4 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 4


ANEW Association, known as the British Science Guild, has been started, with Mr. Haldane as its first president, and its inaugural meeting was held at the Mansion House on Monday. The name gives little clue to the raison d'être of the movement, for it is not an agency for scientific research, or even for the spread of scientific training It seeks something much wider than the assistance of a particular profession. The aim; if it may be gathered from the speeches at the sleeting., is nothing less than a reform of our methods in each sphere of national life. "It was not a question," said Sir Norman Lockyer, "merely of science and scientific men ; it was a question of conducting all our national activities, State service, private service, and what not, under the beat possible conditions with the greatest amount of brain-power." The Guild will attempt to co-ordinate and systematise the work of other agencies with the same purpose,--that is its practical task. It will also keep preaching, in season and out of season, the doctrine of the value of brain-power, of clear thinking and right methods, in business, in politics, in culture, in philan- thropy. These are no new ideals, for they form the confession of faith which the most thoughtless has some- where at the back of his head ; but the Guild thinks that by dinning them into the public ear some practical result may be achieved. We are a little distrustful of phrases like " efficiency " and "the scientific method." They mean so little by themselves, they are capable of so many interpretations, and, being resonant and high-sounding generalities, they act as a kind of narcotic to weaker minds, and create often a baseless self-satisfaction. They are simply blank forms, which may be amply filled up or left blank, and in themselves they have no special value. To "ensue perfection" is an old watchword, but its merits depend wholly on the concrete creed in connection with which it is used. A man may be an efficient knave or a perfect fool, and before we can applaud the machinery we must know the end to which it is going to work.

We therefore turn with interest to Mr. Haldane's speech in our search for details. Mr. Haldane speaks with authority, for, whatever our interpretation of "efficiency," we are all agreed that he is a shining instance of it. In half-a-dozen spheres of action he has cleared away cobwebs, and shown his countrymen the better way. He explains what he means by the object of the Guild in a number of practical instances. Scientific method involves, to begin with, the abandonment of prejudices and outworn precedents, the judging of things on their merits, excluding the false and holding fast to the true ; and he takes the stock instance of Japan. It means, again, using common-sense and the ordinary prin- ciples of business in our public affairs. The unemployed question is a case in point. There are two ordinary ways of meeting the problem : either to fold our hands and say that nothing can be done, and that economic laws must work their way ; or to dole out public money without any system in response to every demand made by ignorant people. Both are bad, since the first is based on an untrue doctrine, and the second on intellectual apathy. The third way is to fake the difficulty as a clever man meets a problem in his business, to use the best expert knowledge on the subject, to sift the unemployed into classes, and to apply to each class the remedy dictated by its special needs. This has been the German method, and a deputation of Birmingham brassworkers recently reported that the unemployed question had, to their mind, been solved in Germany. Scientific method means, in the third place, a recognition of the value of science in public life, the use of scientific men to advise the Government on matters where expert opinion is desirable, and the practical training of our public servants in the work of their Departments. It should be possible to bring in eminent scientists as advisers in spite of all cast-iron Civil Service rules. The Education Department demands experts ; the Board of Trade should be a vast Ministry of Commerce, with a perfect system of commercial intelligence. "Things will never be right," said Mr. Haldane, "until we have a scientific corps under a permanent Committee, just as the Defence Committee is under the Prime Minister to-day." We must remember, too, that much of our foreign administrative work demands the expert, and that he cannot be found in five minutes, but must be carefully chosen and trained. A good instance is that "Colonial science" to which Continental Governments are beginning to turn their attention, and which includes tropical medicine, engineering, anthropology, geography, and sur- veying. We are easily the foremost Power in the Tropics, and yet we make scarcely any provision for training our people in the knowledge which alone can make their work there healthy and effective. Certainly there is much We are so much in sympathy with the aim of the movement that we are a little loth to point out the inadequacy of the means to the end. Its supporters urge a reform in machinery, but what they really seek is the motive-power which makes the wheels go round. To be intolerant of half-truths and prejudices, to think logically and face facts squarely, to be determined to put up with nothing that is second-hand and, second-rate, is the finest of national ideals. But it will remain a pious opinion unless there is a renascence of moral and in- tellectual vitality. To discard prejudices is only admirable when they are discarded in favour of a better creed. It is well not to believe that "a new light must come either through a crack in the head or in the heart," but we are no further forward if the Nista of an open mind is a shallow and impotent scepticism. It is well to have all the materials of good work ready to our hand, but the impulse to create something must also be present. The finest bureau of intelligence on earth is of small good to us unless we have the energy to use its results. Mere knowledge by itself never made any man or any nation the better or the happier, and it is a quaint piece of mysticism to believe the contrary. Let us take Mr. Haldane's instance of the unemployed problem. We might have a staff of experts at work sifting and scheduling the different classes of applicants, we might have the latest comparative results pigeonholed around us. We should still lack something before reform could be effected, and that something would be the earnestness and sincerity to use the apparatus efficiently. Statesmanship implies a perpetual facing and. adjusting of problems, and makes heavy demands on intellectual and moral vigour. Would Japan have ever risen to her present height by mere formal perfection of method ? She might have ransacked the wisdom of the world, and chosen with ' perfect discrimination the things best suited to her need, but they would have remained academic importations unless there had been the resolute desire to make them part of the nation's life, and to use them earnestly to advance its well-being. It was the moral vitality given by her passionate patriotism that made her great, and not the fact that she had hit upon clever devices. Such a national renascence will give scientific methods, but no scientific methods will give the renascence.

We would not for a moment suggest that the work which the Guild has set before itself is not of the highest value. It is extremely important to get rid of antiquated machinery, and to get the best knowledge available both in public and private life. Bub we see a danger if it is forgotten that a method, even when called "scientific," is not an end in itself, and that an instrument is of small use without the vitality to keep it working. It is a very perilous game to exalt a method into a goal, for it is not so hard to provide good methods and to lay out an elaborate organisation for reform, but it is very hard to carry it through to the end. As we said last week in criticising the doctrine of "efficiency," without substantive national ideals the finest machinery is not. only useless, but may be positively harmful. What we want is a keener spirit in our people, a determination that they will not do easy homage to catch-words, but will steadfastly and honestly think out their problems for themselves, and spare no effort to live up to their heritage. Given such a spirit; and the scientific method will not be long in following.