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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/223

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SCIENTIFIC COMEDY OF ERRORS

A SCIENTIFIC COMEDY OF ERRORS
By Professor T. D. A. COCKERELL and Professor F. B. R. HELLEMS

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO

THE scientific man of any period, if he will examine the work of his predecessors, may be comforted or discouraged, according to his point of view. It is in the highest degree encouraging to note the steady and rapid progress of science during the last two hundred years and more. It is flattering to the vanity of us moderns to realize that we stand on the very apex of the pyramid of knowledge which the human race has erected at the cost of so much toil, and can look down with indulgent contempt on the comparative ignorance of earlier generations. How stupid they were! How little they knew!—but we—well, there really never has been anything so superior. There is, however, an ancient story about a monkey which climbed a pole and for every three feet he climbed he slipped down two. Was the animal, after all, certainly a monkey? Is there no similarity between his progress and that of the human race? If the science of the past reads to us to-day like a comedy of errors, is it perfectly certain that our productions will not so appear to that hateful body of supercilious critics, our posterity? On second thought, there may be in the history of human learning as much cause for modesty as for exultation. As a tangible case in point we present a summary of the early history of the cochineal and allied dye-producing insects, and more particularly of a forgotten pamphlet by one Frederic Friedel, whereby he earned the degree of doctor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig, in 1701. For his time, Friedel was a man of unusual wisdom, filled with the true spirit of science, so much so that he was not afraid to tilt against the greatest of biological authorities then living, and, in so doing, came out with a flying pennant. Yet, in the light of modern knowledge, it appears that he corrected the blunders of Leeuwenhoek only to make somewhat lesser ones of his own; not, however, through lack of care or lack of sense, but from the unavoidable imperfection of his knowledge.

From very early times, it was customary to utilize the coloring matter obtainable from certain small round objects to be found on various species of oaks in the region of the Mediterranean. Dioscorides and other authors report their occurrence in Galatia, Armenia, Cicilia, Spain, Portugal and Sardinia: in later times they have been known in the south of France, Crete and Syria; while the north of Africa has furnished a less valuable kind. To Theophrastus they were known