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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/April 1907/The Progress of Science

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

A NATIONAL DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH

The physicians of the country and the American Medical Association have long advocated the establishment of a department of public health as part of the national government, and they now have the cooperation of an influential committee of one hundred, which had its origin at the Ithaca meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Norton, of Yale University, there read a paper on the economic advisability of a national department of health in which he pointed out the waste due to preventable death and disease. Apart from the incalculable misery, the saving in money that could be effected in this country was placed at from two to four billion dollars a year. Professor Fisher, of Yale University, who was chairman of the section of economic and social science of the association, is chairman of the committee of one hundred, which includes many of those most active in all good works, such as Presidents Eliot, Hadley, Angell and Gilman, Drs. Welch, Bryant and Biggs, the surgeon generals of the army and navy, Messrs. Felix Adler and Lyman Abbott, and others of equal influence. It may not be easy for such a committee to agree on a definite plan, but their recommendations should carry great weight with the president and the congress.

The first question appears to be as to whether a national department of health with a cabinet officer should be advocated or whether only a bureau should be recommended for the present. It is a curious fact that our cabinet is smaller and less democratic than that of any other great nation. We alone have no ministry of education. Certainly the fusion of the war and navy departments with one secretary only and the establishment of three new departments and cabinet ministers—one of science, one of education and one of health—would more nearly represent what should be the proper functions of government than our present system. But this is a question for the future. A less radical reorganization, and one within the range of possibility, should sensible people unite to advocate it, would be the transference of pensions from the Department of the Interior to the army and navy, where they belong, leaving the Department of the Interior free to become essentially a department of science, education and health, whose representative in the cabinet should be a man such as President Eliot or Dr. Welch. Apart from pensions and the land office (which latter might be transferred to the Department of Agriculture or of Commerce and Labor), the Department of the Interior now consists of the Bureau of Education and of Indian Affairs, the Patent Office and the Geological Survey. If bureaus of science, of public health and of fine arts were added, the Department of the Interior would become a 'Cultusministerium.' It appears likely that the most that can be accomplished by the committee of one hundred and the American Medical Association at present would be the establishment of a Bureau of Health coordinate with the Bureau of Education under the Department of the Interior. The function of these two bureaus for the present would be mainly that of coordination and the collection and diffusion of information, but they would be free to develop as rapidly as the general sentiment of the country permitted.

It is not evident that all the work of the government for science or for public health should be concentrated in one department or bureau. Under existing conditions it is probably better that they should be found in each department. Thus the Agricultural Department is substantially a Department of Agricultural Science, and the Navy Department should become a Department of Naval Science, the Treasury Department a Department of Economic Science, etc. It is a distinct advantage that work on behalf of health should now be done under at least six of the nine departments of the federal government. What we need is an increase in amount, range and scientific productivity of the work done under each department, and a new bureau which can coordinate this work and cooperate in its extension.

 

THE RESEARCH DEPARTMENTS OF THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION

Appended to the report of the president of the Carnegie Institution for 1906 are accounts of the scientific work carried forward under the auspices of the institution during the year. In addition to some forty minor grants, amounting in all to nearly $100,000, there were eleven departments, for the support of which over $450,000 was appropriated.

The largest appropriation last year was for the department of solar physics under the direction of Professor George E. Hale. Further progress has been made in equipping the observatory on Mt. Wilson, and a road has been built to the summit. Research has been carried forward in various directions,

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Mt. Wilson, from Mt. Hamilton, the Seat of the Solar Observatory of the Carnegie Institution.

 

including photography of the sun and of the spectra of sun-spots. Mr. John D. Hooker, of Los Angeles, has made a gift of $45,000 for a mirror of one-hundred-inch aperture for a great reflecting telescope. The largest new project planned was also for astronomy and consists of an appropriation of $200,000 extending over a decade for a catalogue giving the precise positions of the brighter stars. This involves the establishment of a meridian observatory in the southern hemisphere. The execution of the work has been entrusted to Professor Lewis Boss, director of the Dudley Observatory at Albany.

Next to astronomy, geophysics is most liberally supported by the institution. A special laboratory for geophysical research is being erected in Washington at a cost of $150,000. Dr. A. L. Day, who will have charge of the department, succeeded last year in producing quartz glass, which is of value owing to its high melting point and low rate of expansion under temperature changes. Work in terrestrial magnetism under Dr. L. A. Bauer, who has resigned his position in the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, is supported by an appropriation of $54,000. The yacht Galilee made last year two voyages in the Pacific, traversing some 26,000 miles.

A new department, established last year, was that of botanical research, under the direction of Dr. D. T. MacDougal, whose headquarters are the Desert Laboratory at Tucson, Ariz. The flora of the arid regions has been studied, including the vegetation of the Salton Basin, while Dr. MacDougal has continued his experiments at the New York Botanical Garden on discontinuous variation in plants. One of the larger projects is also the work in horticulture of Mr. Luther Burbank.

Two departments are devoted to biology. Work in experimental evolution is conducted under the direction of Professor Charles B. Davenport at Cold Spring Harbor, where land has been secured and a laboratory erected. The other is the department of marine biology conducted under Dr. A. G. Mayer at the Dry Tortugas, Florida. A temporary laboratory has been built there.

Work in nutrition has been carried on by Professor F. G. Benedict, Professor R. S. Chittenden and Professor F. B. Osborne. This is regarded as one

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View of the Main Laboratory at the Tortugas Station for Marine Biology of the Carnegie Institution.

PSM V70 D386 Carnegie institution cold spring valley station for experimental evolution.png

View Across Cold Spring Valley looking Southeastward, showing Part of the Grounds of the Station for Experimental Evolution of the Carnegie Institution. Main building at the extreme right, potting house and propagating house in front, and vivarium, under construction, in front of and to left of latter. To the left (north) of the main building is seen part of the east experimental garden. Near the extreme left is the brooder house, from which radiate eight poultry runs, seen in the middle foreground.

of the major projects, and it is planned to continue it on a more extensive scale, funds having been appropriated for the erection of a laboratory, which will be placed under the direction of Professor Benedict. It is stated that the laboratory will be built where pathological cases can be secured for investigation, and it is now reported that it will be placed in Boston.

The two remaining departments are economics and sociology and historical research. The former, under the direction of President Carroll D. Wright, of Clark College, is preparing an economic history of the country with the assistance of more than a hundred collaborators. As head of the department of historical research, Professor J. F. Jameson has succeeded Professor A. C. McLaughlin. The department aims to be a clearing-house for the historical profession, and is engaged in various miscellaneous activities, thus differing somewhat from the other departments.

It will be of great importance for science to learn whether research work can be conducted more economically and efficiently in institutions of this character than when combined with educational work, as at our universities, or with economic work, as under the government. More than half the income of the institution is appropriated for work in astronomy and geophysics, in which subjects the president is especially competent, but it may be doubted whether it is an advantage for institutions in California, Arizona, Florida, New York, Massachusetts and South America to be conducted from Washington. It would probably be better if the laboratories were built and endowed, and their future development entrusted to local control.

 

THE SAGE FOUNDATION

Another great foundation on the lines of those established by Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Rockefeller is now announced. Mrs. Russell Sage has offered to give ten million dollars to a board to be incorporated by the New York legislature for a foundation the object of which shall be "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States. The means to that end will include research, publication, education, the establishment and maintenance of charitable and beneficial activities, agencies and institutions, and the aid of any such activities, agencies and institutions already established." The original trustees are: Robert W. De Forest, Cleveland H. Dodge, Daniel C. Gilman, John M. Glenn, Miss Helen Gould, Mrs. William B. Rice, Miss Louisa L. Schuyler and Mrs. Sage.

This foundation represents a movement that is likely to become dominant in the twentieth century. The future of the race depends largely upon whether what Dr. Galton has named 'eugenics' can be made a science and applied for our welfare. We trust that the income will not be used mainly to establish or assist charitable institutions, but rather for the purposes first stated above—research, publication and education. The difficulties are undoubtedly very great, and the first step must probably be to train those competent to deal with the complex conditions. But increased interest in the scientific aspects of the problems is full of promise for the future.

 

THE PROBLEMS OF ASTRONOMY

At the eighth annual meeting of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America, held December 27 to 29, 1906, at Columbia University, New York, Professor E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, on taking the chair, discussed three lines of work which he believed the society should pursue. According to the report of the editor, Professor Harold Jacoby, these are: First, by cooperation to carry out some great routine investigation too extensive to be undertaken by a single observatory. The best example of this was the accurate determination of the positions of the northern stars by European and American observatories, under the direction of the Astronomische Gesellschaft. Second, to bring together socially astronomers from all parts of the country, especially the older and younger men. The latter may think the work of the older men out of date, but they may find the experience of the older men and their personal acquaintance with the eminent men of still earlier date of great assistance. The older men have much to learn regarding new methods, and the extensive appliances at their command may often be employed to much greater advantage if they keep themselves personally in touch with the most recent developments of astronomical research. Third, the presentation of papers. While hitherto this has been the principal function of this and other societies it is not necessarily the most valuable. General discussions are more interesting and instructive than long technical papers. It may, therefore, be wise to follow the example of some of the engineering societies, and print abstracts of papers for distribution some days before the meeting. A brief statement is made by the author of each paper, and the greater portion of the time is devoted to discussion. The ideal conditions for meetings of the society would seem to be—a large hotel where all would eat and sleep under the same roof, and where the meetings could be held in the same building.

On the afternoon of December 28 a general discussion took place regarding neglected fields of work in astronomy, in which a large number of members took part, and the views expressed were varied and interesting. The president, in opening the discussion, cited a number of examples of fields of work, which seemed to him important but neglected, For example, in the astronomy of position the formation of a standard catalogue of stars uniformly distributed, having similar spectra, and of nearly the same magnitude. Many troublesome sources of error, like those due to magnitude and color, would thus be eliminated. The variation in latitude should be studied at a series of southern stations like those now in operation in the northern hemisphere. The systematic search for double stars of the ninth magnitude and brighter, undertaken at the Lick Observatory, should be extended to the south pole. Photometric measures of faint stars, of comparison stars for faint variables, of the components of clusters, and of nebulae, are much needed. It is not known whether the spectra of nine tenths of the nebulæ are gaseous or continuous. A wide field is opened in the study of the spectra of bright variables when faint, and of faint variables when bright, of the distribution of faint spectra and of the components of clusters.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of the following men of science: Professor Dimitri Ivanovitch Mendeléef, the eminent chemist, director of the Russian Bureau of Weights and Measures; M. Henri Moissan, professor of general chemistry at the Sorbonne and director of the Institute of Applied Chemistry; Sir Michael Foster, professor of physiology in the University of Cambridge, secretary of the Royal Society from 1881 to 1903, president of the British Association in 1899, and member of parliament for London University; Professor Wilhelm von Bezold, director of the Royal Prussian Meteorological Institute; Professor Nicholas Menschutkin, professor of chemistry at St. Petersburg; Mr. William Wells Newell, of Cambridge, Mass., known for his researches in folk-lore, especially in connection with the Arthurian tales, secretary of the American Folk-lore Society; Professor Wilbur Samuel Jackman, who held the chair of the teaching of natural science in the School of Education of the University of Chicago; Dr. David Irons, professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr College; Charles B. Simpson, entomologist of the Department of Agriculture of the Transvaal, and formerly of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and Dr. John Krom Rees, since 1881 professor of geodesy and astronomy and director of the Observatory of Columbia University.

By special act of Congress Dr. James Carroll has been made a major in the medical department of the army, in recognition of his important work in yellow fever.—Colonel W. C. Gorgas, chief sanitary officer of the Isthmian Canal Commission, has been appointed by President Roosevelt a member of the commission.

M. Daniel Osiris has left by his will a sum of $5,000,000 to the Pasteur Institute of Paris.—Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has received a gift of $1,000,000 from Mrs. Russell Sage. The money will be used for the School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Mrs. Sage has also given $1,000,000 to the Emma Willard School of Troy.