Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/864

This page has been validated.
844
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE CLAIMS OF SCIENCE.

IN the present day, when so many schemes for the reformation of society are on foot, and so many experiments are being made in the treatment of social diseases, it is of the very first importance that the claims of science to an authoritative voice in human affairs should be faithfully and adequately presented. The efforts which such writers as Spencer and Huxley have made in this direction are known to all well-informed persons, but there is still room for the enforcement of the lesson, and we welcome the appearance of a new and vigorous champion of the good cause in Prof. Karl Pearson, author of the Grammar of Science, recently published in the Contemporary Science Series. There are many points touched upon in Prof. Pearson's book which might give rise to difference of opinion; but no one who is imbued with the true scientific spirit can fail to concur most heartily in what he says in his opening chapter as to the "claims of science."

The first claim of science is founded on the essential difference between scientific and unscientific opinion. "The classification of facts," says Prof. Pearson, "and the formation of absolute judgments upon the basis of this classification—judgments independent of the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind—is peculiarly the scope and method of modern science. The scientific man has above all things to aim at self-elimination in his judgments, to provide an argument which is as true for each individual mind as for his own. . . . The scientific method of examining facts is not peculiar to one class of phenomena and to one class of workers; it is applicable to social as well as to physical problems, and we must carefully guard ourselves against supposing that the scientific frame of mind is the peculiarity of the professional scientist." Not only is this method not that of the average man, but its very existence is scarcely surmised by him. His method—if such it can be called—of arriving at conclusions is to fasten his attention on a few salient facts, and to interpret them according to his own prepossessions and interests. If asked to take a point of view from which, perhaps, other facts would become salient, or to divest himself of self-interest as a canon of interpretation, he will in general decline; in many cases, indeed, he will be totally incapable of responding to the invitation. The idea of requiring a wide range of facts as a basis for induction, of checking the result of a first survey or examination by that of a second, third, fourth, or tenth, and of treating self-interest or previously formed opinion as a disturbing influence from which the judgment is to be kept as free as possible, is one which long ages of struggle with the problems of Nature have at length bequeathed to the scientific workers of to-day, but which has no lodgment, and but slight recognition, in the minds of the multitude. Prof. Pearson is, however, of opinion that an instruction in scientific method might be very generally imparted, and that its effect on the mind of the ensuing generation would be marked. He considers, very rightly, that a scientific frame of mind is an essential of good citizenship, seeing that it is that frame of mind alone which leads a man to look beyond proximate phenomena, and above all to put aside personal bias. It is the peculiarity, as he well observes, of scientific method that, when once it has become a habit of mind, that mind converts all facts whatsoever into science. Good intentions are not enough to make