Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/April 1915/The Progress of Science
WAR AND SOCIAL PROGRESS
The present issue of The Popular Science Monthly contains a series of papers presented at the recent Philadelphia meeting of the social and economic section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, treating more or less directly problems relating to the war. We welcome the opportunity to print these articles, the responsibility for which belongs to our great national scientific association, for it is difficult to know what should be the attitude of a scientific journal toward the war. The appalling magnitude of the disaster crushes everything into insignificance. It seems strange that it is possible for people to talk, read or think about anything else, that they can eat and sleep as usual. But the Greeks knew that both pleasure and pain consume themselves. Hobbes told us that it is the same always to perceive the same thing as to perceive nothing at all. Modern psycho-physical research has established a law that to produce a perceptible change of sensation the increase of the stimulus must be made continually larger as the stimulus becomes greater, until we finally reach a point where no increase in the stimulus will increase the sensation.
It is probably the ease that preventable disease, preventable vice and preventable poverty cause each of them every year as much human misery, loss of life and waste of wealth as the war is causing this year. The sacrifice in the war of a million lives and of wealth amounting to twenty billion dollars, is an inconceivable catastrophe. But it is also true that a million children die needlessly in Russia every year, that the annual loss in lives and wealth through the use of alcohol in the several countries is about equal to that due to the war.
We do not expect to see headlines in the daily papers to the effect that five thousand children died yesterday in Russia, three thousand of them through easily preventable causes, or that there was spent in the United States last week four times as much on alcoholic drink as on the whole educational system of the country. It is consequently not surprising that other and even trivial events take their places on the front pages of the daily press beside the war news. But the fact that we become callous with time to the most dreadful conditions or that this war is only one of the evils of the world does not decrease its horror. On the contrary, these circumstances make it more appalling, for after we become used to murder, robbery, debauchery, starvation and disease under the auspices of government, they may be viewed with greater complaisance when due to individuals, and the lives and wealth squandered in the war will for a long time make it difficult or impossible for the nations concerned to reorganize their energies for the advancement of civilization.
On us in the United States there is placed serious responsibility and great opportunity. Clearly we should do what we can to alleviate the misery caused by the war and try to bring it to an end when there is the slightest chance of success, and in a way that will make new wars less likely. We should prepare ourselves for defense, not through military drill or increased armaments, but by education, scientific research and the improvement of social and economic conditions; by the payment of all public debts and the accumulation of surplus wealth under
public control. If more direct preparation for defense is necessary, a hundred steamships, fast but of moderate size, built here to carry mail, express and passengers to all parts of the world, would be of greater use in case of need than ten, and far less wasteful in the meanwhile. A million officers and men engaged in works of engineering, public improvement and public service would at less expense or at no ultimate loss be more effective than any standing army of the existing kind. If Great Britain has ten billion dollars to throw into the abyss, we with twice the wealth could easily afford to invest an equal sum for the defense and welfare of the people.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have contributed about one half of the men who have given England leadership in government, science and letters. Now two thirds of their students have enlisted in the war; Trinity College has been converted into a military hospital. Could we not select from those who would not otherwise have the opportunity men of ability
equal to the students who have attended the English universities and prepare them for work equally important? And could we not give opportunity to foreign men and women of ability to continue here work from which they will be debarred by the conditions following the war?
Secretary of the Interior Lane has announced the discovery by Dr. Walter F. Rittman, chemical engineer in the Bureau of Mines, working at Columbia University, of two chemical processes, one of which, it is claimed, will greatly increase the supply of gasoline, while the other may make the United States independent in regard to materials necessary for the dye industry and the manufacture of high explosives. Application has been made by Dr. Rittman, on behalf of the federal government, to patent these processes in order to prevent any monopoly in their use, the patents to be dedicated to the American people.
The statement made by Secretary Lane deserves quotation, for even though his opinion of Dr. Rittman's work may be somewhat optimistic, it tells us what we may hope to accomplish by the proper organization of chemical research. Secretary Lane says:
Painted by Miss Anna Milo Upjohn and given to the College of Civil Engineering of Cornell University by the alumni who were students there in the thirty years of the directorship of Professor Fuertes.
amount of money at its command, through its employment of expert chemists and through its extensive organization, has had a big advantage over the independents in the production of gasoline, this company having a patented process that obtains for it as much as three times the amount of gasoline from a given quantity of petroleum as the independents now obtain. There are two or three other large corporations that have an efficient process for the manufacture of gasoline, but the independents, as a whole, have never been able even to approach the results obtained by the Standard Oil Company. Now the federal government, through the efforts of Dr. Rittman, proposes to make free for the use of all of the people of this country who wish it, a process that is confidently expected to increase their yields of gasoline from crude petroleum fully 200 per cent, and perhaps more, such results having repeatedly been obtained in the laboratory. It is claimed by Dr. Rittman that his process is safer, simpler and is more economical in time than processes now in use and these are economic factors of great importance. With a steadily increasing demand for gasoline for automobiles, motor boats and engines, this fortunate discovery comes at the proper time. It is but two years ago that the automobile industry, fearful that the supply of gasoline might not be adequate for its rapidly expanding business, offered through the International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs, a prize of $100,000 for a substitute for gasoline that would cost less than gasoline. Happily the urgency of this situation has passed and at the present time there is a plentiful supply of motor fuel to meet immediate demand. This new process adds to the hope, that in spite of the wonderful growth in the use of gasoline, there may not be any shortage in the future. It indicates an increased production of gasoline from the present production of petroleum—an output of 50,000,000 barrels instead of 2.5,000,000, as under the present methods. It will render free for use to all, the results of that efficient and intelligent research which has heretofore been only at the command of the wealthy. I am led to believe that it will not only be of inestimable value to the refiners commanding but limited capital as well as those of wealth, but also to the hundreds of thousands of users of gasoline. When it is realized that the gasoline industry each year in this country yields products amounting in value to between $100,000,000 and $150,000,000, the importance of this discovery is seen.
The second process discovered by Dr. Rittman may prove of much more value to the country than the first, in that it suggests the establishment of an industry in which Germany has heretofore been preeminent—the dye industry, and also promises indirectly a measure of national safety of incalculable import. Among necessary ingredients of high explosives used in modern warfare toluol and benzol are in the first rank. Heretofore these products have mainly been obtained in Germany and England from coal tar, and the explosives manufacturers have had to depend largely on the supply from these sources in the making of explosives. I understand that some toluol and benzol have been obtained from American coal and water-gas tars, but this supply does not begin to satisfy the present demands. The federal government now proposes to obtain the toluol and benzol from crude petroleum also. I am further informed that these produces can be produced from practically any American petroleum and that the supply can be made sufficient not only for the entire American trade but also for other purposes. This process has gone far enough to indicate that the two products can be produced at a reasonable cost. The real comforting thing, however, is that we have the knowledge that this new source of supply is at the command of our people, and that in time of great national stress, if the nation is ever called upon to defend itself, we shall be able to manufacture the most efficient and most powerful explosives known in warfare. Were it not for this discovery, it is possible that in such an emergency, we might be compelled to rely largely on the greatly inferior explosives that were used in the time of our civil war, and this would spell national disaster.Dr. Rittman concludes from his experiments that this process may become more economical than the German method of obtaining these products from coal tar, as this process not only makes toluol and benzol, but also gasoline in considerable quantities. He intimated to me the possibility of the value of the gasoline being an important factor in paying the costs of the process. If this should prove to be true, it may result in eventually giving the United States a supremacy in the dye-stuffs industry that has for some time belonged to Germany, since toluol and benzol are the source of many of these important dye stuffs that are used in the silk, cotton and woolen industries. It would also tend to prevent disturbance of the great industries engaged in the manufacture of silks, cottons and woolens in such extraordinary times as we are now experiencing, for we should be able to supply them with the necessary dyes.
We record with regret the death of Dr. Charles Edwin Bessey, head of the department of botany in the University of Nebraska, distinguished as a leader in botanical research and education; of Dr. T. Wesley Mills, emeritus professor of physiology in McGill University; of Professor James Geikie, the distinguished Scottish geologist, and of Dr. Arthur von Auers, the eminent German astronomer.
Col. George W. Goethals has been made a major-general of the line in recognition of his services in building the Panama Canal.-Brig. Gen. William C. Gorgas, surgeon-general, has been made major-general in the medical department. Col. Harry F. Hodges and Lieut.-Col. William L. Sibert, United States Corps of Engineers, have been promoted to be brigadier-generals. The bill providing for their promotions extended the thanks of congress to the officers.
The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research has appropriated $20,000 to be used under the institute's direction to further medical research work under war conditions, and is equipping Dr. Carrel's new hospital in France with apparatus for research work on pathological, bacteriological surgical and chemical conditions.