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

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The regents of the Smithsonian Institution at their annual meeting on January 23 elected Dr. Charles D. Walcott to succeed the late Samuel Pierpont Langley as secretary of the institution. Born in New York State in 1850, Dr. Walcott became assistant in the Geological Survey of the state in 1876, passing to the U. S. Geological Survey in 1879. In 1894 he succeeded Major Powell as director of the national survey, which under his administration has enjoyed an unprecedented development, the annual appropriation by congress for its work being in the neighborhood of $1,500,000. The survey has been criticized for bureaucratic methods, for trespassing on fields occupied by other geologists and for turning out a vast amount of routine work rather than discoveries of the highest order. To this it is replied that the efficiency of a government bureau, especially one that is rapidly developing, requires adequate business management, that the spirit of cooperation and research in the survey is excellent, that when a new institution develops on a large scale a certain amount of temporary conflict of interests is inevitable, that the standing of geologists in the survey is as high as of those in the universities, that indeed in no single science in any institution in the world are there so many men engaged in scientific research.

When the Reclamation Service was established by the congress, its extensive work in irrigation was placed under the Geological Survey, and it has been carried forward with an efficiency and economy comparing most favorably with the conditions on the Isthmian Canal. When the service was well organized it was separated from the survey. On the organization of the Carnegie Institution, Dr. Walcott became secretary, and was responsible for a large share of the administrative work. He, however, withdrew from this position after Dr. Woodward's election to the presidency. He was also for a short time acting-assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in charge of the National Museum, and has been since 1892 honorary curator of paleontology in the museum.

Dr. Walcott was vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1903, has been president of the Washington Academy of Sciences since 1899 and became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1896. He has received the doctorate of laws from Hamilton, Chicago, Johns Hopkins and Pennsylvania. He has become eminent for his researches on the stratigraphy and paleontology of the lower Paleozoic formation and the sedimentation, stratigraphy and contained faunas of the Cambrian formation.

The acceptance of the secretaryship of the Smithsonian Institution involves unusual responsibilities. It is generally regarded as the highest scientific office in the country; indeed it is possible that a too obvious halo has been painted about the head of the secretary. The organization of the institution is such as to give to him great, perhaps undue, powers. The regents are the vice-president and the chief justice of the United States, six congressmen and six citizens. They have, as a rule, met for an hour or two once a year to listen to the report of the secretary; they have neither time nor competence to direct the policy of the institution. The conditions are somewhat similar in many of our universities, but there the faculties have a certain moral control, however limited their statutory rights. So far as appears in the annual reports, there is not a single scientific man, except the secretary, on the Smithsonian foundation, and the scientific men employed in the dependencies are likely to receive the salaries and treatment of departmental clerks. Thus the late secretary could write in his annual report in regard to the Bureau of American Ethnology: 'The actual conduct of these investigations has been continued by the secretary in the hands of Major Powell,' and he could appoint a successor to Major Powell and alter the title from director to chief without the advice of the regents or of any body of scientific experts.

It is well known that a large part of the scientific work under the government had its origin in the Smithsonian Institution, but Henry, the first secretary, was always ready to relinquish work that could be done elsewhere, leaving to the Smithsonian what it only could do. The opposite policy has been followed in recent years, and the National Museum and other agencies supported by the government have not only been kept under the Smithsonian, but have been subordinated to the personal control of the secretary. The propriety of using Smithson's unique bequest for the support of governmental institutions is doubtful, and the result has not been favorable. The National Museum, for example, whether regarded as an educational or research institution, is insignificant when compared with the Museums of Natural History and Fine Arts in New York City, or the similar institutions of foreign nations.

It may be unwise to detach the various governmental agencies from the control of the Smithsonian regents at present, or so long as we have no department of science and education. Directors should, however, be found for the National Museum and other agencies, and scientific men of high standing should be attracted to these institutions, who should be permitted to guide their policies, subject only to the ultimate control of the regents, which should naturally be exercised only on rare occasions and under competent advice. We should like to see the Smithsonian Institution itself devoted to the broad purposes of its foundation 'the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,' and under existing conditions this could perhaps best be accomplished by some form of cooperation and affiliation between it and the scientific men and scholars of the country and the world.


When the Carnegie Institution was established five years ago, many American men of science hoped that it would fill the position that the Smithsonian Institution had relinquished, and become a center for the higher scientific and intellectual life of the country. But such vague visions are difficult to realize in concrete performance. It is disappointing that the Carnegie Institution has been able to do nothing beyond making grants to certain scientific men and founding certain research institutions along well-established lines, but it may none the less be difficult to say what else it could do to better advantage. Money spent on scientific research is almost surely well spent. If the undertakings of the Carnegie Institution are what in commercial life would be called three-per-cent. investments, in science they bring a material return manyfold as large, and the ideal results are not to be measured.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore, to read in the report of President Woodward that "after careful examination of the facts at hand I think it safe to state that no direct return may be anticipated from more than half of the small grants made up to the present. time for minor researches and for research assistantships." There are given in the report the names of forty individuals and institutions which have received minor grants and of six research assistants, and they appear to be of about the same standing and largely the same individuals as those who have received grants in previous years. It is not easy to decide which grants the president refers to in his report, as it might be supposed that every one of them would yield direct returns. The grantees include many of our most eminent men of science, such as Professors S. Newcomb, W. W. Campbell, L. Boss, A. A. Noyes, T. W. Richards, T. C. Chamberlin, R. S. Chittenden, E. L. Mark and E. B. Wilson, and it is inconceivable that money entrusted to them would not be spent to advantage. It is, however, possible that equally good results would have been obtained if twenty of the grants had been distributed by lot among members of the National Academy of Sciences and the other twenty among the fellows of the American Association, and this would have obviated the suspicion of favoritism and indirect influence which is almost inevitable when such largesses depend mainly on the decision of a single individual.

The president recommends that in general minor grants shall be given only to eminent investigators who shall for the time become research associates and advisers of the institution. That the institution needs a board of scientific men is obvious. Its trustees, as is usual in America, consist mainly of prominent men of affairs, most of whom are too busy to give attention to the control of the institution, even if they were competent to do so. The secretary, originally an eminent resident man of science, is now a business man of New York City. The by-laws speak of special advisers and advisory committees, but if such exist they are not mentioned in the annual report. The only possible reference in the by-laws to the scientific men who should be the institution is a clause to the effect that the president 'shall have power to remove and appoint subordinate employees.' If the trustees could fulfil their proper function in the care of the property, and the president could be a constitutional executive officer, and there were a legislative board consisting of scientific men, elected by the scientific bodies of the country, a great advance in organization would be effected. Perhaps we may hope that the advisers nominated by the president may ultimately become a board of this character.

The larger projects of the institution last year were: botanical research, D. T. MacDougal, director; economics and sociology, Carroll D. Wright, director; experimental evolution, Charles B. Davenport, director; historical research, J. F. Jameson, director; horticulture, Luther Burbank; marine biology, A. G. Mayer, director; meridian astrometry, Lewis Boss, director; nutrition, F. G. Benedict, R. H. Chittenden, L. B. Mendel and T. B. Osborne; solar physics, George E. Hale, director; terrestrial magnetism, L. A. Bauer, director; work in geophysics, F. D. Adams, G. F. Becker, A. L. Day. For these departments the sum of $552,000 was appropriated, the largest grants being: Solar Observatory, $150,000; geophysical research, $115,500, and terrestrial magnetism, $54,000. Appended to the president's report are extremely interesting accounts of the research work accomplished under the large projects and minor grants. Illustrations showing the site of the solar observatory and the laboratories for experimental and marine biology are here reproduced.


Mr. John D. Rockefeller has announced his intention to give, not later than April 1, securities valued at about $32,000,000, to the General Education Board, which he had previously endowed with $11,000,000. The letter announcing this gift, read at a meeting of the board on February 7, is as follows:

New York, Feb. 6, 1907.
General Education Board,
54 William Street,
New York City.

Gentlemen: My father authorizes me to say that on or before April 1, 1907, he will give to the General Education Board income-bearing securities, the present market value of which is about thirty-two million dollars ($32,000,000), one third to be added to the permanent endowment of the board, two thirds to be applied to such specific objects within the corporate purposes of the board as either he or I may, from time to time, direct; any remainder not so designated at the death of the survivor to be added also to the permanent endowment of the board.

Very truly,
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

The board has acknowledged this great gift in the following terms:

The General Education Board acknowledges the receipt of the communication of February 6, 1907, from Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a member of this body, announcing your decision to give to the board for the purpose of its organization, securities of the current value of $32,000,000. The General Education Board accepts this gift with a deep sense of gratitude to you and of responsibility to society. This sum, added to the $11,000,000 which you have formerly given to this board, makes the General Education Board the guardian and administrator of a total trust fund of $43,000,000.

This is the largest sum ever given by a man in the history of the race for any social or philanthropic purpose. The board congratulates you upon the high and wise impulse which has moved you to this deed, and desires to thank you, in behalf of all educational interests whose developments it will advance, in behalf of our country whose civilization for all time it should be made to strengthen and elevate, and in behalf of mankind everywhere, in whose interests it has been given and for whose use it is dedicated.

The administration of this fund entails upon the General Education Board the most far-reaching responsibilities ever placed upon any educational organization in the world. As members of the board, we accept this responsibility, conscious alike of its difficulties and its opportunities.

We will use our best wisdom to transmute your gift into intellect and moral power, accounting it a supreme privilege to dedicate whatever strength we have to its just use in the service of men.

The work of the General Education Board has in the main been confined to gifts to certain denominational colleges on condition that they collect three times the amount appropriated, but the present gift is not limited to higher education. It is said that agricultural education in the south will be especially assisted. It will be observed that Mr. Rockefeller and his son reserve the right to dispose of two thirds of the capital in accordance with the purposes of the board. This is a wise provision, as the money would probably be of greatest use if distributed to assist existing institutions without other conditions than their deserts, or to establish new institutions. A centralized control of higher education, however indirect, has dangers as well as advantages.


M. Chauveau, of the section of agriculture, has been elected president of the Paris Academy of Sciences to succeed M. Poincaré, of the section of mathematics.—Professor Ernest W. Brown, who this year goes from Haverford College to Yale University, has been awarded the Adams prize of Cambridge University, for his work on the motion of the moon.—Professor William James, of Harvard University, our most eminent student of philosophy and psychology, celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday on January 11, and retired on January 22 from the active work of his chair.
Benjamin Franklin by William Couper American Museum of Natural History.png