Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/July 1901/The Progress of Science



The election of Professor Ira Remsen to the presidency of the Johns Hopkins University has been received with general approval, and will be particularly gratifying to those who have been connected with the University as students or teachers and to men of science throughout the country. The Johns Hopkins University was incorporated in 1867; the founder died in 1873, and a year later Dr. D. C. Gilman was elected to the presidency. When the University opened its first session in 1876, Dr. Gilman had secured the services of a small but notable group of professors, of whom, since the lamented death of Rowland, but two remain—Professor Remsen and Professor Gildersleeve. President Gilman and his associates, freed somewhat from traditions and from the need of conducting a school for boys, erected at Baltimore a true university, distinctly in advance of any other American institution, except possibly Harvard, then just becoming subject to the influence of President Eliot—like Remsen, a professor of chemistry. In spite of the loss of a great part of its endowment, due not to carelessness on the part of the trustees but to the dictates of the founder, the Johns Hopkins University has maintained its position, and in the establishment of its medical school in 1893 has accomplished for medical education what had been accomplished earlier for university work. In the development of the university. Professor Remsen has always been President Gilman's chief associate and adviser, and is his natural successor. Remsen was graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1865 and received his M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, two years later. Studying abroad, he was made assistant in chemistry in Tübingen and was afterwards professor in Williams College, till his removal to the Johns Hopkins University in 1876. He has been given the LL.D. by Columbia and Princeton; is the foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, and a member of many scientific societies. In his chemical laboratory and in 'The American Chemical Journal,' Professor Remsen has always upheld and forwarded the best ideals of research. As president of the Johns Hopkins University, he represents the highest type of educational leadership.


Questions of academic freedom and the relations of university professors to authority are fully as troublesome abroad as in this country. It might be supposed that our system would work badly. The faculties have very little power, the authority being lodged in an absentee board of trustees and a president with almost absolute power; the trustees being usually and the presidents often men of affairs rather than scholars. The state universities are subject to political control, and the private universities are generally denominational and always dependent on the charity of patrons. Yet thanks to common sense and an appreciation of the importance of individual freedom, the university professor has in America a reasonably satisfactory status. There is little or no interference with the conduct of his department; his ment depends chiefly on efficiency rather than on favor; his position is permanent; he has complete freedom of research and reasonable freedom of speech and conduct. Those who are dissatisfied with the conditions here should make themselves familiar with what is happening abroad. We have recently had occasion to call attention to the troubles in the Royal Engineering College at Coopers Hill. Half the faculty was dismissed without a hearing by a board of visitors and a president, an army officer without academic experience. At this institution it appears that the professors are not even consulted as to the curriculum. An eminent chemist was dismissed from the University of Paris, because he believed that Dreyfus was not justly convicted; an eminent zoologist was compelled to leave the University of Zurich, because he took part in temperance reforms; now in Germany, supposed to be the home of academic freedom, we have events that could scarcely happen in America. The chair of zoology at Erlangen being vacant in 1897, the Bavarian 'Landtag' expressed the wish that the representatives of the natural sciences in the Bavarian universities should not be evolutionists. The associate professor of zoology at Erlangen, Dr. Albert Fleischmann, had published in 1896, the first part of a text-book of zoology based, like all recent works, on the theory of evolution. But when the second part was published in 1898, there was a remarkable conversion; a special chapter on the theory of evolution was added, declaring the theory to be absurd. The author was promoted to the professorship of zoology, and has now published a book, entitled: 'The Theory of Evolution: Popular Lectures on the rise and fall of a scientific hypothesis, delivered before students of all the faculties.' The book is not addressed to scientific men, but to the laity and clergy to whom the author owes his chair at the University of Erlangen.


Two gifts of great importance to science have been made during the past month. Mr. Andrew Carnegie has created a fund of $10,000,000 for the Scottish Universities, and Mr. J. D. Rockefeller has established in New York an Institute for Medical Research. Mr. Rockefeller, in the endowment of the University of Chicago, has enjoyed the honorable distinction of having made the largest gift for public purposes, but even his great benefaction has now been surpassed by Mr. Carnegie.

The fund for the Scottish Universities has been transferred to trustees, in whose wisdom there will be perfect confidence, and no unwise restrictions have been placed on their power. At present, however, the income will be divided between paying the fees of students at the Scottish Universities, and strengthening the equipment and teaching staff. The scientific and medical departments, and modern languages and history, are designated as the subjects on which the money is to be spent. The Scottish Universities, like our own institutions, have always been close to the people, a very large percentage enjoying the benefits of a college training. An annual income of $500,000, devoted to higher education, will mean much for a comparatively small population.

Mr. Rockefeller's gift of $200,000 for an Institute for Medical Research is comparatively small. It is, however, intended for current expenses, and an endowment will doubtless be provided when required. The institute will be situated in New York City, but a building will not be erected at present, research being conducted in existing laboratories. The board of directors, with Dr. W. H. Welch of the Johns Hopkins University as president, guarantees the conduct of the institute in accordance with the highest scientific standards. It is most fortunate that we should now be on the way to share with European countries the duties of organized medical research. There are institutions, such as Mr. Rockefeller has now founded, in Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg and elsewhere, and last year Lord Iveagh established a similar laboratory in London. It is somewhat remarkable that great sums should have been spent annually on research in astronomy, geology and in other directions, whereas the advancement of medical science and its applications should have been left chiefly to individual effort. The first duty of the practising physician is to his patient, and the teacher in a medical school is doubly burdened, as he usually practises medicine, and at the same time instructs large classes. It is not surprising that the four hundred medical journals published in the United States are mostly somewhat dreary and barren, but, rather, that so much has been accomplished without state or private endowment.


What can be accomplished by properly directed medical research is proved by two advances of extraordinary importance made recently by American students. These are the discovery of the probable causes of yellow fever and of cancer. In the present number of this journal, Surgeon-General Sternberg describes the experiments made under his direction by a board of army surgeons in Havana. In heroic self-sacrifice and triumphant achievement these experiments have surely an absorbing interest, surpassing any fiction. Although the yellow fever parasite has not been seen, its existence seems as certain as that of the malaria parasite. We now know that yellow fever is not directly contagious, but is transmitted by a special kind of mosquito, and, probably, only in this way. If we exterminate certain kinds of mosquitoes, or prevent them from biting those diseased, or from biting those who are well, two of the most dreadful diseases—yellow fever and malaria—will be exterminated. The cost in money and life of the Spanish-American War has been more than repaid to society by the services of the medical army officers.

Science is often said to be cosmopolitan, but men of science owe allegiance to their country, and there is every reason to rejoice that it is also to an American that we owe the discovery of the probable cause of cancer. Dr. Harvey R. Gaylord, working in New York State Pathological Laboratory at Buffalo, has been able to cultivate the organisms that cause cancer, and to produce cancer by injecting them into healthy animals. These organisms are not bacteria or yeast cells, but protozoa. There has long been a difference of opinion as to whether cancer is due to alterations in nutrition, or to a parasite. Now that the latter has been proved, cancer must be regarded as a preventable disease, and it remains to discover the method of its propagation. It must, of course, be remembered that Dr. Gaylord's discovery, like all others, rests on a long line of careful researches carried on in many countries. There are innumerable names connected with the development of the germ theory of disease, but the forerunners of Gaylord, who especially deserve mention in connection with cancer, are Scheuerlin, Kubasoff, Russell, Sanfelice and Plimmer.


The resignation of Professor J. W. Gregory from the scientific staff of the British Antarctic Expedition is unfortunate, both because he possessed peculiar qualifications for his post, and because it has brought to light dissensions among those interested in the success of the expedition. The question at issue between the Royal Geographical Society, on the one hand, and the Royal Society, or some of its members, on the other, is one frequently recurring, namely, should the executive command, of scientific work be entrusted to a scientific man or is this unnecessary? When it was first arranged that Professor Gregory should take part in the expedition, it was understood that he would be the scientific leader. The British Government, however, gave a liberal subsidy, and a naval officer, Lieutenant Robert F. Scott, was appointed commander. Professor Gregory being made head of the civilian scientific staff. The relative position of Captain Scott and Professor Gregory gave rise to friction. Sir Clements Markham and the Royal Geographical Society holding that the scientific work was under the control of the naval officer in command. There were numerous conferences, and Professor Gregory finally consented to be satisfied with the control of a party to be landed on the coast. When, however, it was decided that the party should only be landed if this did not interfere with geographical exploration, Professor Gregory resigned. It seems evident that a scientific expedition can have but one leader, and it is natural that the Royal Geographical Society should regard exploration rather than geological and biological research as the primary object in the present case. The results will depend on the personality of Captain Scott, an unknown quantity in America; he may simply engage in adventure, or he may prove himself a competent scientific leader. The German expedition, with Dr. von Drygalski in absolute control, has, however, an advantage from the scientific point of view.


Professor Truman Henry Safford, who since 1877 had occupied the chair of astronomy at Williams College, died on June 13, at the age of 64 years.—Dr. Otto Lugger, State entomologist of Minnesota, and well known for his important contributions to economic entomology, died of pneumonia on May 21.—John Viriamu Jones, principal of University College, South Wales, and professor of physics in that institution, died on June 2, at the age of 45 years.—The eminent paleontologist. Professor Gustaf Lindström, keeper of the department of fossil animals in the Royal Museum, Stockholm, Sweden, died on May 16.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it was unanimously voted to award the Rumford Medal to Professor Elihu Thompson 'for his inventions in electric welding and lighting.'—One of the Carnegie Research Fellowships of the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain has been awarded to Mr. John A. Matthews, who at present holds the Columbia University Barnard Fellowship.

Dr. Frederick Peterson, of Columbia University, has been appointed by Governor Odell the medical member of the New York State Lunacy Commission. Dr. Peterson's appointment at the present time is especially fortunate, owing to the complications in connection with the State Pathological Institute, which will doubtless be settled with regard to the best interests of science and the care of the insane in the State hospitals.

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President of the Johns Hopkins University.