An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
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Edward Livingston Youmans (1872)
First published in Popular Science Monthly, 1, 113-115.
Posted September 2000
The POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY has been started to help on the work of sound public education, by supplying instructive articles on the leading subjects of scientific inquiry. It will contain papers, original and selected, on a wide range of subjects, from the ablest scientific men of different countries, explaining their views to non-scientific people. A magazine is needed here, which shall be devoted to this purpose, for, although much is done by the general press in scattering light articles and shreds of information, yet many scientific discussions of merit and moment are passed by. It is therefore, thought best to bring this class of contributions together for the benefit of all who are interested in the advance of ideas and the diffusion of valuable knowledge.
The increasing interest in science, in its facts and principles, its practical applications, and its bearings upon opinion, is undeniable; and, with this augmenting interest, there is growing up a new and enlarged meaning of the term which it is important for us to notice. By science is now meant the most accurate knowledge that can be obtained of the order of the universe by which man is surrounded, and of which he is a part. This order was at first perceived in simple physical things, and the tracing of it out in these gave origin to the physical sciences. In its earlier development, therefore, science pertained to certain branches of knowledge, and to many the term science still implies physical science.
But this is an erroneous conception of its real scope. The growth of science involves a widening as well as a progression. The ascertainable order of things proves to be much more extensive than was at first suspected; and the inquiry into it has led to sphere after sphere of new investigation, until science is now regarded as not applying to this or that class of objects, but to the whole of Nature -- as being, in fact, a method of the mind, a quality or character of knowledge upon all subjects of which me can think or know.
What some call the progress of science, and others call its encroachments, is undoubtedly the great fact of modern thought, and it implies a more critical method of inquiry applied to subjects not before dealt with in so strict a manner. The effect has been, that many subjects, formerly widely separated from the recognized sciences, have been brought nearer to them, and have passed more or less completely under the influence of the scientific method of investigation. Whatever subjects involve accessible and observable phenomena, one causing another, or in any way related to another, belong properly to science for investigation. Intellect, feeling, human action, language, education, history, morals, religion, law, commerce, and all social relations and activities, answer to this condition ; each has its basis of fact, which is the legitimate subject-matter of scientific inquiry. Those, therefore, who consider that observatory-watching, laboratory-work, or the dredging of the sea for specimens to be classified, is all there is to science, make a serious mistake. Science truly means continuous, intelligent observation of the characters of men, as well as of the characters of insects. It means the analysis of mind as well as that of chemical substances. It means the scrutiny of evidence, in regard to political theories, as inexorable as that applied to theories of comets. It means the tracing of cause and effect in the sequences of human conduct [p. 114] as well as in the sequences of atmospheric change. It means strict inductive inquiry as to how society has come to be what it is, as well as how the rocky systems have come to be what they are. In short, science is not the mystery of a class, but the common interest of rational beings, in whom thinking determines action, and whose highest concern it is that thought shall be brought into the exactest harmony with things -- and this is the supreme purpose of education.
If, in this statement of the scope and work of science, we have not laid stress upon those great achievements by which it has given man power over the material world, it is not because we undervalue them. They are noble results, but they are abundantly eulogized, and their very splendor has operated to dim the view of other conquests, less conspicuous, but even more important. Telegraphs, steam-engines, and the thousand devices to which science has led, are great things; but what, after all, is their value compared with the emancipation of the human spirit from the thraldom of ignorance, which the world owes to this agency? Rightly to appreciate what science has accomplished for humanity, we must remember not only that it has raised men to the understanding and enjoyment of the beautiful order of Nature, but that it has put an end to the baneful superstitions by which, for ages, men's lives were darkened, to the sufferings of witchcraft, and the terrors of the untaught imagination which filled the world with malignant agencies.
It is this immense extension of the conception of science, in which all the higher subjects of human interest are now included, that gives it an ever-increasing claim on the attention of the public. Besides its indispensable use in all avocations, and its constant application in the sphere of daily life, it is also profoundly affecting the whole circle of questions, speculative and practical, which have agitated the minds of men for generations. Whoever cares to know whither inquiry is tending, or how opinion is changing, what old ideas are perishing, and what new ones are rising into acceptance -- briefly, whoever desires to be intelligent as to contemporary movements in the world of thought -- must give attention to the course of scientific inquiry. Believing that there are many such in this country, and that they are certain to become more numerous in future THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY has been commenced with the intention of meeting their wants more perfectly than any other periodical they can get.
The work of creating science has been organized for centuries. Royal societies and scientific academies are hundreds of years old. Men of science have their journals, in all departments, in which they report to each the results of original work, describe their processes, engage in mutual criticism, and cultivate a special literature in the interests of scientific advancement.
The work of diffusing science is, however, as yet, but very imperfectly organized, although it is clearly the next great task of civilization. The signs, however, are promising. Schools of science are springing up in all enlightened countries, and old educational establishments are yielding to the reformatory spirit, modifying and modernizing their systems of study. There is, besides, a growing sympathy, on the part of men of science of the highest character, with the work of popular teaching, and an increasing readiness to coöperate in undertakings that shall promote it. There is, in fact, growing up a valuable literature of popular science -- not the trash that caters to public ignorance, wonder, and prejudice, but able and instructive essays and lectures from men who are authorities upon the subjects which they treat. But the task of systematically disseminating these valuable productions is as yet but [p. 115] imperfectly executed, and we propose to contribute what we can to it in the present publication.
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY will make its appeal, not to the illiterate, but to the generally-educated classes. The universities, colleges, academies, and high-schools of this country are numbered by hundreds, and their graduates by hundreds of thousands. Their culture is generally literary, with but a small portion of elementary science; but they are active-minded, and competent to follow connected thought in untechnical English, even if it be sometimes a little close. Our pages will be adapted to the wants of there, and will enable them to carry on the work of self-instruction in science.
The present undertaking is experimental. We propose to give it a fair trial; but it will be for the public to decide whether the publication shell be continued. All who are in sympathy with its aims are invited to do what they can to extend its circulation.