Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/June 1907/The Progress of Science

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 70 June 1907  (1907) 
The Progress of Science



Lister was born on April 5, 1827, and his eightieth birthday has been the occasion for congratulations from all parts of the world. A large and influential international committee has resolved to commemorate the occasion by publishing in quarto form a collection of his scientific works. A deputation waited on Lord Lister on April 5 to ask his approval of the plan, at which time he expressed his

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appreciation and willingness that the plan should be carried into effect.

The great discovery of the antiseptic method in surgery was first announced in 1867. In an address before the meeting of the British Medical Association held in Dublin in that year, Lister said: "When it had been shown by the researches of Pasteur that the septic property of the atmosphere depended, not on the oxygen or any gaseous constituent, but on minute organisms suspended in.it. which owed their energy to their vitality, it occurred to me that decomposition in the injured part might be avoided without excluding the air, by applying as a dressing some material capable of destroying the life of the floating particles."

Lister used carbolic acid as an antiseptic, and although the methods were at first imperfect, the results were remarkable. The wards of which he had charge in the Glasgow Infirmary were especially infected with gangrene, but in a short time became the healthiest in the world; while other wards, separated by a passageway, retained their infection. Like all great discoveries, Lister's antiseptic methods have been extended and improved, being now rather aseptic than antiseptic, the precautions being largely directed toward preventing infection by sterilization. It must be remembered that in addition to the work for which Lister is famous, he has made important contributions to surgery and the practise of medicine. Lister's father was a member of the Society of Friends; a man of business, but also engaged in scientific work. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, as are also his son, Arthur, and his grandson, J. J. Lister, the brother and nephew of Lord Lister. Lister married the daughter of the eminent surgeon, Professor Syme, to whose chair at Edinburgh he succeeded. He has no heir. Lister became assistant surgeon at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1856, and moved to Glasgow as professor of surgery in 1860, returning to Edinburgh in 1869. He then became professor of clinical surgery in King's College, London, in 1877.

Lord Lister has been honored by the government by being raised to the peerage; by his fellow men of science by his election to the presidency of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Royal Society; by his colleagues in medicine and surgery by the naming in his honor of the Lister Institute, one of the most important institutions in the world for medical research. But his highest honor is the use in every hospital of the world of the antiseptic system of surgery that he discovered. This treatment has relieved endless suffering and saved innumerable lives, and has permitted the extension of surgery to operations which without it would have been impossible. It is indeed the foundation on which modern surgery is built.


On May 28, 1807, Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz was born in the Canton of Freiburg, Switzerland, his father being pastor of the protestant parish of Motier. The centenary of his birth is being celebrated at Harvard University and at Cornell University. At Harvard there is a gathering of his former pupils with addresses by President Eliot and Professor Niles. At Cornell, where Agassiz was nonresident professor, a commemorative address is to be made by Professor Burt G. Wilder. Professor Niles and Professor Wilder were among the group of eminent naturalists who were pupils of Agassiz, which includes, in addition to his son, Mr. Alexander Agassiz, Bickmore, Clark, Hartt, Hyatt, Lyman, Morse, Packard, Putnam, Scudder, Shaler, Stimpson, Tenney, Verrill and Ward.

A biographical sketch of Agassiz will lie found in the fourth volume of The Popular Science Monthly. In
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the thirty-second volume will be found an article on 'Agassiz and Evolution,' by Professor Joseph Le Conte, and in the fortieth volume an article on 'Agassiz at Penikese,' by President David Starr Jordan. As a tribute we print here his portrait and-the facsimile reproduction of a letter addressed by him to Professor Joseph Le Conte, one of the members of a family distinguished for their contributions to natural science.

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From January 1 to March 16, 1907, there have been 254,033 deaths from plague in India, a marked increase upon the returns for the 1906, when the deaths from plague for the whole year amounted to only 316,550. The number of deaths from plague in India during the years 1904, 1905 and 1906 were respectively 1,023,815, 946,558 and 316,550. The number of deaths from plague in India from January 1 to the middle of March during the years 1904, 1905, 1906 and 1907 amounted to 253,903, 316,801, 70,761 and 254,033, respectively. The number of deaths during the current year are therefore, to the middle of March, somewhat above the number in 1904 during the year, when over 1,000,000 died of plague; they are, however, considerably fewer than the deaths which occurred during the corresponding period of 1905, but this does not hold for the latter part of March. The outlook is, therefore, not hopeful. Since plague appeared in India in the autumn of 1896, the number of deaths from the disease in India to March 16, 1907, has been 4,767,141.

These facts, for which The British Medical Journal is the authority, are appalling. Even in India, a human life may be assumed to be worth $1,000, and it seems probable that the expenditure of $4,767,141,000 by the British government, partly spent on definite measures in India and partly on scientific investigation would forever abolish the plague and possibly control all epidemics. There is now much political unrest in India, and this might not be allayed even by the abolition of the plague. But the present liberal government and its secretary of state for India should appreciate their responsibilities and their duty.


The Census Office issued some time ago a 'Statistical Atlas,' prepared under the supervision of Mr. Henry Gannett, geographer of the twelfth census, which gives many interesting tables and plates, illustrating the progress of the United States in population, vital statistics, agriculture and manufactures. We reproduce here a diagram showing the increase of population during the last century in the United States and in the principal countries of Europe.

The growth of population here, compared with that in European countries, is most striking. Only Russia has a curve at all comparable to that of the United States, although the German empire shows similar tendencies during the past decade. The vast population of European Russia, which has about doubled in sixty years, shows a very constant increase, and this will be accentuated should the death rate be reduced to the proportions normal in other countries. The results of the increase of the people of Russia will probably be the most important factor in the history of Europe during the coming century. Great Britain has maintained a constant increase, and it may be an unwarranted assumption to suppose that this will soon be checked by the decreasing birth rate and the physical deterioration due to predominant town life and factory employment. The slow growth of the French population during the century and its present stationary condition, the birth rate being almost as low as the death rate, give much anxiety in that country. There were in 1903 about 20,000 fewer births than in 1902, and 32,000 fewer than in 1901. In some departments the birth rate is far below the death rate; thus in 1903 there were in Gers 3,333 births and 4,792 deaths; in Lot-et-Garonne, 3,946 births and 5,718 deaths, etc.

The curve showing the increase of
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The Population of the United States.

population in the United States during the past century seems to indicate a boundless growth. But a different interpretation appears to be possible. The percentage of increase for continental United States was remarkably constant in each decade from that beginning in 1790 to that beginning in 1850. For each period the percentages are as follows: 35.1, 36.4, 33.1, 33.5, 32.7, 35.9 and 35.6. But in the census of 1870 there was a sudden drop in the percentage to 22.6, which is attributed in part to the civil war and in part to defective enumeration. There was a rise in 1880 to 30.1, followed by a fall to 24.9 in 1890 and to 20.7 in 1900. The decrease in percentage from 1860 to 1900 was at the rate of 3.45 per decade. Should this decrease continue the percentage of increase would cease in 1950 and thereafter a decrease in population would ensue. The population of the country would then be 88 millions in 1910, 101 millions in 1920, 111 millions in 1930, 119 millions in 1940 and 123 millions in 1950, at which time the population of the country would have reached its maximum and would thereafter decline. It is of course unlikely that this will be the future of our population. The percentage of increase will almost certainly become smaller, but probably with increasing slowness. The data from 1860 to 1900, however, give indications of these results, and they are more probable than the boundless increase of population of the country and of the world which has sometimes been predicted.


At the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, held in Washington last week, President Ira Remsen, of the Johns Hopkins University, was elected president to succeed Mr. Alexander Agassiz. The vacancy in the vice-presidency thus created was filled by the election of Dr. Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.—Members were elected as follows: Joseph P. Iddings, professor of petrology, University of Chicago; Harmon N. Morse, professor of chemistry, Johns Hopkins University; Franklin P. Mall, professor of anatomy, Johns Hopkins University, and Elihu Thomson, Thomson-Houston and General Electrical Companies.

Oxford University has conferred its doctorate of science on Dr. A. Graham Bell.—Dr. Franz Boas, professor of anthropology in Columbia University, was presented on April 16 with a volume of researches by his colleagues and former students in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his doctorate.—

Dr. Francis Galton has been appointed to deliver the Herbert Spencer Lecture for 1907, at Oxford, and proposes to lecture on 'Probability, the Foundation of Eugenics.'

Mr. Edward B. Moore, assistant commissioner of patents, has been appointed commissioner to succeed Mr. Frederick I. Allen, who has resigned.—Count de Montessus de Ballore, of Abbeville, France, one of the leading authorities on earthquakes, has accepted a call from the government of Chili to establish for them a seismological service of the first rank. This action on the part of the Chilian government is a direct result of the disastrous Valparaiso earthquake of last August.

Among gifts to educational institutions the following may be noted: Princeton University has received from donors whose names are for the present withheld a gift of $1,200,000, for the erection and endowment of two scientific buildings—one for physical science and one for biology and geology. In each case the building will be erected as a cost of $400,000, and $200,000 is provided for equipment and maintenance.—By the will of Edward W. Currier Amherst College receives the sum of $500,000. Two legacies are released by Mr. Currier's death; one of $180,000 to Williams College and one of $100,000 to Yale University—Mr. John D. Rockefeller has given to the University land fronting the south side of Midway Plaisance of the value of $1,500,000.—Barnard College, Columbia University, has been made the residuary legatee of the estate of Miss Emily O. Gibbes. It is estimated that the college may receive $750,000—Miss Anna T. Jeanes, of Philadelphia, has created an endowment fund of $1,000,000, the income from which is to be applied toward the maintenance and assistance of elementary schools for negroes in the southern states.