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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/October 1908/Foreign Associates of National Societies I

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 73‎ | October 1908



MEMBERSHIP in societies is, in general, a poor test of the qualifications of a scientific man. The case is very different, however, if we consider only the foreign associates of the principal national societies or academies of the world. Their organization differs in different cases, but, in general, each is divided into several sections, of which that relating to the physical and natural sciences will alone be considered here. The members are divided into two or more classes which are called by various names. First, resident members, who live in the vicinity, pay fees and practically own the society. Secondly, foreign associates, who, as they have few duties or rights, and as the position is a purely honorary one, are selected wholly for eminence in a particular science. Their number is generally limited and on the death of one, a typical method of selecting a successor would be as follows: The matter would first be referred to a committee of resident members in the same department of science. These specialists would report one or more candidates, and the final selection would be made by the entire body of resident members. Doubtless injustice may be done in individual cases, but it is hardly possible that an unworthy person could secure membership in many foreign countries. It is sometimes stated by those unfamiliar with the facts, that a candidate can not be elected without personal effort on his own part. This is incorrect, as to my personal knowledge in at least half a dozen cases the notice of his election was the first intimation a candidiate had that his name was under consideration. It is possible that, in some cases, a candidate may have aided his election, but it would be a dangerous experiment, as many persons would vote against him for this reason only.

Ten countries, not including colonies, have a population of more than twenty millions: China, 432,000,000; Russia, 146,800,000; United States, 86,400,000; German Empire, 60,600,000; Japan, 49,700,000; Austro-Hungarian Empire, 47,000,000; Great Britain, 41,500,000; France, 39,000,000; Italy, 32,500,000; Congo Free State, 30,000,000. The population of Brazil is 19,900,000; of Spain, 18,900,000; of Mexico, 13,600,000. Omitting these, and China, Japan and the Congo Free State, we have the seven great nations of the world. The national or principal scientific societies of each of these countries is given in Table I. The name of the country, the name of the society, the year of its foundation, and the date of the list of members employed in the following discussion are given in the successive columns.


Table I.


Country Society Founded List
Russia. Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg. 1725 1903
United States. National Academy of Sciences. 1863 1908
Germany. Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences. 1700 1908
Austria. Royal Academy of Sciences. 1847 1907
Great Britain. Royal Society of London. 1645 1908
France. Institute of France. 1795 1908
Italy. Royal Academy of the Lincei. 1603 1908

A list was next prepared of the foreign associates of each of these societies. It appears that there are 87 persons thus honored by two or more societies. Their names are given in the first column of Table II., in alphabetical order. The present residence is given in the second column. The department of science is given in the third column, generally taken from that assigned by the Institute of France, or the Academy of the Lincei. These classifications, which are nearly identical, are geometry, mechanics, astronomy, geography (including navigation), physics, chemistry, mineralogy, botany, agriculture, zoology (including anatomy), and medicine (including surgery). The year of birth is given in the fourth column, and the age at the time of election in the following columns. The letters, E, U, G, A, B, F and I represent the seven societies named above, respectively. The age is placed in italics to indicate resident membership. Thus, italics are used, in the column headed R, in the case of all Russians. No account has been taken of elections or deaths occurring after January 1, 1908.

In using Table II., it is extremely difficult to treat all nationalities with equal fairness. Thus, a resident in one of the seven great countries can be a foreign associate of only six of the societies. A Russian could never be a foreign associate of the Russian Society, while a Swede might be an associate of all seven. The numbers in italics in Table II. are much smaller than the others, which shows that less eminence is required for election as a resident member, than as a foreign associate, or perhaps that a man's work is better known at home than abroad. In a few cases, a man is elected into a foreign society who is not a member of the home society. This seldom occurs except in Germany, where a Bavarian, for instance, might be elected into the Austrian Society, before he was elected into the Prussian Society. Complications also occur when a resident member of a society moves into another country. Fortunately, these conditions affect a few men only. On the whole, the simplest and fairest plan seemed to be to


Table II.

List of Members

PSM V73 D378 Foreign associates of national societies.png

Table II.Continued

List of Members

PSM V73 D379 Foreign associates of national societies.png

count the numbers in the last columns of Table II., thus including the home societies. The results are nearly the same as if we omit the home societies and diminish the numbers in each case by one. The formation of the table by requiring membership in at least two foreign societies is a slight advantage to those not resident in the seven great countries, but they lose when italic numbers are included. The table furnishes the means of making a count with any other conditions, but it is not probable that the general conclusions would thus be changed. Before discussing the results of Table II., it may be well to apply certain tests to it. The English Order of Merit includes the names of Huggins, Lister, Hooker and Rayleigh. They are all contained in Table II. and are members of 6, 4, 6 and 7 societies, respectively. Great care is taken in awarding the Bruce medal. The six living medalists are included in Table II., the number of societies being 7, 7, 6, 6, 6 and 5, respectively.

Four of the seven societies confer a special honor on a few of their foreign associates by granting them the privileges of resident members, or by placing them in a special class of honorary members. The names and years of elections are as follows: Russia: Newcomb, 1896; Nansen, 1898; Suess, 1901; Schmoller, 1901; Wundt, 1902. Prussia: Hittorf, 1900; Suess, 1900; Pflüger, 1900; Hooker, 1904; Schiaparelli, 1904; Baeyer, 1905. Austria: Schiaparelli, 1893; Hering, 1896; Lister, 1897; Hoff, 1903; Koch, 1903; Agassiz, 1907; Baeyer, 1907. France: Lister, 1893; Newcomb, 1895; Suess, 1900; Hooker, 1900; Schiaparelli, 1902; Koch, 1903; Agassiz, 1904. As the number selected is nearly the same in each of the four societies, it might be expected that several of the men would be chosen by all. Of the fifteen men, no one was selected by all four societies, two were selected by three, six by two, and according to Table II. with one exception belong to either six or seven societies. Seven men were elected as honorary members of one society only, and the names of two of them do not appear in Table II.

Nearly every other honor than that of foreign associate depends on other considerations than eminence. Thus, honorary degrees from the great universities are often regarded as an excellent test of distinction. But many universities give degrees only when candidates are present, and accordingly, one who always remained at home, from illness or other causes, would be at a great disadvantage. This is still more markedly the case with decorations, which are often given for services rendered, or to the representative of a country, wholly independently of his personal eminence.

Table III. gives for each country represented in Table II., the name, the population, the number of members belonging to 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2 societies, respectively, and to all combined. The total number of memberships is given in the next column. Thus, if there were two members each belonging to 5 societies, and one belonging to 4, the total membership would be 14. The average number, or the number of memberships divided by the number of members, is given in the following column. The population expressed in millions divided


Table III.


PSM V73 D380 Membership in number of societies by country.png

by the number of members, is given in the last column of the table. Thus, Prussia, which has a population of 37,300,000 furnishes 4 men who are members of all 7 societies, 1 of 6, 2 of 5, 5 of 4, 3 of 3, and 2 of 2, making 17 in all. The number of memberships is 77, or an average of 4.5 societies to each member. On the average, one Prussian in 2,000,000, appears in Table II.

Prom an examination of Table III. it appears that, with the exception of one botanist from Java, who should perhaps be added to the group from Holland, no member resides in Asia, Africa, South America or Oceanica. With the same exception, no member comes from a colony or subsidiary country. The only members from North America are from the United States, and no members come from Scotland, Ireland or Wales. The number from the United States is no greater than that from Saxony which has about one twentieth the population. This is in part offset by the fact that the two English speaking nations, England and the United States, show a higher average number of societies per member than any other nations except Italy and Belgium. The very small ratio of members to population in Russia is largely due to the vast sparsely settled tracts of that country where advanced intellectual work is impossible.

Grouping the members according to cities, we have, Paris, 12; London, 10; Berlin, 10; Vienna, 4; Leipzig, 4; Stockholm, 3; St. Petersburg, 3; Copenhagen, 3. It will be noticed that, with the exception of Leipzig, each of these cities is the capital of its country. All the members from France, Austria, Sweden, Russia, Denmark and Java come from the capitals of those countries. Of the entire 87, 58 or nearly two thirds reside in capital cities. The average membership of these men is also higher, being 4.3 for those in capitals and 3.9 for the others. Ten cities contain two members each, and seventeen, one each.

A grouping according to the sciences is given in Table IV., in a form similar to Table III. The successive columns give the name of the science, the number of members in 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2 societies, respectively, the total number of members, the total number of societies, the average number of societies per member, and four columns indicating the country to which the members belong. The first of these columns headed G, for Germany, includes Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Baden and Wurtemberg; E includes England and the United States; F, France; M, the other countries.

In eight of the sciences, the number of members is fairly distributed, varying from 8 to 11. None appear in mechanics, 3 only in agriculture, and 5 in geography. The grade, or average membership is remarkably high in chemistry, 5.5, with astronomy second, 4.9. The average for all is 4.1. Of the 10 members belonging to all seven societies 4 are chemists. The distribution according to nations is


Table IV.


PSM V73 D382 National societies breakdown by sciences.png

instructive. In geometry, France has 4; Prussia, 3; Bavaria, 2; England, 0; United States, 0. In astronomy, England has 4; United States, 3; Prussia, 1; France, 0. In medicine, Prussia has 4; Bavaria, 2; England, 1; France, 0; United States, 0.

A grouping according to the seven societies is given in Table V. The name of the country is given in the first column, followed by the number of members belonging to 7, 6, 5 4, 3 and 2 societies, respectively. Of course, the number belonging to 7 societies, 10, is the same for all. The total number of members in Table II. is given in the next column, followed by the number in each society who have so far failed to be elected into any other society (except perhaps that of their own country) and are, therefore, not included in Table II. The sum of the last two columns is given in the next column, and gives the total number of foreign associates. The ages of the youngest and oldest foreign associate in Table II., at the times of their election into each society, are given in next two columns.


Table V.


PSM V73 D382 National societies representations.png

The order in which members were elected into each society, furnishes a test of the care with which candiadtes were selected. Thus, if the ten members of all seven societies had been elected into one society first, and afterwards into all the others, we should say that that society had displayed great skill and discernment in its selection. In fact, the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg elected four of these men before their talents were discovered by any other foreign society on this list, and two of them before they were elected by the home society. If one society was always the last to elect we should suspect that it awaited the judgment of others, in which case its choice would have little value as an independent opinion. It might, however, be due to other causes, as, for instance, a higher standard, if its total membership was less. A society which elected many members who were never elected into any other would appear to show poor judgment, although other conditions might enter in particular cases. Thus, every member must, for a time belong to one society only. The failure to detect marked differences by these tests confirms the view that the selections are made independently and fairly.

An examination of Table II. reveals some interesting cases. One member was elected into the six foreign societies in five years, while with another this period extended over thirty years. One was elected into all seven societies before he was fifty years old. One has been elected into the six foreign societies for eight years, and has not yet been elected into the home society. One was elected into three foreign societies before he was forty. Three persons have been elected into a foreign society after attaining the age of eighty, and ten before they were forty. About two thirds were elected into foreign societies between the ages of forty-five and sixty-five. On the average, these men were elected into their first foreign society about eight years after election into the home society. The successive elections then took place at average intervals of three years and a half. The oldest member is ninety-one, the youngest forty-six. Many other conclusions regarding age might be drawn, such as its relation to country, science or society, but no striking differences have been noticed.

The most important conclusions to be drawn by inhabitants of the United States, are that the representation per million inhabitants is less than a fifth that of the principal countries of Europe. We have no representative in mathematics or medicine, while in astronomy we have three out of ten members. The explanation is not hard to find. While immense sums are spent on higher education in this country, the endowment for advanced research is comparatively small. Astronomy is almost the only science having institutions devoted to research, and in which a large part of the time and energy is not expended in teaching. Of the six American members, five have occupied positions in which no teaching was required, but their entire time was supposed to be devoted to original investigation.