Lysenko’s Legacy

As evidenced by comments on my series of posts on “Darwin and Marxism,” Trofim Lysenko remains an icon for the political manipulation of science. By that I mean that Lysenko used scientific justifications for his political programs, and currently people use Lysenko’s example to justify their political programs. If they don’t like your politics, they will trot out a Lysenko strawman and say, “Look, this is you! You’re just like Lysenko, because you won’t support the right political program, which is completely dictated by True Science. If Lysenko had loved True Science, he wouldn’t have been a communist; and since you disagree with people who really love True Science, you will cause the US to become a theocratic dictatorship that hates True Science, just like the Soviet Union!”

Now, it so happens that Peter Pringle has recently written a book on this subject, which I will attempt to get from a library. In the meantime, however, here is a review of Pringle’s book by Jan Witkowski in Nature:

“Stalin’s War on Genetic Science”

BOOK REVIEWED-The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin’s Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century

by Peter Pringle

Simon and Schuster: 2008. 384 pp. $26

Immediately, we notice something suspicious about this review: unlike history teacher Ed Darrell, the author of the review seems to believe that Stalin and Lysenko were opposed to genetic science rather than evolution. This may be due to the pro-science bias of Nature, which is known to publish peer-reviewed studies by actual scientists, as well as the pro-science bias of the reviewer, who is said to be “executive director of the Banbury Center and professor in the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York.”

Astonishingly, the review does not mention Darwin or evolution at all, and instead focuses on Mendel and genetic science. It even refers to the fly-guy, Thomas Hunt Morgan, as a “geneticist.” Here is a shocking quote:

Lysenko claimed that plants could be ‘educated’ so that the changed germination time became heritable after several generations of vernalization. This was a variant of Lamarckism, or the inheritance of acquired characters, that had been discredited first by August Weismann’s distinction between germ cells and somatic cells, and second by Mendel’s work.

Why isn’t Darwin credited with discrediting Lamarckism? Perhaps because some biologists continued to believe in the possibility of Lamarckism for eighty years after the publication of Origin of Species . . . right up until the formulation of the Modern Synthesis.

But if the scientific evidence for genetic theory was so overwhelming, why would Stalin and Lysenko oppose it? Was it because of their creationist beliefs? The reviewer asks a similar question:

Why were the reins of Soviet agriculture held by a charlatan whose policies were disastrous? As Pringle makes clear, Lysenko prospered because he promised rapid advances in agriculture that were seized on by a Soviet government desperate to feed thousands of citizens dying of starvation. Lysenko promised Stalin that new strains of wheat and other crops with desirable traits could be produced within 3 years, much quicker than the 12 years that Vavilov required. Perhaps as importantly, Lysenko’s views of genetics were in sympathy with prevailing Marxist dogma.

Again, no mention is made of Lysenko’s “anti-evolutionary” views. Is this part of a creationist conspiracy to suppress the real history?

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4 thoughts on “Lysenko’s Legacy

  1. Immediately we notice the Lysenkoist tactic of trying to separate genetics from biology, genetics from evolution, and evolution from biology.

    Go back and review Dobzhansky’s note that evolution is the binding framework of all the rest of biology, that “nothing makes sense” in biology, except in the light of evolution.

    Should we listen to Dobzhansky? As a refugee from Stalin’s reign of terror, as a life-long, devout Christian, his views might shed some light on the issue.

    There’s a rumor that Lysenko didn’t like bright lights. No cockroach does — they are “negatively photo-tropic.” You may want to get the book and actually read it. It’s a tragedy without the politics considered. It’s an almost Biblical story, with Vavilov’s brother winning promotion under Lysenko, in a bizarre set of circumstances that will wrench your gut and make you shake your head at the insanity of it all.

    Does this book propose anything that might make intelligent design or any other form of creationism scientific, or less brain sucking? No.

    You’ll do well to read it. Let us know when you do.

  2. Darwin, by the way, discovered the theory that explained why Lamarck was wrong. Do you even know who Weismann and Mendel were? Do you know why their experiments are considered to disprove Lamarck experimentally, while Darwin’s theory prevailed?

    Don’t get a hernia straining at those gnats. The gnats are probably refugees from Morgan’s fly room.

  3. That Witkowski guy! A crypto-Lysenkoist, indeed!

    I’m going to have to address some of your provocations later, particularly since I don’t have Pringle’s book in hand. Is that where the Dobzhansky note is? What exactly does he have to say?

    I wasn’t hoping for anything that might make intelligent design or any other form of creationism sound scientific to you. It may seem heretical to my creationist/ID friends, but too many of their arguments are political in nature, and thus uninteresting to me.

    What can I say about Weismann and Mendel? Let me finish reading Elliott Sober’s Philosophy of Biology and I’ll get back to you.

  4. Pingback: The evolutionists’ rescue of the the collapse of science, in their dreams « Society with Gesu Crankn

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