Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/December 1914/The Progress of Science

Dropping the Pilot:

Tenniel's cartoon, printed in Punch in 1890.


It is difficult to write, speak or think about anything except the war now devasting Europe and the earth. Although social and economic questions can not be treated with the same objectivity as the natural and exact sciences, The Popular Science Monthly has always included them in its scope, the immediate ground of its establishment in 1872 having indeed been the need of a journal in which to publish Herbert Spencer's "Principles of Sociology." That work takes an attitude strongly opposed to militarism and discusses the difficulties of obtaining scientific points of view in sociology owing to national interests and prejudices.

The events of forty-two years have enforced the arguments of Herbert Spencer and to-day their truth is convincingly exhibited, at least in the sight of most of us. But it must be admitted that the two arguments are not on the same scientific plane. When it is claimed that armaments and war are not only inevitable, but may be desirable for a nation and for the world, there is no scientific disproof, only conviction against prejudice or prejudice against conviction, as the case may be. The extent to which belief may be determined by emotion is demonstrated by the fact that the people of each of the nations now involved hold that they are engaged in a war of defense against the selfish and wanton aggression of their opponents. We have been requested to print a manifesto, addressed "To the Civilized World" by ninety-three leading representatives of German science and art, including Professors von Baer, von Behring, Ehrlich, Fischer, Haeckel, Klein, Nernst, Ostwald, Röntgen, Waldeyer and Wundt. They say:

It is not true that Germany is guilty of having caused this war. Neither the people, the government, nor the "Kaiser" wanted war. Germany did her utmost to prevent it; for this assertion the world has documental proof. . . . It is not true that we trespassed in neutral Belgium. . . . It is not true that the life and property of a single Belgian citizen was injured by our soldiers without the bitterest self-defence having made it necessary. . . . It is not true that our troops treated Louvain brutally. . . . We can not wrest the poisonous weapon—the lie—out of the hands of our enemies. All we can do is to proclaim to all the world, that our enemies are giving false witness against us. You, who know us, who with us have protected the most holy possessions of man, we call to you: Have faith in us! Believe, that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilized nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven and a Kant, is just as sacred as its own hearths and homes. For this we pledge you our names and our honor.

A reply alleging the exact contrary has been signed by one hundred and thirty leading British professors, authors, artists and men of science, including Lord Rayleigh, Sir William Ramsey, Sir William Crookes, Sir William Osier, Sir Ronald Ross, Sir William Turner, Professor Sherrington and Professor Schuster. They say:

We grieve profoundly that under the baleful influence of a military system and its lawless dreams of conquest she whom we once honored now stands revealed as the common enemy of Europe and of all peoples which respect the laws of nations. We must carry on the war on which we have entered. For us, as for Belgium, it is a war of defense waged for liberty and peace.

The workings of the psychology of the crowd may be illustrated by a minor incident. German scientific men have renounced the honorary degrees conferred on them by British universities, and German scientific men who had attended as invited guests the Australian meeting of the British Association are being held as prisoners of war in England. But at the meeting of the association after the outbreak of war these same scientific men received honorary degrees from a British university with special applause.

When public opinion in regard to war is so subject to emotional control, the way of wisdom is to avoid war and the conditions leading to war, even to the extent of holding that there never is a good war or a bad peace. The only gleam of hope in the present situation is that public sentiment in this country is against war and against the nations which, rightly or wrongly, are supposed to be the aggressors, and that each nation is anxious to disclaim responsibility for the existing chaos. In its inception the war was an affair of militarists and diplomatists, and Germany was unfortunate in combining these two classes in the same clique. All would have been different if there had been a Bismarck to whom the military machine was subordinated; there might have been war between Russia and Germany, but there would have been no European war. Conditions were better in Great Britain, and diplomacy tried to prevent war, but when war came then diplomacy had involved the people in its tricks.

Suddenly out of its stale and drowsy lair, the lair of slaves,
Like lightning it lep't forth half startled at itself,
Its feet upon the ashes and the rags, its hands tight to the throats of kings.

But none of us can see clearly in the storm and in the darkness. It is our helplessness, the horror of it all, the pity of it all, that overwhelm us. The only safe conclusion is that the work of the world for science and for civilization must be maintained. We may well honor the Paris Academy of Sciences for continuing its meetings when the enemy were at the gates of Paris and the government had fled; the scientific men and scholars of Strassburg for opening the sessions of the university at the usual time. And most of all it is our business to carry forward the flickering torch. The fact that the greatest nations of Europe will be prevented, not only this year but for some years to come, from doing their share of scientific work, makes it all the more necessary that the scientific men, the scientific institutions and the scientific journals of this country should maintain and increase their efforts.


As part of the celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Brown University a series of meetings and courses of lectures have been arranged. One of the most interesting of these was a series of four lectures by Professor William Henry Bragg, F.R.S., of the University of Leeds, discussing the important work that has recently been done on the phenomena resulting from the passage of X-rays through crystals.

Two years ago an experiment of great beauty and extreme scientific importance was successfully carried out in the physical laboratories at Munich by Friedrich and Knipping, acting on a brilliant suggestion made by Laue, a member of the staff of the university at Zurich. To put it very briefly the experiment consisted in the exposition of the interference effects accompanying the passage of X-rays through crystals, and it proved that X-rays consist of extremely short waves in the ether. It is now clear that X-rays are exactly the same thing as light rays, except that the wave length is roughly ten thousand times smaller. The significance of this discovery can not be compressed into a single sentence because it points in several independent directions.

In the first place, the result is of the greatest importance in connection with the general theories of radiation. The undulatory theory of light has been extraordinarily successful in correlating experimental facts. Towards the end of the last century it seemed as if it had conquered all the great problems of physical optics. More recently it has shown signs of inefficiency. For example, it seems unable to account for the so-called photo-electric phenomena. Incapacity has been still more obvious in connection with the properties of X-rays. At one time it seemed, at least to some, easier to deny the identity of light-and X-rays than to force the orthodox theory to yield an explanation of X-ray effects. When therefore the identity is established by the new experiment, a very interesting position results. The orthodox theory is to be supplemented in some way not yet clear. It will then be, surely, far more effective than it ever has been before. From our new point of view our difficulties are more clearly defined, but, at the same time, we shall probably receive new help to their solution.

In the second place a method of analyzing X-rays has been evolved from the original experiment. The wave lengths of X-rays can now be measured exactly, and other characteristics of X-rays can be expressed in terms of these. Remarkable relations have already been found to exist, for instance, between the wave lengths of the X-rays emitted by various atoms under proper stimulus and the positions of those atoms in the table of Mendelejeff. Much light is thereby thrown upon the meaning of the table, and a limit is set to the number of its vacant places, that is to say of elements not yet discovered.

Again, the new experiments provide a means of investigating the structure of crystals. We are able to determine the arrangement of the atoms in a crystal and to measure the distance from atom to atom. The science of crystallography can be built on a firmer basis than before, for it can now take account of the internal structure of the crystals whereas it has hitherto relied on observations of the external form.

Finally, the motions of the atoms about their average positions are made manifest. Little experimental work has yet been done in this direction, but it does not seem unlikely that we shall presently measure with exactness the extent of the atomic movements which contribute to the heat content of a body.

Professor Bragg's lectures were devoted to an attempt to explain more fully the statements outlined above. In the first lecture the general question was considered. Laue's experiment was described and interpreted and its meaning discussed. The subject of the second was W. L. Bragg's restatement of Laue's theory, together with its important consequence, viz., the X-ray spectrometer and its powers. The third was devoted to the consideration of crystal structure in the light of the new discovery, and the fourth to X-ray spectra, the relation of X-ray properties to wave length, and the thermal movement of the atoms in the crystal.


In connection with the rearranging of the scenic effect of one of the Roosevelt animal groups in the National Museum, actual African plants and grasses, are to be filled with plaster and preserved in their natural state to give the animal specimens local color. In the art of modern taxidermy the old system of simply "stuffing" the skins of animals has been done away with, and at standard method of accurate life-size modeling established. Over a carefully made plaster cast of this model the skin is stretched, glued and sewed, so that it is difficult to see how it was accomplished; for the moment it is easy to believe that the animal itself has been preserved intact in some marvelous manner.

For many years past the National Museum has been employing natural scenery—real grass, foliage and soil—in its biologic and ethnographic groups, much as in theatrical effects, to create a natural atmosphere. Now-a-days, museums do not simply mount individual animals on a platform and place them in a case. They are mounted in natural attitudes, and ground work, suitable to both the environment and the posture of the figures, is prepared.
Franklin Medal.

Founded by the Franklin Institute as the result of a gift from Samuel Insull, Esq., of Chicago, to be awarded for eminence in science or the applications of science to industry.

The animals are often arranged in family or social groups that the student or spectator can gleam something more than an impression of how an isolated specimen looks. Physical geography, geology, botany and other studies now enter the field of taxidermy.

In preparing a new setting for the African buffalo group, built in the National Museum about a year ago, the three animals are to be left in their original positions, which indicate alarm, just as they were first discovered by the hunters, but in addition they are to be represented as standing on the edge of an African papyrus swamp. The ground-work of the group will present the effect of the marshland where the buffalo live, the grasses and plants being added, that a complete picture of the African swamp may be effected.

Since nearly all grasses and foliage are subject to decay and shrinkage, with constant loss of original form and color, they, like the skins of the animals, are especially prepared. Few grasses, as a rule, can be dyed or preserved in anything like their natural form, but, fortunately, to this end the papyrus lends itself very well. The plants having thick stems are opened, and the pithy inner removed; they are then bent or curved and secured in the position desired, wired and filled with plaster. When the plaster is set, the plants are painted to represent their colors in life, and grouped together with other grasses to form a setting for the animals.

When the African buffalo group was first assembled) as no African material was yet at hand, it was decided to use temporarily cosmopolitan foliage which was to be found here as well as in Africa. Although the artistic effect proved very satisfactory, the museum officials determined to have this group as technically correct in every detail as the lion, the hartebeest, and the rhinoceros groups already on exhibition, and finally arrangements were made whereby the native African material was obtained. Several cases of papyrus plants and arundo grass were secured from the natural habitat of these buffalo, and the animals, set in their true environment, will soon be placed on exhibition again.


We record with regret the death of Professor August Weismann, the distinguished German zoologist; of Dr. Henry Gannett, geographer of the U. S. Geological Survey; of Bernard Richardson Green, civil engineer and superintendent of the Congressional Library, and of Mr. G. R. Mines, professor of physiology in McGill University, who died while making experiments in his laboratory on the action of the heart, apparently as the result of some failure in the apparatus.

Professors Roentgen, Lenard and Behring have each recently been reported to have repudiated the gold medals conferred on them by scientific associations in Great Britain, and have donated them to the Bed Cross or other relief work, and now it is said that the Hanbury medal has likewise been donated for relief work by its recipient, Dr. E. Schmidt, professor of pharmacology at Marburg.

The past and present members of the scientific staff of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research gave a dinner at Delmonico's to Dr. Simon Flexner on October 16, in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the opening of the laboratories of the institute under his direction.—At the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Hospital a portrait of Sir William Osier, by Mr. Sargeant, was presented.

The National Academy of Sciences will hold its autumn meeting at the University of Chicago on December 7, 8 and 9.—The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the national scientific societies affiliated with it will hold their convocation week meetings at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, during the week beginning on January 3.