Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/November 1896/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

Notes from the American Association.—The attendance at the Buffalo meeting of the American Association—three hundred and thirty—was the smallest in its recent history. A curve with very marked indentations published in Science shows that the attendance on the meetings has steadily decreased since it reached its maximum in 1880 to 1884. The curve further shows that it was very much greater when the association met in the larger Eastern cities—Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, and Brooklyn—though declining in them too, than in the cities farther west. Among the resolutions passed by the association were, one urging upon Congress the desirability of further legislation looking to the early adoption of the metric system; one authorizing the construction of authentic standards of electrical measurement, to be the property of the association; a resolution approving the proposition to create the office of Director-in-Chief of Scientific Bureaus and Investigations in the Department of Agriculture, "to be filled by a broadly educated and experienced scientific man, provided that such appointment shall be made only on the nomination of the National Academy of Science, the legally constituted adviser of the Government in matters relating to science"; and a protest to Congress against legislation on vivisection. In this protest the association declared that experiments on animals "have effected a saving of many millions of dollars in animal property, and are the basis of our knowledge of hygiene and preventive medicine, and, in part, of surgery"; and affirmed that, "while deprecating cruelty and needless vivisection experiments in the public schools, this association believes that those who are trained to biological research are the ones who are best able to decide as to the wisdom and utility of animal experimentation." A committee was appointed to consider the matter of instituting a study of the white race in America. Grants were made of one hundred dollars for a table at the Biological Laboratory at Wood's Hole, Mass.; fifty dollars to Francis E. Phillips for investigations on the properties of natural gas; and fifty dollars to L. A. Bauer for investigations on terrestrial magnetism in connection with the magnetic survey of Maryland. A happy adjustment was suggested, and partly carried out in the case of one of them, of the relations of the special societies to the association, under which, after the formal meeting of the special society, the papers contributed by members shall be held over to be read in the meetings of the association. The societies, by following this plan, may be made to contribute to the strength of the association and to the interest of its meetings.


New Elected Officers of the American Association.—The following are the officers elect for the next meeting (Detroit, 1897) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: President: Wolcott Gibbs, of Newport, R. I. Vice-Presidents: (A) Mathematics and Astronomy, W. W. Beman, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; (B) Physics, Carl Barus, of Providence, R. I.; (C) Chemistry, W. P. Mason, of Troy, N. Y.; (D) Mechanical Science and Engineering, John Galbraith, of Toronto, Canada; (E) Geology and Geography, I. C. White, of Morgantown, W. Va.; (F) Zoölogy, G. Brown Goode,[1] of Washington, D. C.; (G) Botany, George F. Atkinson, of Ithaca, N. Y.; (H) Anthropology, W. J. McGee, of Washington, D. C.; (I) Social and Economic Science, Richard T. Colburn, of Elizabeth, N. J. Permanent Secretary: F, W. Putnam, of Cambridge, Mass. (office, Salem, Mass.). General Secretary: Asaph Ball, Jr., of Ann Arbor, Mich. Secretary of the Council: D. S. Kellicott, of Columbus, Ohio. Secretaries of the Sections: (A) Mathematics and Astronomy, James McMahon, of Ithaca, N. Y.; (B) Physics, Frederick Bedell, of Ithaca, N. Y.; (C) Chemistry, P. C. Freer, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; (D) Mechanical Science and Engineering, John J. Flather, of Lafayette, Ind.; (E) Geology and Geography, C. H. Smyth, Jr., of Clinton, N. Y.; (F) Zoölogy, C. C. Nutting, of Iowa City, Iowa; (G) Botany, F. C. Newcombe, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; (H) Anthropology, Harlan I. Smith, of New York, N. Y.; (I) Social and Economic Science, Archibald Blue, of Toronto, Canada. Treasurer: R. S. Woodward, of New York, N. Y.


The President's Address at the British Association.—The opening session of the Liverpool meeting of the British Association, September 16th, was witnessed by about three thousand persons. Sir Douglas Galton, the retiring president, in introducing the new president. Sir Joseph Lister, spoke of the occasion as marking the termination of his own services to the association which, as general secretary and finally as president, had extended over a quarter of a century. The presidency of Sir Joseph Lister, who is also President of the Royal Society, offers the first case in which a surgeon has held this position in the body solely in virtue of his professional attainments. It may well be so, for those attainments, as Sir Douglas Galton observed, "have been mainly devoted to mitigate suffering, and have revolutionized the surgeon's art"; and an English journal is moved to declare him" one of the greatest, if not the greatest, benefactor mankind has ever had." The new president's address was devoted to the illustration of the Interdependence of Science and the Healing Art, and began with an estimation of the value of the aid the Röntgen rays may render to the surgeon and physiologist. The fact that this is the jubilee of anaesthesia in surgery brought that subject properly forward. Next, the speaker referred to the researches of Pasteur on fermentation and his disproval of spontaneous generation as leading up to his own application of aseptic surgery, the development and ultimate method of which he described briefly and with remarkable clearness. The work of Robert Koch, Pasteur's attenuated virus and artificial immunity, the centenary of vaccination and Pasteur's application of the principle in rabies, Behring and Kitasato's antitoxic serum and its use in diphtheria, and Metchnikoff's investigations of the phagocytes, or white corpuscles, and their power to counteract infection were presented as specimens, culled from a wide field, of what the art of healing has borrowed from science and contributed to it.


The Sectional Addresses in the British Association.—In the sectional meetings of the British Association, Prof. J. J. Thomson, in Section A, made The Teaching of Physics the subject of his presidential address; Dr. Ludwig Mond, in the Section of Chemistry, reviewed the History of the Manufacture of Chlorine, with especial reference to the influence which the progress of pure science has had upon its development and simplification; Mr. J. E. Marr, of Cambridge, in Section C, spoke of Stratigraphical Geology and the effect which the work done upon the subject has had upon our knowledge of geology considered as a whole; Prof. E. B. Poulton, in the Section of Zoölogy, discussed the difficulties which arise from both the physical and the biological points of view in considering the subject of organic evolution, and inquired whether the present state of paleontological and zoölogical knowledge increases or diminishes those difficulties; Major Leonard Darwin, of the Royal Geographical Society, described what has been done for railway construction in Africa and what remains to be done if the continent is to be opened up, and sought to indicate the relation of the proposed railway routes to the main physical features of the countries they are to traverse; Mr. Leonard Courtney, M. P., in the Section of Economic Science and Statistics, presented a qualified defense of individualism as opposed to the principles of collectivism; Sir Douglas rox,in the Section of Mechanics, sketched the progress that had been accomplished in the several departments of civil and mechanical engineering during the quarter of a century since the association last met in Liverpool; Mr. Arthur J. Evans, in the Section of Anthropology, dealt with the Origins of Mediterranean and European Civilization, supporting the "Eurafrican" theory in contradistinction to the Aryan theory; Dr. G. H. Scott, in the Botanical Section, presented an Exposition of the Scope and Functions of Modern Morphological Botany.


The Tree-Emblem of the Sioux.—In a paper on The Emblematic Use of the Tree in the Dacotan Group, read as a vice-presidential address before the Anthropological Section of the American Association, Miss Alice C. Fletcher, after showing how the religions of the Indians probably began with the utterances of a seer, which, passing from mouth to mouth, gradually developed into ceremonials with their rites, spoke of the thunder as the universally accepted manifestation of Wa-kan-da, the mysterious power permeating life. This idea was connected with the thunder birds, and they lived in cedar trees. The pole of the cedar tree therefore became an emblem of the highest value, so that the ceremonies of the sacred pole were of the greatest importance. The development of this idea slowly through many years is a most interesting part of the story of the Dacotans.


Rainfall and the Forms of Leaves.—Observations made by Stahl at Buitenzorg, Java, and recorded in his book on Rainfall and the Forms of Leaves, establish the fact that the points and indentations of leaves are elongated and made more slender by the action of rain; that leaves under its influence tend to assume a vertical position; that the nerves are modified into little channels through which water can flow easily; and that the arrangement of the down on leaves and stems contributes to the scattering of the drops. Other observers, Lundstrom and Wille, for example, had already pointed out some of these facts, but Stahl's work presents new points of view and contains very instructive details. The morphological peculiarities described are explained by Stahl as results of the necessity of relieving the leaves from their load of moisture, of turning the water to the roots and freeing the tops of the plants from it, of freeing the leaves from epiphytic algæ, fungi, and lichens, and of drying their surfaces rapidly, thereby making transpiration more easy. The distinctive feature of leaves exposed to seasons of rain is the elongation of their points, and this form appertains not to tropical plants only, but also to those which grow on the beach and receive the spray from the sea, to plants on high mountains and elevated plateaus which are wet by heavy dews, and to plants of the temperate zones growing where the precipitation is considerable. New and interesting observations on this subject are contained in a work recently published by Jungner. Some of the most original of them relate to the influence exercised by the spray of waterfalls on the plants that grow in the gorges, below or by the side of the falls. Plants situated thus are styled in German Träufelspitzen, or drip-pointed. In the leaves exposed to the spray, their usual down, which would tend to retain the moisture for some time, disappears from the leaves; and the grouping of the leaves on the stems is observed to be favorable to the passing away of the water. These effects may be produced experimentally; and it is possible, in greenhouses, to modify the shape of leaves by exposing them constantly to a fall of water or to spray. Jungner's experiments all tend to the support of the modern ideas concerning adaptation. These conclusions were reviewed in papers read at the recent meeting of the American Association by Prof. D. T. McDougal.


Meteorology and Sacrilege.—A recent debate in the Volksraad, at Johannesburg, on the subject of artificial rain-making has some scientific interest for the psychologist. The report is as follows: "The debate on the memorials from Krugersdorp requesting the Rand to pass an act to prevent charges of dynamite being fired into the clouds for rain was continued. Mr. A. D. Wohnaraus spoke in favor of his proposal, and denounced the action of certain persons in Johannesburg as invoking the wrath of God. Mr. Birkenstock said there was nothing irreligious or sacrilegious in these experiments; they were purely scientific experiments. The chairman said it was a monstrous thing to shoot into the clouds; it was nothing less than defiance of the Almighty; it should be made a criminal offense. Mr. Labuschagne was of the opinion that the offenders should be imprisoned. After a further discussion it was resolved, by fifteen to ten votes, to instruct the Government to draft a law to prevent such things happening in future, and submit it this session."


A Cambodian Lesson in Anatomy.—M. Adhémard Leclère, in his examinations of Cambodian schools, came upon a retired scholar-bonze who continued to teach in his rural retreat. He was giving lessons on anatomy to six students of a religious vocation, describing the bones of the human body. He said: "There is a bone in the tongue, which you do not know of, which you have never seen, but which nevertheless exists, for I have seen it. The most surprising thing about it is that it is isolated, and not attached to any other bone. It is all alone." The teacher had given a lesson on the Pali language the day before, and the day before that on the world as described in the sacred books, and also according to what he had heard from Europeans concerning it. "He showed me," says M. Leclère, "on his blackened tablet, a map of the world which he had drawn according to the best of his knowledge. I had some difficulty in recognizing France among all the round marks he had drawn, for it was larger than India, surrounded by water on all sides, and placed northwest of the Himalaya Mountains. 'My map,' he said, 'is not like the map in the sacred books, but it is true all the same.' I did not dare tell him, before his pupils, that it was not like our maps; so I asked him to go on with his lecture, and said I was very glad to be present. The students, each with his palm-leaf tablet and his iron-pointed stylus, listened quietly and respectfully, writing down the names of the bones as he mentioned them. 'The bones of the back are boxed into one another like the bones of a snake or of a fish; if there was only one bone, you would not be able to bend yourself gracefully, or to bend back, or to round your back or to turn yourself. At the slightest shock the bone would break, and you would not be able to carry anything heavy. If the bones of the back were imperfectly boxed, they would not roll upon one another, or else they would roll too much; and your body would be too stiff or too supple, and you would not be able to carry anything heavy.' While he was speaking thus I was looking at him. His body was bare; his long, bald head was slightly inclined toward his hearers, and his bright eyes had an expression befitting an old professor seeking to be correctly understood. He spoke slowly, pronouncing distinctly, and in dignified language; and his six students looked at him attentively, trying their best to understand all he said."


Wire-Glass.—Some instructive tests of wire-glass as a protection against fire were recently made by the Philadelphia Fire Underwriters' Association. Wire-glass consists of a more or less open meshwork of wire imbedded in glass plates in such a manner, it is claimed, that—under conditions where, unsupported by the wire network, the glass would speedily be shivered, and of no use in retarding the fire—the wire-glass interposes a barrier which, even when heated to incandescence and then drenched with cold water, still retains its effectiveness. A brick test house, about three feet by four feet, inside measurement, and nine feet high, was constructed. In one side of this structure a wire-glass window was fastened in a wooden frame covered with lock-jointed tin. In another side a Philadelphia standard fire door was hung. The upper part of this door had a pane of wire-glass, eighteen by twenty-four inches, set into a wood, metal-covered frame. The entire roof of the test house was replaced by a skylight. One side of this skylight was provided with three lights of a quarter-inch ordinary rough glass; the other side with three lights of a quarter-inch wire-glass. In order to make the test as severe as possible, iron grate bars were placed in the bottom of the test house, and openings were left in the wall near the ground for the purpose of free draught. The house was filled two thirds full of wood, liberally treated with coal oil and resin. In a few moments after the fire was started the ordinary rough glass began to crack and fall into the fire. The wire-glass in the fire door soon became red hot, so that a piece of paper held against it on the outside was easily ignited. The three plates of wire-glass in the skylight, subjected to the entire heat of the fire, also became red hot, but retained their position throughout the test. At the end of thirty minutes water was thrown on the fire and glass. After the fire was extinguished the three plates of glass in the skylight were found to be cracked into countless pieces, but still adhered together, forming one sheet. The window-light—which, as the result showed, was not properly secured to its frame—was found to be in the same condition as the skylight, excepting that a large crack had developed. The plate of glass in the fire door was cracked the same as the skylight, but, being well secured, it did not give way.


Constitutionality of Time Labor Laws.—The general trend of the decisions of courts, cited by Mr. S. D. N. North, in his paper on Factory Legislation in New England, concerning laws limiting the hours of labor, is against their validity. They are regarded as attempts to limit the constitutional right of freedom of contract. But some of the decisions are conflicting. The Illinois Supreme Court has decided that the effect of a law of this kind would be to deprive men of liberty and property. The Supreme Court of California declared an eight-hour ordinance of the city of Los Angeles simply an attempt to prevent certain parties from employing others in a lawful business and paying them for their services, and a direct infringement of the right of such persons to make and enforce their contracts. In Nebraska, an eight-hour law was held to be unconstitutional, as being special legislation, and as attempting to prevent persons legally competent from making their own contracts. In Illinois, an eight-hour law for women in clothing factories was declared to be unconstitutional because it interfered arbitrarily with the right to buy and sell labor. The mere fact of sex, the court held, would not justify the enactment of limiting legislation, unless there may appear "some fair, just, and reasonable connection between such limitation and the public health, safety, or welfare proposed to be secured by it." These facts are used by Mr. North as an argument against further attempts to limit the conditions of labor by legislation, lest the test of constitutionality should be pushed to the extent of overthrowing the restrictions we already have and accept as just.


Indians of the Paraguay Hirer.—An interesting account is given by an Italian artist, Cavaliere Guido Bozziani, of two Indian tribes dwelling on the Paraguay River, among whom he spent some time, whose civilizations are very different. The Chamacocos are a people of noble stature and fine appearance, wearing no clothing "except rough sandals of peccary skin when on the tramp and a profusion of feather ornaments and necklets of reeds, etc., on festive occasions," and excel in feather work, forming combinations of great beauty with the variously bright-colored plumage with which the region supplies them abundantly. They have, too, the singular taste of making much use of rattlesnakes' rattles for ornamental purposes, wearing them with feathers in diadems, armlets, and leglets, bunching them into pendants for earrings, and tying them on axes and clubs. During their dances they use as rattles small gourds containing stones and belts made of loosely strung carapaces of tortoises or the hoofs of stags. Their pottery is all hand-made and rude. Their weapons and implements are long-handled stone axes—quite singular plain—clubs, wooden spears, large bows for shooting arrows pointed with hard wood, and small bows with a double string, shooting clay bullets, and used for catching birds. The women make bags of netting, and hammocks. They have superstitions about their food, among which is the prohibition of deer flesh to the women, who have to satisfy themselves with birds and small game; and of the eggs of the South American ostrich to the children. The Caduveos, Mbaryas, or Guaycuru, are a warlike and agricultural people, with fixed residences, and have the art of weaving, excel in pottery, and execute designs of wonderful beauty and variety. These qualities are regarded by the author as real results of a logical study of the harmony and æsthetic combination of lines and figures, and not of accidental combinations. Ornamental designs are painted on their skins with the juice of a plant producing a blue-black color, which penetrates the epidermis a little way, and lasts six or seven days. It is applied by women, with small sticks, to the end of which tufts of cotton wool are sometimes tied. The effect of the painting is often heightened by adding powdered charcoal to the juice. The people wear their hair short and well combed and greased; file their upper incisor teeth to a point; practice depilation; are very cleanly, bathing often; and wear decorous clothing and tasteful ornaments.


A Humorous Elephant.—In illustration of the sense of the humorous in elephants, Meredith Nugent, in Our Animal Friends, tells a story of an elephant in the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris, that was kept in the same inclosure with a large hippopotamus, for whose comfort and amusement a great stone basin had been constructed and filled with water." It was quite early in the morning—before the hour for admitting the public to the garden when I noticed the elephant walking around on the stone edge of the basin curiously watching the hippopotamus, which was completely under water. I felt quite sure that the elephant was up to some prank, and I was not mistaken, for just as soon as the ears of the hippopotamus came into view the elephant quickly seized one of them with his trunk and gave it a sudden pull. The enraged hippopotamus lifted his ponderous head clear out of the water and snorted and blew, but every time he rose to take breath the elephant would recommence his antics. Around and around the great quadruped would go, keeping a sharp lookout for the little ears of the hippopotamus, which he would instantly seize the moment they appeared. His evident delight in teasing his huge neighbor was very comical, and there is no doubt that he thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, one day the keeper placed some food for the hippopotamus in the corner of the inclosure, and at once the animal began to leave the water to get it; but the elephant slowly ambled over to the same corner and, arriving there first, placed his four feet over the favorite food in such a way that the hippopotamus could not get at it, gently swayed his trunk back and forth, and acted altogether as though he were there accidentally, until the garden was thrown open to the public, and he went forward to receive the daily contributions of bread, cake, pie, etc., which were always offered him by his hosts of admirers."


The Future of Wood Engraving.—Notwithstanding the apparently almost universal supplanting of the old methods of engraving by process illustration, Mr. W. Biscombe Gardner affirms that wood engraving was never more alive as a fine art or in a higher state of perfection than it is at the present period;" and it is still capable, in the hands of right, good, earnest workers, of being lifted to a much higher position." Process may hold the advantage for work that has to be done in a rush, and for that in which cheapness rather than quality is sought, but "wood engraving as a reproductive fine art never can be touched and never will be touched by any process yet invented." It is even "far and away" above any of the higher fine-art processes "in its marvelous versatility of technique, which enables the engraver to translate not only the value but the very individual touch of each artist from whose picture he may be engraving. All processes dependent upon photography are bound to go wrong in the rendering of values, since photography has not yet been brought to such a state of perfection as to master the difficulties of exact color translation. In fact, photography is utterly inadequate in the most simple wash drawings in black and white." While it is admitted that a pen-and-ink drawing could hardly be better reproduced than by the best process, "nothing does or ever can compare with the work done through the sensitive medium of the eye and hand of man. In fact, I consider wood engraving far better than any or all the reproductive arts, as it stands quite alone in its wonderful adaptability, for any variety of texture one likes can be produced on the boxwood block. This can not be said for either etching, mezzotint, steel, or copper, each having its own methods, great as the masters have been who have worked upon one or the other of these materials. . . . The crowning advantage enjoyed by wood engraving, through which it obtains its immense superiority over all other methods, is that the engraver is enabled to work in both black and white line. . . . Nothing is out of the range of imitation possible to wood engraving. The differences of textures of flesh, silk, satin, cloth, wood, steel, glass, the grain of wood, marble, weather-worn stone, furs and skins of animals, atmospheric effects, foliage of all kinds—all these it can represent, and beyond everything it can render the differences between oil and water color, and can accurately transcribe the old master's work with all its cracks and blemishes from damp and shrinkage." The author looks forward to a great future for wood engraving as a fine art.


The Mescal Ceremony.—At a recent meeting of the Washington Chemical Society Mr. Mooney read an interesting paper on The Mescal Ceremony among the Indians. The mescal plant is a small variety of cactus native to the lower Rio Grande region and about the Pecos River, in eastern New Mexico. Its botanical name is Lophophora, or Anhalonium williamsii. It is grayish green, club-shaped, and without spines. There is another mescal plant, the maguey of Arizona, with which the New Mexico species should not be confounded. The local Mexican name for the plant is peyote, a corruption of the original Aztec name, from which it would seem that the plant and ceremony were known as far south as the valley of Mexico at a period antedating the Spanish conquest. Several related species are described by Lumholtz as being used with ceremonial rites among the tribes of the Sierra Madre. The dried tops when eaten produce such marked stimulating and medicinal results and such agreeable mental effects, without any injurious reaction, that the tribes of the region regard the plant as the vegetable incarnation of the Deity, and eat it at regular intervals with solemn religious ceremony of song, prayer, and ritual. The juice of the cactus has an intensely bitter taste, due to an alkaloid pellotine, which is present to the extent of 0·75 to 0·89 per cent. This alkaloid has recently been investigated by Dr. A. Heffter, of the University of Leipsic. Its composition is expressed by the following formula: C13H19NO3. It seems as a therapeutic agent to have two distinct actions. The first effect is narcotic in nature, owing to a paralysis of the brain; this stage is shortly followed by a tetanic condition, owing to the heightened irritability of the spinal cord. Thus pellotine falls into the pharmacological group with morphine. Prof. Jolly, of the Charité, in Berlin, has made clinical use of it as a narcotic in doses of 0·04 gramme.


Æsthetics in Engineering.—The address of Prof. Frank O. Martin, of the Section of Engineering of the American Association, on The Artistic Element in Engineering, was a plea for consulting beauty as well as utility in engineering construction. The engineer is not so bound by the mathematical traditions of his profession but that he has abundant opportunities to cultivate the æsthetical side. It is not true, as is often supposed at the first thought, that there is a conflict between the utilitarian and the artistic. While the mere application of money will not secure beauty, that feature may often be obtained without additional expenditure, or at most with one that is relatively trifling. As an example in which beauty had considerable influence in matters where it seemed little concerned, Prof. Marvin mentioned an engine room which had been elegantly fitted up, with the result that the engine fell under closer and more minute inspection than it could receive in the ordinary dark room, and was more carefully attended to—and that meant more economy for the owner. Our railroad companies find it advantageous to beautify their stations and cultivate their embankments. The engineer may find a wide field in beautifying municipalities and all public works on which he may be engaged.


An India-Rubber Famine.—The world's consumption of India rubber has been increasing so enormously during the past few years that the time does not seem to be far distant when the demand will greatly exceed the supply. The bicycle is of course responsible for a large part of this increase, and, as the pneumatic tire is becoming more of a necessity every day for all city vehicles, there promises to be a still greater demand hereafter. It is stated that only within the last year has there been any attempt to regulate the gathering of caoutchouc and to stop the wanton destruction of the tree, which it seems is usually cut down, so as to facilitate the collecting of the sap. This puts an end to the productiveness of whole districts every year, and, as it has been found that by properly made incisions about two pounds of rubber can be gathered from each tree annually, without in any way interfering with its growth or life, vigorous attempts are called for, and it is stated are being made, to regulate the treatment of the trees. Owing to the danger of a rubber famine, several chemists in both France and Germany have been working on methods for the artificial production of India rubber, and several new processes have already been announced. Attention has also been turned to the balata, a South American tree. This balata rubber, while not so good for insulation and other purposes as caoutchouc, is yet specially adapted for a great many uses, such as machinery belting, mackintoshes, surgical appliances, etc., and British Guiana has developed quite an export trade in it, the annual quantity amounting to over three hundred thousand pounds.

  1. Died since his appointment.