Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/April 1902/A Study of Calms

A STUDY OF CALMS.

By Professor EDWIN GRANT DEXTER,

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS.

AMONG the suggestive things which have been noted in the course of a series of studies which I have made in an attempt to discover the influence of the weather upon human conduct, no one has been more interesting or unexpected than the seeming effects of calms. Few people are immune to weather influences, and most of us are in a more or less apologetic mood for our behavior during some meteorological condition. East winds and leaden skies are made scape-goats for many a sin of omission or of commission, but it has not been my observation that conditions of calms were often used in that way.

That they do exert a marked influence upon human activities I hope to demonstrate in this paper. The method is wholly an empirical one. Various records of the occurrence of different abnormalities of human conduct were made use of, and the average daily occurrence of these phenomena for a number of years, compared with their average daily occurrence under definite meteorological conditions. The study was for the city of New York—a fact that must be borne in mind since it has an important bearing on the present problem—and covered a period of twelve years, for every day of which the mean temperature, barometric pressure and humidity, the wind movement, the precipitation and the character of the day were determined and used in the tabulation.

The conditions covered by this problem, the number of data, and their sources are as follows:[1]

Registration in Public Schools 118,020 School records
Deportment in Public Schools 14,020 School records.
Deportment in Penitentiary 3,981 Penitentiary records.
Arrests for assaults and battery (males) 36,627 Police records.
Arrests for assaults and battery (females) 3,981 Police records.
Arrests for drunkenness (males) 44,495 Police records.
Arrests for insanity (males) 2,467 Police records.
Arrests for insanity (females) 1,097 Police records.
Suicide 2,946 Police and coroner's records.
Deaths 74,793 Board of health records.
Policemen off duty for sickness 191,137 Police records.
Clerical errors 3,698 Bank records.
The whole number of data considered is 497,262.

The only influences which I wish to discuss in this paper are those of calms. For present purposes I have considered those days as calm, for which the total registration of the anemometer for the twenty-four hours was less than 100 miles. This would mean an average hourly movement of about 4 miles.

To explain more fully the data given above and discuss them: Under 'Registration in the Public Schools' is shown the exact number of single day's attendance which the registers of the schools studied would have shown if none of the pupils had been absent. As a matter of fact 9.2% were regularly absent. These absences were of course distributed throughout the whole school year, and, consequently, throughout all kinds of weather. As would naturally be expected, they varied to a marked degree with the weather. On excessively hot and cold days, on very windy or rainy days, there was a falling off in attendance for reasons that are patent.

The fact of importance from the standpoint of our present study is the falling off on calm days. For the two years studied, the average of absences for days upon which the total movements of the wind was less than 100 miles, was 29%: more than three times the average for all kinds of weather,—an excess of 214% based upon the expected, or average number. Here is something which on à priori grounds would scarcely have been looked for. Why were the pupils at home? The most logical answer to that question is, I believe, that they were not well enough to go. That they were suffering from some of the many indispositions to which childhood is subject. Not necessarily measles, nor mumps, nor scarlet fever, but the simple lack of condition which the woman in the next flat understands perfectly when his mother remarks that 'Johnnie was not feeling well this morning, so I kept him home from school.' To be sure, other matters keep the children home on calm days, such as company, funerals and parades, but these things occur just as frequently in other kinds of weather and we can not reasonably suppose that the conditions which we have found are due to them.

The next class of data has to do also with deportment, though not in public schools. It is marked 'Deportment in the Penitentiary,' and is based on the record of the prisoners committed to solitary confinement in the dark cells at the penitentiary on Randall's Island. The number so punished for misdemeanors occurring on calm days was 80% of the daily average for all kinds of weather, showing a deficiency of 20%.

The data for the next five classes of misdemeanors mentioned above were all taken from the blotters in the record room of the New York chief of police. Crime is there classified under 136 different heads, and the arrests for each, recorded for each day. The classes considered by me were studied for periods varying from two to seven years. The figures indicate the total number of arrests made for those periods, by the entire police force of old New York, the present borough of Manhattan.

The terms 'assault and battery' and 'drunkenness' are, I think, self-explanatory. Each arrest for 'insanity' meant that some one had been picked up on the streets in a state of acute mania, or that the police had been called to some house to remove a person in such a condition. In most cases it probably meant an initial attack of the disease, or the beginning of a recurrent attack. Otherwise the person would have been in an asylum, or other authorities than the police would have been appealed to.

To state in the briefest possible manner the seeming influence of calm days upon the distribution of these crimes: The number of males arrested for assault and battery upon such days was 89% of the normal,—by which term I mean the average daily occurrence for the whole period studied; of females for the same crime, 45% of the normal; of males for drunkenness, 77%; of males for insanity, 67%; of females for insanity, 34%. The figures show that there was a deficiency in the occurrence of all these crimes, the magnitude of which may be computed in each case by subtracting the percentage of occurrence from 100%, which is expectancy. In securing the data for suicide, two sources were made use of. In fact it is not solely a study of successful suicide, but of suicidal intent. From the standpoint of our study it is just as valuable a datum from which to work, to know that somebody tried to die at his own hand even though he did not succeed, as to know he was successful in the attempt. An attempt at suicide is a crime and is so recorded in the police records, which were tabulated for a period of five years. This gave us 984 of our data. The remainder were secured by going over some 28,000 death certificates for the same period in the coroner's office. The results showed that but 63% of the normal number of suicides (and unsuccessful attempts) occurred on calm days.

The next class of data given in the list is that of death. It is based upon the record of deaths for all causes in the city for a period of two years. In it we have a notable difference from the crimes and misdemeanors we have been studying, in that the occurrence for calm days was above the normal, being 104%. In this respect it resembles the study of attendance in the public schools, and also the last two classes of data given, those of the 'policemen off duty for sickness' and of 'clerical errors.' Of these two, the data for the first were taken from the annual reports for five years of the chief of police of New York city. It was not there stated that sickness was the cause of absence from duty, but it is safe to assume that it was the usual one. It is, however, rather interesting to note that immediately following Christmas, New Years, and other holidays, an unusual number was laid off, but we may charitably suppose that the weather was excessively deadly in its effects at those times. The tabulation shows that 105%, or 5% in excess of the normal number, were off duty on calm days. This would hardly be more in accordance with our expectation than was the school attendance under such conditions. If perfectly calm days were the most agreeable of all kinds we might suppose that our stalwart guardians of the peace had chosen them for picnics, but gentle breezes are generally accepted as being more delectable than dead calms, and we must look for some other causes for the absence of bluecoats under the latter conditions.

The last class of data given, that having to do with 'clerical errors,' was studied as a make-shift. I wished to determine the influence of different weather conditions upon the intellectual as well as educational states of man, and to that end sought long and earnestly for school records which showed a daily marking of class work, but without success. If any teacher who may read this has such, I should be very grateful to him if they could be placed in my hands. While wondering what other records might be made to supply the lack, I came across the statement that in the Bank of England certain sets of books, an error in which would prove cumulative and produce disastrous results later on, were never worked upon during some kinds of weather, especially London fogs, as it had been proved that clerical errors were much more frequent at such times.

Following the clue here given I gained access to the books of some of the largest banks in the Wall Street district, with the result that in the records for two years, the number of errors stated were found and tabulated with reference to their daily occurrence. The results showed 104% of the normal, or an excess of 4% for the calm days.

To state in a sentence the occurrence of data of all these classes under the condition of calm: absence from school, death, policemen off duty, and clerical errors were all above the normal, while misdemeanors in school and penitentiary, arrests for assault and battery, drunkenness and insanity, and suicide, were below.

The facts so far given do not show whether the change with an increase in wind was a gradual one or not. As a matter of fact it was not. Had it been so, there would have been less excuse for this paper. The most striking thing about the curves upon which it is based is the sudden change which takes place in the occurrence of nearly all the

Table showing Prevalence during Calms of Phenomena studied.—One Hundred Pee Cent. Equals the Normal or Expected Number.

Schools; absences 314% Insanity (male) 67%
Schools; deportment 50% Insanity (female) 34%
Penitentiary; deportment 80% Suicide 62%
Assault and battery (male) 89% Death 104%
Assault and battery (female) 45% Policemen off duty 105%
Drunkenness (male) 78% Banks, Errors in 105%
PSM V60 D533 Meteorology and human behavior.png

activities (or cessations of activity in the case of death) with a slight increase in atmospheric movement. In the case of arrests for assault and battery and for insanity (both males and females), and of misdeeds in the penitentiary, all of which had shown deficiencies for calms—and some of them very large ones—excesses were shown for wind movements between 100 and 150 miles per day, while misdemeanors in the schools were also above the normal before a movement of 200 miles had been reached. On the other hand, policemen off duty and death, both of which had been excessive in number during calms, took a sudden drop as the wind arose, and showed deficiencies for the next wind group (100-150 miles). Suicide, drunkenness and clerical errors alone showed gradual changes with the wind. The appearance of the curves as a whole is such as to lead me to place calms in a class by themselves as far as wind influences are concerned. High winds seem to have an influence peculiarly their own, gradually merging into that peculiar to moderate and slight movements, but when the aerial stagnation of 100 miles per day or less is reached a sudden change takes place, and certain human phenomena suddenly increase in numbers, while others drop almost to a vanishing point. Which are the ones in excess? Absence from school, absence from police duty, clerical errors and death. But absence from school means sickness, absence from duty the same, clerical errors the same in milder forms, and death the same at its maximum.

To restate: during calms, those life phenomena which are due to depleted vitality are excessive. But let us return to those phenomena which were deficient in occurrence during calms. They were misdemeanors in public schools and penitentiaries, cases of assault and battery, insanity, drunkenness and suicide. To analyze each briefly: In the public schools, sins of commission rather than sins of omission are usually the occasion of bad marks in deportment. It is usually the active, energetic boy, the one with vitality to spare who gets the demerits. The anemic youngster may never stand at the head of his class, but he is very likely to delight his fond mamma with a mark of 100 in deportment. If that be so, and I speak with authority upon this point if upon no other, disorder in the school room is an active thing, and an evidence of excessive vitality. With the penitentiary inmate I have had less experience, but upon à priori grounds would argue that what is true for the child in question of deportment would not be radically different for the adult. In fact the wardens in charge, upon being questioned on the matter, gave it as their opinion that the prevalence of disorder bore a pretty close relation to physical health, varying directly with it; that order was only preserved through evidence of superior force on their part; that a sick person was always a good one, but that with a return to health conditions were frequently very different. We may then conclude that in the penitentiary misdemeanors are evidences of excessive vitality.

With persons arrested for the crime of assault and battery the same is, I believe, demonstrably true. One might feel like fighting and perhaps more frequently does feel so when possessed of 'that tired feeling' which is the fortune of patent medicine venders, but to feel like fighting without doing so, never brought a man before the police judge for the crime which we are considering. There must be both the inclination and the consciousness of strength to back it up before one would be likely to figure in this class of data.

In the case of the next class, that of arrests for insanity, we shall take the word of the psychiatrist that acute mania increases with any condition which tends to augment the output of nervous energy. The daily fluctuations in strength which all have experienced are not so much those of physical, as of nervous energy, if the distinction may be made, and with any having tendencies to mania the results would be those which our records showed.

With the occurrence of drunkenness and of suicide we have seeming contradiction to the belief which I have been attempting to maintain for the other phenomena which were deficient during calms, namely that they were evidences of excessive vitality. To discuss the peculiar problem which each of these presents would take us too far from our present subject, so I will simply refer any who are interested in following the subject further to papers already published by me on the subject.[2]

With these possible exceptions we can say: that during calms those life phenomena which are due to excessive vitality are deficient in number. If these theses have been sufficiently defended, and figures are not in existence with which to refute them, the next logical question would be, 'Why?'

Two hypotheses may, I believe, be presented in answer. The first is based upon the general facts bearing upon ventilation, and the second upon those of atmospheric electricity. The first would only be applicable to the conditions of large cities—and I will again call attention to the fact that all the data of the present problem were for New York City—while the second would be valid for any spot on the earth's surface. In discussing the first I would call attention to the fact that combustion of any sort, whether within the lungs of animal organisms or in the ordinary processes of burning, depletes the air of its oxygen and surcharges it with carbonic acid gas. If the normal proportions of oxygen are to be maintained in the immediate vicinity of such combustion, fresh air must by some means be brought in to take the place of that, the normal mixture of which has been disturbed. We are quite familiar with these facts in their bearing upon the ventilation of buildings, but there is no difference except that of magnitude between a building in which the air is being robbed of its oxygen through combustion, and a city in which the same process is going on.

Three million animal organisms (not all human) and half as many more fires, all without adequate vegetable organisms to reverse the process should, we would argue, make tremendous inroads upon the atmospheric stock of oxygen. That this is true has been demonstrated by Dr. J. B. Cohen in an article appearing in the Smithsonian Reports for 1895, p. 573. He there shows that the proportion of carbonic acid gas varies to a very marked degree in the center of the city of Manchester, England; that the variation extends from the normal amount at times, to more than four times that amount at others, the average being nearly three times the normal. Although he makes no reference to the fact, it is, I believe, safe to assume that these variations bear a fixed relation to wind movements. Certainly when the wind was very violent, no considerable difference could exist between the composition of the atmosphere in a great center of population and in the surrounding country where the normal mixture of gases would be found. It is safe also to assume that what was true for Manchester would be for New York City, and to assume at least as a working hypothesis that during calms the atmosphere for that city contains an excess of carbonic acid gas and a consequent deficiency of oxygen. The devitalizing effect of the former gas upon life processes and the importance of the latter to them are facts too well recognized to need discussion here. That they are demonstrated by the conditions stated earlier in this paper I shall maintain until some more tenable hypothesis is brought forward.

Some interesting facts not already alluded to are suggested by this study, and in conclusion I shall mention two of them very briefly.

First, there would seem to be reason to infer that the influence of calms upon children is more marked than that upon adults. The basis for this belief is found in the fact that the absentees from school were increased three-fold during their prevalence, while no one of the classes of adults was affected to anything like such an extent.

Second, that women seem to be more sensitive to such influence than men. Evidence of this are to be found in the study of arrests for assault and battery where the sexes were tabulated separately.

In explanation of my own conception of the whole problem of weather influences, I would say, in closing, that we cannot suppose peculiar meteorological conditions to be the immediate cause of many of the abnormalities of conduct which vary with them. I have determined that suicide is much more frequent when the barometer is low than when it is high, yet would not wish to assert that low barometrical conditions ever drove a man to self destruction. The only thing supposable is that during such atmospheric conditions, the general emotional states are of such qualities that other things are more likely to do so.

This would be just as true for any of the other abnormalities of conduct studied. We can on the strength of the whole series of studies claim to have demonstrated that the metabolic processes of life to some extent vary with the weather states, and that these variations in metabolism make themselves evident both through physiological and psychological manifestations. More than this we do not at present claim.

  1. Fuller studies have been published as follows: 'Conduct and the Weather,' Monograph Supplement, No. 10, The Psychological Review; The Pedagogical Seminary, April, 1898; The Scientific American Supplement, June 3, 1899; Science, August 11, 1899; Appleton's Popular Science Monthly, September, 1899; Educational Review, February, 1900; Nature, February 11, 1900, Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, October, 1900; Popular Science Monthly, April, 1901; International Journal of Ethics, July, 1901.
  2. 'Drunkenness and the Weather,' Annals of the American Society of Political and Social Science, November, 1900; 'Suicide and the Weather,' Popular Science Monthly, April, 1901.