Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/August 1902/The Progress of Science



The American Association for the Advancement of Science held its fifty-first annual meeting at Pittsburgh on the last day of June and the first three days of July. There was a registration of 435 members, and some 350 addresses and papers were presented before the several sections and affiliated societies. As the number of papers so nearly equaled the number of members, it is evident that those present were chiefly working men of science. It must also be remembered that some members of the affiliated societies are not members of the Association, so that the gathering of scientific men numbered about 600. They were almost entirely different from the 300 students of the natural sciences who met in Chicago last winter. At the next meeting of the Association to be held in Washington during convocation week, the two groups will come together, and the meeting will probably exceed in size and importance any similar congress of scientific men held outside of Germany.

The address of the retiring president of the Association, Dr. Minot, of the Harvard Medical School, is printed above. Though admirably expressed and on a topic that should be of general interest, it must be confessed that the relations of consciousness to organic evolution and the material world is a subject outside the range of the consciousness of the ordinary man. The addresses of the vice-presidents maintained a high scientific standard, but were in most cases addressed to specialists, whereas it seems that there should be at the meetings of the Association some addresses and discussions that appeal to all scientific men and to those who take an intelligent interest in science. Of this character were the interesting evening addresses by Professor D. S. Kellicott and Dr. Robert T. Hill, but otherwise the programs were addressed to specialists. Indeed the sectional meetings tend to be too special even for the specialists. Some method should be adopted for the presentation of scientific papers that will make attendance more interesting and profitable. A distinction should be made between small groups of men interested in a common topic and larger numbers who even within the limits of their own science should not be expected to listen to papers that they would not read. Several amendments to the constitution were adopted tending to strengthen the organization of the sections and the permanence of administration. The council will hereafter elect each year three members at large who will doubtless add to the efficiency of that body, and the sectional committees will become more nearly sub-councils, while the term of office of the secretaries is extended from one to five years. The membership of the Association has considerably increased during the year, being now about 3,500, and the finances are in excellent condition, the permanent secretary, Dr. Howard, having handed over $2,000 from current income to the permanent fund.

Professor Asaph Hall is succeeded in the presidency by Dr. Ira Remsen, the eminent chemist, president of the Johns Hopkins University. The vice presidents are, for mathematics and astronomy, Professor George Bruce Halsted, of the University of Texas; for physics, Professor E. F. Nichols, of Dartmouth College; for chemistry, Professor Charles Baskerville, of the University of North Carolina; for mechanical science and engineering, Professor C. A Waldo, of Purdue University; for geology and geography, Professor W. M. Davis, of Harvard University; for zoology, Professor Charles W. Hargitt, of Syracuse University; for botany, Dr. F. V. Coville, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture; for anthropology, Dr. G. M. Dorsey, of the Field Columbian Museum, Chicago; for social and economic science, H. T. Newcomb, of Philadelphia, and for physiology and experimental medicine, Professor W. H. Welch, of the Johns Hopkins University.


The appropriations for 1 research made by the American Association are very small compared with those of the British and French Associations. The British Association has a large income from local members, who pay fees for the meeting, and the French Association has a large endowment which is continually increased by bequests; each of these associations appropriates about $5,000 annually for research. The permanent funds of the American Association are slowly increasing, chiefly by savings from income, and now amount to about $12,500. The income from this fund, however, only permitted making at Pittsburgh five small grants, $75 each to committees on blind vertebrates, on the relation of plants to climate and on the velocity of light, and $50 each to committees on anthropometry and on the atomic weight of thorium.

It was announced at a general meeting of the Association that the Botanical Society of America has set aside the sum of $500 from its yearly income, this year and every succeeding year, to be used in making grants in aid of investigations. The funds of the Botanical Society consist of the accumulated dues and interest paid in by the members, and the grants in question probably constitute the only series ever offered in America, the money for which has been contributed wholly by a body of scientific workers. Should the members of the American Association be equally self-sacrificing there would be available an annual income of $35,000 for research. It must, however, be said that the more important demands for funds for research are pretty well met. The National Academy administers funds large enough to meet all pressing needs, the Elizabeth Thompson Science Fund has a fair income at its disposal, and all other funds are of course overshadowed by the great endowment of the Carnegie Institution. Some disappointment was expressed at Pittsburgh that no officers of the Carnegie Institution were present, and that the plans of the institution have not been more freely made public. But it is certainly the part of wisdom for those responsible for the conduct of the institution to take ample time before coming to any final decision. Ample opportunity for public discussion will doubtless be afforded before the institution commits itself to any definite policy.


The government of a nation is becoming increasingly a problem of applied science. Opinion and the rule of thumb are gradually being superseded by knowledge and the direction of the trained expert. This is clearly shown by the more important measures passed by the recent congress. The destructive activities of warfare are becoming less important than the commissariat and the medical department; but they rest equally on the applications of science. This is indicated by the usual superiority of the navy over the army, and by the place in the army taken by West Point graduates as compared with the amateur volunteer. Fortunately war is no longer the chief business of a nation; our present duty in the Philippines is pacification rather than warfare, and in arranging a civil government, Congress has been largely concerned with questions of applied science. The matter next in general interest before Congress was the isthmian canal, where legislation has been definitely based on the report of a committee of experts. Nearly of equal importance was the subject of irrigation, where the law enacted and its execution depend entirely on scientific advance. So other important measures, such as the establishment of a permanent census bureau, and a large part of the routine conduct of the business of the nation, may be regarded as direct applications of science. It is interesting to note that questions which belong to the more backward political and social sciences did not fare as well as those resting on the natural and exact sciences. There was less agreement as to tariff, subsidies, franchise, currency, etc., and legislation concerning these questions was mostly dropped as postponed. It seems curious that when legislative and executive work depend so largely on science so few men of scientific training should be found in Congress or in the Cabinet. The retiring prime minister of the British Empire has been president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and it is said that he retires to engage in scientific work; his successor is the author of books in which the fundamental problems of science are treated. In France men of science have taken an active part in government. Here, where the government is more dependent on science than in any other nation, there can scarcely be found a single scientific man in any elective position. Perhaps it is just as well under existing conditions that men of science should not be politicians. We have, however, in fact four main branches of the government—the executive, the legislative, the judiciary and the scientific; and there is reason to suppose that the expert or scientific department may at some time be recognized as coordinate with the others.


A translation of Laplace's 'Philosophical Essay on Probabilities'[1] has been issued by Messrs. Wiley and Sons, this being its first appearance, as far as we know, in English. No algebra is used in this essay, its aim being to present the fundamental principles and the general results of the theory of probability in a simple and popular manner. This aim is attained in some portions, especially in those relating to judicial decisions, elections, insurance statistics and annuities. Other discussions, particularly those treating of the adjustment of observations and Laplace's method of generating functions, are not clear. In fact the last-mentioned subject is so obscurely presented that Todhunter in his 'History of Probability' characterizes it as a waste of space, while Langsdorf's German translation devotes eight pages of notes to its elucidation. The present translation, however, has no notes, and the obscurities of the original are often rendered darker yet by renderings into imperfect English.

The work of translation has been done by F. W. Truscott and F. L. Emory, of the West Virginia University, the former being professor of Germanic languages and the latter professor of mechanics and applied mathematics. A combination of this kind should produce the best results, for the competent linguist will see that idiomatic English is used, while the competent specialist will see that the correct technical terms are employed and that explanatory foot-notes are given in all doubtful cases. Here, however, the French word that means addition is sometimes rendered as 'unite' and the word that means subtraction is rendered 'draw from.' What is the meaning of such expressions as 'manner of relating past events with the probability of causes,' 'to conclude the order of preference,' 'diminution of subsistences,' etc.? We are told that stars are 'called double, on account of their conjunction 'and that laws are the ratios which connect particular phenomena together.' The strange expression 'salubrity of the sun' only ceases to be puzzling upon reference to the original, where we learn that sol is the word which the translators suppose to mean 'sun.' On one page 'primary number' is used six times where prime number should have been employed. Expectation is a common term in the theory of probability, but the translators prefer the word 'hope.' DeMoivre is a name well known to American mathematicians but the translators call him 'Moivre,' as Laplace properly did. For the same reason, no doubt, Pliny appears as 'Pline,' but it is hard to understand what reason or fact justifies the statement that 'the duration of the rotation of Saturn is 0.427 minutes.'

In the concluding paragraph of the essay occurs the well-known statement of Laplace that the theory of probability is really only common sense reduced to calculation. The translators, however, calmly tell us that 'the theory of probabilities is at bottom only common sense reduced to calculus.' Alas, that American scholarship and American science should have fall upon them the blot of such poor work. No doubt, the translators put forth this book, really believing it to be a creditable production; they honestly think that they are good linguists and that they have a good knowledge of the subject matter of Laplace's essay. Such a state of mind can only be due, we think, to grave defects in the methods of instruction in the schools and colleges where these men were educated, methods not worse probably than those in many others. Lastly, what shall be said of publishers who issue such crude material and thereby bring disgrace upon American scientific literature! Here was an opportunity where both translators and publishers might have won credit and advanced mathematical learning, for a good translation of this essay, well annotated, would furnish excellent collateral reading to many students of probability and least squares. Nathaniel Bowditch honored himself and American science by his magnificent translation of Laplace's 'Mecanique celeste,' and thereby astronomical learning was advanced in all lands. The translation of this essay on probabilities, however, brings no credit to any one, but much disgrace to many, and the only possible reparation that the publishers can make is to immediately withdraw the book from the market.


We note with regret, the deaths of Dr. John Daniel Runkle, professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since its foundation and president from 1870 to 1878; of Professor J. B. Johnson, dean of the College of Engineering of the University of Wisconsin; and of M. Hervé Faye, the eminent French astronomer.

The coronation honors in Great Britain have been announced, in spite of the postponement of the coronation. A new order of merit has been established which includes in its list of twelve original members the names of four distinguished men of science, namely, Lord Rayleigh, Lord Kelvin, Lord Lister and Sir William Huggins. Among those who have been knighted are the physicists, Principal Rüeker, of the University of London, and Principal Lodge, of the University of Liverpool; the chemist, Professor Ramsay; the engineer, Dr. Thornycroft, and a number of prominent physicians.

The Albert medal of the London Society of Arts has for the present year been awarded to Professor Alexander Graham Bell, for his invention of the telephone.—The eminent astronomer, Professor Giovanni Schiaparelli, has been elected an associate of the French Academy of Sciences, and M. Amagat a member of the section of physics.—The Academy of Sciences of Vienna has elected Lord Rayleigh a corresponding member.

President Eliot, of Harvard University, was elected president of the national Educational Association at the recent Minneapolis meeting.—Dr. William H. Forwood has succeeded Dr. George M. Sternberg as surgeon-general of the army.—Professor Edward S. Holden has accepted the appointment of librarian of the Military Academy at West Point.

Mr. F. H. Newell, chief hydrographer of the U. S. Geological Survey, has gone to the West to supervise surveys in connection with the work in irrigation authorized by Congress. Surveying parties are in the field in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and Colorado.—The American Museum of Natural History, New York city, has sent an expedition to eastern Colorado to examine the unexplored portions of the Protohippus Beds in the hope of securing a complete skeleton of this animal. At the same time search will be made in western Nebraska for the same fossil species of horse, in the locality where Professor Leidy first discovered it. The expenses of these expeditions are defrayed by the gift of Mr. William C. Whitney.—The Windward is being fitted for its fifth and last trip and will soon sail via Etah for Cape Sabine on Smith Sound, where it is expected that Lieutenant Peary will be found.

In honor of the late Alpheus Hyatt a memorial fund is being collected for field lessons in natural history. Professor Hyatt was greatly interested in extending the teaching of natural history to the schools, and this memorial appears to be especially appropriate. While the fund will be administered by a board of trustees at Boston, contributions from Professor Hyatt's former pupils or friends, wherever living, will be welcome. The treasurer, to whom subscriptions may be sent, is Mr. Stephen H. Williams, 2 Tremont Street, Boston.—Dr. Joseph Leidy, Jr., 1319 Locust Street, Philadelphia, is collecting the correspondence of the late Professor Joseph Leidy for publication. He would be glad to possess copies or the originals of any letters of interest that may be in the possession of readers of the Popular Science Monthly.

  1. 'A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities,' by Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace. Translated from the Sixth French Edition by Frederick Wilson Truscott, Ph.D. (Harv.), and Frederick Lincoln Emory, M.E. (Wor. Poly. Inst.). New York, John Wiley & Sons. 1002. Duodecimo, cloth, 196 pages. Price, $2.00.