Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/June 1887/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: The article in Number 180, "Popular Science Monthly," from the pen of Professor L. R. F. Griffin, is a somewhat marked instance of the freedom with which some authors are willing to assume the responsibility of becoming instructors of the public upon topics of interest by expression of authoritative opinion based upon observation of a single phenomenon.

That Professor Griffin has taken this position is clearly indicated, not alone by his erroneous statements of the properties of explosives, but by the freedom with which he charges ignorance on the part of the manufacturers and owners of the explosives stored near Chicago, the explosion of part of which he makes the subject of his article.

Inquiry would doubtless have convinced him that the methods he characterizes as "very strange," are those which the experiences of manufacturers, many of whom are skillful, intelligent, and highly educated, who have had added to their own personal experience the experience of generations of predecessors for their guidance, have taught them to be safest of which we have knowledge. That all methods now in use are the best possible, no one would be so bold as to maintain, but the manufacture of so staple articles as gunpowder, and its recent substitute, dynamite, could not be long successfully conducted by ignorant persons while so many highly intelligent men with necessary capital at command are ever ready to avail themselves of the opportunity for commercial success that would be thus offered; and had Professor Griffin sought information on the subject he treats, from those who have life and large capital staked upon the issue of intended skillful control of explosives during manufacture, transportation, and while stored for distribution and sale, he might easily have avoided the publication of errors that are obvious to a greater number of readers than he may have supposed.

Nitro-glycerine is not "commonly absorbed in Richmond infusorial earth," when compounded into what is then known as dynamite, and it is doubtful if, of the millions of pounds of dynamite annually made and sold in the United States, there are one thousand pounds made by the use of infusorial earth; and it would practically be impossible to find offered for sale by any manufacturer or dealer any dynamite, in the compounding of which earth or any other inert matter had been used.

Nitro-glycerine is absorbed and made into dynamite not "for convenience," but solely for safety, and in order to make it commercially practicable to transport from place of production to place of consumption in a form that it may be used—nitro-glycerine, which, as such, no transportation company would receive into its custody.

Any manufacturer of gunpowder who built a magazine depending upon "strong walls and a very light roof" to prevent damage in case of accidental explosion, must have intended to store only a very small quantity, or have been fortunate enough never to have seen or known of the disastrous results of any such futile attempt to restrain or direct the force of the explosion of any quantity such as is usually so stored. Where conditions of the absence of exposure to possible fire, or to the acts of ignorant trespassers would permit, a light frame structure would invariably be chosen for storage of gunpowder. The different properties of dynamite demand structures of a material that will resist or diminish the speed of a stray bullet; but the less resistance from the building within which any accidental explosion may occur, the less will be the damage to surrounding property either by atmospheric effect or by flying missiles.

The simplest knowledge of the properties of dynamite would have prevented Professor Griffin from attributing the non-explosion of other magazines in the vicinity to the fact of their being beyond the "limits where displacement would not appear"—referring to the bodily mass of air; and personal presence in the immediate vicinity of a number of accidental explosions of either gunpowder or dynamite would probably induce him to change his opinion that "the mass bodily displaced must be confined within comparatively narrow limits."

To correct the manifest errors in this short article would require many times the space it occupies, and be less gratification to curiosity than the article itself; and it would seem to have been rather curiosity than desire for investigation or instruction that was inspired in the mind of the author by the explosion of which he has written.

Yours truly,A. O. Fay.
Xenia, Ohio, March 29, 1887.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Dear Sir: In the April number of "The Popular Science Monthly" there was an article, by Dr. William A. Hammond, entitled "Brain-Forcing in Childhood," of which, in so far as it deals with that subject, I have nothing to say here. But the doctor took occasion to have another fling at women, and to that I wish to reply in a way to give him an opportunity to prove, if he can, that his statements are based upon scientific facts and discoveries. If such discoveries have been made they should be on record, and I am assured by the leading men of his profession that no such records exist.

I propose on my side to prove that his statements on this subject, both in this article and a previously published one, from which I shall also quote, are based upon assumption and prejudice, and can not be sustained by scientific tests either by the doctor or any one else.

Since the published opinions of such a man as Dr. Hammond, and in such a magazine as "The Popular Science Monthly," are likely to have a wide influence upon the welfare and prospects of a large number of women, it is most important that he either prove his case or correct his indictment.

In his article on "Brain-Forcing in Childhood" he devotes two and a half pages to a series of statements regarding the native incapacity of woman, the inferiority of her brain in quality, quantity, and development in what brain anatomists call the nobler proportions; and argues that it is an absurdity to allow girls and women to receive and use the means of development which he admits have produced these higher results in man!

Cause and effect, in man, he recognizes as related in the usual manner; while cause and effect in woman appear to have no possible connection.

The higher races of man have a higher brain development than have the lower races. This, he argues, is the direct result of the nature, variety, complexity, and accuracy of their mental training and opportunities. Women's brains in the lower races, he says, are very nearly like those of the men; but in the higher races there is a much greater difference between the brains of the sexes; which, oddly enough, he does not attribute to the fact that they have never been allowed the very training and opportunities which he claims produced the desired change in the males of their race. He holds that it is natural, unalterable difference in the brain-mass itself. Now, if this were the case, would not the difference be quite as marked in the lower races? That the disparity is not natural and unalterable, but that it is the result of lack of opportunity and inequality of education and environment, seems to be plainly indicated by his own argument when logically carried to its conclusion. But he argues that, since the ratio of difference in the brain of the sexes has not remained the same in spite of the great expansion of opportunity for the one and the restriction of opportunity for the other as they rise in the scale of civilized races, it proves inability on the part of the restricted sex. And he then asks for further restriction! This is surely as unscientific as it is illogical.[1]

All this upon the basis that the doctor can prove that such great anatomical differences do exist in the adult brain. But I hold that it never has been done, and that the doctor can not do it. I prepared a number of questions, for which I regret there is not space here, which were submitted to twenty of the leading brain anatomists, microscopists, and physicians of New York, with the results given below.

Dr. Hammond asserts: "Again, it is only necessary to compare an average male with an average female brain to perceive at once how numerous and striking are the differences existing between them." (The italics are mine.) He submits a formidable list of striking differences which include these "The male brain is larger, its vertical and transverse diameters are greater proportionally, the shape is quite different, the convolutions are more intricate, the sulci deeper, the secondary fissures more numerous, the gray matter of the corresponding parts of the brain decidedly thicker." Of this latter point the doctor modestly says that the evidence is not so full as might be desired. But, as if all these were not quite enough to enable the merest novice to distinguish a male from a female brain, he offers these re-enforcements: "It is quite certain, as the observations of the writer show, that the specific gravity of both the white and gray substance of the brain is greater in man than in woman."[2]

All this would seem to leave woman without a chance of escape; for if by any accident her brain did not fall short in gray matter, fissures, etc., the specific gravity of the rest of it would enable the doctor to ticket her as accurately as though she were to appear with ear-rings and train in a ball-room. Now, if all this is true, it would surely be the easiest and simplest thing in the world to determine the sex of a subject by an examination of the brain alone. And if these "great and numerous differences" are natural, potential sex conditions, and not the results of difference in education, occupation, mental stimulus, and general environment, they would be as easily distinguished in the brains of infants (of the same age, size, and condition) as in the brains of adults.

The physical sex differences which we all know to be natural, necessary, and inevitable, are as easily distinguishable at birth as in maturity.

Now, I am assured by all of the brain experts and scientists to whom my questions were submitted, that the sex of two infants not only could not be "perceived at once," but could not be determined at all by these certainly sufficiently plain and numerous differences in brain size, matter, and condition of which the doctor writes so confidently.

And, further than this, I am assured by the leading brain anatomist in America that no careful scientific observer could risk more than a mere guess as to the sex of adult brains, even upon the most careful and exhaustive examination.

And even more than this, it is a well-known fact that individual brain differences between persons of the same sex are greater and more numerous than any known to exist between the sexes, and that such a guess would, therefore, be worth very little to a scientific mind.

The difference in weight, for example, between the brains of Cromwell and Gambetta, or Byron and Dante, are absolutely known to be far greater than any known to exist between the sexes, as such, even in spite of the relative lighter body-weight of women. But if Dr. Hammond still believes in these numerous and easily detected sex differences in the brain-mass itself—even including the weight test—I am prepared to offer him an opportunity to prove his case, very greatly advance scientific knowledge, and win for himself fame as an original discoverer in a disputed field. If the doctor will agree to it, we can decide whether he can distinguish sex in brain by a very simple experiment.

I will agree to furnish (by permission of the leading brain anatomists and from their collections) twenty well-preserved brains, marked in cipher, Dr. Hammond to divide the male from the female brains by applying any or all of his numerous and readily perceivable sex tests. If he can not do this, he has certainly lost his case.

In the matter of weight the doctor concedes that the relative size and weight of the brain are about the same in the two sexes—slightly in woman's favor—which he says does not count; although, when he finds this same relative difference between two men, he argues that it does count for a great deal. But in the dilemma to which this seemed to reduce him he rushes into a most extraordinary statement. He says: "Numerous observations show, beyond doubt, that the intellectual power does not depend upon the weight of brain relative to that of the body, so much as it does upon absolute brain-weight." Now, if this were true, an elephant might out-think any of us; and the whale, whose intellectual achievements have never been looked upon as absolutely incendiary (if we except Jonah's friend), would rank the greatest man on record, and have brains enough left to equip a fair-sized female seminary.

The average human male brain weighs from 1,300 to 1,400 grammes, and even a very young whale furnishes 2,312 grammes of "intellect-producing substance," as the doctor felicitously terms it; while the brain of a large whale weighed in 1883 tipped the beam at 6,700 grammes!

Truly, then, if absolute brain-weight, and not relative weight, is to be the test, here was a "mute, inglorious Milton" indeed!

Almost any elephant which disports itself for the amusement of small boys—and the enrichment of Mr. Barnum—is several Cuviers in disguise, or perhaps an entire medical faculty.

So much for the "absolute-weight" statement. There are nineteen other points in the doctor's two articles upon which I have data of a nature as radically opposed to his theories and statements as these; but, since lack of space forbids their introduction here, I can add only one other sample. He says," A fact which is somewhat astonishing to those not aware of it is, that the head of a boy or girl does not grow in size after the seventh year." There is no sort of doubt about that being "somewhat astonishing," but there is a vast deal of doubt about it being a "fact." It does not require a "brain-expert" or anatomist to decide that point. Any hatter knows that it is absolutely incorrect. But lest the whole hatting fraternity be not looked upon as an offset to Dr. Hammond's authority, I have permission to state that one of the leading—and I think I will not exaggerate if I say the foremost—brain anatomist of New York has taken such measurements for many years, and in his own family there is a boy whose head has increased in size steadily up to his eleventh year, and still offers abundant evidence of its future intentions in the same direction. This, he assures me, is not exceptional, but is the usual and normal condition.

Of course, the ratio of growth decreases, but the size of the head increases in most persons up to the twentieth year, and usually until about the twenty-fifth.

Sincerely yours,

Helen H. Gardener.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Dear Sir: Whatever the influence has been that has been brought to bear for the past five or six years or more, it certainly has had the effect of moving Congress to appropriate money toward the building of some new war-vessels for our navy, and improving our coast-defenses. No doubt all this was very necessary; but do you know that the signs of the times prompt me to suggest that there are other things that our navy might be doing during these long days of peace, which would reflect far more credit upon us as a nation than if we had the most powerful fleet of war-vessels afloat in the world? Civilized nations are rapidly coming to that chapter in their history wherein it will be plainly shown that those states which will command the greatest measure of respect among us will be the ones which have best advanced the progress of science, art, and learning, and developed the culture that accrues therefrom, and not those who can cast the biggest cannon, and invent engines which will kill the greatest number of human beings in the shortest space of time. Even aside from this, it would almost seem as if our people overlook the fact sometimes that were Congress to appropriate to-day sufficient money to build a navy for this country which would be equal to the navies of such nations as England, France, or Italy, before we would have the opportunity to use it in actual warfare it would be thoroughly outstripped again by the marvelous rapidity of the improvement that is constantly going on in naval architecture. The nations I have mentioned have to be constantly renewing their war-vessels in order to keep up with the advance in such matters, and are continually selling their old patterns to the lesser powers. We have not the competition in the United States to excite any such movement as this, and the men-of-war we build to-day will in all probability be as absolutely powerless to compete with the massive floating steel and iron fortresses of France and England of the future, as if we were to build them as invulnerable as those vessels now are, and attempt to engage with what the same nations will surely possess twenty-five years hence.

One of the great outcries made by the officers of our navy is, that "we are not held in the proper respect on foreign stations," or, in other words, our puny little fishing-smacks do not favorably compare with the ponderous ironclad hulks that represent the naval powers of the world, and tower over them.

Now, I have a notion that the United States would gain an enormous amount of respect in the eyes of foreign nations, if not in the eyes of foreign navies, had she upon any foreign station one of her very best men-of-war and two corvettes, completely remodeled and thoroughly equipped both as regards men, officers, and scientific staff, and the necessary appliances to properly prosecute an exploring expedition around the world. It would seem to me that the commander of such a little fleet, were it anchored in the harbor of Shanghai or Rio Janeiro to-day, would feel a far greater pride in his country than were he in command of a seventeenth-rate gunboat, comparatively speaking, and there should steam in, with flying colors, such an infernal engine of destruction as the French man-of-war the Foudroyant or the Dévastation. With all the iron and steel we could rivet on to some of our best war-vessels to-day, they could not be made sufficiently effective to engage, with the slightest hope of success, such vessels as the two I have mentioned. Yet a very moderate expenditure on the part of Congress would splendidly refit them for exploring vessels in every sense of the word, and render them creditable institutions of the nation.

I am convinced that the day will come in the history of the world, whether we hold together as one country or not, when all the exploits of our navy during the war of the rebellion will pale, so far as the credit to humanity is concerned, by what was accomplished by the Wilkes Exploring Expedition; and England will blush when she compares the victories of her Nelson with the results obtained by the Challenger Expedition, and confesses to humanity which was the more important to the progress of the world.

Smile if you will, but I believe the day is coming for us in our race when national disputes will be settled without costing a million lives, and the breaking a million hearts—when war between countries will be as much a thing of the past as the duel is now between individuals; and finally, when the functions of our brain will prevail over the inherited instincts that came down, or perhaps I had better said passed up with us, along with our canine teeth.

Let us repeat, at as early a day as possible, the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, and see whether we do not gain credit, respect, and power by the movement, to say nothing of all that is sure to accrue from it in other particulars. Very respectfully,

R. W. Shufeldt.
Fort Wingate, New Mexico, March 7, 1887.

  1. "The reason that the brain of the woman is lighter than that of man is, that she has less cerebral activity to exercise in her sphere of duty. In former times it was relatively larger in the department of Lozère because then the women and the men mutually shared the burden of their daily labor. The truth is, that the weight of the brain increases with the use we make of it."—Topinard, p. 120.
  2. A recent article in "Mendel's Journal," by Morselli—the only recent article which agrees with this theory—while asserting that the specific gravity is less in the female, is compelled to make the sinister admission that "with old age and with insanity the specific gravity increases." If this is the case. I do not know that women need sigh for more specific gravity than they have.