Special tip of the hat to Cleetus whose comment on a piece in The Federalist got me looking into Lysenkoism. I may be late to the party in knowing about this, but I offer today’s post for anyone else who doesn’t know this important historical figure.
Meet Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, born 1898 in what today is the Ukraine to peasant parents. He obtained a doctorate in agricultural science at the Kiev Agricultural Institute in 1925 and rejected Mendelian genetics, the kind most of us know today as the classical genetics of inherited biological features, in favor of pseudo-scientific hybridization theories. In short, he believed that species and environment were entwined in such a way that, given the proper environmental conditions, any species could be changed, e.g. a wheat plant could produce rye seed under the right conditions. He was beginning his working career just as the Soviet Union was suffering a terrible famine while Stalin was in power. The famine was greatly due to Stalin’s collectivists policies which had confiscated farms from the peasants, took seed stock for future plantings and used it as feed stock, and cause many of the peasants to retaliate with poor quality work. The Communist Party was desperate for a savior to step forward with a solution from science. Enter Trofim Lynsenko.
The short version of his meteoric rise and fall comes from Wikipedia (and is confirmed in other sources, but copied here for expedience.)
“Lysenko emerged during this period by advocating radical but unproven agricultural methods, and also promising that the new methods provided wider opportunities for year-round work in agriculture. Lysenko proved himself very useful to the Soviet leadership by reengaging peasants to return to work, helping to secure from them a personal stake in the overall success of the Soviet revolutionary experiment.
Lysenko’s theories did produce some increased crop yields but nothing close to what he had predicted. However, in a time of crisis those kinds of details can get lost. More importantly….