Lysenkoism: A Deadly Mix of Pseudoscience and Political Ideology


Lerner KL. Lysenkoism: A Deadly Mix of Pseudoscience and Political Ideology. DRAFT COPY subsequently published in Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. Thomson Gale,. 2001.
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The disastrous effects of Lysenkoism -- a term used to describe the impact of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko's influence upon science and agriculture in the Soviet Union during the first half of the 20th century -- darkly illustrates the perils of intruding politics and ideology into the affairs of science. 

Despite the near medieval conditions in which the majority of the population of Czarist Russia lived, the achievements of pre-Revolutionary Russia in science rivaled those of Europe and America. In fact, achievement in science had been one of the few avenues to the aristocracy open to the non-nobility. The Revolution had sought to maintain this tradition, and win over the leaders of Russian science. From outset new communist leaders Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky fought -- even in the midst of civil war and famine -- to make available considerable resources for scientific research.

In the political storms that ravaged the Soviet Union following the death of Lenin, the expulsion of Trotsky, and the rise of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Lysenko's pseudoscientific ideas that all organisms, given the proper conditions, have the capacity to be or do anything had certain attractive parallels with the social philosophies of Karl Marx (and the 20th century French philosopher Henri Bergson) that promoted the idea that man was largely a product of his own will. 

Beyond the absurdity and tragedy of rejecting of nearly a century of advancements in genetics, Stalin and Lysenko combined to exacerbate famine and other deprivations facing Soviet citizens. Moreover, the culture of Lysenkoism was another facet of  repression and persecution. Such was the fate of scientists who dared oppose Lysenko's Stalin-backed doctrines.

Enamored with the political acceptability and alleged scientific merit of Lysenko's ideas, Stalin took matters one step further by personally attacking modern genetics as counter-revolutionary or bourgeois science. While the rest of the scientific world could not conceive of understanding evolution without genetics, Stalin's Soviet Union used its political power to suppress rational scientific inquiry. Under Stalin, science was made to serve political ideology. (MORE)

Last updated on 07/08/2019