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The feature of the reorganization of the survey under
the act of Congress of 1843, which secured a close connexion between the
science of the country and the work, was most judicious. The tendency of
such works is undoubtedly to adopt a routine and to adhere to it, so that
sometimes they fall behind the progress of the science of the day. System
is so very desirable that its excess, constituting a blind routine, is
always a danger to be avoided. When closely in contact with the scientific
movement of the country, this becomes impossible, the judgment of men of
science being prompt to detect any faltering in the forward course of operations
which they understand, and in every improvement which they fully appreciate....(1)
Although Alexander Dallas Bache was concerned with advancing the surveying
and charting of the United States coast, he had the larger mission of using
the Coast Survey as a tool to raise the stature of American science both
within the United States and throughout the World community. To effect
this, Bache directed the science and engineering accomplished by the military,
naval, and civilian assistants working within the Coast Survey, distributed
patronage to leading academic scientists for working on Coast Survey projects,
and strongly influenced the organization and political awakening of the
American scientific community through the American Association for the
Advancement of Science and the formation of the National Academy of Sciences.
Properly speaking, the Coast Survey was not a scientific organization.
It was an engineering organization that collected geographic and geophysical
facts. It collected facts of this nature on a virtually unprecedented scale;
devised means to process them accurately and, for those times, rapidly;
and organized a distribution system to communicate findings to an interested
public. In this system, fundamental discoveries were serendipitous. However,
in the quest for ever-increasing accuracy, rapidity of observation, and
efficiency of data reduction, many engineering advances were made.
With its far-ranging operations, Coast Survey discoveries and observations covered many fields. Knowledge of geophysical phenomena, physical oceanography, marine geology, marine biology, and meteorology was furthered as an adjunct to the primary mission of charting the coast. Examples of fundamental discoveries made by the Coast Survey include: 1) the discovery of local gravitational anomalies caused by differences in crustal density as determined by comparing geodetic positions (determined by triangulation) with astronomically determined positions(2); 2) the discovery of the continental shelf break as a result of Gulf Stream expeditions(3); 3) definition of the nature of tides on the West Coast, Gulf Coast, and East Coast as a result of protracted series of observations(4); 4) the discovery of submarine canyons during West Coast sounding operations(5)
; and 5) the discovery of bands of relatively cold water in the Gulf
Such discoveries were valuable for adding to the understanding of the
natural world but were minor contributions relative to the Coast Survey's
roles in leading American science toward the tools of mathematical analysis
and the understanding that the science and engineering professions must
be better organized to continue advancing in a modern world. With a few
notable exceptions, the days of the solitary naturalist striking into the
wilderness alone and the method of primarily using non-mathematical means
to describe observed phenomena were numbered.
The nature of Coast Survey work forced it into an intellectual realm
that placed a premium on increasingly refined measurements, systematic
methods to make the measurements, and mathematical analysis to extract
a best version of "truth" from those measurements. The nature of the data
collected also led in this direction as such parameters as angles, distances,
and geographic positions are, although real quantities, intangible in the
sense that they cannot be seen except through the medium of mathematics.
The tradition of refined measurement and analysis within the Survey
began with Ferdinand Hassler who realized: "Absolute mathematical accuracy
exists only in the mind of man. All practical applications are mere approximations,
more or less successful. And when all has been done that science and art
can unite in practice, the supposition of some defects in the instruments
will always be prudent. It becomes therefore the duty of an observer to
combine and invent, upon theoretical principals, methods of systematical
observations, by which the influence of any error of his instruments may
be neutralised, either by direct means, or more generally by compensation."(7)
Hassler also realized that there were various errors to guard against,
most notably personal bias (i.e., the conscious or subconscious tendency
to read and record data such that they are in accordance with a preconceived
view of the end results.)
By the 1850's, the philosophy of measurement and analysis had evolved
greatly in the decade since Hassler's death. The myriad observations taken
by the Coast Survey in many geophysical disciplines drove it toward greater
sophistication in mathematical analysis. The campaign to determine a cardinal
point for longitude on the United States East Coast was the first great
effort to require new analytic tools and contribute to further insight
into the nature of observational errors. Parallel projects evolved in the
early 1850's to minimize errors of telegraphic longitude observations and
triangulation networks, predict tides, and reduce the ever-changing magnetic
field to a common epoch for computation of its declination, dip, and total
In the beginning years of the Survey, Ferdinand Hassler chose to use
the "indiscriminate mean" of a series of observations as the best approximation
of "truth" available for the physical parameter being measured. Early attempts
to refine results by means of Gauss's method of "least squares" were unsatisfactory
and resulted in retaining the method of determining the "indiscriminate
mean." With relatively few measurements with which to be concerned, the
mean, or average, value served well. As observations multiplied, it became
apparent that adoption of the method of "least squares" to determine a
"most probable" value for a series of measurements was necessary. Sears
Cook Walker introduced this method into the longitude computations in 1848.
By the early 1850's, the computing division of the Survey, then headed
by Julius Erasmus Hilgard and having the talent of Charles Anton Schott(8),
was using that method in the adjustment of triangulation networks and the
determination of the most probable value of observed angles and directions.
As powerful as the method of "least squares" is, under certain conditions
its most probable estimation of truth may in fact be quite misleading.
Superintendent Bache's good friend, Harvard mathematician Benjamin Peirce,
pointed this out in a treatise appended to the Coast Survey report for
1854 under the unlikely name "Report upon the Determination of Longitude
by Moon Culminations."(9) Although meant
as an argument in favor of his thesis that longitude determinations by
moon culminations of the Pleiades had the potential to be the most accurate
possible, this document is memorable for its lucid discussion of the various
types of observational errors as well as for its understanding of the ultimate
attainable limits of accuracy. As such, Peirce's major points are applicable
to most types of scientific observation and the paper could be considered
a landmark in American scientific thought.
Peirce began with the supposition that with only one observation of
a physical quantity that observation must be adopted as the true value
of the constant. However, "A second observation gives a second determination,
which is always found to differ from the first. The difference of the observations
is an indication of the accuracy of each, while the mean of the two determinations
is a new determination which may be regarded as more accurate than either."
As more and more observations are acquired, "The comparison of the mean
with the individual determinations has shown, in all cases in which such
comparison has been instituted, that the errors of lunar observation [or
most species of scientific observation] are subject to law, and are not
distributed in an arbitrary and capricious manner. They are the symmetrical
and concentrated groupings of a skillful marksman aiming at a target, and
not the random scatterings of a blind man, nor even the designed irregularities
of the stars in the firmament. This law of human error is the more remarkable,
and worthy of philosophic examination, that it is precisely that which
is required to render the arithmetical mean of observations the most probable
approach to the exact result. It has been made the foundation of the method
of least squares, and its introduction into astronomy by the illustrious
Gauss is the last great era of this science."
"If the law of error embodied in the method of least squares were the sole law to which human error is subject, it would happen that by a sufficient accumulation of observations any imagined degree of accuracy would be attainable in the determination of a constant; and the evanescent influence of minute increments of error would have the effect of exalting man's power of exact observation to an unlimited extent. I believe that the careful examination of observations reveals another law of error, which is involved in the popular statement that 'man cannot measure what he cannot see.' The small errors which are beyond the limits of human perception, are not distributed according to the mode recognised by the method of least squares, but either with the uniformity which is the ordinary characteristic of matters of chance, or more frequently in some arbitrary form dependent upon individual peculiarities -- such, for instance, as an habitual inclination to the use of certain numbers. On this account it is in vain to attempt the comparison of the distribution of errors with the law of least squares to too great a degree of minuteness; and on this account there is in every species of observation an ultimate limit of accuracy beyond which no mass of accumulated observations can ever penetrate.
"A wise observer, when he perceives that he is approaching this limit,
will apply his powers to improving the methods, rather than to increasing
the number of observations. This principle will thus serve to stimulate,
and not to paralyze effort; and its vivifying influence will prevent science
from stagnating into mere mechanical drudgery...."
Peirce then defined the nature of constant errors and their importance to the scientific investigator: "When various determinations of the same constant are compared together, they are frequently found to differ to an extent which demonstrates errors peculiar to the different methods of determination, and which are called constant errors. When the constant errors are incident to a person, they are known as personal equations. The investigation of the constant errors is a difficult matter of research, but quite important to the present inquiry, because they tend to conceal the law of error involving the ultimate limit of accuracy, and to give erroneous impressions in regard to the position of that limit.... The existence of a constant error may, however, be proved ... if the determinations are of two classes which agree among themselves, while they differ from each other...."
In this treatise, Peirce struck to the heart of modern science and engineering.
Although specifically concerned with one aspect of the longitude problem,
Peirce's paper could have referred to the observational and computational
problems associated with many Coast Survey operations. It was through the
Coast Survey experience of seeking truth through observation and computation,
coupled with Bache's policy of working with the scientific community and
widely disseminating Coast Survey methods and procedures, that the Coast
Survey was instrumental in introducing American science to its present
methods of operation:
1. Establish procedures and standards for repeating measurements of a particular phenomena in a disciplined systematic manner.
2. Statistically analyze the measurements to establish a most probable value of the observed phenomena and its associated error bounds.
3. Identify sources of error and means to mitigate those errors.
4. Comprehend that there is a limit to the ultimate accuracy of any system of observation. If that limit is unacceptable, the observer is driven towards devising a new and better system.
5. With the new system, repeat the above process until attaining the
These precepts were followed to solve two types of problems. The first
problem was the determination of "most probable values" to assign to measured
or derived static quantities such as angles or latitude and longitude.
The second class of problem involved prediction by mathematical modeling
of the future or past state of dynamic physical phenomena. The classical
problems of this nature came from the realm of astronomy and involved the
prediction of the motion and future location of the stars, planets, and
other astronomic bodies. It was necessary for the Coast Survey to adapt
and devise similar methods to predict the state of transient phenomena
such as tides, currents, and elements of the Earth's magnetic field.
Prior to the advent of the Coast Survey, there was no American scientific
organization that followed such precepts and few individual investigators
who more than vaguely understood that such precepts existed. As the Coast
Survey matured and diffused its methods throughout the scientific community,
so matured American physical science. The biological and social sciences
followed similar paths as they became more sophisticated.
As related above, it was found initially that attempts to use the method
of least squares gave worse results than determining a value of an angle
between two points by averaging the successive observations between those
points. These average values "filled the triangles better than those deduced
from the process of least squares as employed by Bessel and others. This,
as was seen at the time, depended, probably, upon the fact that the stations
at which the observations were made were too few in number to give results
independent of law, and depending only on probability...."(10)
As observations multiplied and the number of triangles to be adjusted
increased greatly, it became necessary in order to "deduce the best results
from observed quantities ... to make use of a method which, in leading
to a result approximating nearest the truth, admits, at the same time,
of no arbitrary choice among the materials collected." The method chosen
was that of least squares which makes "the sum of the squares of the errors
a minimum, and ... admit[s] of but one result - the most probable."(11)
Triangulation computations presented many other problems. What quantities
were to be initially adjusted was a question of great importance. The observed
angles of the triangulation could be considered either the interior angles
of the various triangles of the network, or they could be converted to
directions from an occupied station to the observed signals. The accuracy
of all deduced values such as distances between points and the geodetic
latitude and longitude depended upon the selection of the superior method.
The Coast Survey computing division tested and compared both methods by
computing a triangulation network using both the method of "dependent directions"
and the method of "dependent angular quantities." After establishing objective
criteria for evaluating the results, Superintendent Bache decided in favor
of the use of "dependent directions" as the superior method.(12)
Testing and comparing these two methods against each other was an early
American example of selecting the best algorithm from among competing computational
methods for the solution of a difficult engineering problem.
Of hardly less importance than the selection of the best mathematical
procedures was the identification of the various types of errors associated
with the triangulation. A peculiar problem that bedeviled the triangulation
observers was the appearance of the signals, particularly the reflected
sunlight from the heliotropes. On hot hazy days with relatively poor visibility,
the heliotrope signals would appear indistinct and have apparent circular
motion; while on extremely clear days, the signals appeared sharp and steady.
This raised the concern that errors were being introduced by observing
on days on which the signals appeared indistinct. Paradoxically, after
studying the problem, it was determined that on extremely clear days that
the incidence of large lateral refraction introduced more error than noted
on observations on less seemingly ideal days. A blunder was thus avoided
as the computing division had been considering giving greater weight in
the computations to those observations obtained under seemingly ideal conditions
than to those obtained on days on which the visibility was markedly inferior.(13)
C. A. Schott, who would become one of the greatest of Coast Surveyors
in the Nineteenth Century, began placing his scientific imprint on the
Survey with four papers published in the 1854 Superintendent's Report.(14)
Three of these were on tides and currents while the fourth was "Adjustment
of Horizontal Angles of a Triangulation."(15)
Schott placed errors in triangulation into two categories:
"1. Disagreement of the observations among themselves.
"The first of these causes is, that the reading of the directions at
a given station, or the lines of vision, deviate from the true ones from
the influence of lateral refraction, the imperfections of the instrument,
the changes produced by variation of temperature, etc., etc....
"2. Discrepancies exhibited by the geometrical conditions of the triangulation not being strictly fulfilled by the observed quantities.
"Secondly, discrepancies arise from the fact that we are unable to center the instrument exactly in the vertical of the object observed upon, or to observe the same vertical from the surrounding stations; also from irregularities in the spheroidal form of the earth. The adjustment involves two kinds of equations - the equations of angles and the equations of sides, so called by Bessel. The angle equations subsist between the observed sums of the angles forming a spheroidal triangle, and the side equations involve the condition that the several directions to any one station intersect in the same vertical line or point."(16) (17)
Assuming skilled instrument operators and no blunders in observation
and recording of results, the effect of these errors was minimized by application
of the method of "least squares." However, as the number of linear equations
increased with the expansion of triangulation networks, this method became
increasingly cumbersome to implement. Charles Schott emerged as the leader
of the effort to adapt and develop computational methods to mitigate this
problem. His immediate problem was to increase the speed and efficiency
of computation as well as assure that use of the method of least squares
could be continued through large triangulation adjustments. Schott determined
that Gauss's "method of indirect elimination" was the best available method
of solving large systems of linear equations. In 1855 he wrote:
"In the shorter method of indirect elimination communicated by
Gauss to Gerling,.... we have been furnished with the means of solving
the numerous normal equations which the present state of geodesy demands,
and their numbers are frequently counted by the dozen. The method is by
no means restricted to normal equations, to which, however, it applies
best. However, in an instance where 86 unknown quantities were successfully
eliminated, extraordinary means, such as cannot be commanded at all times,
have been resorted to. Although the method does not apply with equal facility
to all normal equations, yet, in most cases, it will be found time-saving,
even for a small number of equations."(18)
Schott's background assured his familiarity with the works of the best
of the European mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century. With German as
his native tongue, he was easily able to read the works of Gauss and others,
translate them for the use of his Coast Survey colleagues, and then pass
on their techniques and methods to the American scientific community. In
doing this, Schott continued the subtle, but very important, Coast Survey
contribution begun by Hassler of introducing the best of contemporary European
scientific thought and methods to the American community.(19)
The second major class of problem attacked by the Coast Survey was that
of predicting future states and deriving past states of transient phenomena
such as tides, currents, and geomagnetic parameters. During Hassler's superintendency
of the Coast Survey he had few resources for, and apparently little interest
in, studying such problems. Superintendent Bache, however, was quite interested
in these phenomena and almost immediately began expanding the operations
of the Survey to conduct such investigations.
Reflecting his new superior's interest and the expanding interests of
the Survey, Assistant Ferdinand Gerdes wrote from Mobile, Alabama, in 1845
concerning tides and currents in the Gulf of Mexico:
"... this tide seems to be governed altogether by winds, and at present
no system has been developed by which we may form a correct idea or even
an approximation to the rise and fall... It appears necessary to investigate,
if possible, closely into the causes of the irregularity; to observe for
a long time not only the actual rise and fall, but also the direction and
strength of the wind, the different formidable currents, their courses
and strength, and form an idea of their origin; then I believe we may be
able to establish gradually a system of conjectures bordering much nearer
on truth than all our present suppositions...."(20)
Gerdes comprehended the inter-relationship of the tides, currents, and
local meteorology and recognized that a long-term observational program
was required to build "a system of conjectures" that would better describe
tidal phenomena on the Gulf Coast. The Coast Survey immediately began tidal
and meteorological observations on the Gulf Coast under the supervision
of Gustavus Wurdemann(21) whom Bache considered
among the best of tidal observers. By 1851, Bache was able to report:
"As the hydrography advances, tidal stations at important points are
occupied, and continuous observations made. Self-registering tide gauges
are constructing at the office, which will much facilitate the making of
these observations. The results obtained in the Gulf of Mexico from the
discussion of the tidal observations are of great interest, leading to
the establishment of the laws by which the phenomena are regulated, and
bringing within the reach of computation phenomena which were supposed
by navigators to be due to the effect of the prevailing winds."(22)
The Gulf Coast was not the only area under consideration for generating
tidal predictions. The first tentative steps at modeling tides in the Coast
Survey was done for Old Point Comfort, Virginia, by Lt. Charles H. Davis
in the late 1840's. Davis used graphical methods first pointed out by "Mr.
Whewell."(23) Henry Mitchell took up the
problem of tidal prediction and introduced "Lubbock's method,"(24)
a mathematical procedure relating the position of the sun and moon to the
state of the tide. Parallel with these efforts was the development of "Tide
Tables for the Use of Navigators...," first published by the Coast
Survey in 1853.(25) Despite these efforts,
"Having obtained the coefficient of the half monthly inequality of the
semi-diurnal tide at Boston, from seven years' observations, through the
labors of the tidal division, and approximate corrections for the parallax
and declination, I [Bache]was much disappointed in attempting the verification
by applying them to individual tides for a year, during which we had observations.
There was a general agreement on the average, but discrepancies in the
single cases, which were quite unsatisfactory."(26)
In response to these discrepancies, Superintendent Bache had the errors
analyzed and observed that they were not random. Corrections were introduced
to the computations for the increase and decrease of the moon's declination
and parallax, "but still the results were not sufficient approximations."
Superintendent Bache then formulated the concept of having an interdisciplinary
team work towards the solution of this difficult problem. His goal was
to apply wave theory to the solution of the tidal problem. Bache "thought
that the mind of an expert mathematician, directed entirely to the theoretical
portions of this work, with directions by a physicist, and full opportunities
of verifying results by extended series of observations, the computations
of which should be made by others in any desired form, would give probably
the best results in this combined physical and mathematical investigation."(27)
This represented a new way of considering how to solve complex problems.
Bache recognized that to fully understand tidal phenomena would take the
understanding of a physicist and mathematician working in concert. This
concept was a manifestation of the increasing specialization of the American
scientific community as well as a realization that two or more investigators
working in parallel toward the solution of a problem were more apt to produce
results than individual investigators working serially. These results would
be checked by the most rigorous of tests, an "extended series of observations"
of tides at the location for which predictions were to be made.
Bache concluded that regardless of the theory used to explain tidal
phenomena, "The general form of the different functions expressing the
tidal inequalities is the same in the different theories..." and "we arrive
at the same general results, that the heights and times of high water may
be represented by certain functions, with indeterminate coefficients, in
the form of which the theories in a general way agree. By forming equations
from the observations, and obtaining the numerical values of the coefficients,
by the method used so commonly in astronomical computations, the result
As an initial test of the above methodology, twenty-four coefficients
were determined for various parameters affecting tides at Boston for the
year 1853. In twenty pairs of tides observed as a test of the coefficients,
errors ranged from less than 2 minutes in the predicted times of high and
low to over 10 minutes. The probable error of prediction of a single pair
of tides was a little over 4 minutes. By 1853, the Coast Survey was well
on its way to reaching Bache's goal of bringing tidal phenomena "within
the reach of computation."
Methods for predicting currents and elements of the geomagnetic field
were also developed. Charles Schott was a pioneer in both of these realms
and, as mentioned earlier, published three papers on tides and currents
in the 1854 Report of the Superintendent and the first of what became a
lifelong study of magnetics(28) in the
1855 Report of the Superintendent.
Schott's 1854 paper on the currents of Nantucket Shoals was based on
Coast Survey observations over a seven-year period from 1846-1853. In this
study he discussed: "The nature of the currents, their direction at flood
and ebb, the direction or set at the several stations of observation, the
velocity or drift at each station, the 'current establishment,' or relation
of the time of greatest current to the time of the moon's transit, and
the curve described by a particle of water during the entire flood and
In describing the motion of water, Schott combined a physical model
with his mathematical analysis: "The current may be observed to set in
all directions of the compass during twelve lunar hours without ever being
at rest, and turning in a direction in which we count our azimuths, or
like the hands of a watch.... Tracing the motion of a particle of water,
which is equivalent to tracing the motion of a floating object influenced
only by the current, leads to the conclusion that an oval is described,
of which the greatest axis is from four to six times the less...." Like
most Coast Survey work, this conclusion combined scientific findings with
an important practical consideration that "a vessel cannot be set on
any of the shoals by the current alone, if its distance from it exceeds
the length of the major axis of motion...."(29)
The geomagnetic field also fell under Schott's scrutiny. The variation
of magnetic declination was a major concern to the Coast Survey as it affected
both maritime navigation and land surveying (such as for property boundaries,
street layouts, etc.) Schott reduced the observations of the past ten years
to "one epoch;" i.e., a benchmark date to which all magnetic readings were
referred. To do this:
"Six groups were formed of the Gulf results, and they were discussed
in conditional equations, involving second differences. The stations on
the Atlantic were referred to a great circle, passing through a point near
Portland and Cedar Keys; thirty-one groups were formed, and a complete
equation of the second degree applied to them. The thirty-one conditional
equations, involving six unknown quantities, were discussed by least squares.
By a small change in the coefficient of the square of the abscissa, these
two sets were brought quite near together, giving a continuous representation
as shown on the chart."
Mathematical analysis and manipulation of a time-series data set resulted
in a model of the magnetic declination and its secular variation. Like
the results of the Nantucket Shoals current study, this had great practical
and commercial value "not only to the survey directly, but to all who use
the compass, whether navigators, land surveyors, or engineers. The investigation
will enable them to reduce observations of the magnetic variation from
one date to their equivalents at another, whether before or after the date
Mathematical modeling of dynamic physical phenomena depended on the
five precepts listed earlier with the added corollaries:
1. Conduct extended observations of the phenomena to be modeled.
2. Generate a theory to explain the observed phenomena.
2. Develop mathematical formulas and coefficients of terms consistent with the theory to describe the observed changes.
4. Use the theory and mathematical formulas to predict the future state of the phenomena.
5. Test the prediction against real world observations.
6. If the model does not agree sufficiently well with "real world,"
develop a new model and/or new theory to iterate towards a better fit of
A final issue wrestled with by the Coast Survey was the determination
of erroneous or "abnormal" values obtained in a series of observations.
Typically values of observations will tend to cluster about one or more
points with a number of data "outliers" falling outside of the clusters.
The question arises in a data set as to which points to retain as approaching
"truth" in the computation of a mean value and which points to eliminate
that would draw the mean value away from "truth." Complicating the problem
of identifying which data points to retain or eliminate from a data set
is the possibility that the "outliers" are those very observations that
an investigator is seeking.
While working for the Coast Survey on the determination of a cardinal
point for longitude, Benjamin Peirce made an early attempt to provide an
objective mathematical method of solving this problem. His method was published
in Benjamin Apthorpe Gould's Astronomical Journal.(31)
It became known as "Peirce's criterion" for the rejection of doubtful observations.
Benjamin Apthorpe Gould reported on Peirce's method:
"Professor Peirce has given the results of the successful investigation
of a singular problem, and one unquestionably among the most important
of any which could be proposed, in the relation to all those exact sciences
to which quantitative research or measurement may be applied. This problem
was nothing less than the attainment of a formula which should be legitimately
derived from the fundamental principles of the calculus of probabilities,
and furnish an exact criterion for the recognition of those observations
which differ so much from the average of a series as to indicate some abnormal
source of error which would vitiate the result. The delicate task of discriminating
between such observations and those whose discordance, although great,
ought not to be deemed abnormal, has hitherto been left to the arbitrary
judgment of individuals; and the present introduction of a rigorous mathematical
ordeal for testing the extent of tolerable discrepancy, cannot fail to
exercise a highly beneficial influence .... The principle on which this
criterion is based is simply this: 'that observations should be rejected
when the probability of the system of errors obtained by retaining them,
is less than that of the system of errors obtained by their rejection,
multiplied by the probability of making as many and no more abnormal observations.'...."(32)
Put another way, "Given certain observations of which the greater part
is to be considered as normal, and subject to the ordinary law of error
adopted in the method of least squares, while a smaller portion is abnormal,
and subject to some obscure error, ascertain the most probable hypothesis
as to the partition of the observations into normal and abnormal."(33)
The goal was to have an objective means of rejecting "abnormal" observations
while retaining "normal" observations. In order to facilitate the use of
"Peirce's criterion," Gould devised "a most valuable set of tables for
the application of the method, placing it within the ready reach of observer
and computer."(34) This table was published
in Appendix 41 of the Superintendent's Report for 1854.
"Peirce's criterion" was not universally embraced by the scientific
community and the underlying mathematics was disproved over 60 years after
Peirce's initial publication of the method.(35)
However, the systematic and objective discrimination between "normal" and
"abnormal" data remains a fundamental goal of modern scientific and engineering
statistics. Benjamin Peirce, while engaged on work for the Coast Survey,
was the American pioneer in using statistical methods to work towards a
solution to this problem.
With a few exceptions the numerical methods followed by the Coast Survey
did not originate internally. Through close contact with the mathematicians
and scientists of Europe, the best European methods were adopted and modified
for application to Coast Survey needs. The key to the success of those
methods lay with the ability to make extended observations by standard
methods with the best instrumentation available. By developing rigorous
standards for field data collection and vigorously enforcing adherence
to those standards, the probability of poor data producing erroneous results
was low. The resulting large accurate data sets inevitably led to mathematical
analysis and modeling. By aggressively communicating Coast Survey methodology
and philosophy to the American scientific community, Superintendent Bache
helped drive American science into the modern world.
The second major contribution of the Coast Survey to the American science
community was the building of a sense of professionalism and identity within
that community. Alexander Dallas Bache and his Lazzaroni brethren were
the leaders in this movement. In particular Joseph Henry, Charles Henry
Davis, and Louis Agassiz were allies of Bache in giving direction to the
American science community and helping build the social and political power
of the scientific establishment. In accomplishing this Superintendent Bache
raised much controversy and even today it is debated whether his goals
were altruistic and in the interest of the United States or whether he
was driven by a colossal ego that desired nothing less than being enthroned
as the dictator of American science.
Even before his association with the Coast and Geodetic Survey, Alexander
Dallas Bache and Joseph Henry were concerned with the development of professional
standards in the American science community and in raising the stature
of American scientists both within American society and in the eyes of
the world science community. He was particularly concerned with the tendency
of Americans to embrace "charlatans." Recall that Bache traveled to Europe
in 1836 for the purpose of studying European educational methods. Joseph
Henry accompanied him during part of this trip and they had ample opportunity
to cement an already burgeoning friendship. Henry returned to the United
States before Bache and wrote him a long letter(36)
that detailed the state of American science and provided insight into the
inner workings of Henry's and Bache's philosophy of managing the workings
of American science:
"... the charlatanism of our country struck me much more disagreeably
when I first returned than before or even now. I often thought of the remark
you were in the habit of making that we must put down quackery or quackery
will put down science. You have probably heard of the wonderful sensation
produced in the country by magnetic machines - a company was formed in
New York which succeeded in [procuring] $12,500 dollars for experiments
on the machine and after much puffing and the expenditure of the above
mentioned sum the whole fell through.... But the most disgusting form of
charlatanism which has been got up in this country since your departure
is that of Dr. Sherwood in connection with the committee of naval affairs
in the senate of the United States. Dr. S. brought before congress last
session a great discovery in magnetism no less than that of the solution
of the whole problem of terrestrial magnetism - a ridiculous and puerile
affair. It was however referred to the committee of naval affairs who reported
on it in the most flattering terms, stated that from the opinion of several
scientific gentlemen as well as their own examination the discoveries and
inventions of Dr. Sherwood were of the highest importance, worthy the confidence
of the public and the patronage of congress. They proposed to bring in
a bill for the reward of Dr. S. but fortunately for the honor of the country
congress adjourned previous to this disgrace being inflicted on the country.
I will attach to the package a copy of the report for your inspection,
5000 copies extra of the report were ordered printed for the edification
of the people of the United States and of the world.... This article you
will say is a disgrace to the country. I have given a notice of it and
made a protest, in behalf of the scientific character of the United States,
[ag]ainst the custom of publishing scientific articles among the documents
of congress before their true character is ascertained...."
Henry goes on with this letter describing a memorial published in Congressional
documents a few months earlier in which an aspiring scientist notified
the citizens of the United States that the cause of the explosion of steam
boilers was "the generation of negative and positive electricity
in the boiler!" Considering that the original impetus for the United States
Exploring Expedition that was about to sail within a few weeks of Henry
writing this letter was the theory that there were "holes in the poles"
through which one could enter the interior of the Earth, Bache and Henry
were more than justified in being concerned with the state of American
science and the gullibility of the United States Government in being taken
in by "charlatans." Besides complaining to Congress, Henry also complained
to Benjamin Silliman about the quality of many of the articles published
in Silliman's Journal, the most influential American scientific publication
of the time. Silliman responded to this by informing Henry that "if I [Henry]
could see what he [Silliman] rejected I would scarcely complain of what
he inserted." Henry attempted to inject some order into American science
at this time by suggesting to Benjamin Silliman that his publication make
use of collaborators in determining the scientific worth of articles prior
to publication. Silliman, probably to Henry's chagrin, responded by placing
his son on the journal staff.
After relating this to Bache, Henry continued: "Still I am now more
than ever of your opinion that the real working men in the way of science
in this country should make common cause and endeavor by every proper means
unitedly to raise their own scientific character. To make science more
respected at home to increase the facilities of scientific investigations
and the inducements to scientific labours. There is the disposition on
the part of our government to advance the cause if this were properly directed.
At present however Charlatanism is much more likely to meet with attention
and reward than true unpretending merit."
Joseph Henry did see a means to solving some of the ills of American
science by looking to the operation of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science. Although Henry observed the internal workings of
that organization while in Europe, he was not impressed with its machinations
as "there is such a mixture of display of ignorance and wisdom, of management
in the compliments given and the honours received that the whole makes
rather an unfavourable impression on a person admitted a little behind
the scenes." Henry saw little good in the Association initially. However,
"A little reflection ... showed me that the principal advantage of the
Institution is the amount of money it gives to real working men for the
prosecution of their respective branches. Thus money in the hands of the
committees and they are wisely composed only of those who have some reputation
of science. The great body of the members have no voice in the management
of the Institution and in this respect the society is quite as aristocratical
as the government of the nation."
This lack of democracy did not bother Henry. In fact, "This arrangement
however I am far from considering improper on the contrary were it otherwise
the third and fourth rate men would soon control the affair
and render the whole abortive and ridiculous. Much has been said since
my return of the propriety of a meeting of the kind among us, but I am
convinced a promiscuous assembly of those who call themselves men of science
in this country would only end in our disgrace...."
It is apparent that Bache and Henry had been concerned with raising
the stature of American science for some time prior to the writing of this
letter. Bache and Henry, although Henry began mellowing in later years,
followed the blueprint outlined in this letter for the next quarter century
in helping guide the development of an American scientific community. Ferret
out and expose "charlatanism," develop a means for policing the publication
and dissemination of scientific information both in public and private
institutions, develop and/or obtain control of the major scientific organizations
in order to guide (some would say control in future years) the American
science community, and develop means to judge the worth of scientific proposals
and fund worthy investigators were the goals of Bache and his circle of
chosen friends. However, like Henry he felt that the American science community
had not yet sufficiently evolved to risk the formation of a professional
Alexander Dallas Bache was not able to work effectively towards accomplishment
of these goals until firmly established as Superintendent of the Coast
Survey. This was accomplished with the help of Joseph Henry. Henry in turn
became head of the Smithsonian Institution through Bache's influence. Although
these two men occasionally had marked differences of opinion concerning
how to attain the above goals for American science, they usually worked
together to use the weight of their combined influence to direct its course.
Superintendent Bache and Secretary Henry sought out like-minded men
to help mold the American science community. Notably the Harvard mathematician
Benjamin Peirce, the naval officer Charles Henry Davis, the transplanted
Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, and the star-crossed astronomer Benjamin
Apthorpe Gould were their staunchest allies in the mission to transform
American science. By 1850 the force of their unified attitudes and voice
was being felt throughout the science community. Sometimes, this unification
was resisted and derided by other prominent scientists. This was particularly
true of Matthew Fontaine Maury whose battles with Superintendent Bache
and Joseph Henry have been well documented.
These men and a few others who were accepted in this inner circle came
to be known as the Lazzaroni in the mid-1850's. Bache was the acknowledged
leader of this group. However, Louis Agassiz was among the most influential
of the Lazzaroni and fought one of the most important battles of the burgeoning
science infrastructure. In 1849 James T. Foster, a New York school teacher,
produced a geological chart under the name Foster's Complete Geological
Chart. This work was inaccurate and misleading and as such both
Agassiz and the geologist James Hall publicly denounced its worth in the
Albany, New York, newspapers. This led to Foster suing both Agassiz and
Hall for libel. Agassiz, coming from the European tradition of scientific
investigation had difficulty in understanding how a scientist's judgment
of a purportedly scientific work could be questioned by "a jury of laymen.
To him, the entire affair was symptomatic of the need for placing science
above the level of popular emotion or judgment."(37)
Agassiz's trial was held first and although he and Hall had each enlisted
the support of the American geological community, it was not necessary
as Foster's $20,000 lawsuit was dismissed on the strength of Agassiz's
testimony and Hall was never brought to trial.(38)
Agassiz's victory in this case helped establish the principle that scientific
theories and doctrines should be judged by the tribunal of learned scientific
opinion and not in a court of law. It is difficult to imagine what the
course of scientific progress in the United States would have been if scientists
and pseudo-scientists were able to use the courtroom as the final arbiter
of scientific truth.
While Louis Agassiz was battling for freedom to express scientific opinion
without fear of reprisal, Bache and Henry were striving to control the
inner workings of the newly formed American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) and firmly establish it according to Henry's view of
the aristocratic British Association. The key to doing this was to gain
control of the critical executive positions of the Association and also
to place either themselves or fellow Lazzaroni on the various standing
committees established by the Association. For at least the first decade
of its existence, Bache and Henry were remarkably successful in accomplishing
The AAAS grew out of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists
(AAGN.) In late 1847 the AAGN sought the counsel of the newly-arrived Louis
Agassiz for help in forming an organization that would be representative
of all facets of American science. Agassiz with the experience of European
science and organizations helped form the AAAS which sought out and accepted
members from both the natural science community and the physical science
community. The meteorologist William C. Redfield, who was the first to
surmise the circular pattern of storm circulation, was elected the first
president of the new organization in 1848. He was a logical choice as his
interests straddled both the physical and natural sciences. Initially,
Alexander Dallas Bache shied away from joining the new organization as
he still felt that the American science community was not sufficiently
developed to wisely support and utilize the AAAS. However, on reflection
he decided that the AAAS was a reality and as such it might be a vehicle
for accomplishing his goals. Once he joined, he became the dominant force
for the next decade.
In 1849 Joseph Henry was elected President of the AAAS and was followed
successively by Bache, Agassiz, and Benjamin Peirce. Although Henry was
President in 1849, he was unable to preside over one of the semi-annual
meetings and asked for Bache to stand in. Thus, counting the two meetings
during his own tenure, Bache presided over three of the first six meetings
of the AAAS. Perhaps the most influential address of the first decade of
the AAAS was delivered by Bache as the outgoing President of the AAAS at
the Albany meeting in 1851. Besides striking out obliquely at Maury by
commenting on the danger from a "modified charlatanism, which makes merit
in one subject an excuse for asking authority in others, or in all"(40)
suggesting additional support for the science of meteorology(41),
Bache lay the foundation for the National Academy of Sciences when he professed
his belief that "an institution of science, supplementary to existing
ones, is much needed in our country, to guide public action in reference
to scientific matters."(42) It would
be 12 more years before Bache could act on this belief.
The next two Presidents of the AAAS were Lazzaroni, Louis Agassiz and
then Benjamin Peirce, both of whose views on science and the organization
of science were totally in concert with Bache. Peirce ended his tenure
with an address that was notable for it's gaudy excesses.(43)
Near the end of this address he reiterated Bache's call for a national
institution to help guide the nation "in reference to scientific matters."
Peirce went on: "You know how useful it would be as a protection from the
wasteful expenditure upon abortive attempts to reverse the laws of nature.
You know how much it is required to sustain the purity and independence
of science, even within it own proper domain." He ended with a rousing
expression of what American science could accomplish under the guidance
of such an enlightened institution: "If American genius is not fettered
by the chains of necessity, and helplessly exposed to the assaults of envious
mediocrity, but is generously nourished in the bosom of liberty, it will
joyfully expand its free wings, and soar with the eagle to the conquest
of the skies."(44)
The next few years saw Bache, Peirce, Agassiz, and their allies remain
in control of the AAAS through the medium of the various committees. The
inner circle of these men became known first as the Florentine Academy,
then the Lazzaroni, and then derisively by their enemies as "Bache and
Company" or "The Mutual Admiration Society." Their motivation was pure,
that being the raising of the stature of American science in the eyes of
the world. However, sometimes their means of getting there left much to
be desired. They firmly believed that their vision for the direction of
American science was the true vision and the one that should be followed.
Most of the scientific community of the times agreed. Thus, armed with
the zeal of the true believer they forged ahead. But, they were far from
infallible. Sometimes their actions wreaked disaster on their heads as
with the Dudley Observatory fiasco. On other occasions such as with the
formation and follow-on Report of the Committee of Twenty concerning the
role and accomplishments of the Coast Survey, good at least was accomplished
for Bache and the Coast Survey. If nothing else, the action of the Committee
of Twenty demonstrated to the American science community that by working
together it could help influence the political process in the United States.
Of all that has been written concerning Bache's role in and use of the
American science community and particularly the AAAS, Maria Mitchell probably
came closest to describing the reality of Bache in describing his actions
at the Providence meeting in 1855: "The leaders make it pay pretty well.
My friend Professor Bache makes the occasions the opportunities for working
sundry little wheels, pulleys, and levers; the result of all which is that
he gets his enormous appropriations of $400,000 out of Congress, every
winter, for the maintenance of the United States Coast Survey."(45)
If wheeling and dealing to support one's agency is wrong, many Federal,
State, and Academic science administrators have been guilty of such behavior
since the days of Alexander Dallas Bache. He was the prototype of the politically
savvy science administrator, or in the words of Nathan Rheingold, "the
great scientific promoter, organizer, and administrator of his generation
- the great tycoon of American science."(46)
But, regardless of his personal success, Bache still was not satisfied
with the ability of American science to interact with the political decision-making
process. He did not forget his dream of a national institution composed
of the best of American Science; but with storm clouds on the horizon the
Government was concerned with larger issues than the state of science.
Bache would have to wait to fulfill his dream.
By the end of the1850's, it had become obvious that the AAAS was not
the organization that either established or enforced scientific standards
as Bache and the Lazzaroni had hoped. Worse yet, it had very minimal input
into the development of Federal science policy. It began avoiding controversy
and did not even comment upon Charles Darwin's publication of On the
Origin of Species at its 1860 meeting at Newport, Rhode Island. The
Nation was drifting toward war and the scientific community was becoming
pre-occupied with the larger issues threatening to dissolve the Union.
The 1860 meeting was a mild affair that was a social success but had
little scientific importance. One of the more interesting papers was delivered
by Major Edward Bissell Hunt, Bache's protégé, who gave a
presentation on the technology of war at which he declared, "War is the
applied science of destructive projectiles." Hunt, predicted the use of
shells containing asphyxiating gas, reconnaissance balloons with the capability
of telegraphing observations back to ground stations, illuminated night
battlefields, the use of rifled guns and much more. Bache, however, was
preempted in his presentation by the arrival of Senator Steven Douglas.
The attendees filed out of his lecture to hear the "Little Giant's" views
and left Bache reading to an empty hall.(47)
The AAAS decision to hold the next year's meeting in Nashville, Tennessee,
in an effort to draw Western and Southern scientists into the AAAS, drew
criticism from several members who felt that "Gnashville" was a scientific
backwater and the meeting would be a waste of time. Bache attempted to
dilute this dissension and encouraged his fellow Lazzaroni to attend the
upcoming meeting in an effort to keep the AAAS from dissolving as he felt
that even in a weakened condition it was still the only available vehicle
for helping organize and maintain order in the American science community
. However, the opening volleys of the Civil War intervened and the Newport
meeting was the last AAAS meeting that he would ever attend. The AAAS would
revive after the Civil War but never again would it have Bache's wit and
sagacity as a force for good or his autocratic biases as a negative force
in guiding American science.
Paradoxically, relative to modern warfare, Congress had little interest
in supporting science in the opening years of the war. In fact, Bache had
to fight to keep the Coast Survey operating . In particular, there was
a strong movement to entirely eliminate funding for the Coast Survey in
the 1862 budget. However, as the worth of the Coast Survey Assistants attached
to the Union Army and Navy forces became apparent, the threat to reduce
or eliminate funding lessened.
In spite of minimal initial Congressional and Executive Branch interest
in maintaining a strong science establishment to assist the Union forces
during the Civil War, it soon became apparent that science was, or should
have been, a very real part of the war effort. Joseph Henry, in the 1862
Report of the Smithsonian Institution, noted that "... truths are frequently
developed ... of much theoretical and practical importance . The art of
destroying life as well as preserving it, calls for the application of
scientific principles, and the institution of scientific experiments on
a scale of magnitude which could never be attempted in peace." Although
such pronouncements sounded grand, the real impetus for developing a more
sophisticated approach to science in the Federal Government was the Yankee
entrepreneurial spirit. Inventors, engineers, and "charlatans" began flooding
Washington, D.C., peddling their wares to anyone in the Government who
would listen. With no central science agency to pass judgment on their
work, some of these men were even able to gain an audience with Abraham
The time wasted by the Union leaders in trying to comprehend the inner
workings of various bona fide inventions coupled with the time consumed
inspecting the greater number of "rube goldberg" contraptions led Rear
Admiral Charles Henry Davis to suggest the formation of a commission to
pass judgment on the various proposals. Davis apparently suggested this
after a meeting in late January 1863 at which he, Bache, and Henry discussed
the possibility of forming a national scientific organization "under an
Act of Congress." Bache and Davis must have felt that the time was ripe
for instituting Bache's long cherished dream of instituting a National
science advisory body composed of the scientific elite to help the Government
formulate science policy and assure the wise expenditure of funds on scientific
projects. Henry objected to this plan on the grounds that: it was improbable
that such an act could pass Congress as it seemed at variance with democratic
values; if formed such a group would be a source of continual scientific
jealousies; it would be impossible to get any appropriations out of the
Government to support such an organization; and there would be great danger
of it being bent to the personal will of a strong leader and as such it
could end up as a tool of partisan politics.(48)
Probably because of these objections, Joseph Henry seized Davis's suggestion
and became the driving force in establishing the Navy's Permanent Commission
composed of himself, Charles Henry Davis, and Alexander Dallas Bache. Major
General John G. Barnard was later appointed to represent Army interests
regarding inventions related to ground warfare. Gideon Welles, the Secretary
of the Navy, sent instructions to Davis to set up this commission on February
11, 1863. The commission served for the duration of the Civil War evaluating
inventions and scientific proposals. The Permanent Commission was the de
facto scientific agency regulating government policy and shielding
the Federal purse from raids by "charlatans." By early 1864 the Permanent
Commission had written over 170 reports, an average of one every two days
for its first year of existence. By war's end the number of reports totaled
Although Joseph Henry did not feel the time was ripe for the formation of a national organization, Bache, Henry, Peirce, Gould, and Agassiz (all of whom were in communication following the January meeting concerning the establishment of a national science organization) disagreed. They clandestinely continued laying their plans and enlisted the aid of Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, a good friend of Louis Agassiz and the other Cambridge scientists. Agassiz, as reported by Benjamin Peirce to Bache, wrote to Senator Wilson and told him to go ahead with introducing a bill to form "a National Academy of Science" and to have him consult with "A.D.B. as our chief in all such matters, and as capable of furnishing him a complete plan to lay before Congress in 24 hours." Wilson actually succeeded in getting Agassiz's expenses paid for a trip to Washington for a February 19 meeting with himself and the Lazzaroni, sans Henry. Bache, Agassiz, Davis, Peirce, and Gould were present at this meeting with Senator Wilson at Bache's home.
Two days later Senator Wilson introduced a bill in the Senate that named
fifty scientists to a National Academy of Sciences and charged it with
the responsibility to "... whenever called upon by any department of the
government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject
of science or art, the actual expense of such investigations ... to be
paid upon appropriations which may be made for the purpose." The bill gave
the Academy the power to form its own rules and determine its future membership
as vacancies occurred. No members of the Academy were to receive compensation
for their work from the Government. Although Joseph Henry became aware
of the bill within the next few days, he felt that it had little chance
of being passed and signed into law. On this he underestimated Senator
Wilson.(49) Wilson took up the bill on
March 3, late in the last day of the session. The bill passed both houses
with virtually no debate as there was no appropriation accompanying the
formation of the Academy and it was signed into law late that evening by
As Henry had predicted, there was an immediate furor over the arbitrary
selection of some individuals and the snubbing of others. The five men
judged to be most worthy of selection that were deleted from the list were:
Spencer F. Baird, destined to become the second Secretary of the Smithsonian
Institution and the first Commissioner of the United States Fish Commission;
the astronomer George Bond of the Harvard Observatory; the astronomer,
meteorologist, and textbook publisher Elias Loomis; the chemist John W.
Draper; and the meteorologist James Coffin.
Speaking for many, the geologist William B. Rogers, who had been selected
as one of the original fifty members, wrote his brother expressing "surprise
and mortification that in a body professing to represent the science of
this country we should look in vain for Bond and Draper and Loomis and
Baird."(50) It is a sad fact that Louis
Agassiz had great antipathy for Spencer Baird and that Benjamin Peirce
harbored a grudge against George Bond. Further, it is apparent that Superintendent
Bache apparently selected at least one favorite whose scientific merit
did not approach any of the five listed above. John Frazer had been a student
of Bache's and wrote to him for years addressing him as "Grandpa" while
Bache referred to him as "Grandson." In response to this many selectees
did not attend the first meeting and Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, although
claiming the press of other responsibilities, apparently resigned in response
to the perceived tainted nature of the selection process. This was a blow
to Bache's desire to make the National Academy responsive to National defense
needs as Dahlgren then headed the Naval Ordnance Bureau and was responsible
for developing and improving Naval weaponry.
Superintendent Bache and the Lazzaroni compounded their public relations
problem by attempting to force the establishment of a "President for Life"
provision into the by-laws of the National Academy of Sciences. William
Rogers fought the Lazzaroni on this issue with the consequence that the
President was elected for a six-year term. Regardless, Bache was elected
first President of the National Academy of Sciences.
The great error made in these proceedings was that Bache, Peirce, Agassiz,
and Gould chose to select all 50 of the incorporators of the National Academy
of Science behind closed doors by themselves allowing their own petty biases
and jealousies to influence their selections. Charles Henry Davis claimed
that he put forth the plan to choose 12 original members whose scientific
credentials were beyond question and then have this core group select the
final 38. With the benefit of hindsight, there is no apparent reason why
such a scheme could not have worked and passed Congressional scrutiny with
as little debate as the bill that was passed. Perhaps Bache and the others
felt that such a scheme would cause a more acrimonious birth to the National
Academy than going ahead with naming the 50 original members themselves.
Even James D. Dana, a former ally of the Lazzaroni, influential editor
of the American Journal of Science and Arts, and the newly-elected
Vice-President of the National Academy published the following:
"Born in the midst of a great political revolution, the National Academy
of Sciences, created by the supreme law of the land, stands pledged to
the power which has called it into being, and to the world to discharge
its duties with fidelity. The members of the Academy named in the Act had
before them simply to accept or to decline the trust reposed in them, by
no choice of theirs. So far as they have accepted their position, we feel
justified in saying it is with a conviction that there were many not named
on the list who might most properly have been there, and with the assurance
that so far as any honor may attach to membership, it will be shared much
more largely by those who shall hereafter be called by the suffrages of
the Academy to fill such vacancies as must occur, than by the corporators
who are named in the law."
Paradoxically, the National Academy of Sciences probably survived its
tumultous birth because of the incapacitation of President Bache beginning
in 1864 and his death in 1867. It is difficult to say if Bache's political
acumen could have guided the National Academy of Sciences past a near still-birth,
but with the onset of his final illness the guidance and leadership of
Joseph Henry was the glue that held it together. Because he had not taken
part in the formation of the Academy and by not being elected an officer
at its first meeting, he was distanced from the more onerous aspects of
the formation of the Academy. He was able to lead by example in staying
in the Academy which induced many disgruntled members to stay instead of
Bache in turn, while still healthy, was not able to make the Academy
the effective advisory body that he envisioned. Over the next year, he
was able to generate only ten Government requests for the Academy's services.
In May of 1864 he suffered an apparent stroke (or perhaps the culmination
of a progressive illness related to his "sick headaches") with an accompanying
decline in his mental faculties. He was never again a force in the American
science community and died in early 1867. With his decline, so declined
the influence of the Lazzaroni. Bache was the "muscle and brain" of the
Lazzaroni and without his strong guiding hand it would never again be able
to force its collective will on American science.
The death of Bache helped assure the life of the Academy. If not for
him, "The Academy might have died a lingering death afterward but for the
influence of Bache, effective even from the grave. Bache willed his estate
to the Academy, and Henry, out of deference for his friend's memory, took
the Academy under his wing. He expanded the membership and transformed
the organization into a learned society like the local groups already in
existence. From the Bache estate and other funds it received it could modestly
support research and award medals and prizes. In time membership in the
group became a recognized honor."(51)
The scientific world was undergoing an upheaval even during the lifetime
of Alexander Dallas Bache. Perhaps unrecognized by Bache and his colleagues
was the exponential growth of knowledge and education in the United States.
Science was expanding and growing at a rate that was virtually impossible
for any one individual or group to control or guide. The deletion of agricultural
scientists and the small showing of chemists and medical investigators
in the original composition of the National Academy of Sciences reflected
Bache's biases towards the physical and especially geophysical sciences.
During and following the Civil War, the growth of many other branches of
science and the formation of a Department of Agriculture, the United States
Geological Survey, the United States Fish Commission, a national weather
service separate from the Smithsonian Institution, and the growth of the
civil functions of the Army Corps of Engineers virtually precluded the
control of even a major segment of American science by any one individual.
The establishment of land grant colleges as well as the movement to conduct
basic research at major universities such as Columbia University and Johns
Hopkins University also gave impetus to the decentralization of science.
In spite of this, Alexander Dallas Bache must be looked upon as a success.
His burning desire to rid American science of charlatanism by having the
American science community police and criticize its own members, his desire
to see American science elevated in the eyes of the world, his desire to
see higher standards apply to scientific investigation and reporting of
results, his desire to see the science community become politically active
in order to advance its views of the science that should be supported in
a democratic society, and his desire to foster the development of universities
as research institutions as well as teaching institutions are all an intrinsic
part of the American science community of the Twentieth Century. That there
is a National Academy of Sciences able to assist the Government in making
informed decisions in a complex world is a direct result of the foresight
of Alexander Dallas Bache. The formation of other organizations such as
the National Science Foundation, the Office of Sea Grant within the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the myriad other offices within
Federal, State, and Local Governments that exist to grant resources and
money to qualified scientists for research purposes and the solution of
problems of immediate importance were not the direct result of Bache's
work. However,all of these organizations certainly follow concepts first
espoused by Bache and his colleagues beginning in the 1830's and following
through his years as Superintendent of the Coast Survey, President and
guiding hand of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
Chief of the Lazzaroni, and first President of the National Academy of
Sciences. The imprint of his lifework as a science administrator, organizer,
and politician is still felt in the American science community.
2. This discovery was first reported in 1851: "It has been found that the differences of latitude and longitude, as computed in this manner from the distance and azimuth between two stations, and which are called geodetic, differ from those obtained by astronomical observations at the several stations, by quantities which are greater than the errors of the observations. Such disagreements are due to local irregularities in the figure and density of the earth, and the error resulting from them in the determinations of latitude and of the meridian plane is designated as station error. It amounts, according to the results obtained at present, to between one and two seconds of arc in the eastern section of the survey, and to about half a second in the sections south of the Delaware." ( Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1851. Appendix No. 12. List of geographical positions determined by the United States Coast Survey. p. 163.) The more spectacular discovery by British surveyors on "The Great Trigonometric Survey of India" of gravitational deflection of the vertical in the vicinity of the Himalaya Mountains has been widely reported as the initial discovery of this phenomena.
3. This discovery was first announced in 1851 although made two years before. "In the immediate necessity for practical results for our work, it is often expedient to postpone questions of interest, which have a less important bearing, and yet without the solution of which the survey will be incomplete. Of this character is the question of tides and currents at a distance from, but within the limits proper to the hydrography, the form of the bottom of the sea, and the like. Sections were made two years since for the off-shore map, embracing the space between Gay Head and Cape Henlopen, which showed the curious result of the sudden and rapid slope of the bottom of the sea, after the depth of one hundred fathoms was reached." (Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1851. p. 42.)
4. "It is an interesting fact that the tides of our Atlantic coast, of parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and of the Western coast, are of three different types. Those of the Atlantic coast are of the ordinary type of tides -- twice in the twenty-four hours --having, however, a distinct, though small, difference in height and time between the morning and afternoon tides, known as the diurnal inequality. The Gulf tides are single-day tides, and, until the Coast Survey developments established the contrary, were believed to depend upon the winds which have the character of tradewinds, and, therefore, considerable regularity along that coast. The tides of our Pacific coast ebb and flow twice in the twenty-four hours, but with so large a diurnal inequality in height that the plane of reference of mean low water, commonly used on the charts, would, if employed, be a snare to navigators. A rock in San Francisco bay, which at one low water of the day might be covered to the depth of three and a half feet, might at the next be awash." (Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1853. p. 8-9.) Superintendent Bache took a particular interest in tidal phenomena and was quite proud to have determined the nature of tides on the Gulf of Mexico as prior to Coast Survey tidal observations, it was believed that tides in that area were strictly caused by the prevailing winds.
5. Submarine canyons were first discovered as a result of Coast Survey sounding operations. Monterey Canyon, off the coast of central California, was the first of these features to be discovered. The discovery was reported in the 1857 Report of the Superintendent ...: "At the close of the last surveying season the hydrographic party of Commander Alden was engaged in Monterey bay and completed the soundings north of Point Pinos, including the entire bay, and extending to a line three miles west of Santa Cruz harbor.... He thus referred to a peculiarity observed in the hydrography of Monterey bay. 'It will be perceived, by referring to the general chart of the bay, that there is a deep sub-marine valley, or "gulch," directly in the middle of it, wide at the mouth, (taking the fifty fathom curve,) but narrowing very much as it approaches the shore, where deep water is found close to the very beach, and we discovered that this was the only practicable landing throughout the exposed portions of the bay.'
Commander Alden, who commanded the Coast Survey Steamer ACTIVE for much of the 1850's, noted a similar feature in the Santa Barbara Channel: "It will be seen by the chart of the east entrance of Santa Barbara channel that there is a similar characteristic off Port Hueneme, where the deep water approaches the shore, and where we also found the best landing." Alden also independently discovered the continental shelf break off the Farallon Islands in the late 1850's. (References to both submarine canyons are in: Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1857. p. 112-113.)
6. Alternating bands of relatively warm and cooler waters were first noticed by Lieutenant Commanding George M. Bache of the Coast Survey Brig WASHINGTON in 1846. Superintendent Bache announced this discovery in the following year's report as the death of George Bache in the hurricane of September 8, 1846, and the state of the vessel precluded finding and evaluating the records of observations in time for the publication of the 1846 annual report. In 1847 Superintendent Bache wrote: "The observations of Lieutenant Commandant Bache, showed, in all three of the sections examined by him, a second branch of the gulf stream outside of the first, and separated from it by cold water. Those of Lieutenant Commandant Lee [Samuel Phillips Lee] indicate more than one alternation of relatively hot and cold water." (Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1847. p. 31.)
8. Charles Anton Schott (1826-1901) had recently immigrated from the Duchy of Baden, in the southwest of present-day Germany. He was educated at the Polytechnic Institute at Karlsruhe where he spent six years immersed in engineering and mathematics. Following graduation in 1847, he anticipated employment as a railroad design and construction engineer in his native land. However, like Hassler before him, his life was changed by a political revolution
in 1848. He enlisted as a soldier in the "liberal" forces but soon became disenchanted with the military life. He left for the United States with the equivalent of $150 in his pockets and arrived in August, 1848. Superintendent Bache, instinctively able to determine superior talent, hired him immediately upon arrival in the United States. Schott ended up working for the Coast Survey until the end of his life, nearly fifty-three years later. He is recognized as a scientist and mathematician of the first rank and published over 200 papers in his lifetime, primarily on geodesy, magnetics, oceanography, and climatology. (Abbe, Cleveland, "Biographical Memoir of Charles Anthony Schott 1826-1901." In: National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs. Volume VIII. Washington, National Academy of Sciences. 1919. p. 87-133.)
10. Bache, A. D., Comparison of the reduction of horizontal angles by the methods of dependent directions and of dependent angular quantities, by the method of least squares. In: Bache, A. D. 1855. Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. Appendix No. 33. p. *63-70*.
12. Bache, A. D. 1855. Comparison of the reduction of horizontal angles by the methods of dependent directions and of dependent angular quantities, by the method of least squares. In: Bache, A. D. 1855. Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. Appendix No. 33. p. *63-70*.
13. Bache, A. D. 1855. Comparison of the reduction of horizontal angles by the methods of dependent directions and of dependent angular quantities, by the method of least squares. In: Bache, A. D. 1855. Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. Appendix No. 33. p. *63-70*.
14. In 1853 Schott co-authored "Tables for Projecting Maps, with Notes on Map Projections" with Army Lieutenant Edward Bissell Hunt. However, the four publications in the 1854 annual report marked Schott as a rising star in the Coast Survey.
H This second type of error noted by Schott was caused by local variations in gravity and aberrations in the actual shape of the Earth.
19. Sears Cook Walker, although native-born American,
was fluent in seven languages and also translated scientific works into
English for his American colleagues. By virtue of his education in Germany,
Benjamin Apthorpe Gould contributed to the intermingling of European and
American scientific thought. Examples of Schott's role in this aspect of
Coast Survey work, besides that quoted in the text, are found in translations
of an article on the determination of "Probable Error" in Appendix 59,
Report of the Superintendent ... 1856, and of an article on a new mathematical
"In many physical investigations the application of the method of least squares becomes laborious whenever a great number of complicated conditional equations are to be treated, and it is therefore occasionally convenient to make use of a sufficiently rigorous method, which, hardly inferior to that of least squares, has the advantage of leading, in less time and with less labor, to a result of an accuracy commensurate with that of the observations themselves. Such a method has been devised by Cauchy, and it is here proposed to give, for convenience of reference, an account of Cauchy's interpolation formula. It is a free translation from Moigno's account in his edition of Cauchy's differential calculus, and has been illustrated with an example." (Schott, C. A., "Account of Cauchy's interpolation formula. In: Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1860. Appendix No. 37. p. 392-396.)
20. F. H. Gerdes to Bache, "Extract from a letter ... containing remarks upon the currents in Mississippi sound, and upon the change in the magnetic variation within short distances in the Gulf of Mexico." In: Bache, A. D. 1845. Report of the Superintendent ... 1845. Appendix No. III. p. 41 - 43.
21. In referring to Wurdemann, who made a profession of observing tides, and another Gulf Coast observer, Superintendent Bache remarked: "The observations were made day and night, hourly for a year, with exceedingly rare omissions ... with a degree of faithfulness which merits very great praise. The observers were Messrs. Gustavus Wurdemann and R. T. Bassett...." There are numerous references to Gustavus Wurdemann throughout annual reports which remarked upon his faithfulness and attention to detail in accumulating tidal and meteorological data.
23. William Whewell (1794-1866) was an English scientist and philosopher of science. His life's work was done at Trinity College which he entered in 1812 and remained at until his death in 1866. He became a Fellow in 1817 and a Master in 1841. Among his many interests were tidal phenomena and he published 14 memoirs on tides between 1833 and 1850. He analyzed a great amount of data in attempting to develop co-tidal lines (points of simultaneous high tide) and in explaining the diurnal inequality in most tidal basins. Whewell despaired of ever developing a general theory of the tides because of the complexity of the subject. (Daintith, J., Mitchell, S., Tootill, E., and Gjertsen, D. 1994. Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists, Volume 2, L to Z. p. 943. Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia.)
24. Sir John William Lubbock (1803-1865) was a London banker with sufficient means to support an interest in science. He was best known for his work in tides and solar system studies. In tides he developed the concept of the "establishment of port," the time high water falls behind the meridional passage of the moon at a particular place on the earth. (Daintith, J., Mitchell, S., Tootill, E., and Gjertsen, D. 1994. Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists, Volume 2, L to Z. p. 567. Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia.)
25. Bache, A. D. 1853. "Tide Tables for the Use of Navigators, with Description of Bench Marks, Explanations and Examples for Use." In: Bache, A. D. 1853. Report of the Superintendent ... 1853. Appendix No. 26. p. 67-70.
26. Bache, A. D. 1857 "Notes on the progress made in the Coast Survey, in prediction tables for the tides of the United States coast, by A.D. Bache, Superintendent United States Coast Survey, &c." In: Bache, A. D. 1857. Report of the Superintendent ... 1856. Appendix No. 34. p. 249-251.
27. Bache, A. D. 1857 "Notes on the progress made in the Coast Survey, in prediction tables for the tides of the United States coast, by A.D. Bache, Superintendent United States Coast Survey, &c." In: Bache, A. D. 1857. Report of the Superintendent ... 1856. Appendix No. 34. p. 249-251.
29. Schott, C. A. 1855. In: Bache, A. D. 1855. Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. p. 38-39. Schott's full report on the currents of Nantucket Shoals is found in: Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. Appendix No. 48. "On the Currents of Nantucket Shoals." p. *161-166*.
30. Bache, A. D. 1856. Report of the Superintendent ... 1855. p. 12-13. Charles Schott's report is found in: Report of the Superintendent ... 1855. Appendix No. 48. Discussion of the Secular Variation in the Magnetic Declination on the Atlantic and Part of the Gulf Coast of the United States. p. 306-337.
31. Peirce, B. 1852. Criterion for the Rejection of Doubtful Observations. In: Gould, B. A., Editor. Astronomical Journal, Volume 2, 1852. p. 161-163. As quoted in: Lenzen, V. F. Benjamin Peirce and the U.S. Coast Survey. San Francisco Press, San Francisco, California. p. 6.
32. Report of Dr. B.A. Gould, Jr., assistant in the Coast Survey, upon telegraphic observations made for difference of longitude, between Raleigh, N.C., and Columbia, S.C. In: Bache, A. D., Report of the Superintendent ... 1854. Appendix No. 41. p.130* -*131.
39. Sally Gregory Kohlstedt in The Formation of the American Science Community (1976, University of Illinois Press) discusses the tactics of the Lazzaroni in attempting to control the American science community through the AAAS. Kohlstedt describes virtually all phases of the interaction of the Lazzaroni with other elements of the science community, their burning desire to elevate American science, the good they accomplished, and their failures and embarrassments because of their autocratic and sometimes emotional actions.
40. Bache and Henry were not alone in their view
of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Maury's role in the sciences is fully discussed
by John Leighly in his introduction to a commemorative volume of Maury's
Physical Geography of the Sea. (Leighly, J. Editor. 1963. The Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.) Leighly provides
the views of contemporary scientists who were not associated with Alexander
Dallas Bache or the Lazzaroni.
Sir John Holland provided his view of Maury: "... [Maury] theorizes
too largely and hazardously, and does not clearly separate the known
from the unknown." The American Journal of Science reviewed the
first edition of the Physical Geography with: "While the work contains
much instruction, we cannot adopt some of its theories, believing them
unsustained by facts." The great British scientist Sir John Herschel discounted
Maury's view that the Gulf Stream was driven by density gradients and not
the winds. Maury responded with an attempt to ridicule Herschel by taking
a Herschel quote concerning billiard balls moving on a level surface with
impetus from a cue and convoluting it to infer that Herschel's view consisted
of the Gulf Stream being generated from water deflected off the eastern
shores of North America as "billiard balls from the cushion of the table."
James P. Espy, known as the Storm King, in writing the Fourth Meteorological Report to Congress (34th Congress, 3rd Session, Senate Executive Document no. 65, 1857, p. 159) included an entreaty to Maury to abandon his views concerning the trade winds: "Nor do I doubt, from his love of truth, that he will abandon the unintelligible paradox of supposing that
the whole of the southeast tradewind passes to the north, and the whole
of the northeast tradewind passes to the south, each permeating the other
as they pass through the region of calm...."
Leighly makes the point in his introduction to the Physical Geography of the Sea that the most scientific good accomplished by Maury was in provoking a quiet unassuming man by the name of William Ferrel to publish a rebuttal of Maury's views of the winds in an 1856 article in the Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery. Ferrel published a rigorous mathematical treatment of the movement of fluids on the surface of the Earth a few years later and is now known with LaPlace as one of the founders and great pioneers of the science of geophysical fluid dynamics. Ferrel went on to an illustrious career in the U.S. Coast Survey and the Weather Service shortly after it was established under the Army Signal Service. Leighly also points out that the scientific influence that Maury's work did have was largely negative; i.e., he publicized and perpetuated many concepts which were known to be erroneous even during his time. Maury appealed to the literary taste of the time by heavily quoting from Scripture to support his views and writing in an almost poetic sentimental manner. Because of this his works enjoyed great
popularity, and the erroneous concepts he espoused were carried into
American textbooks and classrooms well into the Twentieth Century.
This phenomenon was recognized as early as 1900. The French physicist
Marcel Brillouin wrote in his memoirs:
"On every occasion his religious optimism breaks forth in lyrical paragraphs of a rather naive inspiration but of fine literary form. In addition to his qualities as a writer, Maury had a practical, if not scientific mind. Moreover from the charts in which the observations collected under his direction were summarized he derived rules of navigation under sail which shortened some passages by half. This success, a direct result of the observations collected and having no relation whatever to Maury's views concerning the circulation of the atmosphere, must have created the illusion that the latter were valid; for they have been disseminated everywhere, in textbooks of geography and in all books written for popular consumption...
"Maury's own ideas are pure fantasy, but everyone cites them; little
by little his assertions have been introduced everywhere, and repetitions
of these assertions are presented as rational arguments."
Perhaps Bache was not so far off the mark in his personal and professional estimation of Maury. It is apparent that not only Superintendent Bache and the Lazzaroni felt Maury to be a "charlatan" once he stepped out of his realm of meteorological data collection and reduction. A reading of Leighly's introduction makes it apparent that Maury was, scientifically speaking, "behind the times" even in his time. Worse yet, because of his stubbornness and supreme self-confidence he persisted in publicizing his erroneous views even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.
41. Bache outlined his dream for meteorology in this address: "If meteorology could be encouraged with a world-wide patronage, like astronomy, what practical and theoretical results would not be derived? The results of even the partial effort made in behalf of magnetism and meteorology, is encouraging: brief as the term has been, the materials are gathered, or gathering, from which important conclusions are daily derived, and which await the master mind to weave into new 'Principia,' a new 'Mecanique,' or a new 'Theoria.'"
42. Bache, A. D. 1851. Address of Professor A. D. Bache, President of the American Association for the Year 1851, on Retiring from the Duties of President. In: Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 6. p. xli-lx.
43. It is probable that Peirce's public adulation of Bache and Agassiz led to the derisive name "The Mutual Admiration Society" for the inner circle of the Lazzaroni. In his closing address as outgoing President of the AAAS he referred to Bache as the "Alexander of Geodesy" and in reference to Agassiz, "But of all men who ever set foot upon American soil, there is not one who has made so many and so great scientific discoveries; there is not one who has opened so many new treasures of knowledge...."
44. Peirce, B. F. 1854. Address of the Professor Benjamin Peirce, President of the American Association for the Year 1853, on Retiring from the Duties of President. In: Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 8. p. 16-17.
47. Robert V. Bruce in The Launching of Modern American Science 1846-1876 (1987, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York) related the anecdote of Bache "droning on unattended" and also referred to the paper presented by Major Hunt. Unfortunately, the text of Hunt's presentation was not printed in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for 1860. However, Hunt showed signs of becoming one of the great intellects of Nineteenth Century America. He was well ahead of his time in many areas. He cut to the heart of modern information science in an 1856 presentation to the AAAS which was reprinted in the Coast Survey report for 1857. In this presentation, he referred to the responsibility of the scientists of 1856 to assure that through proper annotation and organization that their science monographs would be intelligible and retrievable by the scientists of the year 2000. Scientists and information specialists are wrestling with similar problems today. Edward Bissell Hunt died as the result of an 1863 accident while testing his invention of the "Sea Miner," an underwater projectile which seems to have been very similar to the modern torpedo. He died as he lived and thought, working on a project more related to Twentieth Century science and warfare than that of the mid-Nineteenth Century.
49. Senator Henry Wilson is best remembered as commandeering an Army mule and hastening back to the protection of the forts of Washington following the first Battle of Bull Run. At the time this occurred Senator Wilson was chairman of the Senate's Military Affairs Committee. Abraham Lincoln referred to this event in a discussion with an old friend as "... Henry Wilson's memorable display of bareback equestrianism on the stray army mule from the scenes of the battle of Bull Run...." (Sandburg, C. 1967. Abraham Lincoln The Prairie Years and the War Years. p. 325. Harcourat Brace Jovanovich, Inc. New York.)
50. Letter from William B. Rogers to Henry Rogers dated 28 April 1863. Originally in: Rogers, E.S. Editor. 1896. Life and Letters of William Barton Rogers, Volume II, p. 161-162. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. Quoted in: Allard, D. R., 1967. Spencer Fullerton Baird and the U. S. Fish Commission. p. 52. Doctoral dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate Council of The George Washington University.