Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/June 1903/Discussion and Correspondence



To the Editor: In the course of the past year or two I have read quite a number of articles on scientific subjects in different magazines by Carl Snyder. They seem very interesting, and I should like to know whether they are quite reliable.—B. F. L.

[This question, which in one form or another has been asked a number of times, must be answered in the negative. Mr. Snyder appears not to have had a scientific training; his articles are sensational and inaccurate. This somewhat sweeping condemnation is easily justified. Let us consider the last article by Mr. Snyder that has come to our attention—'The Mechanism of the Brain' in Harper's Monthly for May. It is a potpourri of truth, half-truth and falsehood concerning chemistry, physics, anatomy, physiology and psychology. Thus we are told:

Or, supposing that this especial colloid cannot be fixed upon as the seat of the highest powers of man, they might be thrown upon that extraordinary and rather hypothetical ether, of which physicists talk so much and know so little.

Within half a column Mr. Snyder passes easily from the ether to electricity:

As there is no nerve action without the evident presence of electricity, it seems probable that nerve action, thought, and consciousness, and what in our present ignorance we call electricity, are one and the same.

Physicists may not know all that they would like to know about the ether and electricity, but they know enough not to write nonsense about them.

As an example of misstatement of fact the following may be quoted:

The size of the brains of comparatively few distinguished men is known, and most published figures are worthless. The list given below is authoritative, and speaks for itself. . . . It will be seen that Byron, who was commonly supposed to have a small head, is highest in the list; and whatever may be thought of his poetry, certainly he was a man of rather mediocre intellectual attainments, as poets generally are.

The question of the intellectual attainments of poets may be left to the editor of Harper's Monthly; we are able to state definitely that the weight of Byron's brain is unknown, as is also true in the case of Turgenieff, whose brain is given as the second largest on Mr. Snyder's 'authoritative' list. In the same paragraph Mr. Snyder says:

Directions for measuring the size of your own brain, if you are interested, will be found in any good encyclopædia, or would doubtless be supplied by the distinguished Professor Wilder of Cornell.

Apart from such indications as are given by the size of the hat, the only feasible directions would be for the interested person to commit suicide, bequeathing his brain to Professor Wilder's collection.

It may seem unkind thus to criticize Mr. Snyder's articles, but it is unfair to the public for magazines, such as Harper's, Scribner's, The Century and McClure's, not to separate their science from their fiction.—Editor.]