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Scientific Enterprise

The act of taking pen or pencil to paper for the purpose of recording or preserving a thought or piece of information requires, first of all, availability of the tools, and second of all, some degree of training and literacy. The tools have been traced as far back as antiquity.

Papermaking (1), as an art, has been known since its invention in China by Ts'ai Lun in the year 105 ( Thereafter, paper became an important and enriching component of Chinese culture over the centuries. The true paper of this invention, as for all papers to follow, is prepared from macerated fibers, which product, despite automation, has not changed in nearly 2000 years. It is to be distinguished from the papyrus sheets of ancient Egypt, which were prepared for writing by laminating or pasting together sliced strips of stalk. Real parchment and vellum were made of animal skins, and thus not paper either. That which is named paper is derived from "rags, straw, bark, wood or other fibrous material" (1). The fibers are macerated into separate filaments, held suspended in water, and then collected from the water as thin matte on a screen. The matte is wet paper.

Paper manufacture required about 1000 years to make its way across different cultures and tough terrain to Europe (1). Thereafter, its manufacture began first, among the European colonists in North America, in Eastern Pennsylvania, in 1690 (1,2). Yet, paper was in scarce supply in revolutionary America, dependent as Americans were on European skills, and lacking in ample supplies of rags (2). The first mill in Western Pennsylvania is reported to have been on Redstone Creek in Fayette County beginning in about 1809 (1).

Lamp-black ink was known to the Chinese by the 4th or 5th century (1). The reed pen was used at least in the 3rd century B.C. for writing on papyrus; afterward, the working end was made to be pointed and split, like the later quill pen (3). The reed pen survived in Europe until the Middle Ages. The quill pen, made from the wing feather of a goose, swan, peacock, crow or turkey, was the pen mainly used in the Middle Ages. It continued in use until late in the 19th century, when it was displaced by mass-produced steel pens, more like what we know today (3). The first black-lead pencils date from 1500 in England (4). So, Lewis's supplies included paper journals, ink, pens and pencils that he acquired in Philadelphia during May/June 1803, and these were essentially long-known products that had surfaced in the enlightened Philadelphia of that period. Apparently, Lewis was well aware that he could not purchase these seemingly simple articles nearer his keelboat launch in Pittsburgh, characterized for that time as no more than a village (5).

What Lewis had to be taught was how to use these tools for scientific purposes, and as with much else, that came from President Thomas Jefferson. On June 20, 1803, Jefferson's extensive written instructions to Lewis concerning the Expedition were made complete (6). About making observations "of latitude and longitude, at all remarkable points on the river," and all other on the "courses of the river," he wrote: "Your observations are to be taken with great pains and accuracy; to be entered distinctly and intelligibly for others as well as yourself;". He added: "Several copies of these, as well as your other notes, should be made at leisure times, and put in the care of the most trustworthy of your attendants to guard, by multiplying them against the accidental losses to which they will be exposed. A further guard would be, that one of these copies be on the cuticular membranes of the paper birch [Betula papyrifera], as less liable to injury from damp than common paper."

Jefferson went on with specific details about who and what to observe beyond latitude and longitude, including, in a "most friendly and conciliatory manner," the Indians of different nations, as well as flora and fauna. Anticipating unfriendly nations, he added: "if a superior force, authorized or not authorized by a nation, should be arrayed against your further passage, and inflexibly determined to arrest it, you must decline its further pursuit and return. In the loss of yourselves we should lose also the information you will have acquired."

About reaching the Pacific, Jefferson went on to write: "On your arrival on that coast, endeavor to learn if there be any port within your reach frequented by sea vessels of any nation, and to send two of your trusty people back by sea, in such a way as shall appear practicable, with a copy of your notes;" Well, Mr. Jefferson was in all ways concerned with the accurate and detailed recording of data in journals and preservation of them, as any good scientist today is. The modern scientist keeps a data book too, into which go all observations, which should be regularly witnessed. This thrust in his instructions to Lewis, about recording and preserving data, is what distinguishes the Lewis and Clark Expedition from the more elementary and unscientific act of trekking west, merely to participate in the commerce of fur trading, which many adventurers did in the 19th century.

While Jefferson anticipated well for the Expedition itself, he did not reckon with events that followed, which threatened thoughtful assimilation of the Expedition's data. Assimilation is something modern scientists value, especially as they prepare the raw record for public presentation or publishing. First of all, Lewis himself suffered an early and mysterious death in Tennessee, in October 1809, while traveling to Washington in his new capacity of Governor of Louisiana. He was even then carrying journal volumes with him, with the likely intent of facilitating publication. Jefferson's "Memoir of Meriwether Lewis " addresses the event and Elliott Coues adds other information (6).

That left William Clark to complete the public record for the foremost captain. Clark engaged a Philadelphia lawyer named Nicholas Biddle to edit the journals for publication as a narrative (6). Clark's intent was that Benjamin Barton, eminent scientist of Philadelphia, would produce the formal publication concerning the natural history of the Expedition (7). Nevertheless, Biddle was not trained for the scientific work and did not much attempt to include it in his efforts. Unfortunately, Barton became ill and died, and this important piece of the effort went undone (7). Biddle tenaciously surmounted many difficulties with publishers and accomplished his task in 1814, with no real financial gain realized for Clark (6). His was just immortality. The original journal manuscripts themselves were deposited at Clark's directive in the hands of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, where they languished for much of the remainder of the 19th century.

Fortunately, naturalist Elliott Coues was commissioned late in the century to edit the Biddle work for republishing (7). In the course of that, he learned of the existence of the original manuscripts themselves at the American Philosophical Society, their presence hardly known to anyone at all. As a trained and diligent naturalist, it was within his scope to add the new material to the Biddle rewrite, and, with much interest in and vigor for the task, he did that. The wonderful result is the Coues volumes referenced below (6). They were this writer's first reading of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the memory of the trip with them is yet a profound influence.

Up to this point, we have wrestled with the task of recording and preserving data on paper, and our thoughts about them in retrospection. Today, scientists very often record and manipulate data electronically, rather than on paper. Eventually, the assimilated work may get to paper publication, but increasingly even the assimilated work ends up being published electronically. This presents a whole new set of problems for preserving the integrity of the written record, at risk for tampering or even later massaging. Some of the implications enter into legal disputes. Some go to right of inventorship. The electronic issues are not resolved today. For the interested reader, this is a whole new matter to take up as a school project, or even a career. It can begin your better understanding of the Enterprise that is science, if the above story of the paper scientific record has whetted your appetite for it.

Inquiry project: Give a course of action to deal with preservation of electronic data.

Science Enterprise References

1. Hunter, Dard, Papermaking, New York: Dover Publications (1978), pp. 1-6, 17-23, 75, 243, 276.

2. Boorstin, Daniel J., The Americans: The Colonial Experience, New York: Vintage Books (1958),
    pp. 320-321.

3. Diringer, David, The Book Before Printing, New York: Dover Publications (1982), pp. 556-562.

4. Grun, Bernard, The Timetables of History (based on Werner Stein's Kulturfahrplan), New York:     Simon & Schuster (1975).

5. Boorstin, Daniel J., The Americans: The National Experience, New York: Vintage Books (1965),
    p. 122.

6. Coues, Elliott, ed., The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Vol. I - III, New York: Dover     Publications (1987 reprint of Francis P. Harper's unabridged 1893 edition), Vol. I, pp. xxiv- xcvii.

7. Cutright, Paul Russell and Brodhead, Michael J., Elliott Coues: Naturalist and Frontier Historian,     Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press (1981), pp. 339-363.


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