Open main menu

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



The great prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel were awarded for the sixth time on December 10, the anniversary of the death of the founder, as follows: Physics, Professor J. J. Thomson of Cambridge; chemistry, M. Moissan of Paris; medicine, Professor S. Ramón y Cajal of Madrid and Professor Camillo Golgi of Pavia; literature, Professor Giosuè Carducci of Bologna; for the promotion of peace among nations, President Roosevelt. These international awards, of the value of about $40,000, are of sufficient magnitude not only to be of interest to scientific men, but also to attract the attention of the civilized world. They are thus a real factor in increasing the dignity of the scientific career and in encouraging scientific work.

Regret has already been expressed here that the confidence placed by Nobel in his native land has not been justified. His large fortune was made in Great Britain by the discovery and manufacture of dynamite, and it seems likely that the instructions of his will would have been more adequately carried out if their execution had been entrusted to the Royal Society and the British courts. Nobel doubtless believed that the international obligations would be fully met by the Scandinavian countries, and it is truly sad and discouraging that there should be lack of good faith in the administration of a fund intended as the testator states 'to benefit mankind.'

Nobel's will is perfectly clear and explicit. It directs that the interest from the fund 'shall be divided into five equal parts,' which shall be annually awarded in prizes to those persons who shall have contributed most materially to benefit mankind during the year immediately preceding. "One share to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention in the domain of physics; one share to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one share to the person who shall have made the most important discovery in the domain of physiology or medicine; one share to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most distinguished work of an idealistic tendency, and, finally, one share to the person who shall have most or best promoted the fraternity of nations and the abolishment or diminution of standing armies and the formation and increase of peace congresses."

In face of these explicit directions statutes have been drawn up, apparently with the sanction of the King of Sweden and others high in authority, providing that only sixty per cent, of the income need be used for the prizes and that they need be awarded only once in five years. The balance of the income—except perhaps in the case of the prize for the promotion of peace, regarding which information is lacking—is now used for the support of certain laboratories and libraries at Stockholm. These are doubtless needed, possibly more than the prizes established by Nobel, but they have been founded in dishonor. The clause establishing the laboratory of physics and chemistry is unpleasantly disingenuous. It says that it is to be "established primarily for the purpose of carrying out, where the respective Nobel committees shall deem requisite, scientific investigation as to the value of those discoveries in the domains of physics and chemistry which shall have been proposed as meriting the award of Nobel prize to their authors. The institute shall, moreover, as far as its means allow, promote such researches in the domains of the sciences named as promise to result in salient advantage." The prizes have so far been awarded annually, but it is to be feared that when the money is needed in Sweden, it will be kept there in accordance with the provision of the statutes that when a prize is not awarded the money may be used for funds 'to promote the objects which the testator ultimately had in view in making his bequest in other ways than by means of prizes.'

The administrators of the Nobel foundation have violated the conditions of the bequest in other ways which, though not so discreditable as the conveying of the money to local purposes and men, can not be regarded as justifiable. Nobel expressly stipulates that the prizes shall be awarded to those "who shall have contributed most materially to benefit mankind during the year immediately preceding." The statutes hedge, as follows: "By the proviso in the will to the effect that for the prize competition only such works or inventions shall be eligible as have appeared 'during the preceding year' is to be understood that a work or invention for which a reward under the terms of the will is contemplated shall set forth the most modern results of work being done in that of the departments, as defined in the will, to which it belongs; works or inventions of older standing to be taken into consideration only in case their importance has not previously been demonstrated."

In no single case has the award been made for work accomplished or published during the preceding year. The prizes have been given to men of eminence, most of whom accomplished their important work long ago. It would certainly be difficult to select each year the work most beneficial to mankind, and mistakes would undoubtedly be made; but the effort to make such a selection and to award the prize without regard to nationality, age or eminence would be a great stimulus to research, far greater probably than the methods adopted. But the question is not which method is the better, but for what purposes Nobel made his bequest. The terms of the will have also been violated by dividing the prizes and by awarding them to institutions, and its spirit has been especially ignored by giving the power of nomination and determination chiefly to Swedes. It does not of course follow that the dead hand should forever control. But Nobel died only ten years ago. He might be given his will for a little while at least, and under the special circumstances of the case it would seem only just to submit any provisions which proved impracticable or unwise to international consideration.

There is a certain lack of courtesy in thus criticizing actions sanctioned by the Swedish government and by those Swedish men of science at least who are accepting gratuities from the fund. Neither can we as a nation regard ourselves as fit to cast stones when we remember the histories of the Stewart, Tilden and other bequests, or when we consider that the Smithsonian Institution, established by a foreigner 'for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men' has been used largely for the promotion of local interests. But it is only by frankly considering these things that we may learn that honor is more than great riches.



The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the national scientific societies affiliated with it hold their annual meeting this year in New York City, beginning on December 27. Washington and New York

PSM V70 D097 Columbia university library.jpg

The Library of Columbia University.

are now our two main scientific centers, there being in each city about five hundred men engaged in research work. The first of the convocation week meetings was held in Washington four years ago, with an attendance estimated at 1,500 members, and there is good reason to suppose that the present meeting will be even larger and more wide reaching in its effects on the

PSM V70 D097 Columbia university school of mines.jpg

The School of Mines, Columbia University. This building has just been completed. In the foreground is the house used by the Faculty Club.

PSM V70 D098 Columbia university earl hall headquarters of the aaas.jpg

Earl Hall, Columbia University. This building is the headquarters of the American Association and the affiliated societies.

advancement and diffusion of science.

It is not possible in this note to give a statement even of the main features of the programs. The American Association meets in ten sections, each with its own presiding officers and its program of papers and discussions lasting several days. There are further about twenty national societies which meet in affiliation, sometimes holding joint sessions with the sections of the association or with one another and sometimes meeting separately. These societies, which include those devoted to astronomy, physics, mathematics, chemistry, geology, geography, zoology, entomology, bacteriology, physiology, anatomy, botany, psychology, philosophy and anthropology, each has its independent organization and officers, so it is obvious that the programs are extensive. There will be at least five hundred papers read, which when published in detail will fill more than ten thousand pages.

The high character and broad interest of the proceedings may be briefly but adequately shown by a list of some of the retiring or presiding officers, most of whom will make addresses. Every one familiar with science in America will understand that they represent the best work now being accomplished. These officers include: Professor W. H. Welch of the Johns Hopkins University, Professor C. M. Woodward of Washington University, Professor William James of Harvard University, Professor Charles B. Davenport of the Cold Spring Biological Laboratory, Professor E. C. Pickering of the Harvard College Observatory, Professor Carl Barus of Brown University, Professor W. F. Osgood of Harvard University, Dr. W. F. Hillebrand of the U. S. Geological Survey, Mr. C. C. Adams of New York City, Professor W. E. Castle of Harvard University, Mr. A. H. Kirtland of Maiden, Mass., Professor Erwin F. Smith of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Professor W. H. Howell of the Johns Hopkins University, Professor Franklin P. Mall of the Johns Hopkins University, Dr. F. S. Earle of Herradura, Cuba, Professor J. R. Angell of the University of Chicago, Professor F. W. Putnam of Harvard University, Professor John F. Woodhull of Teachers' College, Columbia University, Professor Edward Kasner of Columbia University, Professor W. C. Sabine of Harvard University, Mr. Clifford Richardson of New York City, Mr. W. R. Warner of Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. A. C. Lane of the Michigan Geological Survey, Professor Edwin G. Conklin of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. D. T. MacDougal of the Carnegie Institution, Mr. Charles A. Conant of New York City, and Dr. Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Most of the meetings will be held at Columbia University, but there will also be sessions at the American Museum of Natural History, The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the College of the City of New York, the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere. These and other scientific institutions of the city have in recent years made extraordinary progress. There is here only space to show several of the buildings of Columbia University, which, having removed to its new site overlooking the city of New York only ten years ago, has now a group of academic buildings in many respects unequalled.



Sir Almroth E. Wright, M.D., F.R.S., pathologist to St. Mary's Hospital, London, and late professor of pathology, Army Medical School, Netley, delivered the third course of lectures on the Herter foundation in the Physiological Building of Johns Hopkins Medical School on October 8, 9 and 10, 1906. The subject chosen was 'The therapeutic inoculation of bacterial vaccines and its application in connection with the treatment of bacterial disease.' As this subject is an important elaboration of Metchnikoff's work upon phagocytosis and of Ehrlich's side-chain theory, it may not be out of place briefly to outline from these lectures Wright's method and to cite a few illustrative cases showing the value of this mode of procedure the treatment of certain bacterial diseases by vaccines.

The term opsonin, meaning 'to prepare for a meal,' is given to a recently discovered and important constituent of both normal and immune sera, by means of which bacteria are prepared for phagocytosis. The method of determining the opsonic index is as follows: About five cubic centimeters of blood is withdrawn from a healthy person under aseptic conditions by pricking the finger. This blood is then placed in a glass tube (A), slightly heated to facilitate clotting, and centrifugalized so as to separate the serum from the clot. In a second tube (B) is placed about the same amount of blood, to which is added sodium-citrate solution in order to prevent clotting. By centrifugalizing this there are obtained three layers, i. e., serum, white corpuscles and red corpuscles. The serum it pipetted off and the solution containing leucocytes at once becomes easi'y accessible. A third tube (C) contains an aqueous solution of tubercle bacilli. This is also centrifugalized in order to get a fine suspension. Equal quantities of the serum of a healthy person (A); of white blood corpuscles (B); and of a tubercle bacilli solution (C) are drawn into a capillary tube and freely mixed. They are then placed in an incubator for twenty minutes. A film is next made and stained by any cf the well-known methods of staining for tubercle bacilli. Then the exact number of bacilli found to be present in thirty consecutive multinuclear leucocytes are counted by the aid of an oil-immersion lens—call it in this case X. The process is now repeated, substituting the blood of a patient for the blood of the healthy person, the white corpuscles and aqueous tubercle solution remaining constant in both estimations. The result obtained by counting these latter may be called Y; in that case the opsonic index of the patient's blood is expressed thus, Y/X, which is usually a decimal. The entire process occupies about one hour and a quarter in the hands of an experienced laboratory worker.

The surgeon's idea of curing bacterial diseases, such as scrofulous glands of the neck, seems too often to be that of extirpation, though he does often employ instead of the knife various recent methods of treatment, such as Röntgen rays, Finsen's light, radium and Bier's passive hyperæmia. The ideal treatment, however, of bacterial disease is to put into the blood a substance, like an antiseptic, which will kill the bacteria or neutralize their toxines, but which will not injure the tissues with which it is brought in contact. This has been done to a certain extent by the antitoxin of diphtheria, but there has not been discovered, up to the present time, a scientific and exact method by means of which the therapeutic use of such agents as tuberculin could be controlled in order that the smallest amount of detriment possible might ensue to the patient during the course of the treatment. That there exists a certain substance in the serum of the blood which is capable of aiding phagocytosis, is shown by the history of a case cited by Wright in which there was a condition of furunculosis (boils) due to staphylococci. The patient's serum, his corpuscles and an emulsification of dead staphylococci gave a count of 26; while the patient's serum, the corpuscles from a normal person and the emulsion, gave 27; the normal serum, the normal corpuscles and the emulsion, gave 13; the normal serum, the patient's corpuscles and the emulsion also giving 13. This would show that the corpuscular elements had nothing to do with the increased number of staphylococci which were taken up by the leucocytes and would show that the property of increasing the nrmber of staphylococci in the leucocytes is to be attributed to the so-called opsonin in the serum itself. By using this index after the injection of the vaccine, it will be seen that there is usually a slight decrease in the opsonic index, followed by a marked secondary rise; though if the dose be too large or a second dose be administered too quickly, this secondary rise may not occur at all. The interesting fact was brought out by Wright in his lectures that a surgical operation, or even massage, or sitting up in bed, may cause a similar reaction in a tuberculous foci. The disadvantage of securing the reaction by these methods is that live tubercle bacilli may be introduced into the blood stream and that their lodgment and subsequent multiplication may take place. Dr. Wright is so sanguine of the success of this mode of treatment that he believes that every case of localized tuberculosis may be now cured by the proper use of the vaccines of tuberculosis.



A meeting to commemorate the life and service of Samuel Pierpont Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1887 to 1906, was held in the lecture room of the United States National Museum on December 3. The following addresses were delivered: 'Introductory Remarks,' by the chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, the Honorable Melville W. Fuller, chief justice of the United States; 'Memorial on Behalf of the Board of Regents,' by the Honorable Andrew D. White, LL.D.; 'Mr. Langley's Contributions to Astronomy and Astrophysics,' by Professor E. C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory; 'Mr. Langley's Contributions to Aerodynamics,' by Octave Chanute, Esq., of Chicago.

Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Da Costa professor of zoology in Columbia University, curator of vertebrate paleontology and vice-president of the American Museum of Natural History, geologist and paleontologist of the U. S. Geological Survey, has declined the secretaryship of the Smithsonian Institution to which he was elected by the regents on December 4.—Dr. Andrew Fleming West, professor of Latin at Princeton University and dean of the graduate school, has declined the olfer of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to nominate him for the presidency.
PSM V70 D102 Edward Leamington Nichols.jpg
Professor of Physics, Cornell University, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.