Trofim Lysenko. (born on September 29, 1898 and died on November 20, 1976) was a Ukrainian agronomist and director of biology under Joseph Stalin. He rejected traditional thought regarding Mendelian genetics and embryology and reinterpreted Darwin’s ideas to fit the framework of what he called the ‘new creation biology’. He gained rapid favor in the government proclaiming that the only views that could be truly “scientific” had to be “consistent with social theories of Stalin himself.
He altered the entire structure of Russian biological thinking which, along with collectivization of the Russian farms managed to starve millions. He believed that evolution could be “forced” through something he called acquired inheritance. Similar to man caused global warming anyone who disagreed with him was a scientific outcast and purged from their position, their jobs and in some cases ended up in Russian concentrations camps.
As Director of the Institute of Genetics within the Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences he stridently pushed the idea that plants could be forced to acquire characteristics that they had not demonstrated before through what he ignorantly called “environmentally acquired inheritance”, a theory of adaptation, originally promoted by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The Giraffe was a Lamarck example.
It wasn’t just plants though. Lysenkoists believed that just as exercise could turn a normal man into a muscle man, training could “force” cows to “happily and naturally deliver 50 liters of milk per day” which would change their normal inheritable limits of production; they rejected genetics as we now know it. He convinced Stalin they could imprint acquired characteristics and skills from one generation to another. It seemed to fit into the socialist/communist model and while there was no scientific evidence to support it, if you valued your career as a scientist you dared not challenge it. Sound familiar.
They never were able to “train” cows to deliver 50 liters of milk a day, but that did not deter them. Another disastrous example of his thinking was his work on rye grain. Between 1928 and 1940 Stalin’s collectivization of farms caused mass starvation, so getting more grain in more areas was vital. The claim was that they could turn wheat into rye by just planting it in climates “favoring the growth of rye”. Huge acreage was devoted to this program which was intended to “teach” wheat to become rye.
Literally hundreds of thousands of individual grains of wheat were examined, and some did turn out to be rye. The fact that the harvesting machines used that year were used the previous year to harvest rye didn’t bother them in the least.
For almost 30 years some of the finest minds in Russian biology either “became infected with this apparent madness” or “converted” to it. “Other scientists, who were skeptical, were threatened with loss of their working and publishing opportunities. Those who refused to bend to the madness of the new biological ideology were permanently silenced.
Lysenko came to prominence because he was “discovered by a sensation seeking journalist who published articles in Pravda praising his abilities, which amounted only to attacking real science and making bold absurd claims. One example of his meddling with real science , dealt with Russia’s potato problems at the time. They could only use seed potatoes from Northern Russia because a degenerative virus existed in Southern Russia. Lysenko made the pronouncement that it wasn’t a virus causing this at all, but was a problem with hot temperatures; the Politburo jumped on it. His solution was to plant in the summer for a fall harvest and he claimed that this would eliminate the degeneration problem. The result was disastrous, in spite of the selectively favorable reports, which made the “studies” fit the preconceived conclusion that promoted his junk science.
Lysenko later proclaimed that there was no such thing as viruses, setting Russian virology back for years. We know now, he was not just wrong but a fraud and yet he was the driving power in Russian agrarian science for almost 30 years.
How different is it today? Many have come into prominence in modern times promoting junk science, such as man-caused climate change. To quote a prominent Australian voice on the climate delusion, Viv Forbes ““The public has been misled on this issue by an unholy alliance of environmental scaremongers, funds-seeking academics, sensation-seeking media, vote-seeking politicians and profit-seeking vested interests.” Truth is no longer the holy grail of science. It is now grant money. Grant money that is only distributed to those who support the claim that unless we cleanse our atmosphere from the increasing carbon dioxide, the future is grim. In reality the opposite is the truth. Earth prospers with increasing carbon dioxide.
Try applying for a grant that proves otherwise. What is sad is that so many have to suffer before everyone realizes that what has happened in the past is being repeated now. More subtly of course; after all, no one is being taken out and shot or sent to concentration camps for scientific disagreement. Yet those who haven’t touted the “acceptable” line have lost grants, jobs and been prevented from publishing articles in scientific journals. The fact of the matter is that Lysenkoism is a pattern of thinking that is the same today as it was then; and over the long haul just as deadly to humanity.