December 1960

Evolution and Behavior “Gulls live in flocks. They forage together the year around and nest together in the breeding season. No external force or agency compels them to this behavior; they assemble and stay together in flocks because they respond to one another. Their gregarious and often co-operative behavior is effected through communication. Each individual exhibits a considerable repertory of distinct calls, postures, movements and displays of color that elicit appropriate responses from other members of its species. Since the differences among these closely related birds are not induced by the environment, but are truly innate, it was clear that the present differences among the species must have arisen through evolutionary divergence. —N. Tinbergen”

NOTE: Nikolaas Tinbergen shared a Nobel Prize in 1973 for his work on social behavior in animals. This article is available in full on the Web at www.scientificamerican.com/dec2010

December 1910

Undersea World “Sir John Murray, the distinguished oceanographer who recently visited the United States, remarked in an address made a few years ago before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, that ‘the deep sea discoveries of the past quarter of a century have been the most important additions to the natural knowledge of this planet since the great voyages of Columbus and Magellan.’ When attention is called to the fact that great reefs and islands have been formed through the activity of small coral animals, we have but a single instance of the importance of zoological studies in the deep seas. To-day hundreds of naturalists are working on the materials and data collected by Agassiz, the Prince of Monaco, and other deep-sea explorers.”

Information Thaw

“The Russian government has hitherto found it impossible to keep in touch with Kamschatka during two-thirds of the year, owing to the severe winter storms. Now, however, by the aid of wireless telegraphy, this region may be kept in communication with the rest of the world all the year round. A series of stations has been established, and special inducements are offered to operators who will take charge of these isolated points.”

December 1860

Honest Abe's Patent “In discharging our accustomed round of duties at the Patent Office recently, our attention was called to a model of a patented mode of buoying vessels, the invention of no less a personage than the President elect of the United States. Thinking it would interest a vast number of our readers to see what sort of an invention emanated from the brain of so distinguished an official, we had an ambrotype taken from the model [see illustration]. It is probable that among our readers there are thousands of mechanics who would devise a better apparatus for buoying steamboats over bars, but how many of them would be able to compete successfully for the presidency?”

Evils of Absinthe

“A new stimulant has been coming into pernicious prevalence among artists and literary men of France. This is absinthine, the bitter principle of wormwood, which is soluble in alcoholic liquors. Several distinguished men in France are said to have fallen victims to its use, and the highest medical authorities in that country have denounced it. We hope it may never come into use as a stimulant among our people. He who persists in it ultimately becomes a driveller and a paralytic. Science in its very highest sense teaches us that cravings of the appetite for stimulants in human beings should, in general, be resisted.”

Wonders of Coca

“The decoction of the leaves of the coca—a Peruvian Erythroxylon shrub—recently introduced into Europe, is exciting attention as possessing a peculiar stimulating power. These leaves chewed in moderate doses of from four to six grains excite the nervous system, and enable those who use them to make great muscular exertion, and to resist the effect of an unhealthy climate, imparting a sense of cheerfulness and happiness. The Indians of Bolivia and Peru travel four days at a time without taking food, their only provision consisting in a little bag of coca. What a chance this is for a patent medicine man!”