Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/341

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

research, but wiser men than we have ever known have grown up without books. Shakespere had few of them, Lincoln had but few of them, Homer and Jesus, none at all. Books serve no purpose if they are not used. The man who reads it gives the book its life. Specimens are inevitable in natural history. Apparatus is necessary in physical science. Collections and equipment are really the outgrowth of the men that use them. You can not order them in advance. Professor Haeckel once said bitterly that the results of research in the great laboratories were in inverse proportion to the perfection of their appliances. An investigation may be lost in multiplicity of details or in elaboration of preparation. Some men will spend years in getting a microscope or a microtome just right and then never use it. It is said that the entire outfit of Joseph Leidy, one of the greatest of our microscopists, cost just seventy-five dollars. It was the man and not the equipment that made his investigations luminous.

Publication is necessary, but it would be the greatest of mistakes to measure a university by the number of pages printed by its members. Much of the so-called research even in Germany is unworthy of the name of science. Its subject matter is not extension of human experience, but an addition to human pedantry. To count the twists and turns of literary eccentricity may have no more intellectual significance than to count the dead leaves in the forest. Statistical work is justified not by the labor it requires, but by the laws it unveils. Elaboration of method may conceal the dearth of purpose. Moreover, it is easier to string the web of plausibility than to recover the lost clue of truth. Of a thousand doctor's theses each year scarcely a dozen contain a real addition to knowledge. In too many cases a piece of research is simply a bid for notice. American universities are always on the watch for men who can do something as it should be done. Work is often done solely to arrest the attention of the university authorities. A professorship once gained, nothing more is heard of research. The love of novelty with the itch for writing often passes for the power of original research. The fanaticism for veracity has nothing in common with versatile writing or paradoxical cleverness. It took Darwin twenty-five years of the severest work before he could get his own leave to print his own conclusions. Other writers put forth sweeping generalizations as rapidly as their typewriters can take them from dictation. In certain works which have arrested popular attention, the investigations must have gone on at the highest speed attainable by the pen of the gifted author. Such work justifies Fechner's sarcastic phrase, 'cuckoo's eggs laid in the nest of science.'

The work of science is addressed to science, no matter if half a dozen generations pass before another investigator takes up the thread. The science of the newspapers is of quite another type, and so is much of the