Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/November 1900/The Progress of Science

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PSM V58 D122 Lavoisier monument in paris.png
LAVOISIER MONUMENT.

Erected in Paris by International Subscription.
 

 
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

It is frequently said that the days of the discovery of general principles and far-reaching laws are past, and that students of science are now settling down to minor questions and the elaboration of details. The amount of specialized work, unproductive of immediate result in general truths, is naturally increasing, both because of the assiduity of scientific workers and because each general truth brings a number of minor problems. But the acquisition of wide theories is by no means at an end when we are told, as we have been during the last year, that the nebular hypothesis of Laplace is at variance with the facts; that the atoms are made up of smaller bodies whose nature can be known; that inertia and gravitation are not special facts by themselves, but are the results of the electrical charges of bodies. In papers in the Journal of Geology and the Astrophysical Journal, Prof. T. C. Chamberlin and Dr. F. R. Moulton seek to show that the nature of the earth's atmosphere is not compatible with the traditional idea of the formation of the earth from a hot gaseous ring; that the force of gravity would not cause such a ring to form a sphere; that the matter given off by a rotating spheroid of gas would not go off in the form of rings, and that the present mechanical arrangement of the solar system could not be derived from a spheroidal nebula such as Laplace assumed. It is suggested that the spiral nebulæ may offer conditions analogous to those of our own solar system in its early stages. The hypothesis receives confirmation from the important paper published just before his death by Keeler, and described by Professor Campbell in the obituary notice published above. Keeler's beautiful photographs with the Crossley reflector, several of which are reproduced by Professor Newcomb in the opening article of this issue of the Monthly, indicate that most nebulae are in fact spiral.

 

Recent researches in molecular physics threaten to disqualify the time honored position of the atoms as the smallest known particles of matter and to push the analysis of material substances to a point where the dreams of a primary order of sub-atoms or corpuscles whose varying combinations shall account for the so-called 'elements' seems almost probable. The work of Prof. J. J. Thomson and others on the electrical condition of gases has resulted in the hypothesis that the ions or bodies carrying the electric charges are not greater than one-thousandth the mass of the hydrogen atom; further, that the mass of each ion is the same in the case of all the gases tried, regardless of their atomic weights. The latter statement indicates that atoms of totally different constitution yet consist of corpuscles that are alike at least in mass. Although the experiments and reasoning which have led to these conclusions are beyond the comprehension of any but the specialist, and so cannot be suitably given in this connection, it should be remembered that the conclusions are far from being mere speculations. On the contrary, they are the result of the most careful experimental work, accord well with a number of facts and have already been tentatively applied to the explanation of other phenomena. Thus, Dr. Reginald A. Fessenden has arrived at certain far reaching hypotheses concerning the possible explanation of inertia and gravitation in terms of electric charges. In a recent issue of Science he writes: "We thus find that both inertia and tion are electrical effects and due to the fact that the atom consists of corpuscular charges. The constant ratio between quantity of inertia and quantity of gravitation, for a given body, is thus explained. We may state the theory thus: The inertia of matter is due to the electromagnetic inductance of the corpuscular charges, and gravitation is due to the change of density of the ether surrounding the corpuscles, this change of density being a secondary effect arising from the electrostatic stress of the corpuscular charges."

 

We are able to publish in the present issue of this Journal an article on China, by Mr. William Barclay Parsons, which represents the best knowledge obtainable from recent and accurate observations. The present political crisis has called forth other articles, and books will be forthcoming, giving a certain amount of reliable information in regard to the physical and social aspects of the country. Still, the difference between Eastern and Western civilization becomes apparent the moment any definite question is asked about the natural resources or social conditions of China. Almost any fair question of this nature about our own country would meet with a ready and reasonably complete answer from some one of the government bureaus or from general scientific literature. When it is asked about China we obtain in general only opinions of travelers, missionaries or other foreign residents, opinions based on vague data and guided usually by mediocre scientific training. On what is perhaps the most important questions of all: What is the mental and moral make-up of the Chinese people? How will they act singly or collectively under given conditions? we get even less accurate judgments than we do on the mineral resources, the fauna and flora, etc. It is a pity that the sciences of human nature are not far enough advanced to make it practicable to send a body of anthropologists and psychologists to China to examine and diagnose the mental capacities and proclivities of the race. Even as things are, such a report would be worth something as a supplement to the impressions of those who have written about China. It might be assumed from the general principles of the theory of evolution that races which have for many centuries been subject to a nearly constant environment will be greatly disturbed by new conditions. It is not surprising that the native tribes of America and Australasia should be exterminated. On the other hand, rabbits imported into Australia and negroes imported into America have flourished, and the Japanese have adapted themselves to a new civilization in a marvelous fashion. Common-sense and science are in equal measure unable to foretell what will happen to China and its peoples.

 

It will be remembered that the late Dr. Alfred Nobel bequeathed nearly all his great fortune, estimated at ten million dollars, for the establishment of five prizes. The exact terms of his will, which have only recently been made public, are as follows:

The capital, converted into safe investments by the executors of my will, shall constitute a fund the interest of which shall be distributed annually as a reward to those who, in the course of the preceding year, shall have rendered the greatest services to humanity. The sum total shall be divided into five equal portions, assigned as follows:

1. To the person having made the most important discovery or invention in the department of physical science.

2. To the person having made the most important discovery or having produced the greatest improvement in chemistry.

3. To the author of the most important discovery in the department of physiology or of medicine.

4. To the author having produced the most notable literary work in the sense of idealism.

5. To the person having done the most, or the best, in the work of establishing the brotherhood of nations, for the suppression or the reduction of standing armies, as well as for the formation and propagation of peace conferences.

The prizes will be awarded as follows-For physical science and chemistry by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; for works in physiology or medicine by the Carolin Institute of Stockholm; for literature, by the Academy of Stockholm: finally for the work of peace, by a committee of five members elected by the Norwegian Stortung. It is my expressed will that nationality shall not be considered, so that the prize may accrue to the most worthy, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.

 

The organization for executing this will has, after an interval of about three years, been completed, and its nature has been formally announced in an official communication to our government. Nobel's intentions have not been exactly carried out, the chief deviations being that part of the money is used for the establishment of certain Nobel institutes, the objects of which are not exactly defined. On these institutes and on the incidental expenses of awarding the prizes, one-fourth of the income may be expended. Further—and this seems to be in direct violation of the provisions of the will—prizes need be given only once in five years, and the money thus saved may be used to establish special funds 'to encourage otherwise than by prizes the tendencies aimed at by the donor.' It is to be hoped that the administrators will make only judicious use of these provisions, for Nobel's purpose to establish for eminence in science and literature a few rewards as munificent as the world gives in politics, war or business is too wise to be neglected. Any attempt to divert the funds to the encouragement of local institutions or to the education of inferior men should be carefully guarded against. Nobel's will explicitly ordered that the money be awarded in prizes for eminence and without any consideration of nationality.

 

New York University received early in the year a gift of $100,000 from Miss Helen Gould for the erection of a Hall of Fame. On the colonnades are to be inscribed the names of the most eminent Americans, and thirty of these have recently been selected by the Senate of the University, in accordance with the votes of certain prominent men selected as judges. Ninety-seven of these handed in their votes, and the following eminent Americans received the majority required: George Washington 97, Abraham Lincoln 96, Daniel Webster 96, Benjamin Franklin 94, Ulysses S. Grant 92, John Marshall 91, Thomas Jefferson 90, Ralph Waldo Emerson 87, Robert Fulton 85, Henry W. Longfellow 85, Washington Irving 83, Jonathan Edwards 81, Samuel F.B. Morse 80, David Glasgow Farragut 79, Henry Clay 74, Nathaniel Hawthorne 73, George Pe'abody 72, Robert E. Lee 69, Peter Cooper 69, Eli Whitney 67, John James Audubon 67, Horace Mann 67, Henry Ward Beecher 66, James Kent 65, Joseph Story 64, John Adams 61, William Ellery Channing 58, Elias Howe 53, Gilbert Stuart 52, Asa Gray 51. It will be noticed that the list contains four inventors—Robert Fulton, S. F. B. Morse, Eli Whitney and Elias Howe—while there are but two scientific men—J. J. Audubon and Asa Gray, unless Benjamin Franklin be included. The judges probably were more interested in birds and flowers than in the history of science in America. Audubon and Gray should certainly be included in a list of eminent scientific men, but not to the exclusion of Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford), Joseph Henry and others. Twenty further names are to be added in 1902 and thereafter five at intervals of five years.

 

The papers and discussions before many of the congresses of the Paris Exposition were technical in character, as is demanded by the advanced and specialized state of the sciences, but there also met at Paris during August and September a number of congresses devoted to the mental and social sciences which perhaps presented more aspects of interest to those who are not special students. The only one of these congresses that can be noted here is that devoted to psychology, a science intermediate, in its present state of development, between the exact sciences and those subjects in which individual opinions are more prominent than ascertained facts. About three hundred students of psychology attended the fourth international congress, which met in seven sections, namely: (1) Psychology in its relation to anatomy and physiology; (2) Introspective psychology in its relation to philosophy; (3) Experimental psychology and psychophysics; (4) Pathological psychology and psychiatry; (5) Psychology of hypnotism and related phenomena; (6) Social and criminal psychology, and (7) Comparative psychology and anthropology.

 

Among the subjects discussed by the Psychological Congress was the establishment at Paris of a 'Psychical Institute' under the auspices of an international society. This Institute proposes to do for 'psychics' what the Pasteur Institute does for biology and pathology. According to M. Janet, its aims are:

(1) To collect in a library and museum all books, works, publications, apparatus, etc., relating to psychical science;

(2) To place at the disposal of researchers, either as gifts or as loans, according to circumstances, such books and instruments necessary for their studies as the Institute may be able to acquire;

(3) To supply assistance to any laboratory or to any investigators, working singly or unitedly, who can snow that they require that assistance for a publication or for a research of recognized interest; (4) To encourage study and research with regard to such phenomena as may be considered of sufficient importance; (5) To organize lectures and courses of instruction upon the different branches of psychical science; (6) To organize, as far as means will allow, permanent laboratories and a clinic, where such researches as may be considered desirable will be pursued by certain of the members; (7) To publish the 'Annales de l'Institut Psychique International de Paris,' which will comprise a summary of the work in which members of the Institute have taken part and which may be of a character to contribute to the progress of the science. The Institute aims to cover the whole field of psychology, but it appears from the discussions and from those who are interested in the movement that it will favor those more or less occult phenomena which go under the name 'psychical.' Thus the American members of the committee are Prof. J. Mark Baldwin, Prof. J. H. Gore and Mr. Elmer Gates, which is as if the committee on a pathological institute consisted of one physician, a lawyer interested in homeopathy and a faith curist.

 

The experiment demonstrating the relation of mosquitoes to malarial fever, undertaken under the auspices of the London School of Tropical Medicine, has apparently been successful. Its somewhat dramatic character and wide advertisement in the daily papers will prove of benefit both in leading people to take precautions to avoid infection by mosquitoes and in leading to increased appreciation of the importance of experiments in medicine. Drs. Sambon and Low, who have been living in a hut in one of the most malarial districts of Italy since last June, drinking the water, exposed to the night air and taking no quinine, have so far been entirely free from malaria. The converse of the experiment has been equally successful. Dr. Patrick Manson's son, who had never suffered from malaria, allowed myself to be bitten in London on three occasions by mosquitoes fed in Rome on patients suffering from malaria. He suffered an attack of fever and the tertian parasites were found in his blood. Americans, and especially readers of this journal, may be interested to learn that the earliest article on the relation of mosquitos to malaria was published in the Popular Science Monthly for September, 1883. Prof. A. F. King, still living in Washington, contributed an article entitled 'Insects and Disease—Malaria and Mosquitoes,' in which, after calling attention to the then recent researches of Dr. Patrick Manson, in China, and others, proving that the mosquito acts as an intermediary host of Filaria sanguinas hominis, he proceeds to point out in detail the connection existing between mosquitoes and malaria. Nineteen special arguments are marshaled, several of which deserve consideration at the present time. Among the points urged by Dr. King is the fact that malaria is prevented by mosquito nets, a statement being quoted to the effect that "on surrounding the head with a gauze veil or conopeum the action of malaria is prevented and that thus it is possible to sleep in the most pernicious parts of Italy without hazard of fever." This was, of course, written long before Laveran discovered Plasmodium malariæ, and before exact experiment was possible, but Dr. King deserves much credit for bringing together so much evidence in favor of a theory the correctness of which could only be demonstrated twenty-seven years later.

 

The proper standard for atomic weights has occasioned controversies among chemists for nearly a century, but at last bids fair to be settled, through the practical agreement of an international committee, under the auspices of the German Chemical Society. The original standard, proposed by Berzelius, was the weight of the oxygen atom taken as 100. This gave rise to very large numbers, in the case of numbers with high atomic weights, and gradually the use of hydrogen = 1 came to supersede that of oxygen = 100. So long as it was assumed that the oxygen atom was exactly sixteen times as heavy as the hydrogen atom, this standard was satisfactory. With increasing refinement of analytical work, it began to appear that the atomic weight of oxygen, with reference to hydrogen, was slightly less than sixteen. For some time the exact figure was supposed to be 15.96. This necessitated a recalculation of the atomic weights of all the elements, for they are for the most part determined with reference directly to oxygen or chlorin, and only indirectly with reference to hydrogen. As it was certain that the final word had not been said as to the atomic weight of oxygen, the suggestion was made by a few chemists to use as a standard oxygen = 16. The first article published advocating this new standard was by Dr. F. P. Venable, of the University of North Carolina, in 1888. Discussion was particularly aroused in the German Chemical Society by Professor Brauner, of Prague, who was strongly supported by Ostwald and opposed by Meyer and by Seubert. The latter, who is one of the great authorities on atomic weights, has since come to the support of oxygen = 16. The recent report of an international committee representing chemical societies of eleven countries (America, Belgium, Germany, England, Holland, Japan, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland), showed forty in favor of oxygen = 16, seven opposed, while two wanted both standards. Except one American, none were opposed but Germans, and the German vote was a tie between the two standards. The objections raised against using oxygen = 16 as a standard seem to be solely from a didactic standpoint, in having something other than unity as a standard. It was clearly pointed out by Dr. Venable in his second paper that there was no necessary connection between the standard and unity. Some objectors would take oxygen as unity, but this would be impracticable, as it would make such radical changes in the numbers now in use. An additional reason for the newer standard is that a large proportion of those weights most frequently used approach very closely to whole numbers, a point of no slight advantage to the technical chemist. While the small minority of the international committee are making a vigorous protest against the decision of the majority, it seems probable that this decision will be concurred in by most chemists throughout the world.

 

Foreign men of science have a pleasant custom of celebrating the long service of their colleagues. Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli was born in 1835, and in June, 1860, he was appointed one of the astronomers of the Observatory of Milan. In June, 1900, thirty-six Italian astronomers joined in a memorial to him which has been handsomely printed in a pamphlet of eighty-eight pages. On November 1 of this year Schiaparelli is to retire to private life, after more than forty years of active service. For thirty-eight years he has been director of the observatory at the Brera palace, which, by his researches, has been raised to a very high rank. His first observations were made with quite small instruments, but his successes with limited means finally brought splendid modern instruments to his observatory. His earliest examinations of planets (1861) were made with a small telescope of only four inches aperture. For many years he employed a telescope of eight inches, but since 1887 he has had at his disposition a refractor of eighteen inches—one of the powerful telescopes of the world.

Schiaparelli is best known to the world at large by his long continued and very successful observations of Mars. It is not too much to say that his work has revolutionized our notions of the physical conditions existing on that planet. It is more than likely that some of his conclusions will have to be revised; and it is certain that some of his less cautious followers have drawn conclusions that the master's observations do not warrant. However this may be, his own work has a high and permanent value. Astronomers rate other researches of Schiaparelli's quite as highly as his studies of the planets. The relation between comets and meteor-showers was most thoroughly worked out by him; we owe to him also thousands of accurate observations of double stars; as well as a great number of important researches on many and various questions of mathematics, physics and astronomy. It is interesting to note, here and there, in the list of the 206 memoirs which he has published, certain papers of an antiquarian and literary turn—on the labors of the ancients before Copernicus; Græco-Indian studies; on the interpretation of certain verses of Dante, etc. The nomenclature of his topographical chart of Mars, among other things, proves the accuracy and elegance of his classical learning.

He has been rewarded for a long and laborious life by the respect and admiration of his colleagues and by the continued interest of the larger public in his discoveries. Academies of science all over the world (with the singular exception of America) have elected him to membership and have awarded their medals and other honorary distinctions, and he has been decorated with orders of knighthood by Italy, Brazil and Russia. Finally, he is a life-senator of the Kingdom of Italy.

These tokens of particular appreciation and his widespread popular reputation are the rewards of a life devoted strictly to science. He has not gone out of his way to seek applause, though it has come to him in full measure. The graceful tribute of his colleagues signalizes his retirement from his official position, but we trust that he may be spared for many years to devote his genius to the science he has so greatly forwarded.

 

The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad still announces in its time tables that the Empire State Express is the fastest regular train in the world; but this appears to be no longer correct. The Empire State Express traverses the distance from New York to Buffalo, about 440 miles, in eight hours and fifteen minutes, or at a rate of 53.33 miles per hour. The Sud Express on the Orleans and Midi Railway travels from Paris to Bayonne in eight hours and fifty-nine minutes. The distance is in this case 466J miles, the speed, including the time taken by six stops, is 54.13 miles per hour. The engine of the New York Central Railroad has, however, a heavier load and is cheeked by necessary slacking as it passes through crowded streets and past level crossings. The fastest long-distance train in England is 'The Flying Scotsman,' which goes from London to Edinburgh, a distance of 3931/2 miles, at a rate of 50.77 miles per hour. The United States holds the record for short distances in the run from Camden to Atlantic City, which is made by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at a rate of 66.6 miles per hour and by the Pennsylvania Railroad at a rate of 64.3 miles per hour. There is a considerable number of trains run at these rates or nearly as fast, and the rate is sometimes as great as eighty-eight miles an hour for distances of twenty miles. England seems to be now distinctly inferior to France and America in the speed for both long and comparatively short distances, although the roadbeds are better, and although they do not have to contend with level crossings and runs through streets. The greater speed of the American trains appears to be due to the superiority of the engines. It is a fact that the speed of railway trains has increased little in recent years—scarcely at all in Great Britain for thirty years. If more rapid transit is required it will probably be found in the use of light trolley cars. There seems to be no technical difficulty in establishing a ten-minute service between Jersey City and Philadelphia, the time being reduced to one hour.

 

Among recent events of scientific interest we note the following: Prof. H. A. Rowland, of the Johns Hopkins University, has been awarded the grand prize of the Paris Exposition for his spectroscopic gratings, and Prof. A. Michelson, of the University of Chicago, the same honor for his echelon spectroscope. —The Balbi-Valier prize (3.000 francs) of the Venetian Institute of Sciences has been awarded to Professor Grassi, at Rome, for his work on the relation of Mosquitoes to malaria. —The Paris Academy of Moral and Political Sciences has awarded its Audifred prize of the value of 15,000 francs to Dr. Yersin for the discovery of his anti-plague serum. —A movement has begun in London for the erection of a memorial in honor of the late Sir William Flower, which will consist of a bust and a commemorative brass tablet to be placed in the Whale Room of the Natural History Museum—one of the departments in which he was most interested and to which he devoted special care and attention. —A monument in honor of Pelletier and Caventou, the chemists, to whom the discovery of quinine is due, was unveiled at Paris on August 7. An address was made by M. Moissan, president of the committee, who presented the monument to the city of Paris, and by other speakers. —Milne Edwards has by his will bequeathed his library to the Paris Jardin des Plantes, of which he was a director. It is to be sold and the proceeds to be applied toward the endowment of the chair of zoology which he held. He also leaves 20,000 francs to the Geographical Society, of which he was president, for the establishment of a prize and 10,000 francs to the Société des Amis des Sciences. —The collection of jewels arranged by Mr. George F. Kunz and exhibited by Messrs. Tiffany & Co. at the Paris Exposition has been presented to the American Museum of Natural History by Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan. —The New York Board of Estimate and Apportionment has authorized the expenditure of $200,000 for the Botanical Garden and $150,000 for an addition to the American Museum of Natural History. —The Peabody Academy of Science at Salem, Mass., is trying to raise $50,000 for an addition to the museum building. Already over $26,000 has been pledged for the purpose.