Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/March 1915/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Progress in science has always been controlled by circumstance. Had Harvey possessed the microscope that a few years after his demonstration of the circulation of the blood Malpighi was applying with distinguished success to the investigation of anatomical problems, he would not have failed to see the capillary network that escaped his unaided eye. And it is a question whether Darwin would have opened the famous notebooks that led after twenty years to the "Origin of Species" had he not been struck by the distribution of animals in South America and the Galapagos Archipelago. . The embryology of Amphioxus gives obvious support to theories of the formation of the germ layers and of the mesoderm by coelomic pouches that no student of earthworms alone, however diligent, could have constructed. And there is little doubt that Mendel's choice of the garden pea for his investigations on hybridization was a most potent factor in leading him so definitely and speedily to the annunciation of the well known propositions which have changed the entire course of researches in heredity during the last fifteen years. To the student of physics, the facts of nature assume a quantitative aspect that students of biology are only here and there beginning to recognize. Similarly, the sociologist and the psychologist are now dependent upon biological facts which have lost for the biologist much of their original interest through the development of problems that demand investigation of still more fundamental mechanisms. In the domain of a single science one finds the same connection between experience and ideas. To the investigator of the more generalized types of organisms that respond readily to a wide range of environmental conditions, the laws formulated by investigators of more complex and less plastic organisms seem strangely inadequate; while to the investigator who has discovered them they possess a clarity of outline that affords a welcome substitute for more vaguely expressed, even though more fundamental, conclusions. His eyes filled with the images of secondary adaptations in nature, a behaviorist may formulate his explanations in terms of selection and survival. Whereupon he meets with spirited opposition from the physiologist whose passion it is to reduce vital phenomena to the mechanical terms that have already succeeded in freeing physics and chemistry from the clutch of anthropomorphism.

To understand the Pacific states it is necessary to keep in mind this essential fact, that ideas are dominated by experience. Geologically, geographically, faunistically, socially, economically, the Pacific states form a natural empire distinctly set off from the rest of the country. Mountains and deserts have determined for them a certain isolation that has governed their settlement, the character of their population, whether plant or animal, the development of their institutions, their scientific progress. The region is not only new, but possesses many characteristics that do not ordinarily belong to the experience of citizens of other states.

Some of these recognition marks it is the purpose of this number to consider. The much-vaunted climate of California runs the gamut from typical desert conditions to Alpine, from regions of almost hopeless aridity to regions where humidity becomes an extreme in the other direction. Such diversity is strikingly correlated with floral peculiarities, as one of the papers in this number will show. Under the atmospheric conditions of central and southern California are found the two

PSM V86 D312 Eugene Woldemar Hilgard.jpg

Dr. Eugene Woldemar Hilgard.

Professor emeritus of agriculture in the University of California. From a bust presented to the university on the occasion of the dedication of the Agricultural Building.

most important astronomical research institutions in the world. The waters of the Pacific ocean teem with life which forms a rich material background for the investigations of the marine naturalist that can be prosecuted under unusually favorable climatic conditions. This accounts for the presence of a chain of biological laboratories stretching from San Diego to Puget Sound. In the Mohave Desert, fossils have recently been discovered that throw important light upon the evolution of animal forms in the old as well as in the new world. Northern California possesses not only the one active volcano in the limits of the United States but has long harbored the last living representative, for years unknown and neglected, of a tribe of Indians that, in contact for half a century with the frontiers of civilization, continued to live the life of the stone age. It is doubtful whether this remarkable contrast of cultures shows itself anywhere else in our country.

The barriers that have isolated the Pacific coast have more or less successfully shut out tradition. The freedom with which social and political experiments have been made in this region is only paralleled by the experimentation that has drawn the eyes of the world to the pioneer communities of New Zealand and Australia, That freedom to experiment which is the life of science, the necessary companion to discovery, is usually denied in our older communities to social and political pioneers. Whether for good or ill, the citizens of the Pacific states have in numerous cases voted themselves this freedom. The impressive record of the fruits of their boldness will speak in this number for itself.

The Panama Canal will break in upon a certain long remoteness. It will overcome geographical barriers. It will bring new elements to the population that will inevitably produce effects upon social and political institutions. What effects and how? The west is awaiting this new experiment with keen zest and high hopefulness.


Since the Pacific coast of the United States is remote from the centers of population of this country, it has been difficult for members of the American Association living within this area to attend the annual meetings in eastern cities. Meanwhile, members on the Pacific coast have made substantial contributions to the progress of science, and the strength of their interest in 1 organized science has been shown by the federation of sixteen societies organized within this region into the Pacific Association of Scientific Societies about four years ago. Four successful annual meetings of the Pacific Association have been held, one at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, two at the University of California, Berkeley and the latest meeting in May, 1914, at the University of Washington, Seattle.

In extending the work of the American Association actively on the Pacific coast it was felt that any new organization must cooperate with the work of organizations already on the ground. Plans for the merging of the Pacific Association of Scientific Societies with a Pacific Division of the American Association have accordingly been completed. A constitution drafted for the Pacific Division has been approved by the American Association and ratified by eleven of the constituent societies of the Pacific Association.

The affairs of the Pacific Division i have been placed in charge of the Pacific Coast Committee of the American Association of which the chairman is Dr. W. W. Campbell, director of the Lick Observatory, and president of the American Association for 1915. The first meeting of the Pacific Division will be held in 1916, and thereafter annual meetings will occur successively in the cities west of the Rocky Mountains. The Pacific Division as an organization consists of all members of the American Association residing within

PSM V86 D314 John Muir.jpg
W. E. Dassonville, Photographer.

John Muir

The Naturalist of the Pacific Coast, Student of Wilderness, whose recent death is deplored by all those interested in science and letters.

the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona; in Mexico, Alaska, the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands. No fee is assessed upon members of the Pacific Division in addition to that paid by regular members elsewhere, and members enjoy all the benefits of relation with the parent body, as well as with the Pacific Division. The various fields of scientific research are represented by affiliations with local scientific societies. Several of these societies are branches of national organizations. Sections of the division may be established in any field not covered by a regularly organized society.

The societies which have already allied themselves with the Pacific Division are: the California Academy of Sciences, the Technical Society of the Pacific Coast, the Seismological Society of America, the Cooper Ornithological Club, the Cordilleran Section of the Geological Society of America, the Pacific Coast Paleontological Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Coast, the Biological Society of the Pacific, the Puget Sound Section of the American Chemical Society, the San Francisco Section of the Archeological Institute of America, and the Pacific Slope Association of Economic Entomologists.

In its scope the Pacific Division purposes to enlist the support of all those within the Pacific region who are interested in scientific matters and to establish affiliations with societies organized in this region for the advancement of scientific work and knowledge.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science determined at the Cleveland meeting, in January, 3 913. to hold a special meeting in San Francisco and vicinity during the year of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco and of the Panama-California Exposition at San Diego. The Pacific Coast Committee of the American Association in charge of this meeting has chosen the week beginning Monday, August 2, as the time for the meeting. The general sessions will be held in San Francisco, while the joint meetings of sections and of societies and the special meetings of societies will be held at the University of California in Berkeley, and on Wednesday, August 4, at Stanford University, rear Palo Alto.

This will be the first meeting of the American Association to be held west of the Rocky Mountains. It will, moreover, be in a sense a part of the celebration commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal. Special attention will be given to investigations of world-wide interest for which materials are to be found upon the borders of the Pacific. Many of the scientific problems of the west, though peculiar to the region, are of very general interest in their bearing upon fundamental questions of research. The program for the San Francisco meeting will be composed to a considerable extent of contributions relating to such questions of far-reaching significance. Discussions of other important scientific topics will also be presented.

The opening session of the meeting will be held at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in San Francisco at 10 a. m., Monday, August 2. A general reception will be tendered the visiting members of the association that evening. Four notable addresses are planned for the general evening sessions of the week. Recent developments in oceanographic research will be presented by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, of Norway. Professor R. A. Daly, of Harvard University, will offer an address upon geologic and biologic problems of the islands of the south Pacific ocean. Professor AV. B. Scott, of Princeton University, will discuss the influence of crustal movement in the region of the Panama Canal on the paleontologic relations of North and South America. Dr. Paul S. Reinsch, American ambassador to China, will present problems concerning the peoples of the Pacific area. Wednesday evening, August 4, is reserved for dinners of scientific societies.

Several important features will mark the section and society meetings of the week. At a joint session on Tuesday, August 2, of the American Mathematical Society, the American Astronomical Society and Section A of the American Association, Professor C. J. Keyser will give an address upon "The Human Significance of Mathematics," and Dr. George E. Hale, of the Mt. Wilson Solar Observatory, Pasadena, California, will speak upon "The Work of a Modern Observatory."

Sessions in physics will be provided for the discussion, among other topics, of spectroscopic investigations of the physics of the air and of high potential electrical experimentation.

The program of the Geological Society of America will include at least three topics—erosion and deposition in arid climates, diastrophism on the Pacific coast and petrologieal problems of the Pacific area.

Meetings of the Paleontological Society will provide at the first session a series of four addresses upon the general criteria of correlation. In three following sessions symposia will be held for a comparison of the Triassic, Cretaceous and Miocene faunas of the Pacific coast with those of similar periods in other parts of the world.

The program for zoology will include sessions for the discussion of general problems of zoology, embryology and development, problems of conservation, the role of variation and heredity in evolution, recent contributions from the field of protozoology, and questions of geographic distribution and of marine biology.

The botanical sessions will be devoted to problems centering upon gymnosperms, which as a group are so widely distributed over the Pacific coast; upon the relation of plants to light; the geographic distribution of plants with especial reference to the origin of the California flora, and upon marine and freshwater algæ.

Sessions for psychology will probably consider problems of animal psychology, the testing of mental traits and the application of psychology to law and medicine.

The anthropological sessions have been planned in conjunction with the American Anthropological Society and the American Folk-Lore Society. The topics of these sessions will be—race in the Pacific area with especial reference to the origin of the American Indians, the history of civilization in the Pacific area with reference especially to relations between Asia and America and the social aspects of race factors in the Pacific area.

Sessions for political and social science are being planned in support of meetings of several societies organized in these fields which will meet during the week immediately following the convocation week of the American Association.

The sessions for education will be devoted to the scientific study of selected educational problems.

Sessions for agriculture will provide for the discussion of problems of animal husbandry, nutrition and food analysis, agronomy and farm management, soil analysis, agricultural chemistry and fertilizers and horticulture.

Among other organizations which will hold special meetings during the convocation week of the American Association are the Archeological Institute of America, the American Phytopathological Society, the American Genetic Society, and an Entomological Congress under the auspices of several entomological societies. Meetings of several societies devoted to economics and social and political science will occur during the week immediately following. The Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations and several other agricultural societies have also appointed meetings for the second week of August. The later part of the month will be occupied with meetings of the International Education Congress and of the National Education Association.