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Popularising Science

Nature volume 50, pages 300301 | Download Citation



“POPULAR science,” it is to be feared, is a phrase that conveys a certain flavour of contempt to many a scientific worker. It may be that this contempt is not altogether undeserved, and that a considerable proportion of the science of our magazines, school text-books, and books for the general reader, is the mere obvious tinctured by inaccurate compilation. But this in itself scarcely justifies a sweeping condemnation, though the editorial incapacity thus evinced must be a source of grave regret to all specialists with literary leanings and with the welfare of science at heart. The fact remains that in an age when the endowment of research is rapidly passing out of the hands of private or quasi-private organisations into those of the State, the maintenance of an intelligent exterior interest in current investigation becomes of almost vital importance to continual progress. Let that adjective “intelligent” be insisted upon. Time was when inquiry could go on unaffected even by the scornful misrepresentations of such a powerful enemy as Swift, because it was mainly the occupation of men of considerable means. But now that our growing edifice of knowledge spreads more and more over a substructure of grants and votes, and the appliances needed for instruction and further research increase steadily in cost, even the affectation of a contempt for popular opinion becomes unwise. There is not only the danger of supplies being cut off, but of their being misapplied by a public whose scientific education is neglected, of their being deflected from investigations of certain, to those of doubtful value. For instance, the public endowment of the Zetetic Society, the discovery of Dr. Platt's polar and central suns, or the rotation of Dr. Owen's Bacon-cryptogram wheel, at the expense of saner inquiries might conceivably and very appropriately result from the specialisation of science to the supercilious pitch.

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