The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1935
Jaffe Reveals Far Outposts Of New Science
A Clear Book For
On Recent Findings Of The Truth Seekers.
OUTPOSTS OF SCIENCE. By Bernard Jaffe.
547 pp. New York. Simon & Schuster. $3.75.
W. J. CASH
Mr. Jaffe, who won the Francis Bacon award for the humanization of knowledge for his "Crucibles" in 1930, here sets himself to the feat of getting down in the space of thirteen essays of from 35 to 40 pages each an account of all the more recent important findings of American scientists, save in the fields of geology, relativity, and psychology.
And on the whole, he makes a capital job of it. Indeed, for the more intelligent sort of laymen, at whom he is obviously directing his fire, his book is by far the best thing of its kind I have seen. He knows how to write clearly and directly, and without any of that revolting clowning or any of that now-if-my-little-morons-will-open-their-foolish-little-ears tone which disfigure the efforts of so many of his fellow practitioners in the popular field. What is more, he has an excellent sense of what his readers will be likely to know already of the older findings, and what they will need to be told in order to follow him. Again his method of building a story in each case around the personalities of outstanding investigators is admirably calculated to the purpose. Moreover, Mr. Jaffe has taken a great deal of trouble to achieve accuracy in his reports, having in nearly every case submitted his papers to the men celebrated in them for revision as regards their work.
A Balanced Book.
But the single best feature of the book is its balance and its total lack of those fanaticisms which make the work of such popularizers as Albert F. Wiggam more dangerous than useful. Thus between his essay on genetics and the one on psychiatry--built respectively about the work of Thomas Hunt Morgan and Adolf Meyer--Mr. Jaffe makes perfectly clear what has long cried to be made clear to the average reader: that the fatalistic dogma of heredity which are so widely peddled about the country, and the demand for sterilization of all the abnormal which goes along with it, are not only without adequate foundation in fact but are, in truth, almost certainly more than half wrong.
Nobody actually knows today whether or not insanity, epilepsy, and so on, are unit characters or the result of the combination of several. What is more, it is plain that man's heritage is so complex that the easy rules concocted for the breeding of hogs and cattle have virtually no application to him--so complex, indeed, that practically the only thing which is certain about it is that it is going to be a great many years yet before it is well-enough understood for anybody to claim to know its laws. What is more again is that many of the so-called abnormals of the world have been among its greatest men. Thus Mozart, Napoleon, Mohammed, Pascal, Caesar, Flaubert, Richelieu, Dostoievsky, Isaac Newton, St. Paul, and a whole host of others have been the victims of convulsions--would have been seized on by the sterilizers as "epileptic" and "unfit". And the names of the great men of the world who have been born of insane neuro-psychotic parents would fill an encyclopedia.
There may be evidence enough to justify the sterilizationof idiots coming from long lines of proven idiots; but there is no more than that.
The same balance is shown in Mr. Jaffe's essay on anthropology--built around a work of Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian. Do all men, black, white, and yellow, come from a single stem, as the majority of anthropologists, including Hrdlicka, believe? Or do they come, as the late Henry Fairfield Osborn maintained, from at least four stems, arising in different parts of the world and developing in complete separation? Is Neanderthal man, as Hrdlicka thinks, a direct ancestor of modern man? Or is he, as Sir Arthur Keith and Marcelin Boule hold, and as the Strasburg professor first argued some 50 years ago, only a remote cousin whose line became extinct with the close of the first episode of the last ice age and the appearance of the superior Cromagnon breed? Nobody yet really knows in the least what the answers to these questions are--though, as everyone who has ever delved into the literature of the subject knows, fanaticism is as common here as in the fields of genetics. Mr. Jaffe makes the truth of the matter perfectly clear.
Basis of Heredity.
Besides these chapters on Morgan's epochal discoveries concerning the physical basis of heredity, on Hrdlicka and the status of modern anthropology, and on the work of Meyer and William Allen White in the realm of mental disorder, Mr. Jaffe considers the efforts of medical science to lengthen the span of man's life, in connection with the investigations of the late Dr. William H. Welch; Maude Slye's life-long devotion to her rat colony, and her demonstration that the predisposition to cancer is almost certainly hereditary; Jacob Abel's fifty-year struggle to master the secrets of the endocrine glands; McCollum's amazing findings in the field of vitamins; Millikan's and Compton's discoveries in radiation, and the former's believe, along with the Englishman, Jeans, that the universe is only a sort of ghost--the solid stuff of matter only a "a wave of probability;" George Ellery Hale and astrophysics; the possibility of long-range weather forecasting, as it is being worked out by Charles G. Abbott and Andrew E. Douglass; and the Einstein-upsetting work of Hubble, Humason, and Tolman anent the galaxies.
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