Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/714

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Editor Popular Science Monthly.

SIR: The article by Major Powell, which appeared in your July number, calls for a few words of comment. It was written apparently as an indirect reply to our own paper in the April issue. But it contains little more than a restatement of some elementary truths in geology, which, however new they may be made to appear by the art of the writer, are really somewhat ancient, and form a part of the stock of every tyro in the science.

To this, however, no one can properly object. Major Powell is entitled to write whatever he chooses. But bad logic and misrepresentation of authorities are not legitimate argument, and in a few points where the distinguished head of the United States Geological Survey touches upon topics which we referred to in the former article we may be allowed to criticise his statements.

In the first place, the major is in error in misconstruing our words into an attack on the United States Geological Survey. No fair construction of the language will support this charge. Our chief purpose was to expose and condemn the tone and spirit of the reviewers whose assaults we criticised, and especially the language in which one of them had seen fit to express his opinions. For this latter words too strong could hardly be found. What sentiments have been awakened by it in the minds of geologists, both in America and abroad, we can imagine. They must be both amused and amazed to see a member of the Geological Survey of a great and enlightened country so far forgetting the dignity and responsibility of his office as to indulge in invective and vituperation against a fellow-worker in the scientific field.[1]

Major Powell's paper is in striking contrast to that of his subordinate in being perfectly courteous. We could expect nothing else from him. Had all the critics of Prof. Wright been equally dignified and gentlemanly there would have been no ground for objection.

We confess, however, to a feeling of regret that the director stopped short of any remark indicating disapproval of the language that had been used by a member of his staff. We can not bring ourselves to believe that he sanctions it, but his silence lends it at least an indirect support. We think that a word of this kind would have done the Survey a greater service than any attempt to defend it where it was not attacked, or any discourse on the harmony and courtesy which have, he tells us, characterized its discussions up to date.

Major Powell makes but little direct allusion to us, though his paper was evidently called out by our article. He contents himself with the general assertion, or rather implication, that "every paragraph is based on error." Such sweeping charges are easily made, and are often as erroneous as easy. Not a single error is adduced, and the inference from this omission is not difficult. At all events, it will be soon enough to defend the paragraphs when they are definitely attacked.

Meanwhile, we propose to investigate a few passages of Major Powell's article, in order to see if the critic is himself above reproach, and to discover if any erroneousness lurks concealed within his own paragraphs. Space will not allow more than this. But unless his arguments are better than those of his comrades and subordinates, he will be but a poor ally to aid them in their cause.

Major Powell refers to the Nampa image. Now, it was and is no part of our plan to defend this "find." It is no bantling of ours. We leave it to the tender mercies of others more competent. We merely pointed out in the former paper the fallacy of the arguments used by the writer to whom we referred in his attack upon it and on Prof. Wright. Though Major Powell has failed, probably for the very best of reasons, to give the exact details for which we called, yet his words sufficiently prove the inacuracy of the story, as given in the American Archæologist and in the Literary Northwest. It is a pity also that Major Powell has allowed himself to misrepresent the evidence for want of reference to the original documents in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. His language leads the reader to infer that he was not even aware of their existence, inasmuch as he says that his greatest surprise on reading Prof. Wright's second book was to find that the image bad fallen into his hands and was used as an argument in favor of the antiquity of man. This was two years after the original publication by Prof. Wright, and his arguments were by this time familiar to all students of American archæology.

  1. It is deeply to be regretted that this same official has seen fit to repeat and thus to exaggerate his offense by putting out, since our article was written, a second paper of similar tenor. Though a copy of this was in our possession at the time of writing, we could not justly refer to it, as it had not then appeared. We also hoped that the author's good sense would lead him to acquiesce in its suppression for the sake of American science and his own reputation. This hope was, however, disappointed.