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Volume 77, 1948-49
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Address by the Chairman

Ways And Means In Zoology

The scientific journey has no end. It has only halting places—points at which the traveller can look round and survey…. even those portions of the concrete life which seem the more durable are only temporary equilibria in an unhalting kinetic stream. The ‘abstraction of structure and function is,’ happily remarks Professor A. D. Ritchie, ‘at bottom merely a question of what changes slower or faster.” (Sir Charles Sherrington, in Man On His Nature.)

For a section chairman at a science congress to approach his subject through a review of past achievement in his subject might almost be regarded as taking his hearers for still another tram ride. However, it was necessary to choose a starting point for what I wish to submit to you, and, as the title of my address raises the question of where we are going and by what means, it also involves a consideration of “Where do we now stand?” and “How did we reach the present stage?”

It is now twelve years since a Royal Society Congress was held, time for new trends to have revealed themselves clearly enough for comparison with the past, and for whatever advantage we can obtain by making such a comparison.

There is, moreover, only a limited advantage in merely seeing how far we have travelled or how much has been completed. A greater interest lies in observing if we are continuing to travel in the same direction as our predecessors, or whether we are changing the route or widening the front of the advance.

A conspectus of the first sixty-five years' investigations by members of our Society is provided by the three indexes to the Transactions that have been published. They reveal at once how active were our zoologists in those years in the basically essential systematic studies, in identifying, describing, classifying, and determining the range of habitat of discovered species in almost every animal phylum. Zoology was mainly descriptive, and the few, but by no means minor, contributions to comparative anatomy and embryology were themselves a part of systematics, part of the endeavour to establish relationships and to draw up genealogies or natural systems of classification, by comparison of structure and development.

Present-day zoologists constantly make acknowledgment of the achievements of their predecessors, when, almost daily, they have recourse to one of the great manuals, or to the numerous papers in the science periodicals for elucidation of a point, or verification of an identification.

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It would be wrong, however, to let it be implied that the studies of this long period were narrow. Theoretical considerations were freely advanced on many aspects of zoology, though it is not surprising to find them for the most part bearing upon the theory of organic evolution. Here, again, we acknowledge the enterprise of their reconnaissances and advances in this field when we to-day continue, as we must, to endeavour to determine relationships as for instance in zoo-geographical distribution or in phylogeny.

At the turn of the century, the titles recorded bear witness to an unabated flow of taxonomic studies, but, like our braided shingle-bed rivers, they become concentrated and intensified in more powerfully running separate and interlacing streams.

We must not follow a stream metaphor here or we shall misinterpret as a narrow concentration what is really a widening front of advance reinforced by studies in ecology, bionomics, hybridization and variation in their more modern aspects, all of them being put forward, as it were, in their own right as well as in support of the newer intensified systematics.

But by now the publication requirements of workers have outgrown the resources of the Transactions, and there is need to consult as well our museum publications, and periodicals in Australia and other Empire countries, for the full record of New Zealand research; the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology introduces the policy of directly applying scientific investigation to economic problems, and while some of its earliest papers were what might be called essay-reviews of the possibility of applied research in various fields, its recent full-scale studies typify modern thoroughness in scope and method.

All sources of publication bear witness to the widening of the scope of zoological investigation during the last ten to fifteen years, and the taxonomists and systematists themselves have been by no means the least insistent on the necessity of these new studies as basic to their own specialization.

It is unnecessary to recall the detailed aspects of these researches —you who are contributing them are quite aware of their content; and, in any case, our programme for this week is ample evidence of their scope and vitality.

I might, however, venture to indicate what may be the essence of a change that has come into zoological study. We may each of us, then, in so far as we agree with my indication, observe to what extent New Zealand zoology is participating in the newer trends.

The preoccupation of nineteenth century zoology with the validity of the theory of organic evolution, whether in studying variations as the means, or natural selection as the method, tended, I suggest, to turn students' minds to inquire how the past had produced the present. Zoological thought was, as it were, tinged with an element of advocacy for the evolutionary concept, and sought to understand, and to demonstrate, the past steps of development that must have preceded and have contributed to the present state of affairs. In other words, the evolutionary outlook was historical.

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To-day's studies, while still seeking to correct the outlines and complete the details of the historical picture, are more closely scrutinising the moving scene of phenomena in action. While the earlier studies sought to determine how the past had produced the present, to-day's outlook is from the past through the active present towards the future. There is a tacit realization that what is important is not merely a pattern of static relationships between the categories of living beings, but an understanding of them as living entities, as dynamic functions of reality; there is a realization, too, that, as Coneh* has said, “facts are but cross sections or selections from the temporal stream,… things are never complete, but are always actualizing some of their possibilities and excluding others,… and from the point of view of actuality there is no completed world.”

This, you will say, is inherent in the concept of evolution, and I would agree. Yet I feel that many of us whose studies were derived from the turn of the century were sometimes content when we had satisfactorily interpreted the present as the resultant of the evolutionary past, and were therefore unconsciously accepting the present as stable.

To-day the search is more conscious of an active present. Bionomics and ecology increasingly attract workers towards their many-sided interests, and are drawing, both for information and for means to interpretation, upon the many new physiological discoveries and concepts that, like their own hormones and vitamins, are coursing through the body biological. Bird migration—hormones—light: these are links between palaeontology and physics. Migration again—dispersal—isolation: these have a two-phase link with genetics.

The taxonomist who is popularly supposed to be reaching towards the completion of his task, and who has devised rigid rules of nomenclature as the shortest step towards finality in one aspect of it, is, instead of approaching his final frontier, becoming increasingly aware of an ever-widening scene as he co-opts the ecologist and the geneticist to observe his genera and his species, not so much as a pattern of stable entities, but as a slow-motion picture of kaleidoscopic events.

The widening scope of current investigations also makes us all the more conscious of the gaps in the advancing column. As each new discovery calls for revised interpretation, interpretation in turn keeps calling for further and still further investigations to assist in solving the new problems that success strews before us. But, apart from new problems which every such investigation inevitably discloses, there are other gaps such as the distinct ecological areas or habitat areas that have never been studied as such. We have had illuminating studies of coastal, marine and submarine areas, but not of a forested mountain valley, nor, except with regard to introduced browsing animals, of alpine meadows; there are cave faunas awaiting full examination, and it may yet be shown for instance that Phreatoicus in Canterbury has as many interesting sub-terrestrial neighbours as it has been found to have in Australia.

[Footnote] * Coin, Morris R., A Preface to Logic (Routledge: 1946), pp. 65–6.

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While unexplored ways in zoology, whether in faunal areas, in animal function or in the active commerce of living relationship, offer interest and reward for those who would follow them, there is equal opportunity, and great need for it to be grasped, in the new means to biological investigation inherent in the advances made in other sciences.

Here, of course, we are repeating an old and familiar pattern of events. There is no need to recount in detail how three hundred years ago the whole of the frontier of biological investigation was astonishingly advanced by the invention of the optical microscope. Now the electron microscope is with us. Neither need I remind you of the great progress that followed from the physicists' manipulative control of electricity, progress not only in experiment, but in the equally important aspect of interpretation. There should be like awareness among us of the already exploited experimental potential of X-rays and of more recently controlled rays or radiations. One sometimes forgets that it is twenty years since mutations were first produced by irradiation of cells, and that a new interpretative ferment has been at work among the concepts, not only of genetics as a pattern of relationships between succeeding generations, but also of the physiological processes involved in genetics, leading to a deeper understanding of normal and abnormal cell-division, of growth, and of pathologically abnormal growth.

For three generations physics has been probing the subvisible universe, and the possibilities inherent in what the President of the Royal Society of London has recently called “the sharp tools of modern physics” are continually being realized.

Physiologists have been following hitherto inaccessible bodily functions by watching, and counting, the signals flashed by radioactive injections coursing through the arteries and veins; coming nearer home to field zoology, the super-sonic has been detected and measured to give us an understanding of the uncanny avoidance of obstacles by flying bats.

May I speculate for a moment: it has often been suggested that insects emit and respond to waves or radiation outside of human perception, and here again may we not look to the new sharp tools of physics for further novel means of investigation and even of control. Even of control? Is it too fanciful to hope eventually for some kind of super-sonic “Dilly dilly! Dilly dilly, come and be killed”?*

The possibility of practical application of these methods is an open field, but there is an immediate point to consider. Briefly, it is that if we propose to utilise the new means of research made available to us by physics we must also conform to the proven methods of physical research.

This is no novel submission, but the striking new physical means for research call for reiteration of it. It was prior to the last science congress, in the first presidential address to the newly-constituted Royal Society of New Zealand, that Professor Speight referred to the

[Footnote] * It is not. Already, I have just heard, D.S.I.R. has been experimenting with a super-sonic bird scarer.

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need for the application of the methods of the physical sciences to the so-called natural sciences.

Physical means do more than give us access to the sub-visible and super-sonic. Seeing may be believing, but it is a varying quantity; even within the range of human perception there is need to eliminate this variable, and physics gives us the means to measure reactions and thereby to obtain that strange but inevitable assurance that comes from number. Even a colour-blind person can have an agreed understanding with the normal when the colour differences in question are stated as a numerical scale of light-wave frequencies.

And so the assurance obtained from the checking and correcting of varying human sense perception by physical measurements carries us over with like assurance into the sub-visible and super-sonic. But now caution demands, confidence requires, prior understanding of our physical means: formerly of our old optical microscope, now of our new electron microscope; of electricity as formerly understood, now of electronics and of X-rays and other radiations. But we cannot all be physicists as well as zoologists, and in turning to the new sharp tools of physics we find need to rely on still another human means of research: on co-operation.

Co-operation in the social sense I will not discuss for the moment; may I continue with the thought we have just been following?

Co-operation demands mutual confidence, confidence not only in the skill and integrity of the human colleague, but also in the method of co-operation, or rather in the fundamental principles underlying the methods being used.

Our own practical experience, I suppose, in the mechanical aspect of observation by instruments gives us assurance in the technique of another science; we also understand and accept that such indirect observations, a test tube reaction for instance, or a pointer on a dial, require interpretation; and such is our confidence in number and in statements made by the symbols of mathematics that we are prepared also to accept the results of abstruse calculations or progressions both in physics itself and in their application, say, to advanced genetics.

But more and more must the zoologist to-day use these methods himself, and he is doing so; it is satisfactory and assuring, for example, to read, as in a recent contribution to the Transactions, “…the following method of quantitative estimation… was devised and proved susceptible to mathematical treatment.”

The use of these methods, physical and mathematical, is inevitably increasing, and will call for a greater number of zoologists equipped with more than elementary mathematical training; and, unless we are prepared to accept our zoological reading in “digest” form, it will also call for a higher mathematical equipment among us than is necessarily possessed by the reputed scientist, i.e., by the holder of a B.Sc. degree in our own University. This is a matter for our discussions on science teaching, and I do not wish to follow it in any detail. I do, however, suggest that zoologists should consider the point, and that they should ask themselves whether a person is adequately trained for zoological study without some experience in mathematics.

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I quite appreciate that emphasis on the advantages offered by physical and mathematical means in zoology might carry with it a covert assumption that instrumentally recorded and statistically analysed observations alone will produce valid results. Such an attitude would justly earn for us a criticism like that levelled against young army officers for having their heads down poring over maps instead of keeping them up and looking at the country. Physical means certainly will give us closer refinement and increased accuracy, but cannot replace the broad comprehension of personal sensory observation: there is validity in the holistic view that the wood is greater than the sum of its trees.

Nevertheless, there is need for greater use of statistically recorded facts and for special training in their analysis if we are to derive results in full measure, but no more than legitimate results, from them. I imagine, however, that we shall continue to rely on the specialist to check the specialist; yet wholly to do so can hardly be rated as gaining confidence in the methods being used; it would be merely avoiding the problem by delegating it to someone else.

It would therefore appear than we still have to find some common ground on to which all methods can be brought for review. This is still not to suggest that it is necessary to devise a common means for checking every detail of automatic observation and mathematical analysis included in the contributions of our specialist colleagues. It is sufficient, though still necessary, that we should be able to assess the formal validity of the steps followed in observation, analysis and presentation.

We take it for granted that we should have competence in the manipulative technique of our study; we undertake special training to acquire this competence. We also accept it as necessary to have had special training for those phases of zoological investigation that require mathematical analysis; we would not attempt such analysis without having acquired the necessary competence. But in another aspect of our study we may not have been so thorough in preparation.

The formal aspect of knowledge itself, the fundamentals of knowing, the necessary relations between words, or symbols, and meaning, and the connections between statements and their implications, all have been objects of the closest scrutiny of human thought.

We constantly use the forms of this logic, whether with prior training or not I would not venture to say; I would, however, suggest that a need exists for experience in formal logic, not only as a means to analysis and presentation, but also as a means to the fundamental understanding of scientific methodology as the basis of the mutual confidence that should pervade the work of specialists in co-operation.

I think you will agree that there is a weakness here in the customary academic preparation for a scientific career, and that consideration should be given to repairing it. It would probably not be accepted that mathematics should be compulsory for the B.Sc. degree; consideration might, however, be given to making mathematics and logic alternative requisites for the science course.

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Elsewhere I have made another suggestion—that candidates for the newly restored Ph.D degree should undertake a course in logic. At the post-honours stage such a course might be of more value than earlier, for it would be undertaken by a more mature student, who, possibly for the first time in his university life, was enjoying sufficient leisure to think, to reflect, and to follow his reasoning to its necessary conclusions.

Quite apart from this particular aspect of the Ph.D. course, we should, I think, all recognize in the re-establishment of this degree an important means to the advancement of zoology. Holders of it should enter on their research careers with greater confidence as well as with enhanced technical competence; university teachers will enjoy the stimulating responsibility of directing the investigations, and the student and faculty life of the colleges will benefit from participation in it of a greater number of experienced graduates. Zoological thought, too, should be developed, through the prosecution of studies in pure research, and through many of them using in their experiments the new sharp tools that sister sciences are creating and the means to interpretative thought they are developing.

Limiting factors to the full utilisation of this means to scientific progress will be economic. Zoologists will need to add their weight to the representations the University and the colleges will be making for the establishment of post-graduate scholarships, the appointment of additional teachers, and the provision of the necessary accommodation and equipment.

The last of the ways and means in zoology I wish to discuss with you are the social means. We should discuss it, for there is as much need to seek a basis for understanding and action among the individuals and the groups that comprise our social organization as there is to use the latest equipment and the newest methods of investigation.

In view of the discussion on co-ordination in scientific research that we are to have on Friday afternoon, it would be inappropriate for me to pursue this particular matter in detail. It may, however, be observed that complementary to the undoubted need for scientific institutions and State departments to provide the material means and conditions for research and to agree upon a co-ordinating organization to ensure efficiency and coverage, there is a definite place for free co-operative group observation such as has been happily and efficiently organized by the Ornithological Society.

It may further be noted that there are important public issues that concern zoologists, issues that call for scientific investigation for their understanding or are concerned with the preservation of the natural features of our country.

We have a general problem of wild-life control; hitherto decisions have been made by responsible authority on the basis of “authoritative opinion.” Fortunately, the repeated representations of the Council of the Royal Society seem now to be having effect, and to have guided some authorities to incipient investigation. It is a matter for satisfaction that a review of the research requirements in this vast field is being made by one of our colleagues, and that already other colleagues have carried out preliminary investigations, avowedly not intended

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to solve given problems, but to demonstrate the adequacy of scientific method as a means to their competent investigation.

While zoologists will readily recognize the necessity for organization and co-ordination of research, they will not forget the many important contributions that have been made to their subject by those of their colleagues who are properly and honourably designated amateurs. We trust that organization will not overlook them—or might it be better that organization should overlook them and should remember only that the spirit of inquiry that arises spontaneously in the free individual mind must have opportunity and scope for full exercise and expression. From time to time amateur workers need monetary grants to further their investigations, and this Society should have a research fund for the purpose.

The free mind needs free association for the development of its particular qualities, and the place of the branches and of the Royal Society itself (for that, I think, is the right order of functional potential in this respect) needs to be recognized, and safeguarded and cultivated by every zoologist. The theme of my address has been the zoologists' need of the co-operation of physicists and chemists, and the branches of this Society are appropriate fields for that co-operation to be reciprocally rendered.

I would not be thought of as suggesting that the free mind is the peculiar attribute of the amateur scientist. Association and a free forum for discussion are essential to and equally desired by the research worker in State or institute-organized undertakings. There in an encouraging significance here in the fact that it has been the Wellington Branch of this Society, the branch that undoubtedly has within its membership the biggest proportion of Public Service scientific officers, that throughout the war has repeatedly urged the holding of this science congress.

The other aspect of social co-operation in science is international. 1 mention it merely to complete my outline of ways and means, for we are to have the benefit of hearing from Dr. Falla of the latest international enterprise in scientific co-operation.

It is sufficient, I imagine, again to remind ourselves that co-operation, whether individual or State-organized, whether national or international, calls for our participation in service as well as in benefits.

Our own Royal Society, which formerly was able to meet the modest annual subscription to the International Council of Scientific Unions, has found it necessary to ask the branches to contribute towards the recently increased subscription: 1 trust that zoologists will, in the branches, support this request. It would be particularly unfortunate if the Royal Society should have to surrender the spokes-manship for New Zealand just when the International Council, through its relationship with UNESCO, is about to be able to operate more actively than heretofore.

It will be wise for us always to keep the possibilities of free co-operation in science much in mind, whether in its local or its international aspect.

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It is particularly desirable that we should support the associations already operating in our own country, so that the organization and co-ordination that must inevitably increase will continue to be leavened and vitalised by the free association of free minds.

Clearly, some of the ways of zoology are changing, and the means have increased and improved to provide us with an almost confusing array of bright new tools. To use them we shall have constantly to revise methods of analysis and interpretations, to adjust our academic and technical training to the new requirements, and to agree to greater organization and co-ordination. We shall, however, be wise to preserve unchanged one tradition we have inherited from the past generation of zoologists—that of the democratic societies that have furthered free investigation, and full discussion and publication, in every aspect of scientific inquiry.

I have tried to show that the full exploration and exploitation of the ways and means in zoology call for co-operation and understanding in many phases between us and our colleagues in other disciplines.

It is with them as well as with brother zoologists that we must work; it is their methods of observation and analysis that we must largely use; and it is with them that we must have a clear understanding of, and a confidence in, the underlying principles, the logic and the methodology of all our work.

Finally, we must, as we shall by all these ways and means, come to realize the truth of Professor Astbury's* recent remark that there “is only one science for us all.”

[Footnote] * Astbury, W. T., Science Lifts the Veil (British Council: 1942), p. 38.