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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/415

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

WAR AND SOCIAL PROGRESS

The present issue of The Popular Science Monthly contains a series of papers presented at the recent Philadelphia meeting of the social and economic section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, treating more or less directly problems relating to the war. We welcome the opportunity to print these articles, the responsibility for which belongs to our great national scientific association, for it is difficult to know what should be the attitude of a scientific journal toward the war. The appalling magnitude of the disaster crushes everything into insignificance. It seems strange that it is possible for people to talk, read or think about anything else, that they can eat and sleep as usual. But the Greeks knew that both pleasure and pain consume themselves. Hobbes told us that it is the same always to perceive the same thing as to perceive nothing at all. Modern psycho-physical research has established a law that to produce a perceptible change of sensation the increase of the stimulus must be made continually larger as the stimulus becomes greater, until we finally reach a point where no increase in the stimulus will increase the sensation.

It is probably the ease that preventable disease, preventable vice and preventable poverty cause each of them every year as much human misery, loss of life and waste of wealth as the war is causing this year. The sacrifice in the war of a million lives and of wealth amounting to twenty billion dollars, is an inconceivable catastrophe. But it is also true that a million children die needlessly in Russia every year, that the annual loss in lives and wealth through the use of alcohol in the several countries is about equal to that due to the war.

We do not expect to see headlines in the daily papers to the effect that five thousand children died yesterday in Russia, three thousand of them through easily preventable causes, or that there was spent in the United States last week four times as much on alcoholic drink as on the whole educational system of the country. It is consequently not surprising that other and even trivial events take their places on the front pages of the daily press beside the war news. But the fact that we become callous with time to the most dreadful conditions or that this war is only one of the evils of the world does not decrease its horror. On the contrary, these circumstances make it more appalling, for after we become used to murder, robbery, debauchery, starvation and disease under the auspices of government, they may be viewed with greater complaisance when due to individuals, and the lives and wealth squandered in the war will for a long time make it difficult or impossible for the nations concerned to reorganize their energies for the advancement of civilization.

On us in the United States there is placed serious responsibility and great opportunity. Clearly we should do what we can to alleviate the misery caused by the war and try to bring it to an end when there is the slightest chance of success, and in a way that will make new wars less likely. We should prepare ourselves for defense, not through military drill or increased armaments, but by education, scientific research and the improvement of social and economic conditions; by the payment of all public debts and the accumulation of surplus wealth under