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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/September 1900/Scientific Literature

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 57‎ | September 1900

Scientific Literature.


The increasing specialization of the sciences and the consequent occupation with the details and technical manipulations of a specialty render it possible for many a student to secure the equipment needed for his immediate activity, with but little appreciation of the general principles that give direction and solidarity to his science, or of the more general and fundamental conceptions which the various sciences and the spirit and progress of science as a whole have in common. The student runs the danger of gaining a certain familiarity with the vocabulary and the usage of the language of science, but of ignoring its grammar. One of the purposes met by Prof. Karl Pearson's 'The Grammar of Science' is to give the serious student an opportunity to acquaint himself with these underlying conceptions—cause and effect and probability, space and time, motion and matter and the composition of the physical and organic worlds. It discusses with him and for him the nature of the knowing process, and demonstrates how the sciences stand—not for a literal copy of reality, but represent a special abstraction and construction on the basis of experience, which serve the purposes of intelligibility and logical system. A law of nature is not an objective reality, but "a résumé in mental shorthand, which replaces for us a lengthy description of the sequences of our sense-impressions. Law in the scientific sense . . . owes its existence to the creative power of his [man's] intellect." Science is thus not the mere reflection of perceptual experience, but is dependent for its advance quite as much upon the formation of appropriate conceptions by the exercise of insight and a keen logical analysis and synthesis. Hence, the importance of the imagination as a requisite for scientific discovery, which leads Professor Pearson to regard Darwin and Faraday as superior in this quality to the best of the poets and novelists. Not only the content of the sciences but the spirit and the means that guide its advance form part of the grammar of science. The nature of the scientific method, the appreciation that the scope of science is really coincident with the scope of verifiable knowledge; that science represents a mode of approach and of inquiry, and that the scientist or the scientifically-minded individual is characterized by a definite logical attitude, by a manner of entering into relation with his surroundings and of dealing with reality; that science discountenances attempted short-cuts and inspired revelations, or guesses of the riddles of existence; that it avoids metaphysic and impractical speculation; that it justifies its existence and the energies which are expended on its behalf by the mental training it provides in education, by its illumination of the problems of life and society, by the practical benefits it confers in the various fields of human activity, as well as by the gratification it yields to some of the most permanent and most worthy of our intellectual and æsthetic impulses—these and other propositions are ably and interestingly presented and constitute an essential portion of this very stimulating and clarifying volume. The success of the work is attested by the appearance of this second edition; the chief addition consists of a discussion of the quantitative method as applied to biological phenomena, which the readers of others of the author's works will recognize as one of his favorite subjects of investigation.



The book with the above title, by David Eugene Smith, principal of the State Normal School, at Brockport, N. Y., contains much of value, presented in a very readable and attractive manner. The subjects treated are arithmetic, algebra and geometry. About half the book is devoted to the first. The author sketches the history of the teaching of arithmetic from the earliest times, gives a critical examination of the different systems which have been tried and aims to discover the correct general principles upon which the instruction should proceed. He notices the tendency of many of our schools to follow too closely the Grube method, or a modification of it. The chapter on the present teaching of arithmetic is full of valuable suggestions. Algebra and geometry are treated in the same way. Much useless lumber is cleared away, and the whole discussion is marked by strong common-sense, an element not always present in discussions of this kind. The extreme differentiation in the teaching of these three branches which prevails in so many schools is condemned. It is urged that the blending of algebraic method and notation with the higher parts of arithmetic, and the early introduction of the inductive study of geometric form, both contribute to the substantial progress and development of the student. Valuable references are given to other writings for fuller discussions on special topics. These references cover works in English. French, German and Italian.



Professor Suess's great work, 'Das Antlitz der Erde,' has been translated into French with emendations and annotations, and thus becomes accessible to an enlarged number of readers. No strictly geological publication since the time of the first appearance of Sir Charles Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' has brought together so many data concerning the nature of the altitude of the continents in relation to sea level. Geologists have generally assumed that it is the land which rises or sinks when a change of level takes place in relation to the sea. Professor Suess attacks this view and endeavors to show that the ocean has and has had its great movements, now keeping up its waters in the equatorial district, now accumulating about the poles and transgressing the low lands of its borders. An exhaustive review of the geological structure of the known parts of the earth, particularly complete with regard to the borders of the oceans and the the Mediterranean, is presented as a basis for discussing the evidence of such changes as the sinking in modern geological times of lands or islands in what is now the North Atlantic. By the sinking of the ocean floor, it is held that the sea level is lowered around the earth, thus giving rise to emerged lands. Parts of these plateaus have in turn sunk, and so the earth has experienced varied and often sudden changes of the relations of land and sea. The work is entertainingly written, despite the laborious compilation of geological details, which is made evident in its numerous chapters. The geological explanation of the Noachian Deluge is perhaps one of the most interesting sections of the work. Aside from the theory which the work sets forth, it affords the best general survey of the earth's surface which is at present available in any language. It has been supplied with numerous recent references by M. de Margerie and his able assistants in the work of translation.



L'Année Biologique for 1897.—Every year the number of biological workers increases, the number of repositories of researches is multiplied and the difficulties of keeping informed of the results obtained in even a restricted department of science are enhanced. Hence, new bibliographical works are ever welcome, especially if they give not only titles but abstracts. L'Année Biologique does not only this, but more, for its abstracts are likewise critical reviews indicating the true place in the science of the results given in any paper. It goes still further, in that it summarizes the advance made during the year in each subject, and the contents of the volume are rendered still more accessible by a thorough author-genus subject index. Everything seems to be done that is possible to make the results of general biological studies available. Occasionally figures are reproduced and comprehensive, synoptic articles on the recent advances in one subject are printed. In the present volume there is a report on senile degenerescence, by Elie Metchnikov; on the urinary tubules in vertebrates, with seventeen figures, by P. Vignon; and on the conditions of existence in and the bionomic divisions of fresh waters by G. Prouvot. The reviews are all signed by the authors, the critical remarks being bracketed. Many of the reviews have the dignity of distinct contributions to science, as where a half-page abstract is followed by a two-page discussion. The reviewers, or 'collaborators,' are drawn from various countries, America, Austria, Belgium, England, Russia and Scotland being represented in addition to France. This periodical may be commended in the strongest terms to biologists and to others interested in the results of biology. It is surprising that the work is still so little known in this country. Scientific men have a right to take pride in the unremunerative efforts of the chief editor, Professor Delage, to make accessible the literature of the science of general biology in order to facilitate its advancement.



The 'Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra, together with a Discussion of the Evolutional Order of the Stars,' by Sir Wm. Huggins, K. C. B., and Lady Huggins (Wesley & Son), is not only a sumptuous and beautifully illustrated volume, but is also of great scientific value. Sir Wm. Huggins belongs to that group of men in England who, unconnected with any university, devote themselves to research for the pure love of truth. His distinguished services to science received recognition on the occasion of the Queen's diamond jubilee, when with only two other scientific men he received the order of knighthood. His accomplished wife, who is his constant coadjutor, was the only woman mentioned in the list of Jubilee honors. Sir Wm. Huggins may be said to be the founder of the so called 'New Astronomy,' for scarcely more than a quarter of a century ago his spectroscope, turned upon a newly discovered star, first revealed the cause of the sudden lighting up of these beacons in the heavens, and turned upon the nebula showed them to be of glowing gas. Since that time the telescope of the Tulse Hill Observatory, armed with spectroscope and camera, has been constantly and laboriously analyzing the light of star, comet and nebula, to solve the mystery of their constitution. "We never go anywhere," said Lady Huggins; "astronomy, at best, is a heart-breaking object of devotion beneath English skies, and we are always at home to catch every gleam between the clouds."

This book gives, in charming narrative, which would be read with interest by one previously ignorant of the subject, the history of the pioneer work "when nearly every observation revealed a new fact, and almost every night's work was red-lettered by some discovery."

There follow full details of later work, especially of the first detection, by the shifting of the lines of their spectra, of the motion of stars towards us or from us in the line of sight. We learn also how terrestrial chemistry has been enriched by this study of the stars, and how the nature of long known elements like hydrogen and the existence of undiscovered elements like helium have been first made out from stellar spectra.

But, as the supreme problem for the biologist is the development of man, so the supreme problem for the astronomer is that of the evolutional order of the stars. This problem, too, is discussed in the light of the discoveries at Tulse Hill. From the simple but beautiful harmonic system of hydrogen lines which characterizes a white star like Vega, we learn how we pass to the more developed star of a solar type, like Capella, and thence to Arcturus, and Betelgueze, which indicate a still later stage of development. At least this is the theory of the author. Aside from its great theme lucidly discussed the book deserves to be upon every library table as a superb specimen of bookmaking. For once, beautiful truth is promulgated in fitting guise. Lady Huggins is an artist and archæologist as well as an astronomer, and the initial letters of the chapters are illuminated with original sketches and designs from quaint old manuscripts, which make the book artistically as well as astronomically worthy of the prize which it received from the Royal Society as the most distinguished contribution to the scientific literature of the year.



Anyone who wishes to gain a fairly adequate idea of what experiments on living animals have accomplished for the welfare of the human race and of other animals as well, can now do so by reading 'Experiments on Animals,' by Stephen Paget. Mr. Paget has collected evidence showing the part that animal experiments have played in the progress of physiology, pathology, bacteriology and therapeutics. He has not ventured to offer opinion or even statements unsupported by exact and verifiable facts. A large part of the book's space is filled by original quotations from scientific workers, from Galen down to the recent students of the malaria parasite. It shows plainly that knowledge of the processes of life in health and disease has throughout depended on experiments on living substances. Mr. Paget's book is not dependent for its interest solely on the laudable curiosity to know the worth of animal experiments. For these have been so important in the science of medicine that their story is at the same time the history of a great number of medical discoveries. There is, too, a freshness and biographical interest in the quotations from the famous-past and present students of medical science which makes them very readable.



In his "Familiar Fish, their Habits and Capture," Mr. Eugene McCarthy has put forth a readable volume which doubtless will prove popular among the disciples of Izaak Walton, for it is essentially a book for anglers, written by an angler of experience. A preliminary chapter, devoted to fish-culture, dwells on the destruction of eggs and fry in nature and the necessity for artificial measures. It is a fairly good general outline of the subject, although some of the methods described are obsolete. The many breeders of ornamental fish will wonder whether the author is intentionally facetious in stating that the "famous double-tailed goldfish frequently seen are raised in Japan, and are produced by violently shaking the eggs in a pan."

About a third of the book is devoted to brief accounts of the distribution, food, habits and peculiarities of the fresh-water fishes most sought by anglers, the salmons, trouts, basses and pikes naturally receiving most attention. The remaining pages deal chiefly with the description of angling paraphernalia and methods, camping, boating and useful data for sportsmen. By far the best chapters are those treating of the ouananiche and its capture, as the author writes from ample experience. He gives it first rank among our game fishes and holds that "pound for pound the ouananiche can greatly outfight the salmon, and none of the freshwater fishes can equal it in this respect; the black bass approaches it the nearest but never equals it."

The volume is freely illustrated with fishing scenes, angling apparatus and twenty-five full-page figures of fishes, all but one of which are copied, without credit, from the reports of the U. S. Fish Commission.

The author submitted his manuscript to President Jordan "to be justified in advancing the claim" that the descriptions of the different fishes "are absolutely reliable and correct," and a prefatory note by Dr. Jordan is in that author's most pleasing style and adds considerably to the literary excellence of the volume; but evidently that distinguished ichthyologist did not believe any responsibility attached to him, for even a cursory glance by him over the manuscript would have eliminated a number of ichthyological incongruities, such as the inclusion of the white bass, one of the Serranidæ, in the same family as the black basses (Centrarchidæ). The author's conception of zoölogical nomenclature and classification is decidedly novel. In the final chapter, on "scientific names of fish mentioned," the first species referred to is Salmo salar, of which it is stated that "the word salmo is used in connection with a large variety of the trouts, to designate the family or descent. It is the first name given, as is the case with all other kinds of fish, being the specific name indicating the species. The other names following are subspecific." The land-locked salmon of the Saguenay River is by some systematic writers regarded as a variety of the sea salmon, and bears the name Salmo salar ouananiche McCarthy. Strange to say, this is the only species in the volume for which the name of the original describer is given, and in explaining his own connection with the fish, Mr. McCarthy says: "McCarthy, so named from his first writing fully regarding the fish!"

To the zoölogist the volume will be of no use, as it embodies few new observations on the fishes considered and is largely a compilation from other well-known works. The author, however, deserves credit for bringing the subject to the attention of anglers in such an attractive form; and, as an attempt to extend the knowledge of the habits, distribution and relationships of our game fishes among this large and influential class of citizens, the volume should be accorded a welcome.



Mr. G. C. Whipple, Director of the Mount Prospect Laboratory of the Brooklyn Waterworks, has prepared a handbook for the water analyst and the waterworks engineer, with the title given above. It deals with the purposes, methods and results of the biological examination of drinking-water, affording means for the identification of the microscopic life found in water supplies and suggesting means for the elimination or control of those organisms which disagreeably affect the color or odor of potable waters. The construction of reservoirs, the storage of surface and of ground waters and the growth of organisms in pipes are also discussed. Though the motive of the book is thus technical, the subject is developed by the author along broad lines in a thoroughly scientific manner, and he has brought together a great deal of information, not only for the sanitary engineer, but also for the physicist, the chemist and the biologist. The problems in limnology, such as the temperature, stagnation and circulation of reservoir waters; the distribution and relative numbers of different organisms and their relation to chemical analyses are discussed in the light of the results of many years' investigation of water-supplies. The seasonal succession of organisms, their movements with respect to light and other stimuli, and their horizontal and vertical distribution, are in like manner fully treated. The scope of the work and the treatment of the subject make the book a valuable one alike for engineering and biological laboratories and for the general library.