Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/October 1874/Editor's Table
THE American Association for the Advancement of Science held its twenty-third meeting at Hartford, in August, under the presidency of Dr. Le Conte, with a very good attendance. The address of the retiring president, Prof. Lovering, was an elaborate and able document, devoted to the discussion of prominent questions in modern physics; and a large number of miscellaneous papers, of the usual interest, were contributed to the proceedings. But while the Hartford meeting was one of average interest, in respect of the amount and quality of its scientific work, it was especially important in relation to the history of the domestic management of the Association. The constitution was revised, and the revision had reference to old and radical difficulties in the organization. As the American Association is the leading representative of the interests of American science, and as there is not a little misapprehension on the part of the public regarding its aims and policy, it will be desirable to give a brief account of its origin and character, that the import of the recent changes may be made intelligible.
The usefulness of organizations for the promotion of scientific objects is nowhere questioned. It is indispensable that scientific men should associate in order to carry on their work, and societies devoted to scientific objects, general and special, have accordingly sprung up within the last two centuries in all the leading civilized nations. The astronomers, the botanists, the geologists, the zoologists, the chemists, have all had their societies for the promotion, of research and the extension of knowledge in their respective departments, while other institutions have aimed at the same ends by more comprehensive plans of organization. These associations naturally confined their membership to the cultivators of special original research in their several departments. But, with the rapid growth of science in later years, with the multiplication of its interests and the recognition of their powerful bearing upon public welfare, it began to be seen that the old organizations were inadequate to the general wants, and that new associations must be called into existence better adapted to meet them. One of the earliest expressions of this tendency was seen in the formation of the "British Association for the Advancement of Science," which was established in 1831, and held its first meeting at York, under the presidency of Earl Fitzwilliam, F.R.S. It was to be of a migratory character, holding its annual sessions in different towns; and it admitted to membership all who attended the first meeting, and in general all members of scientific societies, scientific professors, and those devoting themselves in any way to the promotion of scientific objects. There was obviously no intention that membership of the British Association was to be used or construed in the way of valuable indorsement of scientific position. The objects to be attained were general, and by no means the least of them was to act upon the public mind in such a way as to awaken a taste for scientific pursuits, to diffuse information, and incite an increasing interest in scientific matters. The aim of the organization was thus stated in the constitution: "The Association contemplates no interference with the ground occupied by other institutions. Its objects are—to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific inquiry; to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the British Empire, with one another, and with foreign philosophers; to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science, and the removal of any disadvantages of a public kind which impede its progress."
Two classes of institutions for the promotion of science, having the same general object, but working by different methods, were thus in operation in Europe when the question arose of forming a scientific association in this country. But the circumstances were so different here as to occasion perplexity at the outset in regard to its plan. In England, France, and Germany, there are old institutions of high character, like the Royal Society, the French Academy, and the leading universities, which carry out a stringent system of discriminations in regard to the claims and position of scientific men, and whose honors are so difficult of attainment that they become passports of character throughout the world. There were no such venerated and authoritative establishments in this country; and, when it was contemplated to enter upon the organization of a prominent and permanent society for the promotion of science, there were grave apprehensions that, in the absence of established tests, such a body would be inundated with inferior and incompetent men who would degrade its standards, impede its true work, and, perhaps, pervert it to unworthy objects.
The Association of American Geologists and Naturalists was established about 1840, ten years after the British Association. The geological surveys undertaken by the different States rendered meetings of those engaged in them very necessary, for comparisons, discussions, systematic effort, and the attempt at some common basis of geological classification. Very naturally it was a society of working men—of actual investigators—and aimed at objects which belonged to the province of original inquiry. In 1848 this society was reconstructed, and merged in a new organization called the American Association for the Advancement of Science, its first meeting being held in Philadelphia, under the presidency of William C, Redfield, Esq. In this change the original society was widened in its scope, and conformed to the general plan of the British Association. Its objects are thus stated in the constitution: "The objects of the Association are, by periodical and migratory meetings, to promote intercourse between those who are cultivating science in different parts of the United States; to give a stronger and more general impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific research in our country; and to procure for the labors of scientific men increased facilities and a wider usefulness."
In comparing the statements of the objects of the two Associations, it will be seen that they are in certain respects identical, the English phraseology being adopted by the founders of the American Association to indicate its purposes. But the American organization, in the presentation of its objects, omitted an essential feature of the English, confining itself quite strictly to the promotion of the interests of scientific men as investigators, and omitting the English phrase, "to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science, and a removal of any disadvantages of a public kind which impede its progress." In a land preëminently of popular institutions, the new organization was less popular, in aim and spirit, than its foreign prototype—an anomaly which finds its explanation, as we have seen, in the circumstances under which American scientific men were laboring.
How early this feeling was entertained, and how serious were the apprehensions to which it gave rise, are well attested by the following passage from the address of Prof Bache before the Association at Albany in 1851. No man could speak with more authority, as he was among its founders, and presided over its third, fourth, and fifth meetings. He said: "When the effort was first made to establish a general American Association for the Promotion of Science, it is certain that it met with considerable opposition. There were various reasons for this. From close communication with many who are now active members of the Association, I know why this fear prevailed over their hopes of the usefulness of such an institution. The opposition came not more from those who were habitually conservative, than from those who, being earnest in regard to the progress of science, are usually in favor of all progressive measures. It proceeded from no under-estimate of the strength which there was among the cultivators of science. Some of us had studied the workings of the British Association, and had been convinced of the absolute necessity for the attendance there from year to year of the men of the universities, to give tone to the proceedings, and were alarmed, perhaps, at the forays into the domains of science, which had there been witnessed in some of the less powerful sections, and even into the park of Section A itself. So far from having been trained in the same schools, we scarcely knew each other personally. How could we irregulars venture into conflict, when the files to our right and to our left were strangers to us, and when the cause might thus have suffered from the want of discipline of its volunteer support?"
The difficulties thus anticipated made their appearance. It may be not quite just to say that they were provided for, but a course was pursued which could hardly fail to bring them on. The American Association for the Advancement of Science was organized on the general plan of the British Association; its meetings were to be held in different places, as if to create a public interest in science; the membership was made easily accessible, and the form of proceedings was the same. But while the British Association has had in it a strong popular element, which has been regarded as perfectly legitimate, while it has aimed to awaken sympathy for science, and arouse an interest in it on the part of the people, by providing addresses to be delivered during its meetings to popular audiences, by including a wide range of subjects of public moment in its sectional discussions, and by giving earnest attention to the general subject of scientific education, all these things have been studiously avoided by the American Association, which has constantly maintained that its function is the creation of science and not its diffusion or popularization. Its title has misled the public from the beginning. It is not an Association for the Advancement of Science, in the full or comprehensive sense of the expression, or as interpreted by the institution which first adopted it. Had it chosen a title which accurately described its character, such as "An Association for the Promotion of Science by Original Research," misunderstandings would have been avoided, and the difficulties feared at the outset might have been escaped. There would then have been a distinctive basis of membership; nobody would have been admitted that had not done something in the way of actual research, and the work of these would not have been embarrassed and impeded by the interference of outsiders. But in the actual working of the institution these difficulties have arisen. A portion of the membership, who claim to be the investigators for which the Association was established, complained that their proceedings have been hampered and overborne by the influx of scientific nobodies; and the said nobodies have complained that the concern was managed by a self-constituted and exclusive ring, who have spent as much time in admiring each other as in their proper work, and have used the Association for the advancement of their personal objects and interests.
Dissatisfied with the results of this organization, several of its founders and most prominent members drew off in 1863 and organized the National Academy of Sciences. Its plan was an imitation of the French Academy; it allied itself to the General Government by which it was incorporated, and was limited to fifty members, with whom was the power of filling any vacancies that might arise. Here at last was an American institution sufficiently exclusive for the most exacting, and which could not be meddled with by the crowd of charlatans and incompetents without. It would seem that this arrangement, by giving original investigators a field of their own, ought to have met the difficulty and opened the way to the management of the original Association in a more liberal spirit. It is hardly too much to have expected that, when the National Academy had been organized on a basis which gave the most perfect protection to original investigators, and thus removed a serious American difficulty, the American Association might have widened its scope and placed itself upon the broad ground occupied by the British Association. But such has not been the effect. Instead of extending its scope and laboring to increase its general influence, the new constitution just adopted holds to the original aim of the Association, and concedes nothing to the growing popular demand for scientific guidance and enlightenment. Its main concernment seems to be still about scientific dignity, and it has actually entered upon the funny experiment of creating distinctions and distributing honors among its members. The old and troublesome question, "Who shall be greatest?" still vexes the souls of the managing magnates, who have solved it by the ingenious procedure of creating an order of "fellows." We have characterized this proceeding as funny, but if the bare fact be held as insufficient to justify such a characterization, then we have the further circumstance that the whole rabble of the membership are allowed to become "fellows" by the extra payment of two dollars apiece, which we think is certainly a very puerile piece of business.
We have very great respect for this Association, and believe that, notwithstanding its limitations, it has been productive of much good in this country. We have attended many of its meetings for the past twenty years, and found them instructive and profitable, while the past history of the organization affords ground of hope that it will be productive of still greater good in the future. But we believe that it would have been still more useful if it had been dominated by a broader spirit, and that as the interests of science are widening and deepening, and coming to be more generally recognized, it will be still more necessary in the future that the American Association for the Advancement of Science shall take them into earnest and systematic account.
It was an important step in the progress of knowledge when the bodily constitution of man began to be studied in the light of its relations to the inferior, orders of life, and it promises to be a no less important step when the human mind is also so regarded. The study of mental manifestations in inferior creatures is becoming a systematic branch of inquiry, and the observers in this field are beginning to apply their method in the human sphere. We do not say that they have a new psychology, or claim to have arrived at any remarkable results; it is only noteworthy that those who have been engaged in discriminating among the mental likenesses and differences of horses, dogs, pigs, and parrots, are attracted to similar observations upon the young of the different races of men.
Dr. W. Lauder Lindsay, a physician in charge of a Scotch lunatic asylum, but who has long been a special student of the subject of mind in animals, has sent a brief communication to Nature, giving the results of some experiments upon the mental capacities of children of different racial descent. The observations were made by Monsieur J. C. Houzeau, also a comparative psychologist, and author of "Studies on the Mental Faculties of Animals compared with those of Man." The observations were made in Jamaica, upon children inhabiting that island, and M. Houzeau states his experiments and conclusions as follows, in a letter to Dr. Lindsay:
Experiments upon so small a scale, and continuing for so short a time, must, of course, be inconclusive, for, as Dr. Lindsay remarks, "at or up to a certain age, girls are as sharp as or sharper than boys at lesson learning and repeating. Cases are constantly being recorded—perhaps paraded—in the newspapers of girls or young women beating boys or young men of equal age in competitive examination, and yet it is not to be inferred that the female mind is either superior or equal to the male, that is, in a comparison of averages. For the fact is, that, throughout the animal series, including man, the female mind, is, in some respects, different from, and inferior to, that of the male. We know, moreover, that female superiority, when it exists, is usually at least confined to school-life. In subsequent intellectual development proper, man, as a rule, far surpasses woman."
But, while M. Houzeau's observations were quite too restricted to form a basis of useful conclusions respecting the educability and intellectual capacity of the children belonging to different races, there is great significance in his final conclusion regarding the potency of home influences. This is no new truth, but it is a truth of transcendent importance, too much neglected, and its confirmation under such peculiar circumstances is noteworthy. That the medium in which the child is habitually immersed, and by which it is continually and unconsciously impressed, should have much greater value in the formation of mental character than the mere lesson-learning experiences of the school, and should, in fact, determine the efficiency of the school-agencies themselves, is simply inevitable. Whether a child has the advantages of a quickening home, or is the victim of a stupefying home, is of far more moment than the quality of the school it attends. Home education is, after all, the great fact, whether it awakens or whether it quenches the young minds exposed to it, and it becomes a momentous question whether our exaggerated estimate and desperate cultivation of schoolhouses and public education are not at the expense of the far more important domestic influences by which the characters of children are formed. For we are learning every day that, as this world is constituted, one thing is at the expense of another. If parents believe that the school is all in all, and can do every thing for their children, such are the pressures and strains of social life that they will evade and neglect their own responsibilities. Their children will be committed to stupid and vicious servants, hustled out of the way, turned into the street, or left to themselves; and no pains will be taken to make the home medium one of elevation, stimulation, and improving to the mental characters of their offspring. Where men are exhausted in business, and women are exhausted by society, and there is blind faith in teachers and school-rooms, we may be pretty sure that but little will be done to shape and conduct the home with reference to the higher mental needs of the children who live in it. There are, no doubt, noble examples of parents who appreciate schools and strive to do their corresponding part of the work of exalting and enriching the intellectual life of those committed to their charge; but such cases are lamentably few, and there is reason to fear that, with the increasing faith in public appliances of culture, their proportion will not increase very rapidly.
We publish in full the masterly inaugural address delivered August 19th, before the British Association at Belfast, by Prof. Tyndall, its President, for the present year. No scientific paper ever before published has produced so extensive and profound an impression as this. The eminent ability of the speaker, the dignity of the occasion, the confessed importance of the subject, and the eloquence and power of the statement, have all concurred to this result; but it has also been greatly due to that rapid diffusion of information upon the general question which has taken place within the last few years, and to the ripening of public judgment that has followed. In regard to this, Prof. Tyndall has calculated with great sagacity. Could the question have been submitted to the intelligent classes as to the propriety of such an experiment, probably nine out of ten would have condemned its folly and predicted its failure. Yet the address has actually been received with a unanimity of commendation that has fairly bewildered those who make it a business to study the drifts and currents of public sentiment. Some of the leading organs of public opinion, however, still affect to think that Prof. Tyndall has made a mistake, and that to spring upon the public mind this hitherto obnoxious discussion, under such peculiar circumstances, was in a high degree unwise, injudicious, and impolitic.
For example, the Saturday Review, while according to Prof. Tyndall's address much qualified praise, is still dissatisfied and captious, and objects to it as follows: "We confess that we were surprised that the President so wholly abandoned himself to elaborating one idea, and that one so distasteful to a large portion of those interested in science.... He has more than once, it is true, incurred great odium by the outspoken way in which he has declared his opinions, and he has been pronounced rash for so doing; . . . we do not see why those who are not framed for special researches, but rather for being spokesmen of science, should bring odium upon it by trumpeting forth on occasions like these such of their beliefs as are most controverted even among themselves, and are most objected to by a large part of the outside world." And, speaking of his selection of a subject, the Review concludes that "while we fully appreciate the honesty of his motive which led to the choice, we much doubt its wisdom." The New York Tribune is even more decisively of the same opinion. It declared that "every sensible man will deeply regret that the address was ever delivered;" and, in a subsequent editorial, it reaffirms the judgment, "regarding Prof. Tyndall's demonstration as utterly unwise and unnecessary."
The question here raised is, by what kind of motives ought a man to be governed who has a great public duty to discharge as the representative of a body devoted to the advancement of scientific thought? Shall he meet his responsibilities like a man, or shrink from them like a coward? Shall he speak with honest fearlessness, or with a calculating caution? It is admitted on aU hands that Prof. Tyndall chose the former alternative, and that his address was bold and courageous. This means, if it means any thing, that there was resistance to be overcome, and that it was so great as to call for the highest qualities of character to overcome it. There were ignorance, prejudice, narrowness, misunderstanding, and intolerance, in regard to a grave subject that had grown up in the world of science. A great opportunity came to him to treat this question as science treats all questions, to place it in a new light, and fix the world's attention more closely upon it. He might have taken counsel of prudence and timidity, and refrained from stirring up the disagreeable elements of hostility to an unpopular doctrine. But, pray, what are the circumstances in which the bold and courageous utterance of unacceptable opinions is to be ever justified? Can it be denied that the problems taken up by Prof. Tyndall are of transcendent importance, and are universally so regarded? And, if they were legitimate to discuss at all, what reason can be given for not treating them with the utmost thoroughness? Prof. Tyndall might, no doubt, have shirked the subject, to the comfort of many, and taken up some commonplace topic that would have disturbed the certain departments of thought where there are facts and phenomena to be known, and knowledge is to be extended, they are denounced as impious intruders; and we can no more say that the mind is free in its action when loaded with execration for taking this or that course, than we can say that the body is free in its movements when loaded with chains. Prof. Tyndall came to this country to lecture upon physics. He stuck strictly to his text, and raised no questions in regard to the scope of scientific inquiries. But he was not let alone. At the banquet he received before leaving us, he was lectured upon the subject of the limits of science, and in the name of religion was bidden to keep in his place, and not attempt to solve the great questions of the origin and end of the world by running his head into the mud of mere physical speculation. Those things, he was told, are not for science, but belong to philosophy and revelation. The fundamental question of the Inaugural Address was thus here publicly thrust upon him from the religious side, and he was instructed what it was proper and what it was not proper for him to do as a scientific inquirer. Both the wisdom of the instructions and the propriety of giving them were extensively indorsed by the press of the country. Prof. Tyndall was, therefore, not let alone, and left free to pursue his course as a scientific man, but his course was dictated to him by the party that does not make science its business. His critics now have their reply, and we hope it is satisfactory. That he has not minced matters, but has met the issue manfully and squarely, we think is to the credit of the side he represents.of nobody. But there are plenty of men to rehearse the platitudes of science on occasions like this; and when one appears with the power of stirring the intellectual world to its depths, by the commanding treatment of a great theme, if he makes the utmost use of his opportunity, we see no reason for deploring it. More than this, he has no option in the matter; he is bound to be up to the utmost requirements of his duties and responsibilities. We offer no excuse for Prof. Tyndall, in taking the course he did—it would be an impertinence. He was forced by an obligation of honor to use his best powers for the advancement of the broad objects of the Association over which he presided; and his use of the occasion to vindicate the rights of scientific inquiry was the noblest service that he could perform. It has been said that his argument is superfluous, and that science has already the fullest liberty of investigation. It is true that the laboratories are not disturbed by the police; it is true that investigators are at liberty to publish their proceedings; but it is not true that the advance of science is without impediments and restrictions, nor is it true that men of science are left in perfect freedom to push their investigations undisturbed, to the utmost boundaries of knowledge. If they pass into
In wholesome contrast to the time-serving lamentations above quoted, we give some passages from an editorial in Church and State, a religious newspaper, which shows a heartier appreciation of Prof. Tyndall's work: