Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/May 1913/The Progress of Science

Adam Sedgwick,

late professor of zoology at Cambridge and London, by whose death at the age of fifty-seven years science has suffered a serious loss.



The second edition of the international "Who's Who in Science" (edited by H. H. Stephenson, London, 1913) gives a classified index, from which can be counted up the number of scientific men in different countries and in different sciences. The compilation favors Great Britain in the first instance and the United States in the second, and is not very critical. It gives, however, some idea of the relative numbers of scientific men in other than English-speaking countries. The United States is given first place in the possession of scientific men of the degree of distinction proposed for admission to the book, the figures for leading nations being as follows: United States, 1,678; Great Britain, 1,472; German Empire, 1,280; France, 423; Austria-Hungary, 348; Italy, 215; Switzerland, 214; Holland, 155; Canada, 146; Sweden, 109; Russia, 97; Denmark, 93; Belgium, 90; Norway, 88. The German Empire has thus about three times as many scientific men as France, which nation is now but little superior to Austria-Hungary, or the three Scandinavian nations. Italy and Switzerland have each about one half as many scientific men as France. Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Belgium and Norway have each about a quarter as many.

About one half of our scientific men hold the doctorate of philosophy from American universities and about three fourths of those receiving this degree continue to do scientific work. According to the compilation printed annually in Science, the average number of degrees conferred in the natural and exact sciences from 1898 to 1907 was 124; from 1908 to 1912 it increased to 212. As the number of scientific men added each year is about 50 per cent, above those who receive this degree, the total number added to the ranks of scientific men in this country during the past fifteen years would be about 3,500. The number of degrees of doctor of philosophy given in the sciences by the 21 German universities to Germans in 1909-10 was 564, which probably about represents the increase in the number of scientific men. It follows that at present we are producing about half as many scientific men as Germany; twenty years ago it was in the neighborhood of one fourth as many.

If we make the assumption that the numbers of scientific men entered in the international "Who's Who in Science" for the continental nations should be increased fourfold to correspond with the entries for the United States and the United Kingdom and that there are 6,000 scientific men in the United States, the numbers for the different nations would be approximately: Germany, 18,000; France, 6,000; United States, 6,000; Great Britain, 5,000; Austria, 5,000; Italy, 3,000; Switzerland, 3,000; Holland, 2,000; Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Belgium and Norway, 1,500; Canada, Spain, Portugal, 500; Bulgaria, Roumania, 150; Servia, Greece, 25. For the other continents the figures would be roughly: Asia, 2,000; Central and South America, 500; Australia, 500; Africa, 300. The number of men now living who have made contributions to the advancement of science is consequently in the neighborhood of 60,000, of whom about one tenth live in the United States. The number of scientific men per million population in 1860 (the approximate average date of their birth) would be for the several countries: Switzerland, 1,200; Denmark, 938; Norway, 938; Holland, 606; Germany, 472; Sweden, 395 Belgium, 320; United States, 191 Great. Britain and Ireland, 172 France, 163; Italy, 120; Austria-Hungary, 73; Russia, 22. The number for Massachusetts is 654, placing that state above Holland. As De Candolle has shown, the supremacy of Switzerland has been maintained for 200 years. He gives political and social causes which he holds would account for it. These also apply in large measure to Denmark, Norway and Holland.


The number of scientific men of distinction would tend to be in proportion to the total number of scientific men a generation ago rather than at present, and the United States can not expect to have nearly one tenth of the eminent scientific men of the world. Professor Pickering found (The Popular Science Monthly, October, 1908, and January, 1909) that of the 87 scientific men who were members of at least two foreign academies, six were Americans, as compared with 17 from Prussia, 13 from England and 12 from France. In so far as our scientific production is so measured, the reference is to a generation ago when our universities wove only beginning to develop and research work was only beginning to be appreciated. It is a striking fact that of the six distinguished Americans, three are astronomers; and astronomy is the only science in which thirty years ago the facilities for research work in this country were equal to those of the leading European nations. Of the remaining three, two have not been engaged in teaching, and the third has been practically freed from teaching for his research work.

It is not possible for men to earn their livings by scientific research. Like other work for the benefit of society as a whole, and unlike business or professional service which can be sold to individuals, it must be rewarded by society. In the past reputation, social recognition, titles, prizes degrees, membership in academies and the like have been used as rewards, but these form a fiat currency which is now debased and scarcely passes in this country. It presupposes that the scientific man has independent means of support, and the group from which he can come is comparatively small. The method has succeeded in Great Britain, but in our democracy we can not afford to keep a leisure class for certain desirable bye-products. It is in every way better and cheaper to pay for our science. Germany owes its leadership in the nineteenth century to the provision of highly regarded university chairs given as a reward and as opportunity for research.

Such opportunity for scientific research as exists in the United States is also chiefly due to the universities. Of our thousand leading scientific men, three fourths earn their livings by teaching, nearly all in a few universities. These institutions deserve credit for what has been accomplished and responsibility for the fact that we have failed to equal Germany, England and France in the production of scientific men of high quality. There are many positions and many scientific men, many students and many executive officers. But our colleges and professional schools are not of university grade, our graduate students are not the men of exceptional ability selected from the whole people, but, as a group, men preparing to follow a safe and humble career; safe, so long as no offence is given; humble, unless it leads to an administrative position. The professor is subjected to official routine and executive machinery; his salary, at best but meager, his work and even his position are dependent on the will of a superior official. We may hope that this is only a temporary phase in university development, corresponding to similar conditions in politics,
A Water-hen rising to the Surface.
A Seal plunging under Water.

Photographs of animals under water taken by Dr. Francis Ward and reproduced from a series in the Illustrated London News.

business and society, not unnatural under rapid material exploitation in the childhood of a democracy. The danger is that great men may be lacking in our universities when the time comes for them to assume the place they should hold in the community.

Of our thousand leading scientific men, 739 are in educational institutions, 110 in government work, 59 in applied science, 38 in museums and gardens, 36 in research institutions, 18 are amateurs or in other professions. The conditions in the government service are somewhat similar to those in the universities. There are men and money in abundance, but mediocrity is favored rather than genius. In the establishment of endowed research institutions the United States has taken a forward step which may give to us the world's leadership in scientific research. In our research establishments, in our universities, in government, state and municipal service, in discovery through the application of science, we have possibilities never before presented to any nation. It will be well for us and for the world if these are realized in performance.


We regret to record the deaths of Professor Robert Woodworth Prentiss, who had held the chair of mathematics and astronomy in Rutgers College since 1891; of Dr. George McClellan, a Philadelphia surgeon, known for his researches in anatomy, and of Dr. Adolf Slaby, professor of electrotechnics in the Berlin Technical School and the University of Berlin, known for his work in wireless telegraphy.

It is announced that Dr. H. B. Fine, professor of mathematics in Princeton University, has been offered by President Wilson the ambassadorship to Germany.—Dr. David F. Houston, secretary of agriculture, will retain the chancellorship of Washington University on leave of absence.—Professor Willis Luther Moore, who has been chief of the United States Weather Bureau since 1895, has been retired from this office.

The Bruce medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific has been awarded to Professor J. C. Kapteyn, of Groningen, for his work on the proper motions of the stars.—The Harris lecture committee of Northwestern University has announced that the Norman Waite Harris lectures for 1913-14 will be delivered by Dr. Edwin Grant Conklin, professor of zoology at Princeton University. The general subject of his lectures will be heredity and eugenics.

The university faculty of Cornell University passed on March 14 the following resolution:

Whereas: Professor Willard C. Fisher, a distinguished alumnus and former fellow of the university, has been dismissed from the chair of economics and social science at Wesleyan University on grounds stated in the letters of January 27, 1913, exchanged between the president of Wesleyan University and Professor Fisher; therefore,

Resolved, That the faculty of Cornell University extend to Professor Fisher greetings and assurance of regard, with the message that his alma mater still seeks to maintain and extend the spirit of liberality, toleration and loyalty to truth, illustrated by the principles and lives of its founders, Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White.