Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/April 1901/The Progress of Science


It is now possible to make a fairly definite statement regarding the enforced resignation of Professor Ross from Leland Stanford Junior University and the subsequent events. Professors are reappointed annually at Stanford, and Professor Ross received his appointment last year somewhat late and after a warning. He attributed this to Mrs. Stanford's disapproval of his economic teachings, and presented his resignation, to take effect at the end of the present academic year. The resignation was accepted on November 14 and Professor Ross published in the daily papers a statement attributing the trouble to Mrs. Stanford's dissatisfaction with his economic views, especially on coolie emigration and municipal ownership. Owing to this publication, Professor Ross's connection with the university was terminated. President Jordan has stated that he was not dismissed on account of his views on Oriental immigration, or on any economic question, but because, in the judgment of the university authorities, he was not the proper man for the place he held. Unfortunately, the affair did not terminate with the retirement of Professor Ross. On the morning after its announcement, Professor Howard, of the Department of History, lectured to his students on the subject, blaming more or less directly the university authorities for their attitude. After an interval of two months, Professor Howard was asked to apologize or resign. He resigned; and as a protest Professor Hudson, of the Department of English, and Professor Little, of the Department of Mathematics, also resigned. These being, in brief, the facts of the case, there has been much private and public discussion as to whether academic freedom has been infringed by the authorities of Stanford University. Thus a committee of the San Francisco alumni has prepared a report upholding the action of the university, while, with substantially the same evidence before it, a committee of three economists has published a pamphlet, supporting Professor Ross in his claim that he has been unjustly treated. It is not true, as has been alleged, that President Jordan acted against his will, under the authority of Mrs. Stanford. The question reduces itself to the more general one as to whether university authorities must retain a professor when his methods are regarded as harmful to the institution.

Professor Ross evidently has the qualities of the reformer rather than of the judicial expert. His stump speeches and illustrated pamphlet supporting free silver in the campaign of 1896 injured the university, and his published writings and his lectures before his classes are extreme in their rhetorical opposition to the wealth and conditions that made Stanford University possible. Thus, if we glance through his articles, we find them strewn with statements such as 'the lawlessness, the insolence and the rapacity of private interests'; "Under the ascendency of the rich and leisured, property becomes more sacred than person, moral standards vary with pecuniary status, and it is felt that 'God will think twice before he damns a person of quality.'" The question is not as to the truth or falsehood of Professor Ross's views, nor as to the desirability of having reformers and even fanatics in the land; it is whether the university, to its own injury, should lend them its authority, whether the professor should have not only the right to investigate and communicate his suits to his peers, but should also be free to involve a university in partisan conflicts. At Stanford the question is complicated by the fact that Mrs. Stanford has so recently given to the university the vast fortune—twenty-seven million dollars—collected by the late Senator Stanford. Professor Ross's teachings being repeated to her, perhaps in a distorted form, she is reported to have said: 'He calls my husband a thief.' Now, it is evident that a university cannot be a proprietary institution, controlled by a rich man or a group of rich men, who dictate the teachings of the professors. But it is equally true that the university professor must work in harmony with certain well-defined traditions. When people unite to accomplish any end, each must sacrifice something of his own freedom. When Mr. Gladstone appeared to be suddenly converted to the advocacy of Irish home rule, his opponents read his thousands of speeches to convict him of inconsistency. Nothing was found in favor of home rule, but neither was there found anything against it. For thirty years, apparently, Mr. Gladstone had been considering the subject, but had been careful not to give rise to dissensions in the Liberal party until he was prepared to make home rule the issue. This is simply an illustration of the fact that the more responsible the position of a man, the more careful must he be in giving expression to views which the man without authority may proclaim on the street corners. When Professor Ross says that teachers are unproductive laborers retained by the idle enjoyers of a parasitic organization to intimidate, beguile and cajole the exploited majority, it seems evident that this is no longer academic freedom of speech, but simply a statement of unfitness for an academic position.

While the troubles at Stanford University are being widely discussed in the United States, English men of science are disturbed by the dismissal of a number of professors from the Royal Engineering College at Coopers Hill. This institution trains engineers for the Civil Service in India, and is under the control of the India Office. The president is an army officer who does not take part in the teaching, and is supposed to act under the direction of a board of visitors. The teaching staff, it appears, has no control of the curriculum or of the general conduct of the college. Under these circumstances, an unsatisfactory state of affairs was reported by a board of enquiry and more than half the teaching staff was somewhat curtly dismissed. Their request for an enquiry having been refused by the Secretary of State for India, a number of leading men of science united in a memorial asking for such an enquiry, and a deputation waited upon Lord George Hamilton to urge it. This deputation, which included Lord Kelvin, Lord Lister, Lord Rayleigh and other leading men of science, called attention to the fact that the college was self-supporting and that there was no need, on the score of economy, for such sweeping dismissals, whereas the abolition of professorships of physics and chemistry would greatly weaken the scientific standing of the college and the training it could give to students of engineering. Lord George Hamilton's reply does not appear to have satisfied the deputation or the English scientific press, and the matter has been called up in Parliament.

The second annual meeting of the Association of Universities was held at Chicago on February 26, 27 and 28. This association is composed of fourteen leading American universities and holds an annual meeting for the discussion of problems of common interest, it being expected that the president of each university, or his representative will be in attendance. All the universities were represented at the Chicago meeting. Reporters and the general public are excluded from the sessions, and there is consequently opportunity for free discussion. At the recent meeting three topics were chiefly discussed. Prof. Ira Remsen, of the Johns Hopkins University, introduced the subject of migration among graduate students, the general opinion being that it was an advantage for the student to attend more than a single university. Prof. W. F. Magie, of Princeton University, introduced a discussion on the type of examination for the doctor's degree, while Prof. W. R. Newbold, of the University of Pennsylvania, introduced the related subject of the extent to which the candidate should be required to show knowledge of subjects not immediately connected with his major subject. The consensus of opinion here seemed to be that the student should not be examined on courses he has taken, but on the subject of his work or research at the end of his university residence. The third subject for discussion, introduced by Prof. H. P. Judson, of the University of Chicago, was on fellowships; and here it seemed to be the general opinion that the provision for university fellowships is so large that there is danger that men will proceed to investigation who are not competent to do the best work. The plan, suggested by a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that a week be set aside for the meetings of scientific and learned societies was unanimously approved. Columbia University has, in accordance with the suggestion of this committee, altered its schedule for next year, so that the first full week after Christmas may be used for a Convocation Week, and it is to be hoped that other institutions will unite in this movement, and that our various societies will next year meet during the week with which the new year begins. As Christmas occurs this year on Wednesday, there is scarcely time for the meetings during that week, and it will consequently be necessary to hold them the following week.

The bill establishing a National Bureau of Standards, which was passed by Congress in the closing hours of the session, is a measure of unusual importance for science and for industry. As we have already pointed out, such an institution has long been urgently needed. Germany expends $116,000 annually on its corresponding institutions, and it is not difficult to trace an immediate connection between its Reichsanstalt and the supremacy of German scientific instruments and the increasing manufactures and export trade of the nation. Great Britain has recently been persuaded by the British Association and the Royal Society to extend its work, and is now erecting a new physical laboratory, while it provides $62,000 annually for the cost of its different institutions engaged in standardizing and experimental tests. In the United States the sum of only $10,400 has hitherto been set aside for the Bureau of Standard Weights and Measures, which has now been converted into a National Bureau of Standards. For the bureau a building is to be erected which may cost $250,000, though only $100,000 is at present appropriated; $25,000 is allowed for land and $10,000 for equipment. The salaries amount to over $27,000 annually and the sum of $5,000 is given for current expenses. The bureau has been inaugurated under the most favorable auspices. Urged by scientific men and societies, on the one hand, and by engineers and manufacturers, on the other, the bill passed both Houses of Congress almost without opposition. This was in large measure due to Secretary Gage and to the Hon. James H. Southard, chairman of the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, who gave the measure careful consideration and, impressed with its importance, used every effort to secure its passage. President McKinley has already appointed a most excellent director in Professor Stratton, who has now leave of absence from the University of Chicago to take charge of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, and it is certain that the other officers will be selected with equal wisdom.

The establishment of a National Bureau of Standards was the most important scientific measure passed by Congress, but scientific work in many directions was enlarged by increased appropriations, especially in the U. S. Geological Survey and in the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In the latter a reorganization was effected, a number of divisions being united to form four bureaus—Plant Industry, Forestry, Chemistry and Soils. The chiefs of these bureaus receive salaries of $3,000, an increase of $500, and the salaries of some of the scientific experts are increased. Congress did not, however, find time to attend to the affairs of the U. S. Naval Observatory. An amendment was introduced in the naval appropriation bill by Senator Chandler which creates a board of visitors and requires the superintendent to be a line officer of the navy. So far from being a reform, this is distinctly a backward step. The board of visitors which has been created has no power, and with this board, the naval officer, who is superintendent, and the astronomical director, the Observatory has no real head. This amendment was rejected by the House of Representatives, but, after strenuous resistance by the House conferees, was finally passed, with a proviso that the present state of affairs should continue only 'until further legislation by Congress.' It is to be hoped that this legislation will not be long delayed and that the bill introduced by Senator Morgan will be passed at the next session of Congress. In the meanwhile the unfortunate state of affairs at the Observatory is emphasized by the fact that the superintendent has placed the astronomical director under arrest for trial by court martial, owing, it is alleged, to his having used influence against the superintendent.

A new star has appeared in the constellation Perseus. It is the most striking object of its class which has been seen for three centuries. Its position is, R. A. 3h. 24m. 24s., Dec. North, 43° 33' 42", which is near that of the famous bright variable star, Persei (Algol). This Nova was discovered and announced by Anderson, of Edinburgh, and when found by him on the night of February 21 was of about the third magnitude. By the following night it had risen to the first magnitude and was one of the brightest stars in the evening sky. Such an object, in an especially well-observed region of the sky, could not easily escape notice, and it was independently discovered by probably a dozen observers in different countries. At the Harvard Observatory a careful record is kept of the sky from week to week by means of photographs, which are taken at frequent intervals. Some of these photographs are made with lenses of such short focal length and wide field that the whole sky would be covered by about fifty plates. The announcement of the Nova was received there February 22. The latest photographs of the region of Perseus had been made on the night of February 19. One of these showed stars as faint as the eleventh magnitude, but the Nova did not appear upon it. On February 19, therefore, it was fainter, at least, than the eleventh magnitude. On February 21 its magnitude was 2.7, but by February 25 it had fallen to 1.1. At the present time (March 9) it is of about the fourth magnitude and may be expected to disappear from view by the naked eye within a few days. The astronomical world is to-day so well equipped for research in the line of spectrum analysis and the present object is so suitable for such investigation that we may expect a more satisfactory study of this new star than has ever before been obtained of any similar object. There will doubtless be abundant materials for learning the smallest changes during a portion of the life history of this star; but, for the period of the increase of light, from the instant it became visible till it reached its maximum, the observations may prove to be few. On this account it is fortunate that at the Harvard Observatory photographs of the spectrum were obtained on February 22 and February 23. On these dates the spectrum was not the typical one which we have learned to expect for Nova?, but instead was of the Orion type, consisting of a strong, continuous spectrum crossed by dark lines. Between February 23 and February 24, however, a wonderful transformation took place. Since the latter date the spectrum has consisted in large part of the bright and dark bands which are characteristic of the spectra of Novæ.

The first new star of which there is authentic record appeared 134 B. C. During the two thousand years which have since elapsed, nineteen more have been noted, making about one per century. This can by no means represent the true number of such stars which have appeared during that time. Doubtless only a few of the brightest have been seen. Of the twenty on record, thirteen belong to the century just ended, and six to the last decade, five of which were found on Harvard photographs. Of all the stars visible in the largest telescopes, not more than one in ten thousand can be seen by the naked eye. Thirteen of the Novæ were bright enough to be seen by the unaided vision. At the same rate for the fainter stars, if we may assume that the number of Novæ corresponds in some degree to the whole number of stars for the different magnitudes, several thousand new stars must have escaped observation during each century. No entirely satisfactory explanation has yet been given of these remarkable objects. From dark, or at least from extremely faint bodies, they suddenly blaze up and slowly fade away. Any theory which aims to explain the phenomena must at least account for certain leading facts. The increase of light is very sudden and very great. The decrease is slower and sometimes irregular, but no collision can have occurred such as would change a solid body into a gaseous, otherwise ages, not weeks, would be required for the cooling. The spectrum is generally composite, composed of bright and dark lines or bands. The bright bands are displaced toward the red, the dark bands toward the violet. If this separation is due to the relative motions of two gaseous masses, the velocities concerned appear to exceed those found elsewhere in the universe. The Nova sometimes remains as a permanent telescopic object with the spectrum of a planetary nebula. The problem might be somewhat simplified if the broadening of the lines could be due to the Zeeman effect from the presence of a strong magnetic field. It appears probable that the phenomena are due either to some outburst in the dark world itself, or else to the collisions of a solid dark world passing through a dense meteor swarm. It is to be hoped that a discussion of all the materials, which will be obtained at the different observatories during the next few weeks, may serve to formulate a theory of new stars which will receive the general approval of the scientific world.

The investigations on agricultural soils which are being conducted in this country are probably unsurpassed in quality and extent by those of any country, unless it be Russia, where a very systematic and extensive line of investigations, including a survey and classification of the soils of the whole country has been in progress for a number of years. The work in this country has been carried on mainly by a number of the agricultural experiment stations and the Division of Soils of the National Department of Agriculture. The report of the Field Operations of the Division of Soils for 1899, by Prof. Milton Whitney and a number of his assistants, lately issued, is a report of progress in surveying the soils of the United States. During the year areas aggregating about 720,000 acres were studied in the field and mapped. This work has been largely confined to localities in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, and a special feature made of studies on the accumulation of alkali in the soil and its causes, means of ameliorating these conditions, and similar problems relating to alkali soils. A variety of local conditions were met with, which call for specific treatment. In a number of regions reconnoitered, the present accumulation of alkali, which has frequently nearly reached the limit of tolerance of plants, is attributed to lack of good natural drainage. The evaporation in these arid or semi-arid regions is unusually great, and with insufficient rainfall and injudicious irrigation tends to an accumulation of the alkali salts near the surface. With good natural drainage and proper application of irrigation water these salts would be in a measure washed out of the soil and the soil moisture maintained at nearly the same concentration as the water supply. But, in some cases, the irrigation water itself has become so charged with alkali as to call for the exercise of judgment in its use. "It may be perfectly safe to use water of a relatively high salt content on certain well-drained soils, when it would be ruinous to allow the same water to be used on a properly-drained soil containing a high salt content." The maps which accompany the report make it possible to determine the limit of the salt content of the water which it would be safe to use in the localities reconnoitered. The seepage waters are mentioned as another frequent cause of increase of the alkali in the soil. For instance, in the Salt Lake Valley, the oldest of the modern irrigated districts, the lower levels, which were formerly the most productive soils of the valley, have been damaged and in some cases ruined by seepage waters and alkali. In general, where the conditions are favorable and the expense would be warranted, underdrainage with tile is recommended as a remedy for excessive alkali in the soil. This remedy is considered entirely practical for reclaiming extensive areas, which at present have become nearly or quite worthless.

We record with regret the following deaths, which have occurred during the month: Dr. George M. Dawson, the eminent director of the Geological Survey of Canada, died on March 2 at the early age of fifty-one years, after an illness of only two days. He was well-known for his important contributions to the geology of Canada and for his conduct of the geological survey and of various commissions. Prof. G. F. Fitzgerald, who has held since 1881 the chair of experimental philosophy in the University of Dublin, and is well known for his researches on magnetism and in other directions, died on February 21 at the age of forty-nine years. Dr. Walter Myers died from yellow fever in Brazil, whither he had gone from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to investigate the disease. He was only twenty-nine years of age. Dr. Jacob Georg Agardh, the eminent Swedish phycologist, died at Lund, on January 17, aged eighty-eight years. The death is also announced, in his seventieth year, of Dr. Bernhardt Danckelmann, for the last thirty-five years director of the Prussian Royal Academy of Forestry at Eberswalde. He was one of the first to advocate the training of foresters in special colleges, and was the author of important works on forestry.—The degree of LL.D. has been conferred by St. Andrew's University on Mr. Alexander Agassiz, of Harvard University, and by the University of Pennsylvania on President Henry S. Pritchett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.—The Cullum Medal of the American Geographical Society has been conferred on President T. C. Mendenhall, of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.—The Amsterdam Society for the Advancement of Natural Science and Medicine has awarded its gold Swammerdam medal for 1900 to Professor Gegenbaur, of Heidelberg.—Mr. J. E. Spurr, of the U. S. Geological Survey, has accepted an invitation of the Turkish Government to make an investigation of the mineral resources of the country.