Popular Science Monthly/Volume 84/February 1914/The Progress of Science

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Dr. E. B. Wilson. Dr. E. C. Pickering.
Photograph taken at Atlanta of the president of the American Association, Dr. E. B. Wilson, professor of zoology, Columbia University, and of the retiring president. Dr. E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory.
 
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE ATLANTA MEETING OF THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE

The meeting at Atlanta was unusually pleasant for those who were able to be there. This is likely to be the case when the association meets at a distance from the larger scientific centers, for both the trip and the place are interesting and the welcome is cordial. Thus, for example, the name of the governor of the state is often on the program of the opening meeting, but he usually finds himself unable to be present on account of official business, whereas at Atlanta the governor and Mrs. Slaton gave a reception to the members at their home. At smaller meetings of the association, such as those at Denver, New Orleans and Atlanta, the members are not only likely to see more of their local hosts, but also to be more intimately thrown together outside the rooms of their meetings. As a matter of fact the meeting at

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Dr. Frank Schlesinger,
Vice-president for Mathematics and Astronomy, director of the Allegheny Observatory.

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Dr. Alfred D. Cole

Vice-president of the Section for Physics, professor of physics in Ohio State University.
 

Atlanta was of fair size. There were on the program 428 papers, distributed as follows:

Mathematics and astronomy 30
Physics 20
Chemistry 16
Engineering 31
Geology 34
Zoology and Entomology 111
Botany and Phytopathology 108
Anthropology, Psychology and Education 36
Economics and Social Science 29
Physiology and Experimental Medicine 13
428

As the national societies for botany and entomology met at Atlanta these sciences were well represented. Most of the national scientific societies held their meetings in the north, while the chemists now meet in the autumn. But it will be noted that each of the sciences had an adequate representation.

In addition to the technical papers containing accounts of research work, there were many addresses and several sessions of general interest, intended not for the specialist, but for those scientific men who care to know what is being accomplished in sciences other than their own and for the general public. The address of the president of the association, Dr. E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, recounted the progress of the study of the stars, in which he and the observatory which he directs have had such an important share. The addresses of the vice-presidents for the sections were as follows:

Mathematics and Astronomy: "The Influence of Fourier 's Series upon the Development of Mathematics," by Edward B. Van Vleck, the University of Wisconsin.

Physics: "The Methods of Science: To What do they Apply?" by Arthur G. Webster, Clark University.

Mechanical Science and Engineering: "Safety and the Prevention of Waste in Mining and Metallurgical Operations," by J. A. Holmes, U. S. Bureau of Mines.

Geology and Geography: "Pleistocene History of Missouri River," by J. E. Todd, the University of Kansas.

Zoology: "The Story of Human Lineage," by William A. Locy, Northwestern University.

Botany: "The Evolution of a Botanical Problem," by Duncan S. Johnson, The Johns Hopkins University.

Social and Economic Science: "The Development of our Foreign Trade," by John Hays Hammond, New York City.

Physiology and Experimental Medicine: "The Physiological Instruction of Medical Students," by J. J. R. Macleod, Western Reserve University.

Education: "Science, Education and Democracy," by J. McKeen Cattell, Columbia University.

There were also given two public lectures complimentary to the citizens of Atlanta, one by Dr. Ch. Wardell Stiles,

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Dr. C. L. Alsberg,
Vice-president for the Section of Chemistry, Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

 

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Dr. O. P. Hood,
Vice-president for the Section of Mechanical Science and Engineering, U. S. Bureau of Mines.

of the U. S. Public Health Service, on "The Health of the Mother in the South," and one by Professor Chas. E. Munroe, of the George Washington University on "The Explosive Resources of the Confederacy during the War and Now: A Chapter in Chemical History," each admirably adapted in subject matter and treatment to the occasion. The sections of the association do not have programs of technical papers when the ground is covered by a society meeting in affiliation with it. In that case programs of general interest are arranged by each section. The American Association is thus in respect to the research work of the special sciences essentially an affiliation of societies rather than of individuals, but it retains the important functions of keeping the sciences in touch with each other and representing science before the general public.

The Monthly is conservative in printing portraits of living men of science, but it aims to reproduce once a year the photographs of the president and vice-presidents of the association, as it seems desirable for as large a number as may be to become acquainted to this slight extent with those most actively engaged in advancing science in America. The officers elected at Atlanta continue the high traditions of the association. The section of education, not hitherto represented in the presidency, was able to provide a president of great distinction, Dr. Charles W. Eliot, emeritus president of Harvard University, once professor of chemistry, for more than forty years our leader in education.

 

THE WORK OF THE COUNCIL OF THE ASSOCIATION

The council of the American Association is the body in this country best organized to advance the interests of science. It includes the past presidents of the association, who give a certain stability and dignity, but is otherwise an elected body, representing directly or indirectly the different sections of the association and the national scientific societies. Each affiliated society, of which there are some thirty, is represented in the council, which thus becomes a body representing the eight thousand members of the association and practically every scientific man of the country.

The National Academy of Sciences is by law the scientific adviser of the government, but, as is shown in the recently published volume commemorating its fiftieth anniversary, the advice of the academy has been asked only once in the past ten years, and the report was pigeon-holed. The fact is that the vast increase of the scientific work

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Dr. T. S. Diller,
Vice-president of the Section for Geology and Geography, geologist, U. S. Geological Survey.

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Dr. Henry C. Cowles,
Vice-president for the Section of Botany, professor of botany in the University of Chicago.

under the government provides it with scientific men in its employ competent to give advice, and the constitution and traditions of an academy composed ot a small number of life members selected for distinction in research do not lead to great activity or efficiency. Thus several years ago a resolution endorsing the use of the metric system was defeated on the ground that the advice of the academy had not been asked.

The council of the American Association being an elected body representing all the scientific men and scientific activities of the country is in a better position to assume active leadership in movements for the advancement of science and the applications of science for the public welfare. Several such actions taken during the past years may be noted. At the spring meeting of the council a committee was appointed to confer with the president of the United States in regard to the heads of the scientific bureaus of the government and especially the chief of the Weather Bureau. The president received the committee courteously and the secretary of agriculture held a conference with the committee on policy of the association. This committee made subsequently certain recommendations in regard to the qualifications of heads of the scientific bureaus of the government and recommended that the National Academy of Sciences be requested to appoint an official committee to advise the secretary of agriculture in regard to the chief of the Weather Bureau. This was done and the secretary! of agriculture appointed Dr. Marvin, one of the three men endorsed by the committee of the academy. The secretary of agriculture would probably have made the same appointment without official scientific advice, though it is evident that this is a valuable safeguard.

Another instance of the usefulness of the council of the association is the committee on expert testimony appointed last year which made a preliminary report at Atlanta through Dr. E. C. Pickering and Dr. W. H. Holmes. The committee includes members of the association so eminent in their subjects as Dr. W. H. Welch in medicine, and Senator Elihu Root in law. It is a matter of public notoriety that the present methods of expert testimony in courts often defeat the ends of justice and bring science into disrepute. It is fortunate that we have a body so well fitted to attempt the reform of this procedure as the American Association.

The third action of the council which may be noted is the appointment of a committee of one hundred in research. Two sub-committees have already been organized, one to report on the existing research funds of the country and possible means of cooperation to increase their usefulness, the other on research in educational institutions which will make inquiries as to the extent to which research work by professors and instructors is encouraged in colleges and universities.

At Atlanta there were also adopted several plans looking to the increased

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Dr. Theodore Hough,
Vice-president for physiology, professor of physiology, University of Virginia.

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Dr. W. B. Pillsbury,
Vice-president for Anthropology and Psychology, professor of psychology, University of Michigan.

usefulness of the association. Reports were received in regard to the organization of the Pacific Coast Division, authorized a year ago, in view of the meeting of the association in California at the time of the Panama Exposition, but also empowered to hold independent meetings. The associate secretary for the south made a report on conditions in that region. A committee with Senor Eduardo Braga as chairman was formed with a view to the organization of a Brazilian division. If the association can become "American" in fact as well as in name, it will be a stimulus to science throughout the western hemisphere and a means of promoting goodwill among its republics. The establishment of local branches of the association was authorized in places where the members are prepared to conduct branches which will forward the objects of the association. This movement has possibilities of great development, especially in institutions and places somewhat remote from the large scientific centers where there are no academies of sciences or similar organizations. It was decided to arrange once in four years—in New York in 1916–17 and in Chicago in 1920–1—representative convocation-week meetings, in which it is hoped that all the affiliated societies will unite so that the men of science of the. whole country may be brought together and the importance and magnitude of their scientific work may serve as a stimulus to them and an impressive lesson to the general public.

 

THE ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT

In his presidential address before the association Professor Pickering stated j that American universities and colleges devoted a hundred times as much time and money to diffusing human knowledge as to the object of the American Association of Science. The greatest need of science at the present time is the means for aiding the real men of genius.

The first catalogue of the stars was made by Hipparchus two thousand years ago. A thousand years later it was revised by a Persian astronomer Sufi. They show not only that the positions and brightness of the stars have changed but little in two thousand years, but that the same may be said of the sensitiveness of the human eye to. lights of different colors. The places of the stars were first accurately determined

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Dr. P. P. Claxton,
Vice-president for Education, U. S. Commissioner of Education.

a century and a half ago, but the chronograph, known for many years as the American method, is only half a century old.

One of the greatest astronomical researches has been the measurement of the exact positions of 166,000 stars. The sky was divided into twenty zones of which seven were taken by Germany, four by the United States and three by Russia. Of the American zones two were observed at Cambridge, one at Albany, and one at Washington. Each occupied the time of several astronomers for twenty years. It is now nearly time, after fifty years, to reobserve these stars to determine their motions. Fortunately, two new methods, the transit micrometer and photography, have been found which will greatly reduce the labor. The older department of astronomy, measuring the positions of the stars, has been left in America to the Naval Observatory. Unfortunately, the law requires that the superintendent must be a naval officer who can not remain long on land. The average term of office is less than two years. The average term at Greenwich is thirty years, where with but half the income, more than double the work is done. Congress, though repeatedly appealed to, will not remedy this great waste of the public funds.

Two million measures of the light of 80,000 stars have been made at Harvard. The results have been accepted by an international committee as the standard for the world. Such measures are likely in the future to be replaced by photographs taken with yellow light. A certain class of stars vary in brightness. Some increase in light many thousand times, others double their brightness in seven minutes with perfect regularity. Many thousand excellent observations of these objects are now obtained every year by amateurs having only small telescopes. Nearly five thousand variable stars are known of which three quarters have been found at Harvard. Astronomical photography, and American invention, replaces eye observations in almost all researches. Two Harvard telescopes have each taken 40,000 photographs whose combined weight is about forty tons. They give the only record on the earth of the history of the stars for the last quarter of a century. Photographs of the spectra of the stars to determine their motions form the principal work of the Lick, Yerkes, Greenwich, Potsdam and many other of the larger observatories. A catalogue of the spectra of 200,000 stars is now being compiled at Harvard, and will fill seven large quarto volumes.

The friendly cooperation of American astronomers has greatly advanced the work in this country, but it will be difficult to compete with the splendid observatories and instruments now lavishly furnished in Germany. If similar support is given us, the American Association for the Advancement of Science can fulfill its objects as regards astronomy.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

Science in America has during the past month lost three of its most distinguished leaders—Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, the eminent physician, physiologist and man of letters, of Philadelphia; Dr, Seth C. Chandler, the astronomer of Cambridge, and Dr. Benjamin Osgood Peirce, Hollis professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard University.

Dr. Charles Budd Robinson, economic botanist of the Bureau of Science of the Philippine Islands has been killed by natives in the Amboyna Islands in the Malay Archipelago.

It is proposed to place a suitable memorial of the late Alfred Russel Wallace in Westminster Abbey. It is also proposed to present a statue or bust to the British Museum of Natural History and a portrait to the Royal Society. Contributions to the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund may be sent to the London and Smith Bank, Holborn Circus, London, E.C.