Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/119

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EDITOR'S TABLE.
cord, as we are now compelled to do, that this time the impression was not a very favorable one. In one word, the president's discourse was much too technical for the occasion and the audience. It would be ungenerous to cast any personal responsibility for this result on the eminent specialist who was chosen for the office. The gift of interpreting the results of highly-special researches for the benefit of those who are not prepared beforehand by special knowledge is by no means a common one—in fact, it is itself a specialty which very few have mastered; for which reason people who are anxious to parade themselves as amateurs in science are much in the habit of cheapening it. The notion that Prof. Huxley and Prof. Tyndall are mere popularizers—because, forsooth, they can expound as well as discover—has almost attained the rank of a vulgar error. Some remarks to that effect were heard at this very meeting in the Guildhall of Plymouth. Those who imagine that such remarks give them a scientific air may be assured that there is no more certain stamp of a narrow and superficial habit of mind. However, we cannot all go to Corinth; a specialist, however eminent, has not necessarily the gift of large and lucid exposition, and if he has not, the temptation to take refuge in the technical details of his own province is almost irresistible."

The pettiness and jealousy here reprobated is by no means confined to England; it has become a sort of cant among many reputable scientific men in the United States. The contemptuous remarks often made of the efforts of such men as Huxley and Tyndall to make science acceptable to the public are not always inspired by envy; they betray a very low estimate, often tinged with scorn, of all efforts to reduce science to a form acceptable to common people. We have had occasion repeatedly to call attention to the paradox that, in this country, eminent for its popular institutions and its popular education, scientific men are in less hearty sympathy with the work of popularizing scientific education than they are in England. The American Scientific Association has persistently declined to take any interest in the question, while the British Association, upon which it was modeled, has done much to encourage and promote this kind of effort. Although our teachers and boards of education have often and urgently called for assistance in organizing courses of study in which science should receive increasing attention, and be more methodically and efficiently cultivated, we are not aware that any authoritative body of American scientists has ever troubled itself to offer advice or respond to such appeals.

There is, of course, a certain validity in the reply that scientific bodies are organized for other purposes, and that, as Agassiz used to put it, "it is their office to create science, and not to distribute it—the latter function being the office of our educational system." But if our system fail of its duty in this particular, it is certainly incumbent on those influential bodies, who have the interests of science in charge, to exert such an influence upon the schools as shall tend to secure the object, and, failing to do this, they are chargeable with a culpable indifference toward the work of making science common and popular. The plea that scientific men are absorbed in investigations, and have little time to give to these outside considerations, is quite sufficient to excuse a simple non-participation in such work; but there is abundant reason to think that the plea is often an uncandid pretext, and that the disinclination to act is due to narrow and petty prejudices upon the subject.

The indifference of many scientific men to the work of popularizing science, and their ill-concealed disdain of those who succeed in it, are no doubt largely due to their incapacity to share in it. We have, unfortunately, but few scientific men with sufficient literary training to write with elegance or lecture with eloquence upon topics which they may nevertheless thoroughly understand, and the number of scientific professors who fail in exposition before the public, and even before their col-