The following is the presidential address delivered at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute, at Wellington, on the 30th January, 1920, by Dr. L. Cockayne, F.R.S.:—
Gentlemen of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute,—First of all it is my sorrowful duty to record the great loss which the New Zealand Institute has experienced since our annual meeting last year through the death of two of our foremost members—Major T. Broun and Mr. T. W. Adams. A full account of Major Broun's scientific activity will appear in the next volume of our Transactions; here I need only express my admiration of our accomplished member's services to science—services, indeed, that have laid an enduring foundation in a domain of New Zealand zoology virtually unexplored prior to his investigations. Regarding my esteemed friend Mr. T. W. Adams, I have already recorded in the last volume of our Transactions my high appreciation of his pioneer researches in New Zealand forestry and their extraordinary economic value. The influence of such men must be felt for many years; their place in our scientific circle will be hard to fill.
But if the past year has brought its sorrows, as must all years, joy has also come in the safe return after the hardships and perils of war of most of our members who so willingly set forth to serve their King and country. To those who fell, and whose laurels won on the field of battle are entwined with those gained in the peaceful path of science, has gone forth long ere this both our deepest grief and most fervent admiration. You will see from the report of the Standing Committee that the Roll of Honour is now completed, and will be printed in this volume of the Transactions.
The scientific year just concluded will, I feel convinced, be looked upon, in time to come, as the most important for the New Zealand Institute since its reconstruction in 1903—or, indeed, perhaps since its foundation. This will be for the reason that two important advances have been made—the holding of a Science Congress and the founding of the Fellowship. So successful was this Congress, notwithstanding the many unforeseen difficulties which stood in the way, that it was proposed to make it a biennial function. There is no need for me to give any details regarding the proceedings, since such have appeared in two special numbers of the Journal of Science and Technology, where also some of the papers read at the Congress are printed. It has been decided to hold a second Congress at the beginning of next year in Palmerston North. The idea of the Congress was not new, since such meetings were provided for in the New Zealand Institute Act of 1903, but for its successful inauguration full credit must be given to that very active body, the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury. Without doubt these gatherings will do a great deal to bring the Institute into touch with the non-scientific public, and in this lies no inconsiderable part of their value.
Regarding the papers read at the Congress, a considerable portion were such as in the ordinary course of events would have come before the affiliated branches. This, it may be hoped, will be remedied in the future, and that the papers submitted will be more on the lines of those of the British Association. Nor need a comparison on the basis of population make this appear a vain statement, for New Zealand possesses far more problems purely her own to be solved than does Great Britain; indeed, for many years to come, abundant material for researches, novel in character, will be at the disposal of our scientific men. A great agricultural centre, such as Palmerston North, is a fitting place indeed for the second Congress. At the Christchurch Congress agriculture was a great feature, thanks in part to the strong support of the Department of Agriculture, and in part to a gathering of the agricultural instructors of the Dominion being held at the same time. No time should be lost in making preparations for the event, so this question will come before you to-day.
The matter of the Fellowship of the New Zealand Institute demands more than a passing word. First, it must be pointed out that the election of the Original Fellows took place in October last, the election being made by a special committee—consisting of the Hon. G. M. Thomson, Professors Chilton and Easterfield, and myself (the convener)—which was appointed at your annual meeting last year “with power to act, to determine the method of election of the remaining Original Fellows, and to carry out the election.” As I was likely to be away from Wellington at the time of the election, I delegated my powers to Professor Easterfield, and obtained Mr. Ewen's assent to his acting as returning officer. To both these gentlemen I must record my grateful thanks. As soon as the election was concluded Mr. Ewen sent me the names of those elected, and I, as President of the Institute, informed by wire each successful candidate of his election. I also wrote to the Secretary of each of the affiliated societies giving the result of the election. Later, the names of all the Original Fellows were published in the Government Gazette. There are now twenty Fellows of the New Zealand Institute, who represent nearly every branch of science pursued in the Dominion. As to the merits of the election it is not for me to express an opinion, but I may be permitted to say that as an ex officio Fellow I feel it a great honour to be in such distinguished company.
Although the election was carried out in a certain manner agreed upon by the special committee, that is no precedent for future elections—the occasion was unique. It is for this meeting to decide in what manner the voting, &c., for candidates is to take place in future elections, both by the Fellows, in the first instance, who select eight candidates from the nominees of the affiliated societies, and, in the next place, by the Governors, who are to select the four Fellows from the eight selected candidates. Regarding these eight, and bearing in mind the number of persons qualified for the Fellowship at the present time, it may be confidently expected that each of them will be amply qualified for the distinction, and that as years go on the status for such qualification will rise.
And now a few words as to the history of the movement which led to the establishment of the Fellowship. The first suggestion of a class of members other than the ordinary members, whose admission to the societies is a matter of form, was put forward by Mr. G. V. Hudson a
considerable number of years ago, but no exceptional qualifications were to be demanded. Nothing more was said on the subject until the year 1910, when I talked over the matter with many of my scientific friends, all of whom agreed that the suggested Fellowship should be difficult of attainment and so be a very high distinction indeed. My reasons for the establishment of such an honour were—(1) that in other countries the universities conferred honorary degrees on scientific workers, whereas the University of New Zealand did not confer such, under the mistaken notion that they would detract from the value of the ordinary degrees; (2) that there were certain men in New Zealand whose years of unremitting labour in science would apparently never receive recognition; (3) that the establishment of a Fellowship worthy of being won would lead to that competition which is a law of nature and brings out the best in every sphere of life; (4) that more research would be undertaken and the number of those carrying out research increase, to the benefit of science. Against the proposal there was urged by some that there were the Hutton and the Hector Medals, as also certain Empire distinctions available for our best men. On the other hand, the above medals are limited in their application—some sciences do not receive recognition; while, as to Empire distinctions, so few come to New Zealand that they are almost negligible. All agreed that, in order to make the Fellowship sufficiently difficult to acquire, the number of Fellows must be limited to comparatively few. The proposition was not taken up, and no more was said on the matter until Dr. J. Allan Thomson brought out in January, 1917, an ambitious scheme for reform of the Institute, containing, inter alia, a proposal for the creation of Fellows. Dr. Thomson's proposals were referred to the affiliated societies to consider, and at the succeeding meeting in January, 1918, their replies having been received, a committee consisting of Mr. G. Hogben, Dr. Thomson, and myself was set up to draw up a Fellowship scheme and refer it to the incorporated societies. We accordingly considered the matter carefully, drew up a scheme, referred it to the societies, made certain changes in our draft in conformity with their suggestions, and brought our amended scheme before the Board of Governors in January, 1919. Each clause was carefully discussed by the Board, and, with a few alterations and additions, the scheme which we submitted was adopted. The only point of importance which was rejected was the proposal that a certain number of Fellows should be elected “for eminent service to the nation in any capacity,” but such Fellows were not to “exceed one-tenth of the total number of Fellows.” After considerable discussion, this proposal was rejected; but, as the regulations stand, the Fellowship can be given for research or distinction in science—i.e., it is possible for Fellows to be elected who have done no research whatever. This gives a wide-enough door, so it is unlikely that any one really deserving the honour will be left in the cold.
As for research, it must be clearly understood by the affiliated societies and electors that this does not refer merely to research accomplished in New Zealand. All research carried on outside New Zealand, even if published long before the candidate was a member of the Institute, must count as the present regulations stand.
Before leaving this question of the Fellowship, it cannot be too widely known both by scientific men and the general public that the letters “F.N.Z.Inst.” attached to a person's name is no empty title, but that it means far more than does the degree of Doctor of Science of any University,
for it is a guarantee that the holder is a scientist of exceptional merit, who has prosecuted research of a high class, and usually for a long period. This degree, if I may so call it, should rank in professional circles, and in the Civil Service, equally with the highest University distinctions, which, as I have already explained, it far outstrips. As time goes on it will be as difficult to obtain as the Fellowships or Memberships, as the case may be, of British, European, or American academies.
A matter which comes up yearly for your consideration is the question of finance. Thanks to the enlightened policy of the Hon. G. W. Russell with regard to science, for some years past we have received a special grant for research—but more of this later—and at the last meeting of this Board he promised us £500 for our ordinary expenditure at once, and that he would make provision for yearly adding a similar sum to our scanty income. When the Hon. Mr. Russell resigned, his successor, the Hon. J. B. Hine, arranged that the Institute should receive the additional £500 to its income, and was most sympathetic regarding this becoming a permanency. It will lie with this meeting to see what steps it is now necessary to take in order to increase our income permanently from £500 to £1,000 per annum, and it will be necessary also to act quickly. Even when we reach the latter scale we shall be by no means well off. The publications and ordinary expenses will absorb, at a low estimate, £700 yearly. There is coming before you the question of appointing a paid official to assist the honorary officers of the Institute. In considering such an appointment it is clear that our other financial responsibilities must be carefully borne in mind. There have been for some years certain important bulletins on the moss flora by Mr. H. N. Dixon awaiting publication, as also others by the late Major Broun, while others, again, too lengthy for the Transactions are also in sight. At the same time, the Hon. Secretary's work has increased greatly of late, but possibly an assistant, at £100 would be sufficient for this branch of our work.
A matter to come before the meeting is the election of some one for the important post of Editor. This comes about through the resignation of Dr. C. A. Cotton. No one can regret more than myself this resignation. During his long editorship Dr. Cotton has improved the annual volume to no small degree, given sound critical consideration to the papers, and, in short, has filled the difficult position most admirably.
One of the phases of our activity concerns the research grant. It is this, in part, which has added to the burdens of the Hon. Secretary. It has also directly added to our financial burden. This has come about through our inability to use any of this grant for purposes of publication, which falls upon our slender income. Time and again has the Institute published the results of non-subsidized economic research, but in the case of that which is subsidized the subsidy cannot be used to pay for publication. Cases, too, have occurred where the economic aspect of the subsidized research has been nil, but some purely scientific side-issue has emerged and been published in our Transactions. in short, except for its stimulation of research, the grant is a dead loss to the Institute. But does this grant really stimulate research? I doubt it greatly; indeed, I am not sure that it is not a hindrance. For the research must have—nominally, at any rate—an economic bent. Nor is this all, but the offer conditionally of money leads to research made to order; whereas the subject of a research should not be sought, it should come unbidden, it should be an inspiration. Then there is drawn that vicious distinction—I can call it by no lighter word—
between pure and applied science. It is “applied” science to add by methods of plant-breeding one more variety to the hundreds of varieties of turnips which are in horticulture or agriculture. It is “pure” science to seek by experiment with the vilest weed, it may be, for information yet unknown, which may advance man's knowledge of heredity—an advance which well might pave the way towards highly benefiting cvilization as a whole. Yet our research grant in its present form would encourage the turnip-breeder but not the worker in experimental genetics. Nay, this last term, if added to the application for a grant, would at once damn the application, for the final word rests not with the Institute but with the Minister. No, if we are to have a research grant which would justify the spending of public money, let it be given unconditionally. Surely a body such as the New Zealand Institute is to be trusted!
Several outside matters have occurred during the past twelve months which are of interest to the New Zealand Institute. Not the least of these is the actual launching of the Cawthron Institute, in the first place through the judgment of the Supreme Court approving, with a few trifling exceptions, the scheme drawn up for the Trustees of the estate by the Cawthron Commission; and in the second place through the appointment of Professor Easterfield as the Director. I feel assured, gentlemen, that you will applaud the appointment of a colleague of such long standing, and will feel, as I do, that the success of the Cawthron Institute is assured. It is also satisfactory to learn that the Cawthron Institute has acquired an excellent temporary home in the City of Nelson, where its scientific operations can commence and where they can be carried or until a building worthy of the high aims of the founder be erected on the Annesbrook Estate.
Several important scientific publications are either now ready for the press or have appeared. There is the Hon. G. M. Thomson's work—the labour of many years—dealing with acclimatization in New Zealand: this is completed, and has been sent to England. Mr. T. F. Cheeseman has contributed an important paper on the vascular flora of Macquarie Island as one of the reports of the Mawson Antarctic Expedition, which contains a philosophical essay on the origin of the isolated band of plants of that island—a worthy supplement to his scholarly essay in The Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand. The first volume of the Manuals of the Board of Science and Art has just appeared, and other volumes are in contemplation by the Hon. G. M. Thomson, Dr. C. A. Cotton, and Mr. Elsdon Best. Such a series dealing with New Zealand natural history has long been wanted.
Returning to our own affairs, an index of our Transactions from volume 40 onwards is urgently needed. If the hoped-for additional income is assured, this should be taken in hand without delay. Then there is the perennial question of the library; but little can de done under the present circumstances. The method of printing your President's address each year may seem a small matter, but it is hardly upholding the dignity of the Institute to tuck it away in small print in the Proceedings; still less should that position be accorded the more weighty addresses delivered at the Science Congress. Surely these presidential addresses should commence the annual volume.
Turning now to the widest matter of all which confronts us as a scientific body with scientific obligations, that matter beyond all others which concerns our country in common with all parts of the Empire—the period of reconstruction now commencing. Soon after war broke out, even in the
hour of victory, and not least at the present time, one hears preached on all sides by those in every grade of society the crying need for more science, for more and more research. This word “science” is, and has been, in the mouths of the people as never before. But if one converses with the non-scientific it quickly comes to light that the research they desire is not at all the research of the scientific man—that long painful groping for the truth which he knows but too well. To them the man of science—neglected for so long, if not despised—is now a wizard who with but a touch of his magic rod (science, the omnipotent, ever at his beck and call) can, in the twinkling of an eye, solve any problem that is put before him. “Ask and thou shalt receive” might be the motto. On every side are the triumphs of science; but how few indeed are aware that all date back for long years, the crowning glories of research after research—many of such researches apparently most useless, most trivial. Is the public prepared to find the wherewithal to pay for such “trivialities,” or is the scientific man only to be called in at the last moment to find some economic application of his previously unpaid labours? What is the duty of the New Zealand Institute? Is it not to get into closer touch with the people, to teach them the true meaning of science? The scientific man in the past has been too unbending, too little concerned with those not his colleagues. Science can surely be popularized without loss of dignity. Prosperity, successful reconstruction, these depend in no minor degree on the intimate acquaintance of the men of science and their non-scientific brethren.