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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/November 1902/The Progress of Science

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION.

Scientific interest this month is focused on the approaching meeting of the trustees of the Carnegie Institution. At the first meeting of the trustees, officers and an executive committee were appointed, and adjournment was taken to November without any decision on matters of policy. During the summer reports have been prepared by advisory committees of scientific men, and the secretary and other members of the executive committee have been engaged in careful consideration of the methods by which the Carnegie Institution can most effectively contribute to the advancement of science. The president of the institution has been abroad in consultation with foreign men of science and studying their institutions. The advisory committees have been selected with care, and it is doubtless proper that their reports should be regarded as confidential until they have been presented to the trustees. Scientific men would, however, be better pleased if the nomination of the members of the advisory committees had been entrusted to the scientific societies of the country and if they were sure that the trustees would take no action involving the institution in a definite policy until the questions at issue have been more thoroughly discussed. It would not be possible to select more representative trustees than those of the Carnegie Institution, but they are men of affairs, engaged in the conduct of important enterprises, and can not be expected to devote their attention to the policy of the institution. The plan which obtains in this country of entrusting the ownership and control of educational and scientific institutions to a board of business men, who appoint a president with great power, provides an efficient administration. It is not, however, ideal from the point of view of the scientific man—so long as he is an employee or slave he may do his work satisfactorily and economically, but he naturally looks forward to becoming a free man. We all know the difficulties and dangers of a democracy, but we have decided that this is for us the best form of government. Perhaps the greatest service that the Carnegie Institution could perform for science would be to entrust scientific men with its management. They would doubtless make mistakes and perhaps fall into quarrels, but in the end their education would be attained, and thereafter they would be more competent to manage their own affairs than any board of business men placed in authority over them.

As was stated in the September issue of the Monthly, the corporation of the Marine Biological Laboratory has voted to transfer its property to the Carnegie Institution; and this is the only intimation that has been made public in regard to the probable policy of the institution. But while the institution has secured an option on the laboratory, it is by no means certain that it will undertake the ownership. It has been announced by the chairman of the executive committee of the trustees of the laboratory that this will only be done after careful consideration and full discussion, and there is reason to believe that the Carnegie Institution may assist the laboratory without insisting on its becoming a branch or department. This question opens the main problem before the institution, namely, whether it shall conduct several great laboratories for research or shall cooperate with existing institutions. There is doubtless much to be said on both sides. It appears from a series of articles by leading scientific men, published in recent issues of Science, that opinion is pretty equally divided. Some hold that the resources of the institution can be best utilized in the establishment of laboratories at Washington or elsewhere, while others think that for the present at least assistance should be given where it appears to be most needed. There is in either case some danger of too great centralization of power and of interference with individual initiative, and with agencies supported or likely to be supported from other sources. As a labor saving invention may at first disorganize a trade, though in the end for the benefit of society, so the great resources of the Carnegie Institution must be used with discretion if there is not to be a temporary inhibition of other agencies. When compared with any similar agency, the funds of the Carnegie Institution are bewilderingly large. Thus in his presidential address before the British Association, Professor Dewar stated that the Carnegie Institution will dispose in a year of as much money as the members of the Royal Institution have expended in a century on its purely scientific work. The other institution most like that endowed by Mr. Carnegie is the Smithsonian, whose endowment was about equal to the annual income of the Carnegie Institution. Compared, however, with certain other agencies, for example, the U. S. Geological Survey, with its appropriation of $1,300,000, the funds of the Carnegie Institution are limited, and it is evident that they must be used economically, without any attempt to rival the government or universities, but doing what can be done only by an institution so unique in its possibilities.

 

THE COLLEGE AND THE UNIVERSITY.

The first report of President Butler to the trustees of Columbia University exhibits the benefit of a university president's being from the outset a student of educational problems. The domestic economy of the university is reviewed in a masterly fashion, and questions of wide-reaching importance for the development of the educational institutions of the country are discussed by an acknowledged leader. The most pressing problem is the relation of the college to the university, and here President Butler outlines a policy which while radical appears to be in the line of advance. The plan of Harvard, Johns Hopkins and to a certain extent of Columbia has been to require a college degree for entrance to the professional schools. Students now enter the freshman class of these universities at the age of eighteen or nineteen. If they follow a four years' course at college and a three or four years' course in the professional school, they are on the average twenty-five years of age before they begin actual work with a period of apprenticeship before them. This is wrong both economically and educationally. Only the sons of the rich, who accept parental support when they should themselves be heads of families, are able to enter professional careers. The actual practice essential to professional work is postponed until the age of plasticity is passed.

President Eliot has long advocated a college course of three years, making it at the same time elective, so that a certain amount of work preparatory to the professions can be done at college. Columbia University admits seniors to its schools of medicine and law, permitting them to count part of their professional work toward the bachelor's degree. President Butler now advocates admitting students to the professional schools at the close of the sophomore year, either giving them the degree of A.B. then or after a certain amount of professional work. The newspapers have raised an outcry over this suggestion—they declaim against debasing the bachelor's degree, attracting students by low requirements and the like, confusing the question of the degree as a mere counter with the educational problem. Thirty or forty years ago the A.B. degree did not represent more than the equivalent of the completion of the present sophomore year. It signified rather less than completion of the course of the German gymnasium, of the French lycée or of the English and Scottish universities. Unwise competition for the best students has raised, not lowered, the requirements for the A.B. and for entrance to the professional schools. The A.B. might be abandoned, as in Germany, without any particular loss to the educational system. Its meaning is now vague and unsatisfactory. The real question is: Shall we require students who have completed the high school course to spend four years on so-called liberal studies and athletics before they may begin their real work? This question must be answered in the negative and has been so answered by the logic of events. It is far better to make the professional schools more liberal—that is, more insistent on methods, general principles and research than on mere technique rather than to require the A.B. degree as a preliminary. A more natural division of studies has been developed in France and Germany than here. The preparatory school and high school should be developed to include all studies that are required and pursued by text-books and recitations. The small denominational college should be placed on the level of the high school, where it can do good work. High schools and colleges should be found in every community. The universities can also conduct colleges for those who wish to go forward to the professional schools and faculties of philosophy or science. The student of the professional school who must complete his work in three years should be permitted to do so, while those who show ability for investigation and independent thought should work both in the professional school and the graduate school, and should be permitted to prepare simultaneously for the professional qualification and for the degree of A.M. or Ph.D., or what they represent.

 

THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION AT BELFAST.

The seventy-second annual meeting of the British Association will not have the same historical significance as the famous meeting held in Belfast in 1874. At that meeting Tyndall delivered the address which was so widely criticized and discussed. It will be remembered by many that Tyndall there went beyond the limits of science and discussed problems of philosophy and religion. While his remarks were frank and outspoken, it is somewhat difficult for us to realize the objection taken to them thirty years ago. Scientific freedom has since been attained; and this to a certain extent may be said to date from Tyndall's address at the Belfast meeting of the Association. Professor Dewar's address at the present meeting was more nearly what is expected of such an address. After an introduction reviewing scientific organization and the place of Great Britain in science, he described those problems of chemistry on which he is the greatest living authority, namely, the history of cold and the absolute zero; the liquefaction of gases, especially hydrogen and helium; and various low temperature researches.

At the meeting of the sections a great number of important papers were presented, there being, however, an increasing tendency for these to be technical rather than popular in character, as is also the case in our own national association. There is printed above the address by Professor Halliburton on physiology, and we hope to be able to publish subsequently the address by Professor Armstrong before the Section of Education, these being perhaps the two most interesting of the presidential addresses. In the physical section papers were presented by Lord Kelvin and Lord Rayleigh, perhaps the two greatest physicists now living. Lord Rayleigh discussed the question as to whether motion through the ether causes double refraction of light, reviewing the evidence which has led physicists to conclude that the earth in its motion does not drag the ether with it. Lord Rayleigh's experiments have confirmed those of our American physicists, Michelson and Morley, which showed that light travels through a body traversed by a stream of ether with the same speed along it as against or across it. Another paper of considerable interest before the Mathematical and Physical Section was one by Professor Schuster discussing the relative importance of collecting observations in a science such as meteorology and of deducing laws from them. Before the Chemical Section the subjects which seem to have attracted special interest were the action of enzymes and the aromatic compounds. Papers before the Zoological Section were presented by Professor Poulton and others on mimicry, and by Professor Herdman on his expedition to study the pearl oyster beds in the Gulf of Manaar, and on the plans for protecting the North Sea fisheries. The Sections of Economics, Geography and Anthropology usually attract the greatest general interest, but space does not permit reference to the papers and discussions. A word should, however, be said in regard to the Section of Education, established last year, which bids fair to become one of the most attractive departments of the Association, setting a model which the American Association should follow.

The attendance at the meeting was 1,620 as compared with 1,951 at the Belfast meeting twenty-eight years ago. The decrease in attendance was not, however, due to fewer scientific men being present, but to a smaller local interest in the meeting. One of the most interesting features of the general meeting was the invitation presented by Professor Charles S. Minot, last year president of the American Association, asking as many members as possible to attend the Washington meeting of the American Association. Professor Minot described the steps that have been taken in America to secure the reorganization of scientific societies under the auspices of the American Association and the securing of a convocation week in mid-winter for the meetings. President Dewar, in replying on behalf of the Association, emphasized the importance of a visit to America, and expressed the hope that there would be a large attendance of English men of science at the meeting to be held at Washington beginning on the Monday after Christmas.

The meeting of the British Association next year will be at Southport under the presidency of Sir Norman Lockyer, one of the most prominent of living astronomers and editor of Nature. The meeting in 1904 will be at Cambridge, where efforts will doubtless be made to rival the important meeting at Oxford in 1894. Plans are being made which may lead to a meeting in South Africa in 1905, the colonies having offered to defray a large part of the expenses of delegates.

 

THE DISTRIBUTION OF ANTHRACITE COAL.

Anthracite differs from ordinary or bituminous coal in that it contains a small percentage of volatile combustible matter. Commercial anthracite varies from the hard, dry Lehigh with little more than one per cent, to the easily lighted Bernice coals of Sullivan county, Penn., with ten per cent. The Lackawanna and Lykens Valley coals, so much prized for domestic use, are midway between Lehigh and Bernice. The use of hard coal has become so well-nigh universal in the eastern towns and cities that one hardly understands how the community could become accustomed to the use of soft coal; yet the available supply of anthracite in America is so small that, unless some other fuel be discovered, the use of bituminous coal must prevail within seventy-five years at the most. The anthracite fields of Pennsylvania will be exhausted within seventy-five years, even though the annual production should not exceed that of 1901—which is improbable. There is no other deposit of anthracite in the United States, aside from some wholly unimportant patches in North Carolina, New Mexico and Colorado, so unimportant that all combined would yield hardly enough for one year's consumption. Europe has very little anthracite. Most of the Welsh coal is bituminous, the anthracite of the South Wales field being confined to the western end of that field. The Worm basin of Prussia yields perhaps 2,000,000 tons per annum of a semi-anthracite; near Ostrau in the Silesian field and in the Donetz field of south Russia anthracite occurs in moderate quantities; but these are all unimportant. China, however, has vast fields compared with which our Pennsylvania fields are mere dots on the map; there being upward of 40,000 square miles underlain by anthracite coals in Hunan, Honan and East Schansi.

 

BORAX AS A FOOD PRESERVATIVE.

The question of the use of borax and boric acid as food preservatives has attracted much attention of late, especially in Germany, where it has been brought forward as a convenient lever to exclude American food products. The results of different investigators are far from uniform, and the conclusions drawn as to its use are correspondingly at variance with each other. It is generally conceded that as far as regards digestion neither borax nor boric acid have any specific influence, but when considerable quantities are present the alkalinity of the former or slight acidity of the latter may be of some effect. In a similar way they may act as mild irritant poisons, occasioning diarrhœa. With continued use most observers find a loss of weight, which seems to be due to loss of fat in the body, and this may occur, without any symptoms of ill health, when small quantities of borax or boric acid are ingested daily. It is possible that this result might attend the regular use of food products which have been preserved by boric acid. While the quantity of the acid present is usually quite small, it is completely eliminated from the system rather slowly. In doses of three grams, one half was eliminated in the first twelve hours, but from five to nine days were required for the disappearance of the remainder. In this way boric acid might have the effect of a cumulative poison. It is said to be a common practice in this country to preserve butter and meat by packing in a mixture of salt with some borax or boric acid. Such a mixture was the 'rex magnum' largely sold fifteen years or so ago. Recent experiments by Polenske show that fat takes up very little of the borax powder, while meats take up no inconsiderable quantity. American pork was found in one case to have absorbed in its outer portion no less than two per cent, of its weight of borax, while in another case four per cent, was taken up in three weeks. This latter amount may, however, be considered extreme. In this connection an observation of von Lippmann'a is of interest. On investigating a deposit in a vacuum apparatus for concentrating lemon juice, he found quite a quantity of boric acid, and on further examination discovered that boric acid is present in small quantity in most fruit, as in lemons, apples, etc. As a result it cannot be inferred, because boric acid is found in preserved or dried fruits, that it has been added as a preservative. Altogether it must be said that the whole matter needs further study, and that it must be determined to what limit the use of boric acid and borax is permissible without endangering health.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS.

We record with great regret the death of John Wesley Powell, director of the Bureau of American Ethnology and formerly director of the U. S. Geological Survey. His death occurred at his summer home in Maine on September 23, he being in his sixty-ninth year. There was published in the Popular Science Monthly for January, 1882, an article reviewing Major Powell's life and work, illustrated by a portrait, and we hope to publish in the next number a further appreciation of his work.—We regret also to record the death of Sir Frederick Abel, known for his important researches on explosives, and of Dr. John Hall Gladstone, known for his researches on chemical combinations.

Dr. Charles S. Minot, professor of histology and embryology in the Harvard Medical School, was given the degree of Doctor of Science at Oxford University, on the occasion of the tercentenary of the Bodleian Library.—Professor W. H. Welch, of the Johns Hopkins University, delivered the Huxley lecture before the Charing Cross Hospital on October first.—Dr. Andrew D. White, Ambassador to Germany, has presented his letters of recall. His successor, Dr. Charlemagne Tower, is also interested in literary and scientific subjects.—An expedition from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine under Major Ronald Ross has gone to the Suez Canal to institute preventative measures against malaria.

A committee has been formed for the erection of a public memorial of the late Professor Virchow in Berlin, with Professor Waldeyer as chairman.—A monument, consisting of a pedestal and a bust by the sculptor, Marqueste, is to be erected in the Paris Museum of Natural History, in memory of Alphonse Milne-Edwards.—The eightieth birthday of John Fritz, ironmaster and inventor, of Bethlehem, Pa., will be celebrated by a dinner given in his honor on October 31. The dinner will also signalize the founding of the John Fritz gold medal for achievement in the industrial sciences, the medal to bo awarded annually by a committee of members of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Institute of Mining Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The organizing committee having the matter in charge on behalf of these societies has already raised $6,000, representing the contributions of some 500 members of the engineering professions in this country and in Europe. The medal has been entrusted to the American sculptor, Victor D. Brenner.