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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/492

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

If "hills clear, rain near," means the same as "the presence of a wedge-shaped area of high pressure, accompanied by great atmospheric visibility, is likely to be followed by the advance of a disturbance with rain and southerly winds," which for all practical purposes it does, the preference is justified on the mere ground of breath economy. The thirty-one words demanded by science stand no chance against four.

But it is unfortunate that, along with the limited number of folk-sayings founded on truth, there has survived, a very large number founded on the grossest error. These latter have borrowed credence and respect from the proved credibility of the others, and apparently they are all destined to sink or swim together. Hammer as we will at certain favorite proverbs which we know to be based upon error, it is all in vain. The reverence for tradition is too much for us. And of all the superstitions, pure and simple, which defy our attempts at destruction, the most invulnerable are those ascribing certain effects to the influence of the moon. Few of the counties in England, Scotland, and Ireland but have their own peculiar observances referring to the supposed lunar influence upon diseases, destiny, etc. To merely enumerate these would require a small volume. Any who may care to see some specimens should consult a curious collection (but far from an exhaustive one) published last year by the Rev. Timothy Harley, under the title "Moon Lore." And of equal vitality with the other moon-myths is the idea of lunar influence upon the weather. There is this important difference, however, that while the attribution* of supernatural powers to the moon is palpably and admittedly absurd, the idea of her influence on the weather is not founded on anything physically impossible, and has the sanction of striking analogy in the accepted doctrine of the tides. How much importance was attached to the inquiry, regarded as a true scientific investigation, in the earlier half of the century, and up even to very recent years, may be seen by consulting a meteorological bibliography. The constant succession of papers in English, French, and German, by accredited scientific men, and contributed to respectable scientific societies and periodicals, dealing with the lunar weather theory in all its aspects, shows this to have been long considered one of the most important problems of meteorology.

The doctrine of the survival of the fittest would not seem to be applicable to the case of wise saws. The criterion of fitness we may take to be the reliableness of the saw, and, as we have just seen, they survive without the slightest reference to that characteristic. Nevertheless, one is loath to believe that formulated nonsense can have found credence for ages unless there is a larger admixture of truth in it than is readily apparent by the light of our present knowledge. Popular error has been described as the perception of half the truth, or of one side of a truth. "Were this invariably so, it would afford a profitable