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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/735

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FRAGMENTS OF SCIENCE.

raised, and science would not be disgraced from time to time by those who are willing to trade on their scientific reputation.

 

The Competiton Fetich in Education.—"The dying out of the distinguished school of naturalists which this country once produced, and which culminated in Darwin, is a fact which scarcely admits of dispute," says W. T. Thiselton-Dyer in a recent article in Nature. "English naturalists of the generation which is now passing away have belonged to two groups. Some have been born to wealth, some to poverty. Class prejudice was against the one, means of livelihood against the other. The richer disciples of our art seem now to have gone irretrievably and to have no successors. The poorer have changed their tone. They tend to treat science as a career like the civil service." Mr. Thiselton-Dyer quotes a friend who believes the cause of this degeneration in the ideals of scientific workers to be due to the system of constant competitive trials, which it seems, in England as well as in the United States, pervades everything in the schools from Greek to athletics, and which completely overshadows the real reason and point for going to school. "This remarkable system begins, the masters of this and other schools told me, at about eight years old. There is no time to learn, to think, or observe. The boys must beat some other school in tennis or football, or must beat some one else in the history of the Punic wars. . . . The great object of education appears to be to have every boy competing for something absolutely useless to him in later life." This latter, of course, is something of an overstatement; but the indiscriminate encouragement of rivalry and subsidizing of the winner, without reference to the value of the knowledge which the success implies, has been steadily at work in our universities for some years, and has been one of the principal factors in bringing the college graduate into disrepute as an unpractical and many times really ignorant man. He quite loses his bearings when launched forth on the actual sea of life, judges questions from the limited standpoint of the local horizon which his alma mater has provided for him, and, worst of all, being a college graduate, is rather inclined to be supercilious at any suggestion that perhaps there are a few small scraps of knowledge which he is not yet master of. There have, however, quite recently been signs of reaction against the competitive system—at any rate, in athletics—and it is to be earnestly hoped that this reaction will extend itself to the whole curriculum. We may then, perhaps, expect to see an educational system based on the requirements of everyday life, and the graduates of our highest educational institutions taking their full share in the business and politics of the country.

 

A Natural Botanical Garden.—A somewhat curiously distributed flora is described as existing in the island of Sakhalin, at the northernmost end of the Japanese group. Its geological structure resembles that of Siberia much more nearly than that of Japan. Volcanoes, which are such a characteristic feature of Japan, are entirely wanting here, and the three parallel chains of mountains which form the backbone of the island are composed of Jurassic slate, Cretaceous strata, and Tertiary limestone, being similar in formation to those of Siberia. The mountains reach an average elevation of six thousand to seven thousand feet, and this, combined with the abnormal climatic conditions of the island, give rise to a very varied vegetable life. Although it lies between the latitudes of Trieste and Hamburg, its conditions of life are almost polar. Bathed by two cold marine currents, it is exposed without protection in winter to the cold northwest winds of the east Siberian anticyclone, and an abnormally cold winter as well as summer results. At sea level snow lies in open sunny spots even in May. Snowfalls occur to the end of May. Owing to the cold currents which surround the island, distance from the coast plays an important part in determining vegetable growth, and gives rise to anomalies perhaps observable in no other portion of the earth's surface. In Siberia and in central Europe it has many times been noticed that during the winter cold the mountain summits are much warmer than the plains. The same is true in Sakhalin. The cold and heavy winter's air collects in the lower regions, while above the mountain heights enjoy the warmer sea breeze. But even in summer, owing to the cold ocean