Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/March 1913/The Progress of Science

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE ACADEMIC SITUATION.

Scarcely a mouth passes without the occurrence of one or more events disquieting to those who would make our universities the homes of scientific research, creative scholarship and social progress. Such circumstances do not usually become known, for it is to the private advantage of those concerned that they be hushed. Strange as it may seem at first sight, the state universities are on the whole making progress in the direction of greater academic freedom and dignity, while the private corporations tend to exhibit the reactionary tendencies of their boards and administrative officers. If, however, the people learn the importance to the nation of maintaining their universities on a high plane, all is well. It is easy to tax corporations which become antisocial into innocuousness. Indeed each university will find its own level by its own weight. Harvard and Columbia are still our richest institutions and probably still maintain their leadership in advanced work and public service; but they are losing ground relatively to the state universities and perhaps even in comparison with their own positions ten years ago. It would surprise most people to see the list of those who have recently declined to consider chairs at these two universities.

It is the high traditions of Harvard which give significance to the curious circular recently sent from the controller's office to those whom one university president habitually calls "the instructional force." The circular is accompanied by four large pages of instructions and a schedule containing some 180 blank spaces to be filled and is couched in jargon about "prorating salaries to the various classified functions," and the like. The professors and instructors are informed that

They are told that

Preparation for lectures should include only that time which was taken during the half-year for lectures delivered in this period. It should not include time spent in the general collection of materials.

Surely the only correct answer to the question how many hours a day a professor spends on his work and in preparation is twenty-four. This circular was naturally resented by members of the faculty and was partially, but somewhat grudgingly, withdrawn, the president stating that it was "issued under a misunderstanding," presumably a misunderstanding of the sentiments of the faculty.

This Harvard incident is serio-comic. At Wesleyan there has occurred within I the same past month a wholly serious breach of academic decency. The professor of economics and social science, who has served the university and the public with distinction for twenty years, made some remarks in regard to the observance of the sabbath, which found their way into the newspapers. The president wrote inquiring whether he was correctly reported, and on being told what he had said, asked for his resignation. This was promptly sent, and the president relieved him from his duties at once. The five letters passed in the same day, and the president must have acted without adequate consultation or consideration. It is as extraordinary as it is ominous that in our present academic system the liberty of speech of a professor and the fate of his wife and children should be dependent on the will of an official. In this case the professor was speaking within his own professional field, and not even to students of the university

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Sir John Murray.

 

or in its city. He surely would fare ill at Wesleyan University who said "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" and "Beware of the scribes which . . . for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater damnation." The trustees of Wesleyan University still have the opportunity to decline to accept the resignation of the professor of economics and social science. The other honorable alternative is to change the name of the institution to the "Middletown Methodist College."

 

THE DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN

Oceanography as a science may be dated from the voyage of the Challenger round the world from 1872 to 1876 under the scientific direction of Sir Wyville Thomson and the naval command of Sir George Nares. Sir John Murray was one of the naturalists of the expedition and later became editor of the great series of reports. In addition he has published many important papers on oceanography and marine biology and has conducted surveys in marine and inland Scottish waters. Probably Sir John Murray and Alexander Agassiz are the two men who have accomplished the most for marine biology, and it is a cause for pride that both were born on this side of the Atlantic. We may also view with gratification the earlier work of Bache of our coast survey and of Maury of our navy, who in the forties and fifties laid the foundation on which the science of oceanography has been erected. When Sir John Murray visited the United States last year and made a series of extremely interesting addresses in various places, he established a fund in honor of Alexander Agassiz, under the National Academy of Sciences, for a medal to be conferred for distinction in oceanographic research. It should give us pause to reflect that there is none so well deserving this medal as were Dana, Bache, Maury and Agassiz.

In 1909 Sir John Murray—who like Agassiz acquired wealth by an incidental use of his scientific observations —offered to defray the expenses of a cruise of the Michael Sars in the North Atlantic, if the Norwegian government would lend the ship and its scientific staff. The expedition was undertaken with the cooperation of Dr. Johan Hjort, director of Norwegian fisheries. The Michael Sars, named in honor of the naturalist who sixty years ago made dredgings off the coast of Norway, was admirably equipped for deep-sea explorations. Starting from the east of Ireland it worked down to the Canaries and by way of the Azores to New Trinidad and back to Ireland and Bergen. About 120 observing stations were established and much valuable information was obtained, while the biological material has been distributed to specialists in different parts of the world.

A general account of the researches undertaken by the Michael Sars and of the modern science of oceanography has now been prepared by Sir John Murray and Dr. Hjort and has been published by The Macmillan Company. The book contains some 600 illustrations, the portrait of Sir John Murray being here reproduced, and forms an accurate and readable account of what is known in regard to the depths of the oceans of the earth.

 

GEORGE HOWARD DARWIN

Sir George Darwin, of whose death we learned not long ago, was, perhaps as much as any of our times, one of the most noteworthy examples of the best scientific lives of our generation. Sprung from a family with notable scientific traditions for several generations, and gifted with talents in no way inferior to the best of those amongst whom he worked, he employed all the resources at his command for the promotion of the highest interests both of his own subject and of the

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Sir George Darwin.

 

scientific world at large. Never very I robust in health, he accomplished several long and laborious tasks and yet rarely failed to place his time and energy at the disposal of those who made demands on them. He was brought up in a school of mathematics which put ingenuity and brevity at a high premium, yet when faced with a difficult problem he usually chose the direct route towards the solution, often at the cost of long and laborious calculations. Even when deeply engrossed in the work he was doing, he would lay it aside at a moment's notice to listen to and discuss the problems of his friends or pupils. And while acting as an inspiration to many of his contemporaries, he never failed to impress them with his modesty even when expressing his own opinion in his direct but kindly manner.

For many years Sir George Darwin has been recognized as the leader—a title he would have immediately disclaimed—in a subject which is perhaps the most fascinating and the most dangerous of all those which may occupy the thoughts of a scholar. Cosmogony is replete with unsolved problems and hypotheses may be multiplied almost indefinitely. Almost any new discovery or advance in our knowledge of the physical world may have a bearing on it. Sir George Darwin, whose best known work lies in this field, never allowed himself to be led much beyond what he was able to establish by exact methods. If he gave a theory of the past history of the earth and its satellite, he did not allow the reader to imagine that he had solved the problem, but simply considered his work as sufficient to make probable a possible hypothesis.

While his earlier interests were in the direction of pure science, his association with Lord Kelvin led him to the consideration of a practical problem. Tidal prediction is always important for a country with the mercantile interests of Great Britain. Sir George Darwin had immense power in dealing with long and intricate calculations, and his ability was nowhere better employed when he drew order out of chaos in furnishing methods which could be used by a seaman to obtain the tides of his port of call or by a government in the formation of tide tables for its coasts. This same facility and his gathered experience led to his advice being continuously sought in the discussion of meteorological records. In geodetic problems he was one of the chief advisers of the government and was its representative in the international congresses which have been held in Europe during the last fifteen years. In all such matters the English government asks for and acts upon the opinions of its representative scientific men, and Sir George Darwin took his full share in these responsibilities.

His most notable public function was his presidency of the British Association during the memorable tour in South Africa some seven years ago. The sounds of the warfare in that country had only just ceased and great tact was needed to avoid any unpleasant feelings either amongst the native or white races. It is not too much to say that the association could hardly have made a better choice for its presiding officer. In some forty speeches all over the colonies, while avoiding platitudes, he hit the right note, not stirring up excitement and not sending his hearers away without some thought which characterized the occasion. The same touch was visible in his final public appearance as president of the Mathematical Congress held in Cambridge last August. None of those who heard his tribute to Henri Poincaré on that occasion realized that he himself would so soon also depart.

His numerous friends not only in England and Europe, but also in this country, will regret the passing, not alone of the student, but of the wise and kindly man whose humanity was never lost in his scholarship.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of Mr. Francis Blake, inventor of the telephone transmitter and other electrical apparatus; of Dr. Thomas Volney Munson, who while engaged as a nurseryman at Dennison, Texas, made valuable experiments on the breeding of fruits, especially in viticulture; of Professor George Augustus Koenig, professor of chemistry at the Michigan College of Mines; of M. Louis Paul Cailletet, the distinguished French chemist, known especially for his work on liquefaction of gases; of M. Léon Teisserenc de Bort, the French meteorologist, known for his work with captive balloons; of Dr. Otto Schoetensack, professor of anthropology at Heidelberg, and of Dr. Yujiro Motora, professor of psychology at Tokyo.

The Elisha Kent Kane gold medal of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia was presented to Professor William Morris Davis, of Harvard University, on January 28, and the Culver medal of the Geographic Society of Chicago, on February 19.—Professor George Herbert Palmer, Alvord professor of natural religion, moral philosophy and civil polity, and Professor Francis Peabody, Plummer professor of Christian morals, have given their final lectures at Harvard University. Professor Palmer has served the university for forty-three years and Professor Peabody for thirty-eight years.—Professor J. Hadamard, professor of analytical and celestial mechanics in the Collège de France, has been elected a member of the Paris Académie des Sciences in the section of geometry, in succession to the late Professor Henri Poincaré.