The History of Chemistry - American Chemical Society

INDUSTRIAL AND EiYGINEERI,VG CHEMISTRY. 425. The History of Chemistry. From time to time we have called attention not only to the cultural value in a ...
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April, 1924



The History of Chemistry

‘ ‘Easy Money’ ’

From time to time we have called attention not only to the cultural value in a study of the history of cheiiiistry but t o the excellent background for the science which such a study affords. History involves not only the development of the theories, researches, and industrial applications that go to make up the science, but familiarity with the men who have been responsible for this work. Their personalities, their habits, and their achievements in other lines of endeavor often throw valuable light upon their work as scientists. It pays to turn aside from our everyday work to give serious consideration to all these matters. The editorial appearing in Chemistry and Industry for December 14, 1923, is so apropos that we quote in part from it: What is needed is a different outlook and a better realization of the essentially pragmatic nature of scientific truth, otherwise our theories, instead of being tools with which we hammer and carve and blast our way forward, will become superstitious creeds with which we mumble ourselves into a state of ecstasy. The best corrective of the attitude of slavish and blind adoration of the theories of the present is a study of the rise, development and subsequent fate of theories of the past. Perhaps a thorough training in the philosophy of science would serve the purpose equally well, but we cannot all be philosophers, and in many of us the very word “philosophy” arouses a vigorous inhibitive complex, due no doubt to our severely practical nature. In the same way, it is often impossibleto get a man to react to theoretical ethics who will yet respond immediately to “The Case of Hezekiah Smith: An Awful Warning t o Sinners!” It is for this reason that we believe that the systematic study of the history of his subject should be made an integral part of the chemist’s training. The time is past when the history of chemistry could be considered as a subject fit merely for the spare moments of the “practical” chemist-a pastime with which he might appropriately beguile his leisure. There is a real need now for men who will undertake historical research in chemistry as their main object in life, who will adopt the same critical attitude, employ the same acumen, and lavish the same unselfish care in rendering the development of the science plain and intelligible to the nonspecialist, as are characteristic of the researches with glasses and test tubes. That their work would be fruitful cannot be doubted: the arid regions of facts, with all their potential wealth, need t o be fertilized with fecund ideas, and, while the man of genius must repain a mystery, yet the average mind can be trained to produce ideas with as great ease as the candidate for a doctorate produces new compounds. Let us show the new disciple that theories are not sacrosanct, by holding up to his gaze examples of the past; let us instil into his mind the continuity of chemical thought and its slow evolution throughout the ages, and let us encourage him to realize that chemistry is no cut and dried science in which all the main conceptions are impregnably established, so that the most we can hope t o do is to add a brick here or to polish a rough surface there. All this and much more we could do by insisting that he should have an adequate knowledge of the growth of his science. The University of London has a lecturer on the History of Science: we trust it will. not be long before every academic chemical department has its own lecturer on the History of Chemistry, whose services t o the common cause will be recognized as of a t least equal value with those of his colleagues iii the laboratories. Happily for us, we have in America a group of able chemists who fully realize the value of the history of chemistry. They have already contributed much in recording as well as in makI ing that history.-[ EDITOR

Editor of Industrial and Engineerzng Chemistry: I have read your February editorial “Easy Money.” It seems clear that in offering his prize Mr. Bok used that money as a stimulant t o thinking in terms of peace. Many feel this“a laudable object. It is true that Mr. Bok has given to one man a sum in excess of that going with a Nobel Prize, for a piece of work in no way comparable in itself to that required of a Nobel medalist. I feel, however, that i t is more true to say that Mr. Bok gave $50,000 to turn the American mind onto peace, than to say Mr. Bok gave Dr. Levermore $50,000 for a restatement of ideas of doubtful value. It seems to me beside the point that Mr. Bok might have handled his scheme much more effectively or that his $50,000 might have secured humanity a greater good. Mr. Bok is out for peace. Science since the war has been accused-unjustly, I think-of being a handmaid of war. Such editorials as “Easy Money” do not go a long way toward uprooting this suspicion, and scientists should have no difficulty in appreciating the harm this suspicion may do them. The present seems to me no time for using such deceptive words as “preparedness” and “national defense.” If war is not made an impossibility, science will be. This seems to me no time for quibbling over the relative usefulness of any plan carrying the hope of peace. If we chemists are the straight thinkers that we like to imagine ourselves, we had best make it clear that humanity must choose between peace and extinction. If we wish to benefit the human race with our science, let us first make sure that there is going to be a human race to benefit. RALPHH. BAILEY

Calendar of Meetings American Chemical Society-67th Meeting, New Willard Hotel, Washington, D. C., April 21 to 26, 1924. American Electrochemical Society-Spring Meeting, Philadelphia, Pa., April 24 to 26, 1924. Fourth International Conference of Soil Science-International Institute of Agriculture, Rome, May 11 to 19, 1924. National Fertilizer Association-Kenilworth Inn, Asheville, N. C., week of June 9, 1924. Second National Colloid Symposium-Evanston, Ill., June 17t o 20, 1924. American Leather Chemists Association-2lst Annual Meeting, Monmouth Hotel, Spring Lake, N. J., June 18 to 20, 1924. Fifth Congress of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry-Copenhagen, June 26 to July 1, 1924.

STOUGHTON, MASS. February 27, 1924


We are very glad t o print the above letter, but wish to make it clear that our motive in writing the editorial in question was not to argue either in favor of the League or against it. We simply wished to comment on the difference between standards for prizes in science and in other fields. To our mind Mr. Bok could have stimulated “thinking in terms of peace” even better had his handsome prize brought out something really new, as would necessarily have been the case if such a sum had been offered as a scientific prize. It is not our purpose to argue the merits of the League in THIS JOURNAL.-[EDITOR]

Corrections In the article entitled “The Nature of Corrosion in Canned Fruits,” by E. F. Kohman and N. H. Sanborn, THISJOURNAL, 16, 200 (1924), the note under the last three columns of Table I should begin: “Examination of the last three lots, etc.” The figure accompanying the letter by H. C. Becker under the title “Gas-Tight Stirrer,” THISJOURNAL, 16, 319 (1924), should be inverted. In the article entitled “The Testing of Petroleum Oils for Gasification” by August Holmes, THISJOURNAL, 16,258 (1924). Table VI, on page 260, should read as follows: TABLE VI-VALUES Type

Substance Boiling point, C. Specific gravity




Paraffin Decane 173 0.746 232


DIFFERENT TYPES O F SUBSTANCES Aromatic PseudoNaphthene Cyclononane cumol 171 170 0.772 0.885 192 22 1

Olefin Decylene 172 0.783 228

Peru Exempts Gas Oils from Import Duty-K’aphtha, gasoline, and gas oil have been exempted from import duties upon importation into Peru.