Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/519

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THE MAKING OF BIOLOGISTS.

lish-born are scarcely worth mentioning; while Norway, Hungary, Switzerland and Canada have single representatives in Stejneger, Heilprin, A. Agassiz and McMurrich. On the whole, the foreign-born element in American biology is insignificant, and as it were accidental.

Such facts as these make us doubt the validity of the opinion that talent will always come to the front, whatever the conditions. Among those who have immigrated from Germany and the British Islands there must have been a larger number capable of biological research than the figures show; but as a matter of fact the conditions surrounding these people were not commonly favorable to scientific work. The same must be true of the French immigrants who settled long ago in the south; they have never yet shown anything like the scientific talent which their origin would lead us to expect.

Dr. G-. B. Halsted told me last year that he believed that about one in two hundred persons in this country possessed some sort of mathematical genius. Being afterwards uncertain whether he meant university students or the general population, I wrote to him and received the following interesting reply:

One in two hundred university students has marked mathematical ability. Of those who do not get to any university the percentage may be just as high, since only race, and not caste, is necessary for this gift. A Hindoo has just been senior wrangler at Cambridge, England; and Gauss was a bricklayer's son. No one with a drop of African blood has ever given us a theorem in mathematics. Shaler accounts for the stupidity of the Romans in mathematics by supposing that the primitive basal race in Italy was from Africa. There is a marked difference between ability in geometry and ability in arithmetic and algebra. The Jews give us more great mathematicians than any other race, but never a geometer. Geometry is hindered by a necessity for visualization. Todhunter said with penetrating wisdom that the person who had to see the relations definitely on a figure could not go on in the higher mathematics. Non-Euclidean geometry, my subject, cannot be visualized. Calculating prodigies are usually idiots, absolutely lacking in power of visualization. I enclose you a long account of one such [Jacques Inaudi] which is very definite on this point [i. e., the absence of visualization]. Most eminent mathematicians are deficient as calculators, some do not know their multiplication table. . . . I have never in my life had to extract a root of a number. The thing which seems most to foster mathematical ability is use in very early youth, strong stimulation in early youth. (Litt., December 24, 1901.)

With respect to the negro race unfavorable conditions may have had more to do with unproductiveness than is supposed. The Tuskegee Institute under Professor Booker T. Washington has lately obtained the means of carrying on original research in science, and it will be extremely interesting to watch the results. I ventured to ask Professor Washington whether he had observed any scientific talent among his people, and he referred me to Dr. Roscoe Conkling Bruce, who wrote as follows on the subject of talented negroes: