontology as a whole since text-books began to be made. This is especially evident in such groups as the Polyzoa, Mollusca, Brachiopods and Trilobites, in which the illustrations and a part of the bibliography are all that remain of the older work. Any work in which the latest views of large divisions of the animal kingdom are summed up by such experts as Wachsmuth, Ulrich, Schuchert, Hyatt and Beecher must appeal strongly to students and long remain an indispensable aid to science, whether all matters of detail meet with final acceptance or not. Wholesale changes, such as are indicated in several of the groups, might very well be unacceptable to the original author of the work thus modified, but, while suspending his opinion on the advisability of some of the novel methods, Dr. von Zittel, in his preface to the present work, has been moved by the true scientific spirit which, while holding fast to that believed to be good, is ever ready to welcome any new light. The untouched riches of American fossiliferous horizons, especially above the Paleozoic, are almost incalculable, and the existence of Dr. Eastman's valuable text-book can not but be a most important factor in the training of those who will hereafter bring to light the riches now awaiting the advent of paleontological explorers.

 

ZOOLOGY.

There has been somewhat of a dearth of works on natural history during the past few months. Among those which have appeared is 'Nature's Calendar,' by Ernest Ingersoll, a book intended to stimulate the reader's power of observation by inducing him to note down, day by day, what he sees going on in the world of animals and plants about him. There are twelve chapters, one for each month, in which the author writes pleasantly of what is being done by the more familiar beasts and birds, reptiles, fishes and insects, as well as plants, in an ordinary season in the vicinity of New York. The limits, however, have not been very rigidly drawn, and we read of deer, bears and wildcats, animals not commonly found about that city. We are told, as the case may be, how animals and plants are guarded against extremes of heat and cold, at what time the animals make their appearance, when the woodchuck comes from his burrow and the shad and herring ascend the streams; when they mate; at what time the eggs are deposited or the young come forth; at what time the buds burst and the blossoms open, and of many other occurrences. Each chapter is preceded by a full-page plate, after photographs by Clarence Lown, of some landscape in accord with the text, and at the end of each chapter is a 'calendar,' in which the birds naturally appear in the majority, stating what animals are present, the approximate times at which, if they migrate, they come or go, or the dates on which they go into or come out of winter quarters. The compact text occupies less than half the page, the remainder being left for recording the observations of the reader, who thus becomes a joint author and has the pleasure of seeing whether or not he is in agreement with his collaborateur.

The book is written in a pleasing style and while here and there a little loose in its statements, one should not hold the author too strictly to account, since the very object of the book is to induce the reader to make his own observations and draw his own deductions, and the possibility of proving someone wrong is a great stimulus towards this end.

 

The recent issue of part four, consisting of 283 pages of text and 392 plates, completes Jordan and Evermann's 'Fishes of North and Middle America,' published as Bulletin No. 47 of the U. S. National Museum. The 'Synopsis of the Fishes of North America,' by Jordan and Gilbert, issued in 1882, was a single volume of 1,074 pages, with no plates, containing descriptions of 1,340 species of fishes; the present work is in four volumes, consisting of 3,528 pages, 240 of which are devoted to the index and 392 plates, and over 3,000 species are described. Naturally, a considerable portion of this increase is due to the extension of the area covered, but still a large part is caused by the increased number of species now known to ichthyologists. The work is in no sense of a popular nature and it goes without saying that it is simply indispensable to the student of North American ichthyology; it will doubtless be many years before any revision of it is attempted. It is not our purpose to review the work—to do that would require much knowledge and much time—but to congratulate the authors on the completion of their task.

 

Six years ago Mr. Robert Ridgway, at the request of Dr. Goode, undertook the preparation of a work that should do for birds what Jordan and Evermann have done for fishes, give a description of all forms inhabiting North America north of the Isthmus of Panama, including as well the West Indies, the Galapagos and the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Although several times interrupted by the illness of Mr. Ridgway, the manuscript of the first volume is now ready for the printer and the second is so far advanced that it will probably be completed by the end of the year. The outlines for the entire series, which will, it is estimated, fill seven octavo volumes of 600 pages each, are drawn up, and several of the other volumes are well under way.

The total number of species and subspecies to be treated is, roundly speaking, 3,000, and the first volume, devoted to the Fringlllidae, comprises descriptions of over 370 species and subspecies. There are keys to the families, genera and species, and besides a careful technical description and very full synonymy, the range of each species is given; all extra-limital families are included in the keys, but extra-limital genera and species only when their number is small. As much more work has been done in ornithology than in ichthyology, the synonymy will be much more extensive than in Jordan and Evermann's 'Fishes of North and Middle America,' and as particular attention has been given to the verification of references and ascertaining the original spelling of generic and specific names, this part of the work has necessitated an amount of labor that can only be appreciated by those who have been engaged in similar tasks. In addition, the type locality of each species and the present location of each type has been given whenever it could be ascertained.

The work is based on the collections of the U. S. National Museum, but much material has been examined belonging not only to other museums, but to private individuals who have generously placed their specimens at Mr. Ridgway's disposal. The collections of the Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture have been particularly helpful in the case of Mexican species.

 

AGRICULTURE.

'The Use of Water in Irrigation' is the title of an extensive bulletin just issued by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, under the authorship of Prof. Elwood Mead, expert in charge of irrigation investigations, and C. T. Johnston, assistant. It embodies the results of extensive investigations conducted last year with the assistance of a number of collaborators in ten States of the arid region and presents an array of data on the use which is being made of water under different systems of management, such as has never before been collected for the irrigated region of this country. It constitutes a part of the irrigation studies which are being carried on under the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

To many readers the lavish prodigality which has characterized the diversion and application of water for irrigating will come as something of a surprise, when the paramount importance of water in developing the arid country is considered. This has been fostered by the fact that "the laws which govern appropriations of water from streams have, in most cases, no relation to the actual practice of irrigation and therefore fail to secure either the systematic distribution or best use of the available supply." Ditches diverted more water than was used: their owners claimed more than they could divert, while decrees gave appropriators titles to more water than the ditches could carry and many times what the highest floods could supply. Little was known as to the quantity of water needed to irrigate an acre of land, and in the absence of such information the ignorance and greed of the speculative appropriator had its opportunity.

In the investigations reported, farmers whose fields were under observation were instructed to use water as they had hitherto been in the habit of doing. The result of the measurements of the water used showed very forcibly the influence of waste in lowering the 'duty of water' and of care and skill in increasing it. They confirm the conviction long held by students of the subject that the amount of water used in practice bears no definite relation to the requirements of the crop, but is subject to the whim of the individual and the supply of water provided by the contract with the canal company. For instance, the average amounts of water used in different part of New Mexico varied from less than three feet to nearly seven feet. This was independent of the rainfall. In many cases the farmers using the least water got quite as good crops as those who used enormous quantities. On some soils which were not well drained there was a very marked injury from excessive irrigation. In the Boise Valley in Idaho it was found by measurement that fully one-half the water now diverted by canals is wasted under present methods. Apart from the losses from extravagant use of water, there are heavy losses, under present management, from evaporation and seepage from the canals. The average of the measurements made show the loss from this source to be fully thirty per cent. Mr. Mead expresses the conviction that throughout the sections where measurements were made last year it will be possible, through improved methods, to double the average duty of water now obtained, so that the quantity now required for one acre will serve to irrigate two.

The importance of this becomes more strikingly apparent when it is remembered that there is a limit to the amount of land which can be reclaimed with the available water supply, generally estimated at about seventy million acres, or approximately one-fifth of the arid region, and that the thousands of miles of canals and laterals thus far constructed have only reclaimed an area approximately as great as the State of New York.

The results reported in this bulletin not only furnish the basis for improving the existing methods of irrigation and for framing more equitable laws, but they indicate the lines along which investigation should be directed.

 

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of agricultural experiment stations in the United States. Beginning with a single station in Connecticut in 1875, the number has steadily grown until to-day we have a system of experiment stations embracing every State and Territory in the Union. The history of this movement and the present status of the stations is the subject of an interesting and attractive volume of over six hundred pages, prepared by Dr. A. C. True, director of the Office of Experiment Stations, and Mr. V. A. Clark, assistant, and published by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is a comprehensive account of the evolution and development of the experiment station enterprise; the organization, lines of work and equipment of the stations; some of the more striking results of practical application which they have attained; and a description of each of the fifty-six stations individually. These latter descriptions are illustrated by one hundred and fifty-three plates, showing the buildings, fields, laboratories, herds, etc., of the different stations. The greatest impulse to the station movement was given by the passage of the Hatch Act, in 1887, providing for the establishment of experiment stations in connection with the land-grant colleges, and appropriating $15,000 a year to each State and Territory for their maintenance. At that time there were some twelve stations, a part of which received regular State appropriations. During 1888 stations sprang into existence rapidly all over the country, and in a surprisingly short time these stations had justified the expectations of their advocates and proved their usefulness to the agriculture of the country.

During the past ten years more than ten million dollars have been expended in their maintenance, seven million of which has come from the Federal Government. Dr. True reviews the manifold benefits which have come from their operations, and points out their value in (1) the introduction of new agricultural methods, crops or industries, and the development of those already existing; (2) the removal of obstacles to agriculture, such as diseases of plants and animals, injurious insects and other natural enemies; (3) the defense of the farmer against fraud in the purchase of fertilizers, feeding stuffs, insecticides and in other ways; (4) aiding in the passage and administration of laws for the benefit of agriculture; and (5) in an educational way. Brief as this summary necessarily is, it brings out very forcibly the wide range of usefulness of the experiment stations to the farming community, touching nearly every phase of agricultural operation, and their very potent influence in arousing widespread interest in the various forms of agricultural education. "The stations are not only giving the farmer much information which will enable him to improve his practice of agriculture, but they are also leading him to a more intelligent conception of the problem with which he has to deal, and of the methods he must pursue to successfully perform his share of the work of the community and hold his rightful place in the commonwealth." One large result of the educational work of the stations has been the general breaking down of the popular conception that agriculture is not capable of improvement through systematic and progressive researches in its behalf conducted on scientific principles. "There is now in this country a much keener appreciation than heretofore of the fact that the problems of agriculture furnish adequate opportunity for the exercise of the most thorough scientific attainments and the highest ability to penetrate the mysteries of nature."

Considered merely as organizations for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, the stations have attained to an important position. They now include upon their staffs nearly seven hundred persons, who constitute a body of organized scientific workers such as is hardly to be found in any other field of investigation. While they are laboring primarily for the advancement of applied science, they have made a quite large number of important contributions to the sciences, and their investigations are followed with interest by workers in similar lines the world over.

The past history of the stations gives every assurance of increasing strength and efficiency in the future. They have passed through the formative period of their existence, and year by year have secured a better equipment and more thoroughly trained officers. "The people generally have come to regard the stations as permanent institutions, and are convinced of the usefulness of their work. They will, therefore, enter upon the twentieth century with bright prospects for the development of their researches in scientific thoroughness and accuracy and for the securing of larger practical results."

 

The lastest addition to the list of experiment stations is the Alaska Station, which was established last year, with headquarters at Sitka. Some preliminary work to determine the practicability of conducting station work there was carried on the year previous. The report of the operations of the Alaska Station for 1899 has recently been issued by the United States Department of Agriculture.

It is only recently that Alaska has been regarded as possessing agricultural possibilities. Potatoes and a few other vegetables were grown in a small way by some of the settlers and at a few missions, but for more than a quarter of a century after Alaska became a part of the United States no effort was made to encourage agriculture. It was not until the discovery of gold in Alaska attracted a large number of people there and created a demand for foodstuffs that any interest was manifested in the study of its agricultural capabilities, or in the attempt to establish there at least sufficient agriculture to meet a considerable proportion of the needs of its population. The results of the experiments carried on by the Alaska Station have been a surprise to those who have regarded the country as suited only to the fisheries, the fur trade and mining. Professor Georgeson's report shows that vegetable growing in Alaska is no longer a matter of experiment. "It has been abundantly proved that all the common, hardy vegetables which are grown in the gardens of the States, such as potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, peas, onions, carrots, parsnips, parsley, lettuce, celery, radishes, turnips, beets and the like, in their numerous varieties, can be grown in Alaska to a high degree of perfection and attain a crispness and delicacy of flavor which is rarely equaled in the best farming regions of the States, because they are there very frequently dwarfed and toughened by drought and heat." He has also shown that in Southeastern Alaska and in Cook Inlet oats, barley, buckwheat and spring wheat will mature with careful culture. Flax has been grown for two years with marked success, indicating that the climate is particularly favorable for flax growing. In addition to the native grasses, which grow luxuriantly, a long list of forage plants have been successfully grown, and Professor Georgeson asserts that it is safe to depend on growing an abundance of feed for live stock every year, which leads him to believe that dairying, beef, mutton and wool production are assured of success. Thus far the experiments have been confined to the southern coast of Alaska, but the present season work will be undertaken in the Yukon district and at other places in the interior.

 

PHILOSOPHY.

The appearance of a book by the veteran Dr. Hutchinson Sterling, from whose 'Secret of Hegel,' published in 1865, the rise of the neo-rationalist school in Britain and the United States dates, is always welcome. And, even if scientific students lay up old scores against him for his attack on Huxley, and for his more recent, suggestive, though unfair assault on the Darwinians, they must remember that he represents one type of contemporary thinking favored by a large and influential group; they must remember, too, that he was trained as a physician and has competent first-hand knowledge of the scientific standpoint. The present work—'What Is Thought,' published by the Blacks in Edinburgh, and imported by the Scribners—although highly metaphysical, in the Hegelian sense, contains not a little interesting material. The early chapters, on 'Substance,' the 'Ontological Proof,' 'Self-consciousness,' and the like, summarize views familiar to philosophical students, and known more or less to scientific men through such books as Prof. Ritchie's 'Darwin and Hegel,' and Prof. Watson's 'Kant and his English Critics.' Fortunately, these chapters occupy but a third of the volume. The three hundred pages devoted to some account of the development from Kant, through Fichte and Schelling, to Hegel, are more important, and present, in some aspects, the best statement of the subject at present available in English. The long chapter on Kant is full of points demanding consideration from thoughtful scientific workers; while the estimate of the relations between Schelling and Hegel must be held of exceptional value. No doubt, the book is hard reading; all Dr. Sterling's works are, for he has never been able to rid himself of the curious Carlylese style that so strongly marked his first, and greatest, effort. Nevertheless, all the old vigor and all the power remain. It may be added that the book appeals very specially to students of the history of European thought in the nineteenth century a subject which, particularly as concerns the relation between the sciences and philosophy, is very far from being understood as yet.

 

It is not easy to speak of the English translation from the German version of the Danish original of Höffding's 'History of Philosophy.' Professor Höffding's work is admirable, as all know; the translation—well, the less said of it, the better. We dismiss it with but one comment. The most laughable of the translator's numerous errors happens to be venial, as too many others are not. He tells us that Geulinex died at Pesth. Knowing of the Dutch philosopher's sojourn in Lyons, but being in ignorance of a visit to Pesth, one naturally turned to the original, and found Höffding recording that Geulinex died of the plague (pest)! This is fit companion for the similar error (now classical) whereby the Wolffian psychology (wolffischen Psychlogie) was Englished as animal psychology. Pest and Pesth obviously bear much the same relation to each other as Wolff and wolf! This may be sublime, it is hardly translation. One may venture to express a hope that the publishers will see to a thorough revision by a competent hand. The work is far too important to be left thus; moreover, we are unaccustomed to associate such a performance with the house of Macmillan. As compared with other histories of philosophy, Höffding's possesses quite peculiar attractions for those whose main interests lie in the direction of science. The space at disposal compels the briefest statement of these points. In the first place, then, Höffding devotes great attention to the formation and import of the Renaissance view of the universe. He bears it specially in mind that this view was evolved as much, if not more, by science than by philosophy. Consequently, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton take their places alongside Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz. The importance of this method of treatment can hardly be exaggerated to-day. For one of the main problems at the moment is nothing more than a determination of the extent to which 'modern thought' is still controlled by the cosmic conceptions and categories of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the same way generous consideration is accorded to thinkers who are passed over with scant ceremony in the ordinary text-books. Bruno, Bacon and Kepler are instances of this. The same appreciation of the immense importance of science for philosophical inquiry marks the perspective in which nineteenth century workers are placed. Kant, who is more influential for science than any other thinker, receives very full discussion—a discussion, too, which however one may dissent from it, as the present writer dissents, bears everywhere the traits of prolonged study and of first-hand acquaintance with the principal primary sources. Similarly, the English school of Positivists, elbowed out in the country of its birth as it has been by a metaphysicising Hegelianism, is restored to its true importance, and the post-Kantian rationalism, that has ousted it, is bidden come down lower. In a work so extensive there are, of course, many points on which one can not agree with the distinguished author. For example, his conception of the relation between Descartes and Spinoza requires revision; he makes too much of Bruno; he has not reasoned the standpoint of Copernicus out to its logical conclusion; Hobbes and Rousseau get more than their due, and Hume less; the peculiar genius of the English school, particularly as represented by Locke, does not seem to have been caught. But, after all, these are defects which appear to the expert and do not seriously mar the book as a whole. For the scientific man, it is the best presentation of the constructive development of philosophical theory from the Renaissance till within the last twenty-five years.