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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/December 1907/The Progress of Science

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 71‎ | December 1907

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Wilbur Otis Atwater,
Late Professor of Chemistry in Wesleyan University, who attained eminence for his investigations in metamerism and with the respiration calorimeter.


The extraordinary rise in prices which has occurred in the course of the past ten years—amounting to about fifty per cent, according to the index numbers of the Economist—is a serious matter for those who are dependent on fixed salaries, as is the case with most scientific men. It is also an obstacle in the way of the advance of science. Those who should be engaged in scientific research may be compelled to give part of their time to securing the incomes that are needed; some may be diverted altogether from the scientific career, while others may hesitate to enter it. There has always been a kind of panmixia among scientific workers, a lack of severe selection of the most fit. The number of those in this country who have undertaken scientific work does not considerably exceed five thousand, and those who do not prove competent to do work of value are likely to retain their positions in institutions of learning or in the government service. Should there be a negative natural selection drawing the ablest men away from a scientific career, it would be a serious matter, the future of our civilization depending largely on the comparatively small group of scientific men.

It is a curious fact that it is largely scientific discovery that has lessened the incomes of scientific men. Prices depend on all sorts of conditions, psychological as well as material, but in the end they are determined by the value of gold and the value of gold depends on the cost of production. The cyanide process and other advances in metallurgy, mining and geology, as well as the discovery of new fields, have greatly lessened the cost of producing gold. The world's production of gold in 1896 amounted to 202 million dollars, in 1906 to 400 million dollars, or almost double. Unlike the wheat crop, the annual output of gold is not consumed, and the supply is probably increasing more rapidly than industry and commerce, while at the same time relatively greater use is made of government notes and bank checks. The decreased cost of producing gold tends to make all prices higher, and wages and debts are payable in value less than had been agreed. If the cost of production and the demand for gold should remain constant, there would be an adjustment of the supply; and prices and wages would remain constant on a higher level. But wages reach this level more slowly than most prices, and scientific men and others with fixed salaries suffer. As a matter of fact, both the production of gold and the demand for it will remain subject to great fluctuation, and it seems unfortunate that we can not adopt a more constant standard of value, such as would be obtained by averaging together all staple commodities produced in a series of years, and letting the government issue paper currency payable in these commodities and secured by the property of the nation.



Maria Mitchell, professor of astronomy at Vassar College from 1865 to 1888, a leader in her science, in the higher education of women and in the movement extending the independence of women, was born in Nantucket in 1818, and was buried there in 1889. The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association, organized in 1902 purchased at that time Miss Mitchell's
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Maria Mitchell.
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The Maria Mitchell Nantucket Memorial.
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Interior of the Memorial.

place. The building has been fitted up as a center of scientific interest for the community, classes in astronomy being there conducted under the general direction of Miss Cannon, of the Harvard Observatory. This summer Professor Mary W. Whitney, a student of Maria Mitchell and her successor at the Vassar Observatory, spent a week at Nantucket, where she gave lectures and informal talks on Maria Mitchell and recent work in astronomy. It is intended to use the building for natural history as well as astronomy.

In March of the present year a five-inch equatorial telescope, made by Alvan Clark and formerly owned by Miss Mitchell, was given to the association, and it is proposed to build an observatory that will properly house the telescope in a fire-proof building. Efforts to complete this building, to enlarge the equipment and to maintain the work are being made, and those who are interested in the work of Maria Mitchell or in a scientific institution such as is planned for Nantucket are invited to join the association, which they can do by paying one dollar annually or ten dollars as a life member.



We record with regret the death of Professor Lucien M. Underwood, head of the department of botany of Columbia University; of Dr. Edward Gardiner, of the Marine Biological Laboratory; of M. Maurice Loewy. director of the Paris Observatory, and of Mr. Howard Saunders, the British ornithologist.

A memorial meeting in honor of the late James Carroll was held by the Johns Hopkins Hospital Historical Club on October 14. Addresses were delivered by Drs. William H. Welch. Howard A. Kelly and William S. Thayer.—The Geographical Society of Philadelphia will hold a meeting on November 6, in memory of the late Angelo Heilprin, founder of the society. —Friends of the late Walter Frank Raphael Weldon, formerly Linacre professor of comparative anatomy at Oxford, have offered the university a sum of about £1,000 for the foundation of a prize, with a view to perpetuate the memory of Professor Weldon and to encourage biometric science.

The Royal Society has this year awarded its Davy medal to Dr. E. W. Morley, emeritus professor of chemistry. Western Reserve University, and its Copley medal to Dr. A. A. Michelson, professor of physics, the University of Chicago.—Dr. Richard Wettstein, Ritter von Westerheim, professor of systematic botany at Vienna, has been elected president of the Association of German Men of Science and Physicians for the meeting to be held next year at Cologne.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science meets at the University of Chicago during convocation week, which this year begins on December 30. Together with the American Association meet the Society of American Naturalists and the special societies devoted to anthropology, botany, chemistry, mathematics, physiology, anatomy, psychology", geography and entomology. It is to be hoped that all who are able will plan to attend this meeting—not only professional men of science, but also readers of this journal who are interested in the progress of science. At the New York meeting last year, there were about 2,000 scientific men in attendance, and there is every reason to believe that the Chicago meeting will be equally important.