Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/614

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substitute, for the adventurous conclusion that an organic infusion is barren at one place and spontaneously generative at another, the more rational and obvious one that the air of the two localities which has had access to the infusion is infective in different degrees?

As regards workmanship, moreover, he will not fail to bear in mind that fruitfulness may be due to errors of manipulation, while barrenness involves the presumption of correct experiment. It is only the careful worker that can secure the latter, while it is open to every novice to obtain the former. Barrenness is the result at which the conscientious experimenter, whatever his theoretic convictions may be, ought to aim, omitting no pains to secure it, and resorting, only when there is no escape from it, to the conclusion that the life observed comes from no source which correct experiment could neutralize or avoid. Let us again take a definite case. Supposing my colleague to operate with the same apparent care on 100 infusions—or rather on 100 samples of the same infusion—and that 50 of them prove fruitful and 50 barren. Are we to say that the evidence for and against heterogeny is equally balanced? There are some who would not only say this, but who would treasure up the 50 fruitful flasks, as "positive results, and lower the evidential value of the 50 barren flasks by labeling them "negative" results. This, as shown by Dr. William Roberts, is an exact inversion of the true order of the terms positive and negative.[1] Not such, I trust, would be the course pursued by my friend. As regards the 50 fruitful flasks he would, I doubt not, repeat the experiment with redoubled care and scrutiny, and, not by one repetition only, but by many, assure himself that he had not fallen into error. Such faithful scrutiny fully carried out would infallibly lead him to the conclusion that here, as in all other cases, the evidence in favor of spontaneous generation crumbles in the grasp of the competent inquirer.

The botanist knows that different seeds possess different powers of resistance to heat.[2] Some are killed by a momentary exposure to the boiling temperature, while others withstand it for several hours. Most of our ordinary seeds are rapidly killed, while Pouchet made known to the Paris Academy of Sciences, in 1866, that certain seeds, which had been transported in fleeces of wool from Brazil, germinated after four hours' boiling. The germs of the air vary as much among themselves as the seeds of the botanist. In some localities the diffused germs are so tender that boiling for five minutes, or even less, would be sure to destroy them all; in other localities the diffused germs are

  1. See his truly philosophical remarks on this head in the British Medical Journal, 1876, p. 282.
  2. I am indebted to Dr. Thistleton Dyer for various illustrations of such differences. It is, however, surprising that a subject of such high scientific importance should not have been more thoroughly explored. Here the scoundrels who deal in killed seeds might be able to add to our knowledge.