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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/418

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of electricity direct from coal; papers on the nebular theory, more nebulous than any nebula yet discovered? When we read a broad sheet in the morning paper setting forth a glowing scheme to manufacture power out of nothing, to what oracle can we repair to ascertain the truth? It is true that common sense might lead the reader to reflect that when he is told that the shares can now be obtained for five dollars, but in a short time they will be advanced to ten dollars, and now is the time to invest, that such good things are quickly taken up without the necessity of advertising. When the morning mail brings a prospectus of a company formed to make diamonds by electricity, a company with ten million dollars capital (why not one hundred millions?), to whom should one go to allay the fever of sudden gain? While men and women will carefully consider which line of steamships to Europe is the best equipped with engines, the efficiency of which depends upon the laws that prove the impossibility of perpetual motion, they enter at the same time upon schemes to obtain power without the consumption of work.

We are indeed confronted with the curious fact that even so-called intelligent people can be led to believe that what we have learned in regard to the working of Nature may be thrown aside, and that some new and unrelated laws may rule supreme. Thus we have what is called Christian Science, one of the intuitional sciences which may be said to add a new peril to matrimony. We find cultivated men believing that a government can make money by pronouncing silver equal to gold. Thus there are those who fondle their delusions and those who bank upon credulity. Education seems to be ineffectual with some temperaments; on the whole, however, it has a saving grace, and there are undoubtedly a number in the community who would welcome a source of scientific authority which might answer for them just as the Times does in political and economic questions to an Englishman. The American has especial reason to fear scientific bubbles, for our patent laws make it comparatively easy for promoters to make a great show of vested rights. One method is to build an imposing plant, with powerful dynamos and with a multiplicity of electrical devices, and to capitalize for an enormous sum an expensive plant in sight with millions in patents of very little value. The proposed investor is taken to see the great plant; its magnitude appeals to his reverence for size, and his pocketbook is soon at the service of the promoter. Another method is to select some scheme which is on the borderland between physics and chemistry, such as the electrolytic method of obtaining gold from salt water. There is a minute quantity of gold in salt water, and the chemist, thinking