Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/December 1912/The Progress of Science

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PSM V81 D620 Alexis Carrel.png

Copyright by Brown Brothers,

Dr. Alexis Carrel,

Rockefeller Institute, New York City; recipient of the Nobel prize in medicine.
 
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE AWARD OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN MEDICINE

The Nobel prize in medicine has this year been awarded to Dr. Alexis Carrel, of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York City. This is an honor not only to the distinguished investigator, but also to the institution which has given him opportunity and to his adopted country. It may not. be altogether satisfactory to our national pride that among some forty Nobel prizes conferred in the sciences only two have come to America, and that the men in both cases have been born abroad. Professor Michelson, who received the prize in physics, is, however, a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, and Dr. Carrel has done his work here. It is doubtless the case that obtaining a Nobel prize is a game in which to win skill and chance must be combined. We have native born investigators who deserve as high honors as MM. Sabattier and Grignard, between whom the prize in chemistry has this year been divided, or Mr. Dalen, of the Stockholm gas works, to whom the prize in physics has been given. Still it should give us pause to reflect that no obvious injustice has been done by the failure to award a Nobel prize in medicine, physics or chemistry to a native American; perhaps also to consider that in the Rockefeller Institute, in addition to the director, Dr. Simon Flexner, of American birth but foreign parentage, and Dr. Carrel, there are at least three other foreign-born and foreign-educated investigators—Dr. Jacques Loeb, Dr. S. J. Meltzer and Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, to whom a Nobel prize might with justice be awared.

The work of Dr. Carrel is fairly well known, its character being such as to be comparatively interesting to the general public. He has extraordinary skill in technique, such as would give him a fortune beside which the $38,000 of the Nobel prize would be small, if he were willing to be diverted from scientific research to surgical practise. His work also bears witness to imagination and patience, which when united to skill supply the essentials of successful investigation. It is easy to point out that Dr. Carrel has followed lines opened up by others; that organs had previously been transplanted and kept living outside the body; that Professor Harrison, of Yale University, anticipated him in the methods of cultivating living tissues; but this in no wise detracts from the importance of the work he has accomplished. As he himself said at the reception given to him at the College of the City of New York attended by President Taft and the French ambassador: "Almost every step in scientific progress which appears to be due to the efforts of one individual is, in reality, the result indirectly of the unknown scientific work of many others."

Dr. Carrel certainly is not responsible for the exaggerations of the newspapers. It is an excellent thing 1 that the New York Times and other: daily papers of New York City have become aware of the news value of the scientific work accomplished at the Rockefeller Institute. The reports are usually based on papers presented before scientific men and on articles printed in scientific journals; the investigator may suffer from headlines, inaccuracies and the exploitation of the sensational, but these may become eliminated, and the public may become

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Dr. Simon Flexner,

Director of the Laboratories of the Rockefeller Institute, from a painting by Adèle Herter, of New York City, presented to the University of Pennsylvania by the colleagues and students of Dr. Flexner at the time he was professor there.

 

educated to the human interest of scientific research.

It may be regarded as a cause for congratulation that the administrators of the Nobel bequest have this year made some of the awards to younger men actively engaged in research—Dr. Carrel is not yet forty years old—rather than to men of distinction whose life work is practically complete, if only because this was the condition | under which Nobel bequeathed his for-: tune. By his will it was specified that the prizes should be awarded to those persons who shall have contributed most materially to benefit mankind during the year immediately preceding; that no preference should be given to Scandinavians in the awards, and that the entire income should be used for five great prizes. The first condition may have been difficult to meet, but its spirit could have been followed, as has been done this year in the case of Dr. Carrel, by conferring the prize for work done recently, rather than for work done a generation ago, or as even this year in conferring the prize for literature on Dr. Hauptmann. It must still be regarded as unsatisfactory that a considerable part of the income has been used to establish Nobel Institutes at Stockholm, and it can scarcely be supposed that Dr. Gustrand, the Swedish oculist, would have received the award in medicine last year, or Mr. Dalen, the head of the Stockholm Gas Company, would have received it this year, had Nobel's intentions been fulfilled. It is ungracious to make criticisms when there is no reason to doubt that the administrators of the bequest are doing what they believe to be for the best advantage of science. At the same time, if no criticisms had been made, it is by no means certain that even more of the income might have been diverted to local uses, for in the statutes approved by the Swedish courts it was made possible to award the prizes only once in five years.

 

VITAL STATISTICS AND THE DECREASING DEATH RATE

The recently published seventy-third annual report of the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales gives an excellent summary of the vital statistics of England with convenient international comparisons. As is well known both birth rates and death rates have decreased in practically every nation in the course of the past thirty years. A comparison of the quinquennial period 1881-85 with 1910 for several countries gives the following rates per thousand population:

Birth
1881-5
Rates
1910
Death
1881-5
Rates
1910
England 33.5 25.1 19.4 13.5
Prussia 37.4 30.5 25.4 16.0
France 24.7 19.7 22.2 17.9
Italy 38.0 32.9 27.3 19.6
Russia 49.1 35.4
Australia 35.2 26.7 15.7 10.4
United States unknown unknown

In this table "unknown" is written after the United States to emphasize our lack of vital statistics. Recent data from Russia are also lacking, but in that country and in the United States as elsewhere both birth rates and death rates have decreased in such a way as to leave a tolerably constant increment of population.

This correspondence, however, is by no means complete. Where both birth rates and death rates are high the increment of population tends to be larger than where they are low. This holds in general for nations, districts and social classes. The Slavonic nations, in spite of their waste of human life, are increasing more rapidly than others. The tenement house districts of New York City have a large infant mortality, but they swarm with children, whereas in the rich districts, there is less than a child to an apartment. The most striking instance on a large scale is France, with a birth rate some five lower and a death rate some five higher than England, which has given to France a stationary, and last year a decreasing, population.

It is a question of fundamental importance whether the relation between the birth rate and the death rate will be maintained under existing conditions so as to give an increased or, at all events, a stationary, population. Will both continue to decrease, will they remain approximately as at present, or will the balance of the nineteenth century be lost as has apparently happened in France? The death rate has been halved by the practical abolition of war, pestilence and famine in their grosser forms, and by alleviation of their milder aspects—improved conditions for the struggling classes, the limitation and mitigation of disease, and better conditions of living. There is abundant room for further improvement, and it is stated by reputable authorities that the death rate can be halved again. But this is impossible; indeed, it seems that in certain nations the death rate has now reached its minimum. Australia and New Zealand now report a death rate of ten. This means that in a stationary population the average age at death is 100 years. For every infant that aies, a man must live to be 200 years old, or ten men live to be 110. This is almost beyond the limit of possibility. In 1910 the death rate in England and Wales was 13.5. This means in a stationary population an average age at death of 74 years, and as more than one seventh of all infants die, the average age of those surviving infancy would be about 85. The expectation of life of those 40 years old, which has not increased in the course of the last sixty years in spite of the lower death rate, is 28 years, so they die at the average age of 68 years.

The paradox is explained by the age constitution of the population. Owing to the high birth rate in England prior to 1876 and its subsequent decrease, an unusually large percentage of the population is from 5 to 40 years old, at which age the death rate is on the average only five per thousand. The population of England has about doubled by natural increase since 1850. Consequently old people more than sixty years old represent a population only half as great as children, and if a stationary population should hereafter be maintained, the percentage of old people would double. Indeed, as the death rate of children and of those under forty has decreased and will still further decrease, the percentage of old people will increase perhaps threefold. At present there are in France about as many people over sixty-five as there are children under five, while in England there are less than half as many, and in Russia with its high birth rate and death rate there are less than a third as many. The death rate of those over sixty-five is about 100; it has not decreased in the past sixty years, and is not likely to decrease considerably in the future. These old people now form about one thirtieth of the English population and contribute about three and a third units to its death rate; when they increase threefold, they will contribute ten units, and, if other conditions remain the same, the death rate will rise from 13.5 to 20. There will surely be a further decrease in the death rate of those under forty, but this will increase the number of those over forty, and will tend to increase their death rate. Probably a death rate of 15—an average age for those surviving infancy of from 75 to 80—is as low as will ever be permanently maintained by any nation. One may well wonder whether the birth rate will cease to decrease before or when it reaches the minimum death rate.

 

DR. LEWIS BOSS

There is no Nobel prize in astronomy, otherwise America would have had greater claims for the award than has been the case in medicine, physics and chemistry. It is a curious fact that we have done better in sciences such as astronomy and zoology, having no immediate applications, than in medicine, physics and chemistry, where it might be supposed that the need of their applications and the wealth of the country would have led to researches in pure science. Perhaps the two greatest astronomers of the present generation have been Dr. G. W. Hill and the late Simon Newcomb. Another distinguished American astronomer, Lewis Boss, director of the Dudley Observatory at Albany, has died at the age of sixty-six years. His researches were technical in character, consisting largely of rigid determination of stellar positions. The catalogue in which he gives the positions and proper motions of 6,188 stars is a model of accurate work, and has led to discoveries of importance, such as the Taurus stream of stars. His work is highly appreciated by astronomers, and was given recognition by his appointment as director of the department of Meridian Astronomy of the Carnegie Institution. Science suffers severely in his death.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the death of Dr. John William Mallett, F.R.S.,

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Dr. Lewis Boss.

late director of the Dudley Observatory.

professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Virginia and eminent for his contributions to chemistry; of Dr. John Monroe Van Vleck, professor of mathematics at Wesleyan University from 1853 until his retirement as emeritus professor in 1904, and of Major General Robert Maitland O'Reilly, U.S.A., retired, former surgeon general of the United States Army.

Dr. Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell University, distinguished for his work in education and diplomacy, and for his publications on history and science, celebrated his eightieth birthday on November 7.—Dr. Edward W. Morley, the American chemist, has been made an honorary member of the Swiss Association for the Advancement of Science.—The gold medal for science of the Prussian government has been conferred on Dr. Robert Helmert, director of the Geodetic Institute of Potsdam.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the national scientific societies affiliated with it will hold their convocation week meeting at Cleveland, Ohio, beginning on Monday, December 30. Cleveland is centrally situated between the Atlantic seaboard and the scientific centers of the central states, and Western Reserve University, the Case School of Applied Science, and the other scientific institutions of the city will supply excellent places of meeting. The address of the retiring president is made by Dr. C. E. Bessey, of the University of Nebraska, while Dr. E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, will preside over the meeting. A large number of important and interesting addresses are assured from the vice-presidents of the association, the presidents of the affiliated societies and others who will take part in the scientific proceedings. There is sure to be a large attendance of scientific men. In recent years, however, the American Association has fallen behind the British Association in its influence on the general public and in the number of those not professionally engaged in scientific work who are attracted to its meetings. Those who are interested in such a meeting and might like to become members of the association should write to the permanent secretary, Dr. L. O. Howard, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.