Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/705

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the laboratory how absolutely essential this condition is for scientific investigation. We are all supposed to make the ascertainment of the truth our chief aim, but we do not all take the same trouble to attain it. Accuracy involves labor, and every man is not gifted with an infinite capacity for taking pains. Inexactness of observation is sure sooner or later to be detected, and to be visited on the head of the man who commits it. If his observations are incorrect, the conclusions he has drawn from them may be vitiated. Thus all the toil he has endured in a research may be rendered of no avail, and the reputation he might have gained is not only lost but replaced by discredit. It is quite true that absolute accuracy is often unattainable; you can only approach it. But the greater the exertion you make to reach it, the greater will be the success of your investigations. The effort after accuracy will be transferred from your scientific work to your everyday life and become a habit of mind, advantageous both to yourselves and to society at large.

In the next place, I would set thoroughness, which is closely akin to accuracy. Again, your training here has shown you how needful it is in scientific research to adopt thorough and exhaustive methods of procedure. The conditions to be taken into account are so numerous and complex, the possible combinations so manifold, before a satisfactory conclusion can be reached. A laborious collection of facts must be made. Each supposed fact must be sifted out and weighed. The evidence must be gone over again and yet again, each link in its chain being scrupulously tested. The deduction to which the evidence may seem to point must be closely and impartially scrutinized, every other conceivable explanation of the facts being frankly and fully considered. Obviously the man whose education has inured him to the cultivation of a mental habit of this kind is admirably equipped for success in any walk in life which he may be called upon to enter. The accuracy and thoroughness which you have learned to appreciate and practice at college must never be dropped in later years. Carry them with you as watchwords, and make them characteristic of all your undertakings.

In the third place, we may take breadth. At the outset of your scientific education you were doubtless profoundly impressed by the multiplicity of detail which met your eye in every department of natural knowledge. When you entered upon the study of one of these departments, you felt, perhaps, almost overpowered and bewildered by the vast mass of facts with which you had to make acquaintance. And yet as your training advanced, you gradually came to see that the infinite variety of phenomena could all be marshaled, according to definite laws, into groups and series. You were led to look beyond the details to the great principles that underlie