Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/May 1899/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

Death of Professor Marsh.Othniel C. Marsh, professor of paleontology in Yale University, and curator of the geological collection of that institution, died of pneumonia at his home in New Haven, Connecticut, March 18th. He had not been in good health for several years, and succumbed to the effects of a cold which he had caught before wholly recovering from a previous cold. A sketch of his life up to that time, embracing the most active parts of his career as a geological explorer, in which he gained great renown, was given, with a portrait, in the Popular Science Monthly for September, 1878. During the period that has intervened he made studies of the results of his explorations and other geological work, and published papers of very high scientific value. About a year ago he transferred his extensive and famous collections at the Peabody Museum to the university. These collections were among the finest of their kind in the world, and were especially remarkable for their fossils of immense animals exhumed from the Western plains. They were greatly admired by Professor Gaudry, the eminent French geologist, who spoke of them in terms of high praise in the Revue des Deux Mondes of October 15, 1898. It was through his efforts that the funds were obtained from George Peabody, his uncle, for the construction of the Peabody Museum, a part of which has been built. His health having apparently improved for a few months previous to his death, he had been working with renewed activity at the museum, and had recently written articles on paleontological subjects. Having considerable means of his own, he served the university without salary, and carried on his explorations mostly at his own cost, paying large sums to assistants and for other items in the work. He left ten thousand dollars to the National Academy of Sciences, of which he was one of the founders and was for several years president, and all of the rest of his estate, estimated to be worth nearly one hundred thousand dollars, to Yale University.

Popular Co-operation in Health Work.—In a review of A Quarter Century of Public Health Work in Michigan, Mr. Theodore R. MacClure, chief clerk of the State Board of Health office, says that experience in the State has indicated that it is necessary to have the co-operation of the people if the dangerous communicable diseases are to be restricted and prevented. In order to accomplish this result, the State Board of Health has published leaflets relating to the modes of spreading and the best methods for the restriction and prevention of such diseases. These leaflets have been printed by tens of thousands, and whenever a dangerous disease is reported to the central office several copies of the leaflet relating to the disease in question are usually sent to the local health officer. He is requested to place one of these instructive publications with the family where the disease exists, and a copy with each neighbor of the infected premises. The instruction comes at a time when people are interested to know about the disease in question, and in this way their general co-operation is sought and secured. Citizens are thus educated and become familiar with their duties in the premises, are taught wherein the dangers lie and how to avoid them, and are prompted by the strongest considerations to do their part in the matter.

Death of Prof. Oliver Marcy.—Dr. Oliver Marcy, professor of natural science in Northwestern University, who died February 19th, in the eightieth year of his age, was a native of Coleraine, Massachusetts; was graduated from Wesleyan University in 1846, became teacher of mathematics in Wilbraham Academy, Massachusetts, and later professor of geology, etc., in that institution. In 1862 he was appointed professor of geology in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, but taught in addition, at times, other branches of science and even some branches in other lines. He was twice acting president of the university. In conjunction with Prof. Alexander Winchell, he prepared a monograph on Fossils from the Niagara Limestone of Chicago, which was read to the Boston Society of Natural History. In 1866 he was naturalist to a Government expedition to the Bitter Root Mountains in Idaho and Montana, in which he collected scientific material, and of which he published an account in 1867. He wrote papers concerning the geology of the shore of Lake Michigan and of the region about Chicago; brought two fossil trees found in the university grounds to scientific notice; and contributed considerably to geological publications. He was curator to the natural history collection of his university for nearly thirty years. Two fossil species and a mountain in Montana have been named after him.

Which is the Fittest to Survive?—Prof. A. W. Rücker spoke in his opening address at the recent meeting of the International Magnetic Conference in Bristol, England, of what seems to be a law of Nature, that the products of an organism are fatal to itself; in accordance with which, he said, pure science is threatened by the very success of its practical applications. The smoke of our cities blots the stars from the vision of the astronomer, and now the science of terrestrial magnetism is threatened by the artificial earth currents of the electric railway. Prof. W. E. Ayrton, in his welcoming address, took another view of the subject and answered the reference the electrical engineers make to the principle of the survival of the fittest when they are told of the ruin their wires are bringing upon magnetic observatories—"So much the worse for the observatories"—"Can the system of electric traction that has already destroyed the two most important magnetic observatories in the United States and British North America be the best and fittest to survive? Again, do we take such care and spend such vast sums in tending the weak and nursing the sick because we are convinced that they are the fittest to survive? May it not be perhaps because we have an inherent doubt about the justice of the survival of the strongest, or perhaps because even the strongest of us feels compelled modestly to confess his inability to pick out the fittest, that modern civilization encourages, not the destruction but the preservation of what has obvious weakness, on the chance that it may have unseen strength? When the electrical engineer feels himself full of pride at the greatness, the importance, and the power of his industry, and when he is inclined to think slightingly of the deflection of a little magnet compared with the whirl of his one-thousand-horse-power dynamo, let him go and visit a certain dark storeroom near the entrance hall of the Royal Institution, and while he looks at some little coils there, ponder on the blaze of light that has been shed over the whole world from the dimly lighted cupboard in which these coils now lie. Then he may realize that while the earth as a magnet has endured for all time, the earth as a tramway conductor may at no distant date be relegated to the class of temporary makeshifts, and that the raids of the feudal baron into the agricultural fields of his neighbors were not more barbarous than the alarms and excursions of the tramway engineer into the magnetic fields of his friends."

Teaching the Teachers.—The following suggestive paragraph is taken from the inaugural address of William Henry Preece, president of the British Institution of Civil Engineers: "Our educational methods have begun at the wrong end. We ought to teach the masters first and then the men. Moreover, we have to teach the teachers and those who have control of the purse-strings. The County Councils of England are scarcely qualified as yet to discharge the very serious duty of properly dealing with a question so few of them understand—though many of them have tackled the matter manfully, especially the London County Council, through its Technical Education Board, on which a large proportion of co-opted experts have seats, who, by supporting existing institutions, have contributed toward the supply of teachers. But how are we to approach the masters? A fault once discovered is halfway to repair. It is difficult to remove the scales from the eyes of the man who has been successful in business and knows not of his blindness; but the coming generation will be more enlightened, and the future masters better educated. We are suffering from a lack of competent teachers. A teacher who has had no training in the practical world is worse than useless, for he imparts ideas derived from his inner consciousness or from the false teaching of his own abstract professor, which lead to mischief. In my own experience I have met with very serious inconveniences from this cause. The ideal professor of pure abstract science is a very charming personage, but he is a very arrogant and dogmatic individual, and, being a sort of little monarch in his own laboratory and lecture room, surrounded by devoted subjects, his word is law, and he regards the world at large, especially the practical world, as outside his domain and beneath his notice. He is generally behind the age. These are not the men for technical institutes. Such teachers should possess the diploma of this institution."

The People of India and the Missionaries.—In the light of three months' special observation, J. T. Sunderland has reviewed in the New World Magazine the prospects of the success of Christian missions in India. There are several causes that hinder their progress, among which the author mentions as more important the number of Christian sects and denominations; the character of the doctrines preached, in that in many aspects they do not appeal to Hindu or Mohammedan faith or modes of thought, and in some contradict them, and as to those points are a serious hindrance to the progress of Christianity; and the vices of many Europeans, creating a prejudice against their professed religion that is not wholly contradicted by the testimonies and examples of the missionaries and men of nobler stamp. To the last objection the answer is easy, though it may not always be convincing, that these wicked men sin not because they are natural products of Christianity, but because they disobey it. A strong factor in disarming prejudice against Christianity and winning favor for it is the fact that through it, directly or indirectly, certain very important kinds of good are coming to India—education, schools, books, science, invention. The contact of India with Christian lands, civilization, thought, and life, is steadily telling upon Indian thought. Further, "it is to be said to the honor of all the Protestant missions of India, at least, of whatever name, that they are helping, instructing, and lifting up the lower classes, and offering them hopes and prospects such as they could not have had under their old faiths. This is much, very much." The very presence of the missionary in a community is likely to be an enlightening influence. He is a man of more than common education, and "has brought with him to India something of the thought, the culture, the ideals of life, the habits and customs of the Western world. He introduces higher standards of living. He gives his influence in favor of better public sanitation, better homes for the people, better streets and public buildings, better public improvements generally. His home and family life, in which the wife receives the same consideration as her husband, and the daughters are educated with the same care as the sons, becomes a valuable object lesson in the community where he dwells." The missions as a whole are regarded by the author as an important factor in a great religious evolution. The precise form and direction which this evolution will take seem to be a matter yet to be determined.

Weeds under Cultivation.—For several years past the botanical department of Michigan Agricultural College has maintained a "weed garden," and has grown a hundred or more species of the most troublesome weeds in plots. Some curious results from the experiments are recorded by Prof. W. J. Beal in a paper read at the meeting, 1897, of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science. The most vigorous and aggressive weeds seem to take on under cultivation the weakness and capriciousness of delicate cultivated plants. "It is very instructive," Professor Beal says, "to note how much better many of these plants thrive when they get away from the spot where they have been confined for from two to several years. Seedlings of Jamestown weed were larger in the plantain bed than in their own. After three years the plantain nearly ran out and Amaranthus albus entirely disappeared. One species of pigweed grew finely for two years, but afterward made a small display; and another variety did not seem very persistent for a plant that ranked among the weeds, but shied off from its home ground 'as if searching for fresh fields.' Barnyard grass (Panicum crusgalli) behaved like pigweed, and 'needed considerable attention.' The little round-leaved mallow, which roots deeply about rubbish piles in mellow soil, was grown of respectable proportions in the garden with considerable difficulty, and with no more ease in the bottom lands of other parts of the botanic garden. Considerable pains is required every year to keep on hand even fairly well-grown specimens of mullein. Knotgrass, which thrives with abuse and seems to enjoy trampling by feet, was grown with difficulty in the plots. 'Insects prey upon it; rust causes it to dwindle and disappear.' 'Motherwort grows rank four feet high near the barnyard fence, and the flowers are covered with bees, but when kept several years in the same bed it goes off into the sulks as though neglected.' Shepherd's purse is often disturbed by a parasitic fungus, and it is difficult to grow nice plants long in the same place. Cocklebur, if found long in the same spot, is troubled sadly with a mildew, and more recently also with a rust."

Operations against Woodchucks.—Prof. F. H. Storer records in the Bulletin of the Bussey Institution, Harvard University, the results of his experiments in the destruction of woodchucks, which, besides being very injurious to lands he had under cultivation, appeared to be increasing. Smothering by a volatile liquid driven into the burrow has been suggested by Professor Hilgard, who recommends bisulphide of carbon. Professor Bussey finds that liquid not wholly satisfactory and liable to objections, and prefers a preparation of naphtha or other volatile liquid. In any event, some device seems to be needed for forcing a considerable quantity of the vapor into the very end of the burrow. Poisons are dangerous because of the probability that the animal would bring the food on which they are placed to the mouth of the burrow for eating, where children or useful animals might get it. While experimenting with burning Cayenne pepper or sulphur on touch paper, in order to smoke out the burrows, the author became acquainted with the "woodchuck torches" of Mr. B. M. Wedger, of Roslindale, Massachusetts. These consist of nitrate of soda, sulphur, mealed gunpowder, and sulphide of antimony, so packed into a tube like a Roman candle that on burning the fuse the vapors would be forced by great pressure to the farthest recesses of the burrow. They proved effectual, and it was indeed rare that any woodchuck to which they were applied ever reported himself again. Professor Storer also describes some experiments he made in burning sulphur in the burrows, with special expedients for insuring more rapid and perfect combustion of the sulphur; these promised fairly well. Mr. Henry Stewart has described in the Country Gentleman an effectual method of destroying woodchucks with blasting powder or dynamite.

Evolution in Lamps.—The story of lamps from Herodotus down to 1830, Mr. Henry C. Mercer says, in an instructive study on Light and Light Making in the contributions of the Bucks County (Pa.) Historical Society, is not one of development. In principle and form they remain the same, whether as the tin cylindrical or boat-shaped cups on candlestick pedestals and the round tin cups with hemispherical lids, or the lid-less cups resting on wooden stands such as were recently rescued by the author from the garret rubbish of old Bucks County. And before Herodotus, as we follow the lamp back into the tombs of the Old World, we find the boat-shaped form of earthenware preceding the boat-shaped form of iron and possibly even that of bronze. The chalk-cup lamp found by Canon Greenwell in the neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves, England, perhaps the oldest wick-floating lamp in the world, is not essentially different from the oyster shell filled with lard and provided with wicks that may be found among Virginia negroes today. The Egyptian, Grecian, Phœnician, and Roman lamps, as they have been found in the tombs and as we see them in the museums, are not unlike the lard lamps that were most in use early in the nineteenth century. Then crude grease gave way to sperm oil and lard oil, with especial adaptations of the lamps that made them more convenient and improved the light; and burning fluids that were convenient and clean and gave a brilliant light, but were dangerous; and kerosene, with other improvements in the lamps and refinements in the oil that enabled it to give the most perfect artificial light yet found and to keep up the fight for quality with gas and electricity—all these having come in within the life-time of men still among us. Besides the old lamps, our ancestors had candles, molded when the price of tin, the material for the molds, did not forbid the luxury, and before them tallow dips; a suspended wick was dipped into a pot of hot tallow, on a cold day, and the operation was repeated till layer after layer of grease hardened, and the candle was thick enough. These candles were, however, troublesome in hot weather, on account of their propensity to yield to the temperature and fall over. "Who shall say, however, that candle-dipping is older than molding, when we know … that they molded candles in County Galway, Ireland, in late years by punching holes in peat and pouring in tallow on the down-hung wick of twisted flax fiber?" The Irish had, too, as had the negroes, the rush light, a greased rush set in a hole in a wooden block serving as a candlestick; or rushes joined in a triple twist which flies apart when lighted, increasing the blaze. From this Mr. Mercer passes to forms of candlesticks and torches and cressets and methods of producing fire, whither we can not follow him, for the multitude of details he notices, which will not bear abstracting.

Inconsistent Philozoists.—In his address at the opening of the physiological and pathological laboratories at Belfast, Ireland, Lord Lister took occasion to give some illustrations, drawn from practice, of the value of pathological research. "There are people," he said, "who do not object to eating a mutton chop—people who do not even object to shooting a pheasant with a considerable chance that it may be only wounded and may have to die after lingering in pain, unable to obtain its proper nutriment—and yet who consider it something monstrous to introduce under the skin of a guinea-pig a little inoculation of some microbe to ascertain its action. These seem to me to be most inconsistent views. If these experiments upon the lower animals were made for the mere sport of the thing, they would be indeed to be deprecated and decried; but if they are made with the wholly noble object of not only increasing human knowledge, but also of diminishing human suffering, then I hold that such investigations are deserving of all praise. Those little know who lightly speak on these matters how much self-denial is required in the prosecution of such researches when they are conducted, as indeed they always are, as far as I am aware, with the object of establishing new truth."

The Ruins of Xkichmook, Yucatan.—The group of ruins in Yucatan called Xkichmook was discovered by Mr. Edward H. Thompson in 1888, when he read a paper before the American Antiquarian Society embodying his first impressions of it. He has since made studies of it extending over a period of seven years. The group is about one hundred and forty miles south of Merida and forty or fifty miles east of Campeche, situated in a narrow valley between a series of rocky hills, and has to be approached by precipitous paths over the hillsides, and thence down the beds of dry arroyos whose yearly freshets wash away all vegetation. Ten buildings, including one called the Palace, and two mounds were explored, and some miscellaneous excavations were made—all of which are described in the author's paper (Field Columbian Museum), with figures of the buildings and objects. Pottery and flaked stone implements were plentiful, but polished implements and specimens of sculpture were exceedingly rare. The flat under surfaces of the ceiling stones of the vaulted chambers seem to have contained very elaborate designs; in another chamber portions of a painting were still partly preserved; in another, curious drawings or glyphs in strong black lines once existed; in another was a painted human figure, of which only the flowing headdress, a portion of the face, and certain devices issuing from the mouth and probably indicating speech, now remain. The mysterious red hand was found painted in various places, and in one a human hand in blue pigment was found, the impression of which was so fresh and perfect in places that even the minute lines of the skin were visible. In ten years of investigation among the ruins of Yucatan and Campeche not as many specimens of worked obsidian were found as could be picked up in half an hour among certain Mexican ruins; but traces of ancient fabrication of flint implements were more plentiful than anywhere else.

The Seventeen-Year and the Thirteen-Year Locusts.—The periodical cicada, or seventeen-year locust, as it is called, is distinctly American, and has the longest life period of any known insect. It is especially remarkable, Mr. C. L. Marlatt observes in his memoir upon it, in its adolescent period, the features of particular divergence from other insects being its long subterranean life of thirteen or seventeen years, and the perfect regularity with which at the end of these periods every generation, though numbering millions of individuals, attains maturity almost at the same moment. At this moment the brood issue from the ground, leaving innumerable exit holes, and swarm over trees and shrubs, filling the air with their strident calls, and laying their eggs in slits which they cut in the trees. The larvae, when hatched, fall to the ground, and quickly burrow out of sight, each "forming for itself a little subterranean chamber over some rootlet, where it remains through winter and summer, buried from sun, light, and air, and protected in a manner from cold and frost.… It lives thus alone in its moist earthen chamber," rarely changing its position unless some accident to the nourishing rootlet may necessitate its seeking another, passing the thirteen or seventeen years of its hypogeal existence in slow growth and preparation for a few weeks only of winged life in the air and light. Other cicadas appear every year, usually in comparatively small numbers. They are probably equally long in maturing, but the periods of their lives have from some cause or another been cast in "off" years. The thirteen-year broods are southern, and the shortening of their periods of development may possibly be accounted for by the longer season of warmth in the southern year giving them the number of hours or of aggregate degrees of warmth in thirteen years that the more northern broods can not receive in less than seventeen years. This, however, is only speculation, and there are difficulties in applying the supposition to make it fit all the facts; and many believe that the two races are specifically different. The late Prof. Charles V. Riley distinguished twenty-two different broods of cicadas in the United States, seven of which appertain to the thirteen-year period (Cicada tredecem).