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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/156

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

notion of a group of characteristics that could not possibly change or be changed from generation to generation? In more recent years we have again seen the same method of reducing science to a variety show for the entertainment of the tired general reader applied to both biology and psychology. Weismann has tried to prove that acquired characteristics are not transmitted in heredity, and that the germ plasm is distinct from the somatic cells. The neo-Lamarckians, Spencer, Cope, and some of the botanists have contended for the older interpretation. Is biology, then, a science? Forbid the thought! Heaven preserve our minds from such confusion!

If the sociologists have hoped that they alone might not be overtaken by easy annihilation, they deserve to be humiliated. But it is safe to say that they have cherished no such illusions. If the men who have devoted much time to the scientific explanation of society have had no other qualification for their task, they have at least shown some acquaintance with the history of thought. And so it is not likely that they have suffered deeply from disenchantment when they have been confronted with the regulation exposure of "the present position" of their science.

There is no need of wasting space to prove that the kind of criticism here referred to is without scientific value. The present position of any science can not be determined by arraying its contradictions and inconsistencies, irrespective of a serious attempt to ascertain which of its concepts and hypotheses have inherent vitality. It is precisely when a science is at its best, surely advancing year by year and full of promise for the future, that contradictions most abound in its monographs and text-books.

A true scientific criticism, then, must proceed by a different method. The present position of a science can be ascertained only by instituting three specific inquiries, namely: First, among the more or less contradictory conceptions and hypotheses which constitute its groundwork, what ones are surely displacing all others and gaining the wider acceptance among active students? Second, what progress is being made in the application of exact methods to research? Third, is there a practical or working harmony between the concepts that are gaining ground and the more exact methods of research that are being perfected? Do the concepts and hypotheses lend themselves to exact methods, and do they, on the whole, help to perfect methods? Do improving methods, on the whole, confirm or strengthen the concepts that are gaining wider acceptance?

If these inquiries are applied in the domain of sociology they bring to light unmistakable evidence of a steady and gratifying