Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/December 1901/The Progress of Science



The eightieth birthday of one of the leaders of modern civilization has been celebrated with imposing ceremonies at Berlin. Virchow is the founder of the science of pathology, and his services for anthropology have been nearly as great. He has not only demonstrated that the scientific research of the laboratory may be directly beneficial to mankind, but he has himself applied his own discoveries for the welfare of Berlin and of the German army, whence they have extended to the whole world. There is no city whose inhabitants are not healthier and happier because Virchow has lived and worked; it is indeed scarcely an exaggeration to say that there is no patient of any village physician who does not benefit from the labors of this man whose name he may never have heard. Virchow often stood opposed to Bismarck; in written history the iron chancellor may always be the more frequently named, but the world's progress has probably been more directly led by the man of science.

The ceremonies at Berlin included the presentation of a marble bust of Virchow to the great Pathological Institute founded by him; the presentation of an additional endowment to the Virchow Fund for the promotion of research, toward which the municipality contributed $20,000; the presentation of addresses of congratulation on behalf of the empire, state and municipality, and from national and foreign institutions, and, most interesting of all, a lecture by Virchow on the history and scope of pathology. Lord Lister, who represented the Royal Society and other British institutions, said: "All these bodies join in recognition of your gigantic intellectual powers, in gratitude for the great benefits that you have conferred upon humanity, and in admiration of your personal character, your absolute uprightness, the courage which has enabled you always to advocate what you believed to be the cause of truth, liberty and justice, and the genial nature which has won for you the love of all who know you. The astonishing vigor which you displayed in the address to which we listened today justifies the hope that, when many of us your juniors shall have been removed from this scene of labor, it may be granted to you to celebrate your ninetieth birthday not only in health and honor but in continued activity in the service of mankind."


Universities are among the most stable of institutions. Glasgow University recently celebrated its ninth jubilee, while Harvard University commemorated in 1886 the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its foundation. Yale University, the third in age of our American colleges, is now two hundred years old and the event has been celebrated in a manner commensurate with the prestige of the institution. Such occasions are almost medieval in their gowned processions, the presentation of Latin addresses, the conferring of degrees and the like; but they are nearly as modern as football games, in so far as they serve as an occasion of collecting endowments, attracting students and arousing the loyalty of alumni. Both in its dramatic exhibition and in its financial outcome the celebration at New Haven was eminently successful. There were present thousands of graduates and guests for whom a program lasting four days had been prepared. It included sermons, addresses, concerts, dedications and other exercises, leading to the commemorative exercises and the conferring of honorary degrees. The doctorate of laws was conferred on President Roosevelt and forty-six others, including among scientific men t. S. Billings, director of the New York Public Library; S. P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; A. A. Michelson, professor of physics in the University of Chicago; William Osier, professor of medicine in the Johns Hopkins Medical School; Henry Smith Pritchett, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ira Remsen, president of the Johns Hopkins University; Ogden Nicholas Rood, professor of physics in Columbia University, and Wilhelm Waldeyer, professor of anatomy in the University of Berlin.

About half of those who have become eminent for public services are college graduates, and Yale has certainly contributed its full share. The addresses by ex-President Oilman on Yale's Relation to Letters and Science, and by Professor Welch on Yale's Relation to Medicine, told of the important part taken by Yale's graduates in the scientific work of the country. Through the influence of the elder Silliman and the 'American Journal of Science,' established by him in 1818, and through the Sheffield Scientific School, Yale has always led in the sciences. Its faculty has included the two Sillimans, Olmsted, Loomis, Dana, Newton and Marsh, and among its alumni are many of those who have advanced science, including two of our leading inventors, Whitney and Morse. In education Yale has had great influence through the college presidents it has trained. As President Northrop pointed out in his address, one hundred and five graduates of Yale have been president of a college; and eighty-five different colleges have at some time had a Yale graduate for president. Yale furnished the first president of at least seventeen colleges—Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgia, Williams, Hamilton, Kenyon, Illinois, Wabash, Missouri, Wisconsin, Beloit, California, Cornell, Western Reserve, Johns Hopkins and Chicago.


The fifth meeting of the International Zoological Congress, which opened at Berlin on August 13, was attended by a very large number of zoologists and carried out an elaborate program in the course of which many highly interesting papers were read. The general sessions of the Congress were occupied by a series of addresses on general topics, among which may be mentioned those of Professor Yves Delage, of Paris on the fertilization of the egg, of Professor Grassi of Rome on the malaria organism, of Professor Poulton of Oxford on mimicry in insects, and the fine closing address on vitalism and mechanism by Professor Bütschli of Heidelberg. The number of detailed papers read in the various sections is too great to allow of their review here, but attention may be called to the interesting discussion on vitalism and mechanism that took place in the opening session of the section for experimental biology. The modern revival of interest in this time-honored problem, which occupied so large a field of discussion a half-century ago, has been largely due to the surprising results attained by experimental embryology during the last decade, especially those brought forward by Roux, Driesch and their many followers. The discussion at Berlin was opened by Driesch himself in a paper entitled 'Two New Proofs of Vitalism,' a title which indicates his own position on the general problem. Presenting in brief form the essential arguments that he had already put forward in more extended papers on the development of fractional parts of the egg and on the general problem of the localization of morphogenic processes, Driesch maintained that these processes have no true analogue in the inorganic world, are insoluble by any purely mechanical or physico-chemical hypothesis, and hence form a problem sui generis. The most characteristic operations of the living organism, more especially those concerned in the processes of regeneration, regulation and the like, fail of adequate interpretation on the so-called 'machine-theory' of life, and must be regarded from a vitalistic as opposed to a mechanistic standpoint. His conclusions, which were stated with great lucidity and force, met with strong opposition in the animated controversy that followed, in which a number of eminent embryologists participated. Some of these speakers wholly denied the validity of Driesch's reasoning and endeavored to show that true analogues to regulative phenomena occur in purely physical processes. Others, notably Professor Roux, took more cautious ground, maintaining that despite our present inability to explain or even to conceive the nature of some of the most striking and characteristic phenomena of development, we are by no means justified in taking refuge behind such a word as 'vitalism,' which carries with it so many misleading connotations from the earlier period when it was employed in connection with the. exploded hypothesis of a specific 'vital force.'

The masterly and scholarly address of Professor Bütschli, delivered before the general session, contained not only a specific examination of the main facts in which Driesch's position rests, but also a critical study of more abstract conceptions, such as those embodied in the words 'mechanism,' 'causality' and the like, which are inevitably involved in the discussion of the subject. This address, which has been published in pamphlet form by Engelmann of Leipzig under the title Mechanism and Vitalism is worthy of attentive study, not only by students of zoology, but also by all who are interested in the more general aspects of scientific progress. Recognizing the difficulties that the mechanistic interpretation of organic nature has to encounter, Bütschli nevertheless expresses the judgment that, in the broad sense of the phrase, it is the only one under which scientific investigation is possible, and that it is, to say the least, wholly premature to speak of 'proofs of vitalism.' "The phenomena involved in the localization process seem to me not to differ fundamentally in kind from those occurring in the inorganic world." The acceptance of vitalistic hypothesis constitutes a backward step in scientific method. "Both the old and the new vitalism have done no more than to emphasize the unsolved riddles that confront us and to throw doubt on the possibility of their explanation on a mechanistic basis. The assumption of vitalistic processes involves the admission that they are ultimate phenomena, in themselves inexplicable, that we are not able to subsume under general laws. Hence we must take the ground that in vital phenomena we can comprehend only that which may receive a physicochemical explanation." How far the mechanistic hypothesis will succeed in the explanation of vital phenomena, only the future will show. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.'

In considering the possibility of a mechanistic explanation of the purposive or teleological aspect of living organisms Bütschli recognizes Darwin's theory of natural selection as the sole fruitful attempt in this direction. In view of the difficulties that have been urged against that theory, and especially the drastic criticism it has received at the hands of some German writers, it is interesting to find that so competent and critical an authority as Bütschli accepts Darwin's explanation, as amplified by later workers, not only as a possible one, but also as the most probable one thus far advanced.


It is well known that the day, or interval required for one complete rotation of the earth, is the time unit by which the succession of terrestrial and celestial events is measured. The earth revolves with a regularity which far surpasses that of the best clocks and chronometers except for short intervals of time, such as a few minutes, or a few hours at most. But it is not certain that the day has been of the same length in the remote past as at present, or that it will remain of the same length in the distant future. It is therefore a matter of prime importance, especially in those branches of astronomy which deal with long intervals of time, to understand the effects of such secular causes as may tend to modify the length of the day. In a recent number of the 'Astronomical Journal' Professor R. S. Woodward has published a mathematical investigation of the effects of secular cooling and of accumulations of meteoric dust. The cooling, and consequent cubical contraction, of the earth tends to shorten the day; while the increment to the earth's mass from meteorites, of which not less than twenty millions daily fall into the atmosphere, tends to lengthen the day. The effect of secular cooling was considered to a limited extent by Laplace in his 'Mécanique céleste.' Assuming that the earth is in the last stages of cooling he reached the conclusion that the length of the day has not changed appreciably in the past two thousand years. Without making any assumption as to the present stage in the history of cooling, Woodward shows that during no interval so short as twenty centuries in the entire history of cooling can the length of the day change by so much as a thousandth of a second from the cause in question. In fact, so slowly does the effect of secular cooling accumulate that the day will not change, or has not changed, as the case may be, by so much as a half second in the first ten million years after the earth began to solidify and to lose heat by conduction through its crust. On the other hand, the shortening of the day which must come with the end of the process of cooling is a very sensible fraction of its present length. For this total effect Woodward gives a remarkably simple expression, namely: the ratio of the change in length of the day to its initial length is equal to two-thirds of the product of the fall in temperature of the earth by its cubical contraction. Supposing the earth to have been initially at a temperature of 3000°C., and that its cubical contraction is the same as that of iron, or about 3 x 10—5, it follows that the day will be ultimately shortened by about six per cent, of its initial length, or by an hour and a half nearly. The length of time required by the earth to cool down sensibly to the temperature of surrounding space is very great. Nothing short of a million years is suitable as a time unit for measuring the historical progress of such events. Thus Woodward shows that it will require about three hundred thousand million years for the earth to accomplish ninety-five per cent, of its contraction, and that after a million million years its contraction would no longer sensibly affect the length of the day.

To what extent is this shortening of the day due to contraction offset by the lengthening due to accessions of meteoric dust? The calculation shows that the accumulation of such dust goes on so slowly that its effect will not become perceptible until the total effect from secular cooling is nearly complete. In round numbers, the latter effect goes on two hundred thousand times as fast as the opposite effect from meteoric dust. In fact, if the average mass of meteorites is no greater than one gram, it will require a million million years, at the present rate of influx, to lengthen the day by so much as a quarter of a second.

It is clear, therefore, that, if the regularity of the earth as a timekeeper during historic times is to be questioned, one must look to other causes than secular cooling and meteoric dust.


There has been much agitation in England during the last few years over the fact that Germany is steadily forging ahead in all lines of chemical industry. As long ago as 1886, Professor Mendola, in a paper read before the Society of Arts, reviewed the English color industry, and sounded a warning note regarding its future progress. English manufacturers have, however, manfully stood by their old methods, and are seeing their trade gradually, but surely slipping from their grasp.

At the Glasgow meeting of the British Association, Arthur C. Green, who is well qualified to speak on the subject, read a paper on the relative progress of the coal-tar industry in England and Germany during the last fifteen years, in which he handles the matter with almost brutal frankness. After sketching the wonderful advancement which has been made in the development of the industry during the period covered by his paper, the discovery of thousands of new dyestuffs, the introduction of hundreds of new synthetic pharmaceutical products and the great advances in the production and design of chemical plant, occasioned by the vast requirements of the industry, he brings out the comparative statistics of the industry in the two countries. Among them the following are worthy of reproduction. The exports of coal-tar colors, exclusive of alizarin, from Germany have increased from 4,646 tons in 1885 to 17,639 tons in 1899; those of anilin oil and salt from 1,713 tons in 1885 to 7,135 in 1895, and of alizarin colors from 4,284 to 8,927 tons in the same period. The values of the coal-tar colors exported increased from 2,600,000 pounds sterling in 1894 to 3,500,000 pounds in 1898. In fifteen years the imports of coal-tar dyestuffs into England have increased fifty per cent., while the exports from England have decreased over thirty per cent. The Bradford Dyers' Association uses at present 80% German coloring-matters and only 10% English. The British Cotton and Wool Dyers' Association imports 78 % of its anilin colors and over 98% of its alizarin colors. The English Sewing Cotton Company used, out of a total of sixty tons of coloring-matters, only 9% of English manufacture. In addition to this, the indigo industry, which now yields to India an income of three million pounds sterling a year, is seriously threatened by the synthetic indigo from Germany, and its days are in all probability numbered.

The cause of this state of affairs Mr. Green finds in the almost utter in appreciation of science on the part of the English Government, manufacturers and people. As he says, 'it is not so much the education of our chemists which is at fault as the scientific education of the public as a whole.'

This theme has more than an indirect bearing upon American industries. We are just beginning to reap the harvest which awaits us in the application of scientific principles to our industries. Until recently we have been following the English 'rule o' thumb' method, but along many lines there has now been a radical change, and in these England is finding her commercial supremacy threatened from this side of the water. There are yet enormous fields for us to conquer, in which we have a great advantage over Germany in the natural resources of the country. The enormous industrial strides which this country is taking, which command the admiration as well as the fear of the world, are after all the fruitage of the ideas which the teachers of science in our colleges and technological schools have been pounding into the often unwilling brains of their students during the last quarter of a century.


Dr. Richmond Mayo-Smith, professor of political economy and social science at Columbia University died as the result of a fall on November 11.—A memorial meeting in honor of the late Henry Augustus Rowland was held at the Johns Hopkins University, on October 16. The principal address was made by Dr. T. C. Mendenhall.

The Rumford medals of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences have been presented to Professors Carl Barus and Elihu Thomson.—Professor Geo. J. Brush, emeritus professor of mineralogy and formerly director of the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, received a loving cup from his former students, on the occasion of the recent bicentennial exercises.

The second annual Huxley lecture of the Anthropological Institute was delivered by Dr. Francis Galton, F.R.S., on October 29, his subject being 'The Possible Improvement of the Human Breed under the Existing Conditions of Law and Sentiment.'

Professor Hugo Münsterberg, of Harvard University, began, on November 11, a series of eight Lowell lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on 'The Results of Experimental Psychology.'

Mr. Andrew Carnegie has given an additional million dollars towards the endowment of the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg, and a second million dollars for the Polytechnic Institute to be established in that city.—Mr. T. Jefferson Coolidge, late Minister to France, has given a fund of $50,000 to the Jefferson Physical Laboratory of Harvard University for physical research.—Mr. John D. Rockefeller has promised to contribute $200,000 toward the endowment fund for Barnard College, Columbia University, provided that an equal sum is given by others before January 1, 1902.—The preliminary plans have been accepted for a new building for the Department of Agriculture at Washington. These plans contemplate a marble structure, something over 300 feet long, with wings at either end extending to the rear to accommodate the various laboratories of the department.