Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/December 1902/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The lamented death of Major Powell should not affect the work of the two great national institutions for the creation and organization of which he was chiefly responsible. Powell resigned the directorship of the U. S. Geological Survey in 1894, leaving it one of the strongest scientific agencies of the government. During the later years of his life when his health began to fail, he entrusted the administration of the Bureau of American Ethnology to his principal assistant, Dr. W J McGee, who was given the title 'ethnologist in charge.' Such divided control is not usually advisable, but in this case there was perfect sympathy and cooperation, and Major Powell appeared to have provided with remarkable foresight for the continuation of the work that he had inaugurated and successfully conducted. It is a serious blow to scientific work under the government and to anthropology in the country that Powell's plans have failed.

Many do not know that three of the important scientific institutions supported by the government are administered by the Smithsonian Institution namely, the National Museum, the National Zoological Park and the Bureau of American Ethnology. The two first secretaries of the Smithsonian, Henry and Baird, were always ready to undertake plans for 'the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,' in accordance with the terms of Smithson's remarkable bequest. When a scientific movement had been inaugurated they were glad to place it under the conditions most favorable to its development. It suffices to mention the weather reports inaugurated by Henry and now conducted as the' Weather Bureau under the Department of Agriculture, and the movement for fisheries inaugurated by Baird, which has become the Fish Commission. In accordance with this policy, Henry recommended the separation of the National Museum from the Smithsonian Institution, believing that it would be more liberally supported under direct governmental control and that the institution would be freed for work that it only could do.

The policy of his predecessors has not been followed by the present secretary of the institution. It is generally believed that the miserable building of the museum would long ago have been replaced by a building such as is possessed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and that the collections would be far larger and more symmetrical than they are if the museum had been handed over to the Department of Agriculture. The development of the museum under adverse conditions was largely due to the late G. Brown Goode. On the occasion of his death some six years ago, however, the secretary of the institution did not for some time appoint a successor at the museum, but divided the work among three head curators. Now, on the occasion of the death of Major Powell, the secretary has given to one of these curators the directorship of the Bureau of American Ethnology, not, however, giving him the title of 'director,' but that of 'chief,' thus lessening the importance of the position, while subordinating it to the National Museum and to the secretary of the institution. If this were done in order that the secretary might take more direct interest in the work of the bureau it might be excused, but as he is known to have shown lack of sympathy with its work in the past, it is naturally supposed that he purposes to subordinate the research work of the bureau to the collections of the museum. It seems extraordinary that a bureau supported by an appropriation from Congress should be entirely at the mercy of one who is not an officer of the government and whose action is apparently exempt from any control. The office of director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, though not created by Congress, has been officially acknowledged by an act of Congress, and it does not seem possible that this office can be summarily abolished or that Congress will agree to the subversion of the bureau. It is not likely that a physicist, supposed not to be in full sympathy with work in natural history, will be allowed to dictate the policy of the National Museum, the National Zoological Park and the Bureau of American Ethnology, when it is known that his actions are almost unanimously disapproved by the scientific men of the country. It is obvious that the situation is complicated rather than relieved by the fact that the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and those whom he has placed in charge of its dependencies are men of eminent scientific attainments and of the highest character.

It is probable that the result will be the separation of these institutions from the Smithsonian Institution. The National Zoological Park will then be made not merely a toy for the entertainment of children, but also a laboratory for scientific work. The National Museum will no longer be regarded chiefly as one of the sights for visitors to Washington, but will take its place with the museums of the British, French and German governments. The Bureau of Ethnology will extend its work, so that it will include in its scope the native tribes of our newly acquired possessions, the negroes, the immigrant races and the general ethnology of the people, affording information of the utmost importance for their government. The president of the United States recommended in his first message to congress that the scientific bureaus be concentrated under the Department of Agriculture, and it is to be hoped that Congress will find time to consider the question in the approaching session. If this occurs there is no question but that the institutions supported by the government but administered by the Smithsonian Institution will be transferred to the Department of Agriculture. This will not only give these institutions scope for free development, but will release the Smithsonian Institution from irksome official duties, and will permit it to carry forward more effectively its mission for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.


Four important institutions of learning have witnessed the inauguration of new administrations during the past month. Hereafter we must speak of President Wilson of Princeton, President Swain of Swarthmore, President James of Northwestern and Chancellor Strong of Kansas. Dr. Carroll D. Wright has also been installed as president of the collegiate department of Clark University. The duties of a university president are so comprehensive and diverse that it is not surprising that men of varying qualifications and types of character are chosen. To run back ten years we find a professor of Semitics at Chicago, a zoologist at Stanford, a philosopher at Cornell, a man of business at Pennsylvania, a student of Greek at California, a clergyman at Brown, an economist at Yale, a chemical investigator at Johns Hopkins, a student of education at Columbia and so on. Those acquainted with these men and even those who have merely seen them together on the stage at one of the inaugural exercises or

John Fritz

oilier university functions that have become so numerous in recent years realize that their types of character are as various as their interests. As evolution progresses by variation and survival of the fit we may look for rapid progress in educational administration from the great diversity of college presidents presented for natural selection.

The most striking contrast is evident between the inaugural addresses of the new presidents of Northwestern and Princeton. The Salvation Army captain and the Jesuit priest are not more unlike. President James is full of the spirit of democracy and progress; he overflows with the popularization of the university, technical training, coeducation, university extension, correspondence schools and the like. President Wilson dreads all these things. "In order to learn," he tells us, "men must for a little while withdraw from action, must seek some quiet place of remove from the bustle of affairs." "I believe general training, with no particular occupation in view, to be the very heart and essence of university training." President Wilson here obviously confuses the college with the university, due doubtless to the fact that the college of New Jersey has altered its name to Princeton University, without a corresponding extension of its functions. Whether or not a college for liberal culture, student life and athletics should be maintained apart from a university is still a disputed question. President Hadley in his address at the installation of Chancellor Strong, seems to have struck the correct note when he said:

We should seek for the solution of our university problems, not in the enforced addition of a German course to an English one, but in a combination of the English spirit with the German organization; so that we can teach professional studies without teaching the spirit of professionalism. . . . If our educators can manage to combine the framework of the German university with the spirit of the English university, or of the old-fashioned American college, they will economize the time of the student without sacrificing the educational result to be achieved. They will give to the community, for whose benefit they exist, the trained experts on which the community insists; and they will at the same time provide for the maintenance of that healthful public spirit in the individual and public sentiment in the body politic on which it may sometimes perhaps not so strongly insist, but which it needs all the more for its permanent continuance and prosperity.


The four great American engineering societies—The American Society of Civil Engineers, The American Institute of Mining Engineers, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers and The American Institute of Electrical Engineers—have united to establish a medal in honor of John Fritz, the well-known iron master and mechanical engineer, who has at Bethlehem done so much to forward the engineering interests of the country. Subscriptions of $10 were invited from the members of these societies and the sum of $6,000 was contributed. The design has been executed by Mr. Victor Brenner, and a gold medal will be awarded each year for achievement in the industrial arts and sciences by a joint committee of the societies mentioned above, and it is expected that this medal will have the same representative character as is held by the Bessemer medal conferred by the British Iron and Steel Institution. In addition to the establishment of this medal, a dinner was held in New York City on October 31 to celebrate Mr. Fritz's eightieth birthday. The arrangements were made by the same societies and five hundred members and guests were present. Speeches were made by representatives of the different societies and others, and Mr. Fritz responded. We reproduce the frontispiece of the program—a portrait of Mr. Fritz, the industries with which he has been identified and his signature.


The question of whether interplanetary and interstellar space is a vacuum or contains matter in an exceedingly attenuated form is an interesting problem, and one upon which there has long been much speculation. On the one hand the planets give no evidence of an impeding friction, but on the other hand the evidence of such friction in the case of certain comets seems possible. When the earth's atmosphere was supposed to consist solely of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxid, it appeared very improbable that these should pass to any considerable distance away from the surface of the earth, but, with the more recent knowledge of the constituents of the atmosphere, this thesis seems less certain. The discovery of argon by Rayleigh and Ramsay has led to the further discovery of the presence of helium, neon, krypton and xenon, which have enriched chemistry with a new type of chemical element, having no affinity, forming no compounds, and being, as far as has yet been found, perfectly inert. At the same time comes the knowledge that no inconsiderable quantity of hydrogen is a constant constituent of the atmosphere. This has been abundantly proved by Gautier, by Dewar and by Ramsay. Of these gases, hydrogen is the lightest of terrestrially known elements, but helium is not far behind it, and has not yet been changed from its gaseous form to that of a liquid. The methods which have availed to condense hydrogen to a liquid have thus far failed with helium. Turning to the chemistry of the sun, the spectroscope shows the presence of an atmosphere largely of hydrogen, but helium is also present, extending far out from the central mass of the sun. The same instrument reveals lines indicating other elements at still greater heights in the sun's atmosphere, among them one which has been named coronium. From its position far away from the surface of the sun, it seems probable that coronium has a density far less than that of even hydrogen. Again, the evidence of the spectroscope upon the lightest constituents of our atmosphere points to the presence of other gases than helium and hydrogen, and this is reinforced by what the same instrument shows of the aurora. The latter appears to be an electric phenomenon, concerned with elements at least in part now unknown to us, and at a height above the surface of the earth at which it was long supposed there could be no appreciable atmosphere.

It thus appears that the upper strata, both of the sun and of the earth, consist of the lighter constituents which are largely removed from the lower atmosphere by their lightness, and no limit can be placed upon the distance to which these elements would travel from sun or earth into interplanetary space. What is true of sun and earth is doubtless true also of other planets and other suns, and it seems not impossible that even interstellar space may contain these and similar gases in an almost infinitely attenuated condition. What the condition of these gases may be at the temperature of interstellar space, which cannot be far removed from absolute zero, it is difficult to say. On the one hand, at such a temperature they might be expected to be solids, but, on the other hand, the particles would be relatively so few and far apart from each other that they would have the properties of a gas. The great advance in our knowledge of these fields during the last few years gives promise of much new light in the near future.


A press bulletin from the Bureau of Forestry gives an abstract of a forthcoming paper entitled 'Forest Fires,' by Mr. Alfred Gaskill. By impressing the public with some idea of the peril it suffers from forest fires, and the enormous damage they do, the bureau hopes to induce more effective legislation in suppressing them.

Investigation has shown that, in an average year, 60 human lives are lost in forest fires, $25,000,000 worth of real property is destroyed, 10,274,089 acres of timber land are burned over, and young forest growth worth, at the lowest estimate, $75,000,000, is killed. A special canvass of the country by the Department of Agriculture in 1891 discovered 12,000,000 acres of timber land destroyed by fire. These figures are mere estimates, which fall far short of showing in full the damage done. No account at all is taken of the loss to the country due to the impoverishment of the soil by fire, to the ruin of water courses, and the drying-up of springs. Even the amount of timber burned is very imperfectly calculated, and the actual quantity destroyed is far in excess of that accounted for. Forest fires in this country have grown so common that only those are reported that are of such magnitude as to threaten large communities. The lumbering industry in remote sections of the country may be ruined and people forced to flee for their lives without a mention of the disaster beyond the places near where it occurred.

The fires that burnt this year in Washington and Oregon were uncommon only in the number of lives lost. The burning of logging and mining camps and farm buildings, the loss to the country in the destruction of timber and young tree growth, is of yearly occurrence. Every fall, not only in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming, but up and down the Pacific coast and all over the Rocky Mountain country fires burn great holes in the forests and destroy the national wealth. The air of the mountains over hundreds of miles is pungent with the smoke of conflagration, and navigation on Puget "Sound has often been impeded by smoke. The following comment by Dr. Henry Gannett, of the U. S. Geological Survey, should convey a fair idea of the damage done in the state of Washington: "In less than a generation two fifths of the standing timber has been destroyed in one of the richest timber regions on the continent, and of the destruction more than half has been caused by fire. Assuming that the timber would, if standing, have the value of 75 cents per thousand feet, not less than $30,000,000 worth has gone lip in smoke, a dead loss to the people of the state."


Ogden Nicholas Rood, since 1863 professor of physics in Columbia University, one of the most eminent American men of science, died on November 12, in his seventy-second year. We hope to publish subsequently some account of Professor Rood's life and work.

Some years ago Mr. Hodgkins left his fortune to the Smithsonian Institution to be used for the increase and diffusion of more exact knowledge in regard to the nature and properties of atmospheric air in connection with the welfare of man, the endowment amounting to about $250,000. Part of the fund has been used to establish a Hodgkins gold medal, which in 1899 was awarded to Lord Rayleigh and Professor Ramsay for their discovery of argon. A second award of the medal has now been made to Professor J. J. Thomson, of the University of Cambridge, for his investigations on the conductivity of gases, especially the gases that compose the atmospheric air. An engraving from this medal, made by M. Chaplain, is here given. Professor Thomson has just been appointed the first lecturer at Yale University on the foundation established with a bequest of $85,000 from Benjamin Silliman.

The degree of LL.D. was conferred on Dr. Alexander Graham Bell at St. Andrew's University on October 23, on the occasion of the installation of Mr. Andrew Carnegie as rector.—Mr. William Sellers has been nominated for the presidency of the American Society; of Mechanical Engineers.—Professor Kohlrausch, president of the Reichsanstalt, has been elected a foreign member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Mb. John Morley has given the library of the late Lord Acton to Cambridge University. It will be remembered that this valuable historical library of some 70,000 volumes was purchased some time ago by Andrew Carnegie from Lord Acton, who was allowed to retain it until his death. Upon Lord Acton's death Mr. Carnegie gave the library unconditionally to Mr. Morley.—

It is announced that the entomological collection of the late John Ackhurst, of Brooklyn, containing some 50.000 specimens, has been purchased for the zoological department of the University of Chicago.—The collection of the birds of Holland, formed by Baron Snouckaert van Schauburg and mounted by Tar Meer, the celebrated Dutch taxidermist, has been purchased by the Carnegie Museum.

A commemorative tablet has been placed on the house at Favières in which Professor A. A. Liébeault was born. It states that he opened a new era in the medical sciences by his discovery of the systematic application of suggestion and induced sleep in the treatment of disease. The tablet was unveiled in the presence of Professor Liébeault on his seventy-ninth birthday.—An effort is being made by the mayor and municipal council of St.Just-en-Chaussée, Oise, France, to raise a memorial to two famous men who were born in that town, the brothers Haüy-René Just, founder of mineralogy as an exact science, and Valentin, the philanthropist, who founded the first school for the blind.