Popular Science Monthly/Volume 74/March 1909/The Progress of Science



Boston is still the chief educational center of the country. Among its institutions for higher education, Harvard is our greatest university and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology our greatest school of technology. This year Harvard is for the first time surpassed by Columbia in the number of students, and it will soon be overtaken by several of the state universities. Cornell and Michigan have more students in applied science than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Harvard and the institute have been leaders in setting certain educational ideals, and each will for a long time maintain its preeminence. Harvard consists of a college with free electives for culture and professional schools based on it; whereas the institute aims to give culture with and through its professional studies. The outcome appears to be more play at Harvard and I more work at the institute. It is extremely difficult to appraise the value of an educational system by its results on the students. So long as students of the upper classes with their hereditary and social advantages or students

i selected from all classes by their superior ability and enterprise go to college, and so long as the college is the natural gateway to certain careers, it is not possible to test the value of a college education by its objective results on the future success of the students. When, however, the graduate school of applied science endowed with the income of the McKay bequest at Harvard has been completely established, it may be possible to make an interesting comparison of its work with that of the institute.

PSM V74 D312 Harvard university president house.png

The President's House, Harvard University.

PSM V74 D313 A Lawrence Lowell.pngProfessor A. Lawrence Lowell,
President-elect of Harvard University.
It is a curious fact that the two institutions, after the unsuccessful attempts to form a merger two years ago, should now at the same time elect new presidents. In the men selected and even in the methods of selection, the institutions have shown their individuality. Harvard has in the most gentlemanly manner elected a member of its own set; the institute after floundering about has chosen a man from the antipodes.

Professor A. Lawrence Lowell, elected to succeed Mr. Eliot as president of Harvard University, belongs to the Harvard and New England aristocracy. The cities of Lowell and Lawrence were named from his ancestors, who for generations have maintained traditions of wealth and culture. Of this stock he is typical, even to the extent of having married his cousin and having no children. In an address made very shortly before the election of his successor. President Eliot said: "When the corporation selects some young man to take my place I hope you will all lock at him with this one inquiry—is this a promising young man, is he a young man who has in him a large capacity to grow?" But the corporation chose a man completely formed by heredity and experience, eminent as an author of important books on government, trained first as a lawyer in charge of large vested interests and later as a professor, lecturing in courses attractive to college students. PSM V74 D313 Richard Cockburn MacLaurin.pngProfessor Richard C. MacLaurin,
President-elect of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
We may be sure that Mr. Lowell will be as exemplary as president of Harvard as in every other relation of life, and that the traditions and spirit of the university will be safe in his hands.

Professor Richard C. MacLaurin, president-elect of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, though born in Scotland and completing his university studies in Cambridge, has spent most of his life in New Zealand, where he was professor of mathematics in Wellington. A little over a year ago, he accepted the chair of mathematical physics in Columbia University, which had been vacant since the election of Professor R. S. Woodward to the presidency of the Carnegie Institution. Professor MacLaurin has recently published the first volume of an important work on mathematical optics. He has also been trained as a lawyer and has broad interests in philosophy and education.

It is a fact of some interest that Mr. Lowell is a member of the corporation of the institute and with Dr. Pritchett represented the institute in the joint committee of the corporations which recommended the merger with Harvard. The most important action of Harvard since the election of Mr. Lowell has been the calling of two heads of departments of the institute, Professor Swain and Professor Clifford, to its Graduate School of Applied Sciences.


The recently published report of the English registrar general shows that the death rate of England and Wales during 1907 reached the remarkably low figure of 15 per thousand of the population. This is 2.4 per thousand lower than it was ten years ago; it is lower than for any other nation, except perhaps Sweden and Norway, though the lowest recorded death rates appear to be in Indiana and Michigan, where in 1905 they were 12.8 and 13.5, respectively. There is nothing more appalling than, and at the same time so hopeful as, the great differences in the death rates in different parts of the civilized world. It seems almost incredible that in one country or in one city twice as many people of each thousand inhabitants die as in others. We may sympathize with Tolstoy in his grief for the cruel executions that occur in Russia, but they are after all an insignificant matter compared with the fifty million people who have died needlessly in that country in the course of the past twenty-five years. But we need not go to Russia for a warning, when the death rate in New York is twenty per cent, higher than in London, when ten times as many in proportion to the population die from typhoid fever in Pittsburg as in New York, or when the death rate in one Massachusetts town is twice as high as in another.

It is gratifying that the infant mortality in England in 1907 was as low as 118 per 1,000 births, as compared with an average of 145 in the ten preceding years. But it is an ominous fact that the birth rate has fallen even more rapidly than the death rate. The birth rate in 1907 in England and Wales was 26.3, as much as 0.8 lower than in the preceding year and 10 lower than in 1876. If this fall should continue there would be no children born in England at the close of the present century. Absurd as this may appear, it is difficult to see why if the average family has decreased from four to three in the course of thirty years, it may not continue to decrease to two and to one.

On the other hand, the death rate can not continue to decrease indefinitely, and indeed it seems to have almost reached its minimum. When one thinks of the vast amount of intemperance, poverty and preventable disease in England, it might appear that there is room for endless improvement. But even a death rate of 15 is paradoxical. This means that only one person in 66.6 dies each year, and if the population were stationary the average duration of life would be 66.6 years. As one infant in seven dies, the average age at death of those who survive the first year would be 77, which obviously it is not, nor is likely to be. The paradox is explained by another paradox, namely, that a high birth rate tends to give a low death rate. Countries, cities and classes having a high birth rate usually have a high death rate and the infant death rate is nearly ten times the average; yet it is the high birth rate in England in past years which gives it its present low death rate.

If the birth rate of a country should
PSM V74 D315 Gabriel Lippman.png

M. Gabriel Lippman.
The eminent physicist of the Sorbonne, to whom the Nobel prize in physics has been awarded.

suddenly increase, its death rate would also increase at first, owing to the high infant mortality, but in the subsequent fifty years the population would be composed largely of people between the ages of ten and fifty years, whoso death rate is the smallest, and the death rate of the whole country would be low. Thus in England the greatly increased population of the country is due to the high birth rate in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. Although the recorded birth rate was higher in 1876 than previously, this is probably due only to the improved registration. But the ever increasing population has given a composition such that those predominate in numbers who are at ages at which the death rate is low. Of a thousand people in France, about 125 are over sixty years of age, of a thousand in England only about 75 are of this age. The lower death rate in England is largely due to its more youthful population. It may decrease somewhat further, owing to improved hygiene and sanitation; but if the birth rate continues lo decrease there will come a time when the death rate will increase.


In the loss of Professor Gaudry, who died recently, in Paris, paleontology' suffers not only in France but in the world at large, for he was an investigator of rare ability who was also gifted with a felicitous mode of expression. It is remarkable that his earliest woik of note was also his greatest. This was the memoir on the fossil mammals of Pikermi, a small hillock of Upper Miocene age in Greece. Taken altogether, the volume on the Pikermi mammals is the finest contribution which has ever been made to the paleontology of the mammals in Europe, with the possible exception of Kowalevsky's great memoirs of 1873. Similar works appeared on fauna of the same age at Mt. Leberon. Gaudry's most popular volume was his "Enchainements du Mo de Animal."

The most original feature of Gaudry's research on the Pikermi fauna was his recognition of the polyphyletic nature of the evolution of the horses, rhinoceroses and other animals whose remains are found in such profusion in this classic locality of Greece. Gaudry's other great service to science was the building up of the splendid collection in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, and the artistic finishing of the famous "Gallerie de Palæontologie," which contains the older collections which have found their way to Paris, including the classic types of Cuvier and de Blainville.

Professor Gaudry was a man of charming character and personality, a French gentleman of the old school; extremely sympathetic in his relations with others, and cordially enthusiastic in recognition of their work. He always showed marked hospitality in his reception of visiting paleontologists to the Paris museum, and was warmly welcomed on his rare journeys to foreign countries.


The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has awarded its Bruce gold medal for the year 1909 to Dr. G. W. Hill for distinguished services to astronomy.—The first award of the gold medal recently established by the Smithsonian Institution in memory of the late Secretary Langley has been made to Messrs. Wilbur and Orville Wright.—M. Henri Poincaré,the eminent mathematician and philosopher, has been received into the French Academy, taking the seat vacant by the death of the poet Sully Prudhomme.

Dr. S. Weir Mitcehell celebrated his eightieth birthday on February 15, and Professor Ernst Haeckel his seventy-fifth birthday on February 16.
PSM V74 D318 Charles Darwin.png