Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/799

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
779
THE CULTIVATION OF MEDICAL SCIENCE.

in monographs on subjects that, to the common mind, seemed small and trivial.

And study in a Congress such as this may be a useful remedy for self-sufficiency. Here every group may find a rare occasion, not only for an opportune assertion of the supreme excellence of its own range and mode of study, but for the observation of the work of every other. Each section may show that its own facts must be deemed sure, and that by them every suggestion from without must be tested; but each may learn to doubt every inference of its own which is not consistent with the facts or reasonable beliefs of others; each may observe how much there is in the knowledge of others which should be mingled with its own; and the sum of all may be the wholesome conviction of all, that we can not justly estimate the value of a doctrine in one part of our science till it has been tried in many or in all.

We were taught this in our schools; and many of us have taught that all the parts of medical science are necessary to the education of the complete practitioner. In the independence of later life some of us seem too ready to believe that the parts we severally choose may be self-sufficient, and that what others are learning can not much concern us. A fair study of the whole work of the Congress may convince us of the fallacy of this belief. We may see that the test of truth in every part must be in the patient and impartial trial of its adjustment with what is true in every other. All perfect organizations bear this test; all parts of the whole body of scientific truth should be tried by it.

Moreover, I would not, from a scientific point of view, admit any estimate of the comparative importance of the several divisions of our science, however widely they may differ in their present utilities. And this I would think right, not only because my office as president binds me to a strict impartiality and to the claim of freedom of research for all, but because we are very imperfect judges of the whole value of any knowledge, or even of single facts. For every fact in science, wherever gathered, has not only a present value, which we may be able to estimate, but a living and germinal power of which none can guess the issue.

It would be difficult to think of anything that seemed less likely to acquire practical utility than those researches of the few naturalists who, from Leeuwenhoek to Ehrenberg, studied the most minute of living things, the Vibrionidæ. Men boasting themselves as practical might ask, "What good can come of it?" Time and scientific industry have answered: "This good—those researches have given a more true form to one of the most important practical doctrines of organic chemistry; they have introduced a great beneficial change in the most practical part of surgery; they are leading to one as great in the practice of medicine; they concern the highest interests of agriculture, and their power is not yet exhausted."