Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/November 1908/The Progress of Science

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION

Modern biological science may be said to date from the presentation by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace to the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, of the theory of the origin of species by means of natural selection. The title of the joint paper was "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection." This paper was presented to the society by Joseph D. Hooker and Charles Lyell, and the circumstances of the case are familiar to most readers of this journal.

It will be remembered that Mr. Wallace sent Darwin a paper written at Ternate in the Malay Archipelago in February, 1858, "On the Tendency of Varieties to depart Indefinitely from the Original Type." The argument was strikingly similar to that of a manuscript work on species which Darwin had sketched in 1839 and copied in 1844, when it was read by Hooker and its contents subsequently communicated to Lyell. During all this time Darwin had been accumulating facts and weighing objections to the theory. It was his first intention to allow Wallace's paper to be printed without his own, but he was persuaded by Hooker and Lyell to assent to a joint presentation of his sketch, together with a letter to Asa Gray dated September 5, 1857, and the paper by Wallace before the Linnean Society. With an introduction by Lyell and Hooker, it was read by the secretary to the society in July, 1858, and published that year in its journal. The papers were reprinted in the issue of The Popular Science Monthly for November, 1901.

The fiftieth anniversary of this event has now been adequately celebrated by the Linnean Society. It was of special interest that Dr. Wallace and Sir Joseph Hooker were present and made addresses. With the admirable generosity which has always characterized the relations of the two men, Wallace yielded the superior part to Darwin. He pointed out a certain similarity in their careers—both had been collectors

PSM V73 D479 The darwin wallace medal of the linnaean society.png
The Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnean Society.
 
PSM V73 D480 Francis Darwin.png
A sketch from life by V. Monkhouse published in Knowledge.
Dr. Francis Darwin,
President of the Dublin Meeting of the British Association.
 

in early life, both had traveled extensively, and both had at the critical moment read Malthus's "Essay on Population." Darwin himself, however, has pointed out that they differed in so far as he was led to his views from a consideration of what artificial selection has done for domestic animals. Sir Joseph Hooker described the events preceding and at the time of the presentation of the paper, from which Darwin was absent through illness. A medal struck by the society—here reproduced by the courtesy of his secretary—was presented in gold to Dr. Wallace and in silver to Sir Joseph Hooker, Professor Ernst Haeckel, Professor Eduard Strasburger, Professor August Weismann, Dr. Francis Galton and Sir E. Ray Lankester. Responses were made by Professor Strasburger, Dr. Galton and Sir E. Ray Lankester, and by delegates from universities and academies, including Dr. Francis Darwin and Lord Avebury.

The hundredth anniversary of the birth of Darwin will occur on February 12 of next year, which is also the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lincoln. The event will be celebrated by the University of Cambridge, and in this country by Columbia University and the New York Academy of Sciences and doubtless elsewhere. The American Association for the Advancement of Science will, at its Baltimore meeting, give special prominence to exercises in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species."

 

THE DUBLIN MEETING OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION

The recent meeting of the British Association had a program of the usual high standard and an attendance of 2,270 members and associates. The size of the meeting was about the same as the larger convocation-week meetings of the American Association and its affiliated societies, but the number of scientific men and of scientific papers is greater in this country. There were at Dublin 1,374 associates, mainly people living in Dublin and vicinity, who joined the association for the meeting, though not especially interested in science. The American Association has not been able to attract to its meetings people of this class. This is doubtless in part due to better social organization in Great Britain—the sentiment which leads the London Times to devote pages to reports of the meeting and every country house to take in Nature—but it is also in part due to the fact that the meetings are made more attractive to those not professionally engaged in scientific research. It seems that our association should aim to do more for this class, for from it science needs sympathy, support and recruits.

Mr. Francis Darwin, the president of the meeting, who, like his brother. Sir George Darwin, the president of the South African meeting three years ago, bears worthily his great name now being celebrated on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the "Origin of Species," chose as the subject of his inaugural address the reactions of plants. His own experimental work has been largely in this field, and the address was made interesting to a large audience by a discussion of consciousness in plants' and the hereditary transmission of acquired characters'. Public lectures were given by Professor H. H. Turner, of Oxford, on "Halley's Comet" and by Professor W. M. Davis, of Harvard University, on "The Lessons of the Colorado Cañon." The annual lecture to the working classes was by Dr. A. E. Tutton, on "The Crystallization of Water."

The entertainments and excursions were as usual very elaborate. The reception given by the Royal Dublin Society was attended by 4,000 guests, and there were numerous luncheons
 
PSM V73 D482 Joseph John Thomson.png
Dr. J. J. Thomson,
Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University,
President of the Winnipeg Meeting of the British Association.
 

and garden parties. Special services were held in the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches, and the University of Dublin conferred honorary degrees on a number of the distinguished visitors.

The large annual membership of the association and the comparatively large fee enable it to make liberal grants for scientific research, amounting this year to about $7,000. Among the grants of $250 or more were the following: Professor H. H. Turner, for seismological observations; Sir David Gill, towards building a solar observatory in Australia; Sir W. H. Preece, for the study of gaseous explosions; Professor J. Joly, for geological investigations at Briske, and Mr. D. G. Hogarth, for archeological explorations in Crete.

Dr. J. J. Thomson, Cavendish professor of experimental physics at Cambridge and eminent for his research work concerned with the X-rays, radium and the breaking up of the atom, was elected president for the meeting to be held next year at Winnipeg, beginning on August 25. Members of the American Association are invited to attend this meeting, and those who are able to be present are certain to enjoy unusual pleasure and profit.

 

THE PRESENT PANDEMIC OF PLAGUE

The bulletin with this title prepared by Assistant Surgeon General, J. M. Eager, and issued by the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, exhibits in a bald way the relentless forward march of the bubonic plague, a circumstance more terrible and dramatic perhaps than anything else in contemporary history. Emerging from the obscure endemic focus in the province of Yunnan, China, in the year 1894, the plague appeared in Canton, and there were a hundred thousand deaths between March and August. The disease spread to Hong Kong and in 1896 to Bombay, there being some two thousand deaths in the presidency. In 1897 there were over 55,000 deaths in India, including nearly 10,000 in the city of Bombay, with sporadic cases in Japan and Turkey. In 1898 there were 117,000 deaths in India, and extending far from its endemic home, there were cases in Madagascar and Mauritius. In 1899 there were 135,000 deaths in India and serious epidemics in China. Cases occurred in Egypt and the Hawaiian Islands, and South America was invaded. There were local epidemics in Portugal and Russia. In 1900 there was a diminution in India, the deaths falling to 92,000, but the disease invaded San Francisco and was present, and remains present, in every quarter of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceanica, North and South America. In 1901 the hope of relief in India was disappointed, the deaths rising to 278,000, and in 1902 to 575,000. They increased further to 835,000 in 1903, and to the neighborhood of one million in 1904 and 1905, falling in 1906 to 332,000, but rising again last year to the appalling record of 1,400,000 cases and 1,200,000 deaths. The plague was present in all quarters of the world, there being 156 cases and 76 deaths in San Francisco, and cases in the suburbs and in Seattle.

If it were not for the great advance of modern medicine western civilization would be threatened with a disaster unparalleled since the middle ages. But the means by which the plague is transmitted have been discovered—we can exterminate fleas and rats if necessary—and, thanks to the labors of scientific and medical men, not a few of whom have sacrificed their lives, we are comparatively secure. But protective measures and more knowledge are needed here and in many directions, and the governments of the world should spend not less care and money on them than on their armaments.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of Dr. Charles Harrington, professor of hygiene in the Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Massachusetts State Board of Health; of the Earl of Rosse, F.R.S., who, like his father, made valuable contributions to astronomy; of M. E. Mascart, since 1871 director of the French Meteorological Office, and of General J. F. Nery Delgado, for many years director of the Geological Survey of Portugal.

The Academy of Sciences at Turin has awarded its Riberi prize of the value of $4,000 to Professor Bosio, of Turin, for his discoveries' in relation to the biological reactions to arsenic, tellurium and selenium.—The British Ornithologists' Union will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in December next, when gold medals will be presented to the four surviving original members: Dr. F. Du Cane Godman, F.R.S., Mr. P. S. Godman, Mr. W. H. Hudleston, F.R.S., and Dr. P. L. Sclater, F.R.S.

Professor L. H. Bailey has been given leave of absence from the directorship of the College of Agriculture of Cornell University to devote his time to the chairmanship of the commission appointed by President Roosevelt to investigate the conditions of rural life. The other members of the commission are: Henry Wallace, of Wallace's Farmer, Des Moines, la.; President Kenyon L. Butterfield, of the Massachusetts Agricultural College; Gifford Pinchot, chief of the Forest Service, and Walter H. Page, editor of the World's Work.—Dr. Charles H. Judd, professor of psychology at Yale University, has been elected dean of the school of education and head professor of the department of education at the University of Chicago, the appointment to take effect at the close of the present academic year.

The Berlin Academy of Sciences has received a legacy of $7,500,000 from Herr Samson, a banker of that city.—M. Henri Becquerel has bequeathed $20,000 to the Paris Academy of Sciences in memory of his grandfather and his father, who were members of the academy.