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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/November 1888/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

IN the September number of "The Popular Science Monthly," Mr. Virgil G. Eaton makes the following statement in his article on "How the Opium-Habit is acquired": "The parties who are responsible for the increase of the habit are the physicians who give the prescriptions. . . . Opium effects immediate relief, and the doctors, knowing this, and wishing to stand well with their patients, prescribe it more and more. Their design is to effect a cure. The result is to convert their patients into opium-slaves. The doctors are to blame for so large a consumption of opium, and they are the men who need reforming" (p. 666). While there may be exceptional cases where physicians are responsible for a patient acquiring the opium-habit, this charge against the entire medical profession is unjust and misleading. No class of men is better acquainted with the dangers due to a prolonged use of opiates than the medical practitioners, but it does not follow that a knowledge of the fact should lead any one of them to abandon the use of this valuable anodyne in suitable cases. No physician will question Mr. Eaton's statement that opiates are prescribed very frequently. If Mr. Eaton had taken the trouble to inquire from physicians why this is so, he would probably have ascertained that a large number of patients suffer considerably during their sickness, and that, to alleviate these sufferings, and give the patients the best chances for recovering their health, opiates arc often prescribed, and not merely because the physician wants to "stand well with his patient," or even to "effect a cure." Surely, no honest practitioner would be brutal enough to withhold an anodyne to relieve the intense pain due to a "stone in the gall-duct" (and if it were in Mr. Eaton's personal gall-duct), provided the anodyne caused no other serious injury. In this case the anodyne is not given to "effect a cure," but to permit the passage of the stone through the duct with less pain to the proprietor of the duct than were possible without the drug.

While putting the responsibility for the opium-habit on the physicians, Mr. Eaton says (p. 665), "From a conversation with a druggist, I learned that the proprietary or 'patent' medicines which have the largest sales were those containing opiates." While Mr. Eaton's article proves his knowledge of the practice of medicine to be very limited, he can hardly be ignorant of the fact that the members of the medical profession have been and arc to this day warning their patients and the public against the use of all nostrums. This is done by physicians, not for selfish purposes, as Mr. Eaton probably thinks, but because they have some thought for the health and well-being of their patients.

Immediately after telling us that the doctors are the men who need reforming, Mr. Eaton gives us two means for preventing the opium-habit. Here we find that he does not mention the method of reformation, but recommends that the renewal of prescribed medicines containing opiates, without the consent of the physician, be prohibited. Now this is a very good recommendation, but, as "there is nothing new under the sun," so this suggestion is not original. A perusal of medical literature would demonstrate that the medical profession, as individuals, and through their associations, have for years past protested and advised against renewing prescribed medicines without the physician's consent. They would not, however, have it limited to opiates, but have it apply to all medicines, for very good and not solely selfish reasons. After such good advice from Mr. Eaton, it is a great disappointment to find in the second and last suggestion that again no method of reforming the doctors is given, but here he mentions the very good but not always practical preventive for the opium-habit is not to get sick. True, Mr. Eaton does not put it in these words, but it is practically the same as to say: "Avoid sickness by living according to the laws of health. If you are not sick, you will not require medicine; and if you don't take medicine, you will not become a victim of the opium-habit."

After so clearly showing that "patent" medicines, and the druggists, who so willingly refill prescriptions, are to a very great degree responsible for the alarming increase of the opium-habit, Mr. Eaton's charges against the physicians are entirely out of place.

A. F. Stifel.
Wheeling, W. Va., August, 29, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In Chapter IX of "Prince Otto," by Robert Louis Stevenson, better known to fame as the author of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the hero goes to an appointment with the countess, "as the bell beats two" in the morning. At this hour, we are told, "a shaving of new moon had lately arisen; but was still too small and too low down in heaven to contend with the immense host of lesser luminaries, and the rough face of the earth was drenched with starlight."

The object of this communication is to nominate Mr. Stevenson for membership in that "infant class in astronomy to which you have already assigned H. Rider Haggard, Anna Bowman Dodd, Andrew Lang, Edward King, and Tolstoi.

J. Boulware Kidd.
Richmond, Va., August, 19, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

I think your correspondent is in error concerning the uses of the perforated stones of California.[1] I never heard of any one of those uses before, and all of them seem improbable.

1. I have seen the squaws digging roots, and never knew of their carrying a five-pound stone around, when their own body furnishes one hundred and fifty pounds, as a "digging weight." In their line of business they are no fools.

2. Each arrow and spear of the Indians represents hours of patient labor, and any one acquainted with them knows how averse they are to expending them upon any mark other than game, much less upon rocks. One of these stones, now in my possession, has the eye-hole much out of the center, and who can determine the line that hole would describe when the stone is rolled along on the ground? Further, the Diggers were and are averse to any games that do not allow them to sit lovingly and lazily upon the bosom of Mother Earth.

3. Pipes and pestles are the only "cylindrical objects" I know of among the Indians, and none of these are small enough to go through the eye-hole. It shows no evidence of having been used as a die; and those objects show no evidence of having been made by a die.

Now, as to their real uses. The specimen of which I send you an outline is a fair sample of most of them. Weight, four and a half pounds. The eye-hole is countersunk on both sides, coming to an edge in the center, but more sloping on the right, fitting the thumb of the right hand, whichever side was grasped, as both sides are very nearly alike.

1. Indians tell me that they were used for pounding acorns and other nuts fine enough to be afterward ground on the metate for making bread.

2. They were used for heating water and cooking in baskets; a stick run through the eye-hole of the hot stone prevents it from sinking to the bottom and burning a hole through the basket. I once saw the Indians cooking in a basket, but not with these stones. The basket stands near the fire, and with half a dozen hot stones constantly being changed they will have the water boiling much quicker than it can be done on a stove.

The above information I get from the Indians, and it accords with the probabilities and other evidences.

I inclose an outline of another stone which for a long time puzzled me. It is a flat cog-wheel one and a half inch thick. Four of them were plowed up in an Indian camp, the only ones I ever saw. An old Indian the other day instantly placed the palm of his hand flatly over the disk, and, with his fingers among the cogs, made motions as with a hammer, and said it was used for cracking piñones. The piñone is the nut of a certain pine-tree, of which the Indians used to gather large quantities for winter use. Yours truly,

Franklin Cogswell.
Pomona, Los Angeles Co, Cal.,
August 14, 1888


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In looking over back numbers of "The Popular Science Monthly," an article in the issue for June, 1886, entitled "What may Animals be taught?" attracted attention. In the early part of the paper an instance of animal intelligence is quoted, and remarks thereon made by the author which, to the thinking of many, rob our "inferior brethren" of credit justly their due, and of faculties evidently their own. The instance is as follows: "M. Dubuc speaks of a pointer which had learned, after a few years, that its master went hunting every Sunday, and therefore that the animal had learned to count up to seven." The author of the article says: "This conclusion is not legitimate; it may even be said to be wrong. The dog distinguished Sunday by some features peculiar to it, by the movements about the house, the behavior and Sunday dress of the servants, the dress of the master, or any one or more of a number of things that make Sunday different from other days of the week; but we may say without contradiction that it did not count seven."

Nevertheless, facts do, to all appearance, contradict that dogmatic assertion. For myself, I can not see why the conclusion is denied that animals, as they come to apprehend the advent of Sunday, have some way of keeping count of the seven days of the week. The following fact bears directly upon that point: Something like half a century ago, the writer had the care and milking of five cows during one summer. They grazed in a pasture-lot many rods from the dwelling. It was the custom to give the animals salt every Sunday morning. They enjoyed the treat, and it was evident that they began to expect it. After a length of time—I can not say how long—a curious behavior of the cattle became conspicuous, for every Sunday morning they were found standing at the bars, the point nearest the house, with every appearance of mute expectation. At every other morning, as well as at evening, they had to be sought and brought to the bars for milking. Sometimes I would forget to take the salt with me at the stated time, when, instead of moving off to feed after my task was done, as they usually did, they remained about the spot an hour or so, as if waiting for their weekly rations of salt.

Here, then, is the problem: Every Sunday morning these cows came of their own option to the place of milking, and where on that day they generally got salt, and not on other mornings. How could they do that, except through some faculty of estimating the seven days of the week? If "the dog distinguished Sunday by some features that were peculiar to it," we can not say the same of the cows in question. They were isolated from the outer world, away from any thoroughfare, and saw no one but myself from one week to another and from one month to another. So far as we can judge, one day was like all days excepting Sunday, which they might have called salt-day, had they possessed the faculty of speech. How did they note that cycle of time, to be there on that morning and not on any other morning?

A. S. Hudson, M. D.
Stockton, Cal., September 1, 1888.

  1. "Popular Science Monthly" for August, p. 569.