Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/November 1911/The Progress of Science

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In The Educational Review for October, President Lowell, of Harvard University, gives some interesting statistics in regard to studies pursued in college and success in the work of the professional school. In a general way he finds that students who enter Harvard College without conditions do well in their college studies and that students who do well in college also do well in the schools of law and medicine, whereas their standing in the professional schools is not dependent on the kinds of studies pursued in college.

The diagram shows the average election of college courses by graduates of the law and medical schools, the broken lines representing the men who graduated from the professional schools with honors and the plain lines those who did not. It is apparent that the future law students took more work in history, government and economics, and the future medical students more work in the natural sciences. But the law students who in college elected more work than the average in history and political science did not do better than the others, and the medical students who elected more work than the average in

the sciences did not excel the others. On the contrary, it appears that of the 23 men who took ten or more courses in science, only 39 per cent, graduated cum laude from the medical school, whereas of 48 men who took less than three courses 61 per cent, graduated cum laude. In general, it was the case that students who elected six or more courses in any one of the four groups into which the studies at Harvard are now divided did equally well in the professional school whatever the group

The two columns on the left represent the students in the medical school who did not and who did receive honors in accordance with the subjects pursued in college. The two columns on the right represent those who did not and those who did receive honors in the medical school in accordance with their standing in college.

in which the larger share of work was done. The relations for the medical school are shown on the chart. Of 311 students who elected six or more courses in the languages in college, 145 graduated without and 166 with honors from the medical school. Of those who took six or more courses in the natural sciences, 75 graduated without and 81 with honors. Within the limits of probable error, the relations are the same for the smaller groups in political science and in philosophy and mathematics.

The two columns on the right side of the diagram show the relations between high standing in college and success in the work of the medical course. Of the 239 men who received no honors in college 36 per cent, were given honors in the medical school; of the 85 with a cum laude in college, 76 per cent.; of the 39 with magna cum laude, 87 per cent.; and the two who received summa cum laude received honors in the medical school.

President Lowell's theories are certainly supported by these statistics. He holds that men should be incited to obtain high grades in college and that the college course should be purely cultural without reference to the student 's work in after life. He has argued that the college course should make all students equally well prepared to enter any professional school and that the entrance requirements of each professional school should be such that they are met by all students having completed a college course. Every one will of course agree that it is a good thing for students to do well in their college work, even though it may be doubted how much is gained by trying to lead students to compete with one another for honors, as President Lowell advocates. It is, however, a legitimate incentive to good work to make it known that students who do well in college, are likely also to succeed in the professional school and in after life.

The fact that students do equally well in the medical school, whatever the studies they pursued in college, is a stronger argument for cultural studies than any theory. It is not quite convincing, as it may be argued that the courses in the natural sciences given to students at Harvard are proved by these statistics not to be the best training for the future medical student. We know that students who do well in one subject in college are likely to do well in others. This was put on a quantitative basis by Dr. Clark Wissler in a doctor's thesis from the psychological department of Columbia University, which showed that the correlation was about 0.60. The student who did well in Latin not only was likely to do well in other studies, but was as likely to do as well in mathematics or in gymnasium work as in French. Ability and hard work lead to success rather than special aptitudes or previous training. Apart from manual skill, the student can learn in four years about as much as he is able to remember, and consequently students at the end of the Harvard medical course can pass their examinations about as well whatever were their studies four to eight years before.

This does not, however, mean that a student might not have passed these examinations equally well if he had begun his medical work two years sooner and begun to practise medicine two years earlier, or that he would not have been a better prepared physician if he had left the college at the end of the sophomore year and spent six years in the work of the medical school. The real difficulty in the way of a prolonged college course in its bearing on future professional work is that the student begins too late. This is an economic danger, as only the well-to-do can enter the professions, and it is psychologically unfortunate, as by the time a man has begun his real work in life, he has passed the period when he is best able to learn how to carry it forward and most likely to have new ideas.


The meeting of the British Association at Portsmouth appears to have maintained the high traditions of its eighty years of scientific service. The attendance of about J, 400 was smaller than usual, but this depends on the number of local associates who join for the meeting. Details are not at hand for Portsmouth, but at one of the larger recent meetings there were in attendance 885 members, a large part of whom were not engaged in scientific work, and in addition to these there were registered 1,384 local associates and 873 ladies. This indicates a striking difference between the meetings of the British and American associations, which has become even more emphasized in recent years. At the approaching meeting of the American Association and its affiliated societies at Washington, there will probably be about 2,500 members in attendance who will be almost exclusively scientific men. They go to attend the meetings of the special societies having very technical programs; the people of the city will know very little about the meetings and will not even attend the addresses and sessions which might be of interest to them.

The constitution of the British Association states that one of its principal objects is "to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science." The constitution of the American Association contains a similar statement. Both associations have concerned themselves with the diffusion as well as with the advancement of science, and it must be admitted that the British Association has in this direction been the more successful. It accomplishes more for the city in which it meets, and the city in turn provides social functions such as are unknown in this country. At Portsmouth there were two dukes ready to entertain the members at their castles and a bishop to preach for them on Sunday. The mayor offered both a garden party and an evening reception, and there were all sorts of social entertainments. There were excursions to the Isle of Wight and to the New Forest, and the members were taken on a battleship to witness an attack by torpedo-boat destroyers and submarines. The association in turn arranged a number of public lectures and general addresses, and these were fully reported in the daily press. Thus the London Times published the address of the president, Sir William Ramsay, and large parts of other addresses, together with full accounts of the proceedings. It printed in advance an elaborate forecast of the meeting and afterwards an

Dr. E. A. Schafer.
Professor of Physiology in the University of Edinburgh, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Bust of Pasteur.
Presented by the Pasteur Institute. Paris, to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York.
Professor Ed. Suess,

Emeritus Professor of Geology in the University of Vienna.

extended report, devoting many pages to it. Nothing of that kind happens in America. The general organization of society here accounts for the absence of social functions which can perhaps be well spared, but it seems to be unfortunate that a democratic society does not take an active interest in the scientific work which has made possible its existence and on which it depends for its extension and permanence.

At Portsmouth, Professor E. A. Schäfer, the eminent physiologist of the University of Edinburgh, was elected to preside over the meeting to be held next year at Dundee. The association will meet the following year in Birmingham, and in 1914 or 1915 a visit is planned to Australia. The British Association has in recent years met in South Africa and in Canada, and in this way fulfils its national and imperial functions better than the American Association, which has never met i further west than Denver. It may be hoped that our association will in 1915 meet on the Pacific coast and at Hawaii. It might be possible to arrange that those members who were able should proceed to Australasia to attend the meetings there, while British and Australian men of science might join our association at Hawaii and in California, with an opportunity to visit the San Francisco Exposition, which should aim to surpass the St. Louis Exposition in its scientific congresses.


Minerva, which for twenty years has been an invaluable annual for university men, has issued as a supplement a volume containing details of the organization of universities and colleges throughout the world. It is to be followed by a second volume with similar material in regard to libraries, museums, observatories, etc. A vast amount of information is packed into 623 pages, printed in type almost too small to be legible. Like the annual issue of Minerva, it is edited with unusual accuracy, but, as is likely to be the case, the material appears to be the more satisfactory, the less the firsthand knowledge of the reader. Thus the only lectureship referred to under American universities is the "Sethman (intended for Silliman) lecturer at Yale." The following account of our fraternities would not give a clear or correct impression to foreigners: "In the larger colleges and in the universities most students are members of one or more 'fraternities.' The members live in the college, usually together in a chapter house. The most important is the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity, founded in 1776." It is not true that Columbia University was in 1890 "completely reorganized on the model of the German universities." There is no reason to include the Cooper Union and to exclude the West Point Military Academy. But it seems captious to point out minor inaccuracies in a book covering such a wide field. The publishers and editors should rather be congratulated on the production of a book which could not be accomplished outside Germany. The frontispiece, here reproduced, is a portrait of Dr. Ed. Suess, professor emeritus of geology of the University of Vienna, who has just celebrated his eightieth birthday and has retired from the presidency of the Vienna Academy of Sciences.


We record with regret the deaths of Professor Edward Lee Hancock, professor of applied mechanics in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute; of the Rev. Mariam Balcells, professor of mathematics at Boston College, previously director of the department of solar physics at the Observatorio del Ebro, and of Mr. Edward Whymper, known for his explorations among the Alps and in the Andes.

Dr. C. Willard Hayes, chief geologist of the L. S. Geological Survey, has retired to engage in technological work in Mexico.—At the meeting of the corporation of Yale University on September 18, Sir William Osier, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, was appointed Silliman lecturer for 1912, and Dr. Joseph P. Iddings, until 1908 professor of petrology in the University of Chicago, and now engaged in geological research, was appointed lecturer for 1913.

Owing to the epidemic of cholera, the various international congresses, geographical, agricultural and tuberculosis, will not meet in Rome this autumn. They have been postponed until the spring of 1912, the exact dates not yet being determined.—By invitation oi the trustees of the New York Public Library the autumn meeting of the National Academy of Sciences will be held in its new building, beginning on November 21.

Among the public bequests made by Mr. George M. Pullman was that of $1,200,00(1 for founding and endowing the Pullman Free School of Manual Training at Pullman, 111. This fund has increased to more than $2,500,000. The first step toward founding the school was the purchase, in 1908, of a campus of forty acres within the limits of the town of Pullman at a cost of $100,000. Mr. Laenas Gifford Weld, until recently professor of mathematics and dean of the faculty of liberal arts in the Iowa State university, was appointed principal in May and entered upon his new duties September 1. He will visit the leading technical and trade schools in this country and in Europe before the preparation of definite plans is undertaken.