Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/575

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
569
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE RISE IN PRICES AND THE SALARIES OF SCIENTIFIC MEN

The extraordinary rise in prices which has occurred in the course of the past ten years—amounting to about fifty per cent, according to the index numbers of the Economist—is a serious matter for those who are dependent on fixed salaries, as is the case with most scientific men. It is also an obstacle in the way of the advance of science. Those who should be engaged in scientific research may be compelled to give part of their time to securing the incomes that are needed; some may be diverted altogether from the scientific career, while others may hesitate to enter it. There has always been a kind of panmixia among scientific workers, a lack of severe selection of the most fit. The number of those in this country who have undertaken scientific work does not considerably exceed five thousand, and those who do not prove competent to do work of value are likely to retain their positions in institutions of learning or in the government service. Should there be a negative natural selection drawing the ablest men away from a scientific career, it would be a serious matter, the future of our civilization depending largely on the comparatively small group of scientific men.

It is a curious fact that it is largely scientific discovery that has lessened the incomes of scientific men. Prices depend on all sorts of conditions, psychological as well as material, but in the end they are determined by the value of gold and the value of gold depends on the cost of production. The cyanide process and other advances in metallurgy, mining and geology, as well as the discovery of new fields, have greatly lessened the cost of producing gold. The world's production of gold in 1896 amounted to 202 million dollars, in 1906 to 400 million dollars, or almost double. Unlike the wheat crop, the annual output of gold is not consumed, and the supply is probably increasing more rapidly than industry and commerce, while at the same time relatively greater use is made of government notes and bank checks. The decreased cost of producing gold tends to make all prices higher, and wages and debts are payable in value less than had been agreed. If the cost of production and the demand for gold should remain constant, there would be an adjustment of the supply; and prices and wages would remain constant on a higher level. But wages reach this level more slowly than most prices, and scientific men and others with fixed salaries suffer. As a matter of fact, both the production of gold and the demand for it will remain subject to great fluctuation, and it seems unfortunate that we can not adopt a more constant standard of value, such as would be obtained by averaging together all staple commodities produced in a series of years, and letting the government issue paper currency payable in these commodities and secured by the property of the nation.

 

THE MARIA MITCHELL MEMORIAL

Maria Mitchell, professor of astronomy at Vassar College from 1865 to 1888, a leader in her science, in the higher education of women and in the movement extending the independence of women, was born in Nantucket in 1818, and was buried there in 1889. The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association, organized in 1902 purchased at that time Miss Mitchell's birth-