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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/417

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SOUTH SEA BUBBLES IN SCIENCE.

mation can not be obtained from the daily press or from the literary magazines of the time.

Many of our newspapers draw such an income from their advertising columns that the editors are unwilling to print any criticism which would lead to the restriction of this source of gain; thus if a company promoting a scientific bubble should advertise liberally in a leading newspaper, the editors are usually loath to insert an article upon the scheme, for the printing of the criticism might lead to the withdrawal of the advertisement. It is possible that the editors of such daily papers have not overmuch confidence in the judgment of scientific men, for have not the latter often been mistaken? There was Lardner, who prophesied that steamships could not cross the Atlantic, but we must remember that Lardner was not a scientific man; he was a popularizer of science, and never made a scientific investigation. It is said that there have been college professors who have denied the possibility of sending messages under the ocean. This I also doubt, for I am a witness in the flesh of the way such stories can arise. Not long since I was invited to speak before a commercial club, and the presiding officer, in introducing me, remarked: "The professor will now address you on the advances in electricity. When I was in college I well remember his describing an electric motor and his remark that it would never become a practical invention." There was, of course, laughter, and the president sat down with a comfortable air of having made a point. The professor pointed out that the presiding officer graduated before he became professor in the university, and before the Gramme machine and the electric motor were invented. Nevertheless, the world loves to believe in the inaccuracy of the accurate, and even a sophomore takes infinite delight in discovering arithmetical mistakes in an edition of Newton's Principia.

I mention this proneness to believe that scientific men are apt to be mistaken, for it is a blame laid at their doors often by the promoters of scientific bubbles, and for a very easily understood reason, and the editors of newspapers and literary magazines can ease their consciences after publishing sensational scientific articles by reflecting on the fallibility of the followers of science. Lawyers and judges, too, make their mistakes; nevertheless, we continue to resort to them for advice; and few editors, I imagine, would dare to publish a legal opinion without consulting an authority in law. Yet we read every day so-called scientific articles in newspapers and magazines which have evidently never been submitted to competent critics. Have we not read statements of the possibility of exploding powder magazines oh board ships by electric waves; of the manufacture of liquid air without the expenditure of energy;