Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/October 1909/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE WINNIPEG MEETING OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE

The British Association has in recent years taken seriously its imperial duties. Twenty-five years ago it first met outside the British Islands. The step was not taken without long consideration and considerable opposition, but the meeting in Montreal in 1884 proved remarkably successful, no fewer than 910 members crossing the sea. In 1897 the association met in Toronto, and after an intervening meeting in South Africa in 1905, it has now for the third time visited Canada. The registration of members at Winnipeg was about 1,400, of whom about 500 crossed the Atlantic and about 150 came from the United States. The attendance at meetings of the British Association is always greatly increased by local and visiting associate members who join for the year from interest in the general and social events or from public spirit. The meetings of the British and American associations are of about the same size, but there is a noticeable difference in the composition of the membership. In the case of the British Association there are a large number of amateurs dominated by a few leaders, whereas at the annual meeting of our association and the affiliated societies the average working man of science is the main factor. This appears to represent a typical difference between an aristocracy and a democracy, for though Great Britain may be in its government more democratic than the United States it retains its social aristocracy.

PSM V75 D415 Arthur Everett Shipley.png
PSM V75 D415 Arthur Smith Woodward.png
Dr. A. E. Shipley,
of Cambridge University, President of the Zoological Section.
Dr. Arthur Smith Woodward.
of the British Museum (Natural History). President of the Geological Section.
 
PSM V75 D416 Thomas George Bonney.png
Dr. T. G. Bonney,
Professor Emeritus of Geology, University College, London, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
 

PSM V75 D417 Ernest Henry Starling.pngDr. E. H. Starling, of the University of London, President of the Physiological Section. It is certainly a remarkable fact that with a much smaller number of working men of science than Germany or the United States, Great Britain is able to produce so many great leaders. Lord Rayleigh was president of the Montreal meeting twenty-five years ago and Lord Kelvin president of the section for mathematics and physics. It might be supposed that Great Britain could not again furnish two physicists of the same class, but at Winnipeg Sir J. J. Thomson presided over the association and Professor Rutherford over the section, both recipients of Nobel prizes and commanding the course of modern physics.

In his address Professor Thomson referred first to the local conditions of the meeting and the great development of Manitoba, reminding his hearers that even the enterprise and energy of the people and the richness of the country could not have accomplished this without the resources coming from the labors of men of science. After discussing certain educational problems, including the dangers from the examination system and early specialization, the speaker reviewed the more recent developments of physics and the new conception of physical processes with which he himself has been so intimately concerned. As he aptly said in his concluding sentences: PSM V75 D417 William Henry White.pngSir William Henry White, formerly Director of Naval Construction of the British Navy. President of the Engineering Section. "The new discoveries made in physics in the last few years, and the ideas and potentialities suggested by them, have had an effect upon the workers in that subject akin to that produced in literature by the Renaissance. Enthusiasm has been quickened, and there is a hopeful, youthful, perhaps exuberant, spirit abroad which leads men to make with confidence experiments which would have been thought fantastic twenty years ago."

Professor Rutherford naturally chose for discussion one of the subjects in the newer physics with which his own work—largely carried on in a Canadian university—has been concerned, namely, the present position of the atomic theory and the values of certain fundamental atomic magnitudes. Before the chemical section Professor Armstrong covered a wide range of topics. He charges Ostwald with filling his test tubes with ink; but he himself writes some 35,000 words, going at times considerably beyond the ascertained facta of science, as in discussing "the revolt of women against their womanhood." Dr. A. S. Woodward before the geological section treated paleontological topics and the old age of races largely in the light of American discoveries. Professor A. E. Shipley opened with some references to Charles Darwin, discussed methods of organizing zoology, with its 600,000 known species, and concluded with a discussion of international oceanic research. Sir W. H. White treated the engineering enterprises and commerce of Canada and Great Britain. Professor E. H. Starling applied physiology and biology to sociological questions. Addresses of equal interest were given before the other sections and at four general meetings, the speakers in practically all cases emphasizing those aspects of science which are likely to hold the | attention and affect the conduct of those who are not professionally engaged in scientific work.

As always, the excursions and social, events were arranged in a way that it does not seem possible to rival in this I country. The Canadian government | appropriated $25,000 and the city of! Winnipeg $5,000 toward the expenses. | It is only necessary to mention the excursion to the Rocky Mountains and • the Pacific coast with 150 invited guests. When the association met at Montreal 300 English members attended the Boston meeting of the American Association, but there does not appear to have been this year any concerted effort to bring the foreign men of science south of the Canadian border.

The Rev. T. G. Bonney, the eminent geologist, professor emeritus in University College, London, was elected president of the association for the meeting to be held next year at Sheffield.

 

SCIENCE AND ADVENTURE

Reaching the North Pole and flying across the British Channel are sporting events of the first magnitude. They stir the imagination and unite the whole world in healthy interests and generous enthusiasms. They may also be regarded as achievements of applied science. Thousands of workers in the laboratory and in the field have made possible the adventures whose culmination fills the daily papers. To "nail the stars and stripes to the pole," as Commander Peary cabled, or to win for France "imperishable glory" by a flight from Calais to Dover is not in itself a serious contribution to science. But these achievements exhibit in dramatic form the conquest of nature by man which science has accomplished. Perhaps the only facts of considerable scientific interest so far announced in the case of the "dashes" to the pole are Dr. Cook's statement that he discovered land in the extreme north and Commander Peary's sounding which proved that the sea at the pole is over 1,500 fathoms deep. In the main the appeal is to the imagination and it is unfortunate that patriotic enthusiasm has been checked by a certain amount of skepticism in regard to Dr. Cook's exploit. It is certainly unfortunate that Commander Peary should have so expressed himself. From the time of Herodotus it has been the fate of travelers to have their stories questioned. It is to be hoped that Dr. Cook's records may prove entirely definite, so that all doubts may be cleared up. In any case the pole has been reached, and the way has been cleared for scientific exploration in the arctic and antarctic regions.

 

THE POSSIBLE POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES

In the last issue of the Monthly Professor A. P. Brigham discusses the capacity of the United States for population and places the maximum number of people that can be supported by our resources at 305,000,000. In an earlier volume of the Monthly (November, 1900) President Henry S. Pritchett predicted, a population of over a billion two hundred years hence and of about twelve billion six hundred years hence. We may agree with Professor Brigham that "population is a vast and wandering theme." It is, however, fascinating and not without practical interest. Emigration laws and even birth rates are not unaffected by such guesses as may be made.

The population of a country is in the main limited by the food supply. Man does not live by bread alone, but his higher needs are increasingly supplied by an increasing population. With a given stock and a given environment the-number of men of genius who add to the social heritage is proportional to the population. Material supplies other than food are needed, but they are not likely to become exhausted. Metals and clays are inexhaustible; the increasing difficulty of obtaining them will surely be met by improved methods. Metals—also wood and even the materials of clothing—can be used over and over again should this become desirable. Fuel, like food, is consumed, but the sun's energy is boundless and means are already at hand to obtain all that may be needed. It is safe to say that the population of the earth is limited only by its food supply.

The area of continental United States apart from Alaska is, in round numbers, two billion acres, of which one half is in farm lands and one fourth under cultivation. Probably three fourths of the total area could be brought under intensive cultivation and made to give fifty bushels of corn per acre or its equivalent. The food value of a bushel of corn is sufficient to support a man for nearly a month, and the product of an acre would about support four men for one year. If one half of the grain were turned into animal food for human consumption, two men per acre could be fed and the country would support a population of 3,000,000,000. Apart from the possible synthetic manufacture of food, it may be regarded as probable that improved agricultural methods will in the course of a century double the present maximum productivity. It should also be remembered that tropical lands are far more productive and under an ideal civilization would export food and import manufactures. The maximum population that might be supported in the United States may, a century hence, consequently be placed at about ten billions.

Such a maximum figure compares with a probable figure somewhat as the theoretically possible efficiency of a steam engine compares with its actual efficiency. But a population of one billion could be supported comfortably. Our present food supply feeds about a hundred million. Better methods would double the production from the area at present under cultivation and less wasteful methods would halve the consumption. If the area under cultivation were increased from 25 per cent, to 62.5 per cent, there would be food for a billion people. Allowing for a reasonable exchange with tropical countries and an ever increasing efficiency in production such a population would have an ample food supply with a reasonable amount of meat and fruit and even as much alcohol, tobacco and coffee as may be desirable for health. Such a population would not mean in any sense living under the conditions of the Asiatics. The more dense the population within the limits stated, the greater would be the per capita wealth. Nor will the country be crowded. Doubtless most of the people would prefer to live in villages or cities and for the quarter that might prefer the country there would be thirty acres for each family. What the actual population of the United States will be a hundred years hence is a very different question. In a state of nature the number of a species may be reduced by enemies or disease, but as a rule they are limited only by the food supply. But with man a change more significant than any other in history has taken place within the last fifty years. Thanks to the applications of science, the food supply is ever increasing; but the supply of children decreases in an ominous manner. The population of a country is no longer limited by the food supply, but by a conflict between instinct and rationalism, and by physiological fertility under the conditions of modern civilization. It is not likely that the population of any country will ever again be so large as its food supply would support.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of Professor Emil Hansen, the eminent physiological botanist of Copenhagen, and Dr. Otto von Bollinger, professor of pathology at Munich.

Dr. C. M. Gariel, professor of medical physics at Paris, has been elected president of the French Association for the Advancement of Science for the meeting to be held next year at Toulouse.—At the celebration of the fifth centenary of the University of Leipzig some ninety honorary degrees were conferred, including a doctorate of medicine on Professor E. B. Wilson, of Columbia University, and doctorates of philosophy on Professor Jacques Loeb, of the University of California, and Professor A. A. Michelson, of the University of Chicago.—At its recent celebration the University of Geneva conferred one hundred and fifty honorary doctorates. Among the men of science included were Lord Lister, Professor Haeckel, Professor Ostwald and Professor Engler.

Professor R. C. Allen, of the University of Michigan, has been elected state geologist to succeed Mr. A. C. Lane, who resigned to accept a chair in Tufts College.—Dr. Juan Guitaras has consented to remain director of sanitation and chairman of the National Board of Health for Cuba, in view of the fact that the government has now appropriated sufficient funds for the work of the department of sanitation.—Dr. E. D. Durand, the director of the census, has announced the appointment of experts in statistics, economics, agriculture and manufactures to cooperate with him in the formulation of the census schedules on which the enumerators will enter the information they obtain next April. The conferees on the agricultural schedule are: Dr. J. L. Coulter, instructor in agricultural economics in the University of Minnesota; Dr. H. C. Taylor, professor of agricultural economics in the University of Wisconsin; Dr. C. F. Warren, Jr., professor of farm management in Cornell University, and Dr. T. M. Carver, professor of economics in Harvard University. The conferees for manufactures and on population are leading experts, being in most cases university professors.

While the British are reorganizing the College of Medicine and the Technical Institute at Hong Kong into a university, the Germans have established a school of university grade at Kiao-chau. It is said that the German government has appropriated $160,000 for its establishment and will contribute $50,000 annually for the support of the institution.—The assembly of Iceland has decided to establish a university at Reikjavik, with four faculties and sixteen professors and lecturers.

By the will of Cornelius C. Cuyler, the New York banker and a trustee of Princeton University, $100,000 is bequeathed to Princeton University. The residue of the estate, which is said to be very large, will go to the university after the death of Mrs. Cuyler.—The council of the city of Cincinnati has appropriated the sum of $576,000 to erect three new buildings for the University of Cincinnati.