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

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 85‎ | November 1914

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

SCIENCE AND THE WAR

One of the most serious aspects of the war is the diversion from scientific work which it involves. Should the contributions to pure and applied science in the course of the next ten years be reduced to one half, the loss to the world in life and wealth would be far greater than that caused directly by the destruction of war. It may be guessed that in the course of the past hundred years the death-rate has been reduced to one half in the more civilized nations and the annual production of wealth has been increased by a hundred billion dollars. If a comparable advance would have been made in the next ten years apart from the war and this should be reduced to half as v. result of the war, the loss would be so great as to be almost incredible. Thus the death rate in England has been reduced from 23 per thousand to 14 per thousand in the course of fifty years. If by the advances of science and civilization in the course of ten years the death rate would have been reduced to 12 per thousand and as the result of the war the reduction should be only to 11, so that for a period of ten years the death rate is one per thousand larger than it otherwise would have been, the deaths in England chargeable to the war apart from those directly caused by it would be in the neighborhood of 400,000 and in the civilized world of 4,000,000. There would be a corresponding excess of ill health and disease over what would have been suffered had there been no war.

In like manner it may be calculated that if the increased production of the world's wealth which might have been expected from new applications of science should be decreased to one half by the war for a period of ten years the economic loss would be in the neighborhood of fifty billion dollars. These calculations are, of course, subject to a very large probable error. We may hope that the advance of science will not be checked to the extent of one half for a. period of ten years. It has been said that it will be a generation before the nations involved will regain the position they now hold, but it may, on the contrary, be the case that the loss will be far less than is assumed as the basis of these calculations. It depends on the length of the war and on many other conditions of which we are ignorant.

But figures such as these, even though they have but small reliability, may impress on us the magnitude of the value of science for the world and the injury done by an interruption to its progress. A loss of four million lives and of fifty billion dollars from a slackening in scientific work due to the war is greater than the destruction which will be directly caused. While we are helpless in presence of the direct destruction from the war, this is not equally the case with the loss due to the failure in scientific research and the applications of science. We should in this country do what we can to carry forward the work which will 1 e dropped by the disabled nations.

 

THE DISTRIBUTION OF SCIENTIFIC MEN AMONG THE DIFFERENT NATIONS

Some idea of the relative contributions to science by the different nations may be gathered from the number of scientific men recorded in "Who's Who in Science," an international biographical directory edited by H. H. Stephenson and published here by The Macmillan Company. In this compilation there are recorded 1,678 scientific men from the United

PSM V85 D521 Group photograph of herman helmholtz and academic friends.png

Hermann von Helmholtz, the great German physiologist and physicist, and Frau von Helmholtz are seated in the center, on the left is Professor Hugo Kronecker, of Bern, the distinguished physiologist, whose death recently occurred. In the center is Mr. Henry Villard; on the right, Dr. T. C. Mendenhall, the American physicist. We owe the photograph, which was taken in Washington in 1893, to Dr. S. J. Meltzer, of the Rockeffeller Institute of Medical Research, a student and friend of Kronecker's.

 

States and 1,472 from Great Britain. These figures indicate that there are more scientific men in the United States than in Great Britain, practically all those from the latter country having been included. The work being an Anglo-American compilation, the numbers are not comparable with those of the continental nations, but there is perhaps no reason why any one of these should have been favored in the selection of names. In so far as this is the case, the numbers of scientific men of some distinction in the different countries are as follows: Germany, 1,280; France, 423; AustriaHungary, 236; Italy, 215; Switzerland, 214; Holland, 155; Sweden, 109; Russia, 97; Denmark, 94; Belgium, 90; Norway, 88; Portugal, 49; Spain, 41. It thus appears that Germany has three times as many scientific men as France. The population of Germany Is considerably larger, but this was not the case at the time the men were born, they being on the average about 50 years of age and practically none of them under forty. The number of men in France over 45 years is only about one million less than in Germany, though there are twice as many children in Germany.

In order to compare the smaller nations with the larger we must take account of their size. The numbers of scientific men for each million of the present populations of the different nations are as follows: Switzerland, 58; Norway, 37; Denmark, 34; Holland, 26; Sweden, 20; Germany, 19; Belgium, 12; France, 11; Portugal, 9; Italy, 6; Austria-Hungary, 5; Spain, 2; Russia 1. In this comparison the smaller nations show to advantage, and this is a factor that should be kept in mind in any redistribution of empire. Switzerland leads all other nations, followed by the Scandinavian countries and Holland. Belgium is before France, and Portugal is close to it. In so far as the production of scientific men is a measure of civilization, Austria-Hungary and Italy fare badly and Russia is far behind all other nations.

A study of the distribution of the more distinguished men of science was contributed to this journal (October, 1908) by Dr. E. C. Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory. Taking the scientific men who were members of at least two foreign academies, they were distributed as follows: Germany, 29, France 12, England 13, the United States 6, Austria 4, Italy, Sweden, Holland, Norway, Denmark and Russia, 3 each. The recognition of scientific eminence is likely to come late in life and these men were mostly old; half of the six distinguished Americans—Agassiz, Hill and Xewcomb—have since died. The present distribution of the foreign members of the National Academy of Sciences is as follows: German 18, Great Britain 11, France 4, Holland 4, Russia and Sweden, two each, Austria, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, one each. Here again France does not compare favorably with Germany. Among its four representatives are two distinguished mathematicians, Darboux and Picard, the other two being Deslandres, the astronomer, and Barrois, the paleontologist. They are scarcely the peers of the four Dutch representatives, Kapteyn, Lorenz, de Vries and van der Waals, and are apparently less distinguished than the Germans and the English.

If we select the greatest men from the list compiled by Dr. Pickering or from the foreign membership of the National Academy, it is not easy lo find any who can be placed beside Helmholtz or Pasteur, whose portraits happen to be reproduced in this place, it may be an error of perspective that those nearer to us seem smaller. But when Germany names its greatest men it goes back to Goethe and Kant, and the scientific men who have died or have ceased their active work appear to be greater than those who are now filling the chairs in the universities.

This does not mean that present work in science is less important than

PSM V85 D523 Louis Pasteur.png

Louis Pasteur.

A replica of the bust by Dubois, presented to the American Museum of Natural History for installation in the hall of public health, through the generosity of Dr. Roux, director of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and M. Vallery-Radot, son-in-law of Pasteur.

 

it was formerly. It may be that in its earlier history, there was more opportunity for striking discoveries. The condition may also he explained by an inversion of the proverb "The forest can not be seen for the trees." There are now so many scientific men doing work of importance that it is impossible to remember even their names. "The trees can not be seen for the forest." Still, if we write the names! of the leading scientific men of the last generation, beginning with Darwin in England, Pasteur in Frame and Helmholtz in Germany, beside those; who have recently died or are still living at an advanced age, there seems 'o be a decline in distinction, and the same holds if this group is compared; with scientific men who are now active. It is not easy to decide whether this:s appearance or reality.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the death of Dr. Morris Longstreth, formerly professor of pathological anatomy at Jefferson Medical College; of Dr. James Ellis Gow, professor of botany in Coe College; of Overton Westfield Price, at one time associate forester of the U. S. Forest Service; of Dr. W. H. Gaskell, university lecturer in physiology at Cambridge University and of Dr. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, professor of economies in the University of Vienna, formerly minister of finance, president of the Vienna Academy of Sciences.

An international committee has been formed to establish a foundation in memory of Henry Poincaré. A medal will be struck in his honor, and a fund will be established under the Paris Academy of Sciences to encourage or reward young scholars engaged in work in the directions in which Poincaré led, namely, mathematical analysis, celestial mechanics, mathematical physics and scientific philosophy.

Dr. A. Penck, professor of geography at Berlin; Dr. P. von Luschan, professor of anthropology in the same university, and Dr. J. Walther, professor of geology and paleontology at Halle, aie among the German men of science who attended the Australasian meeting of the British Association. It is said that there is some anxiety as to how they shall return home. If press despatches are to be believed, several German astronomers, including Professors Kempff and Ludendorf, who had gone to the Crimea to observe the eclipse of the sun, have been taken prisoners and their scientific instruments confiscated.—Among the German scientific men who have affixed their names to a manifesto renouncing the honors conferred upon them by English universities and other learned institutions are Professors Paid Ehrlich, Emil von Behring, Ernst Haeckel, August Weismann and Wilhelm Wundt.

Sir Ernest Shackleton and the members of his Transantarctic Expedition left London on September 18 for the South Polar regions. The explorers departed in two sections, the portion for the Ross Sea or New Zealand side of the Antarctic leaving in the morning via Tilbury for Tasmania, and the Weddell Sea section, including Sir Ernest Shackleton, leaving for South America later in the day. The Endurance, the ship of the Weddell Sea party, left Plymouth on August 8. The Ross Sea ship Aurora is to leave some Australian port about the beginning of December.