Trofim Lysenko was a corrupt, government-sponsored “scientist” whose disastrous ideas led to the deaths of millions of people in both Russia and China.
His story is a cautionary tale of what happens when politics and ideology get mixed in with science.
Lysenko entered the spotlight in 1930s communist Russia (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) due to his claims of quadrupling crop yields through the use of his methods.
(There was an agricultural crisis at the time—due in large part to the failed collectivization efforts of the Communist Party.)
Some of Lysenko’s goofy ideas were that rye could turn into barley and that weeds could spontaneously transform into food grains. He had the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party, including that of the USSR’s ruthless dictator, Joseph Stalin.
His influence grew to such heights that he had the science of genetics officially declared a “capitalist pseudoscience.” Lysenko also had all of his critics (thousands of scientists doing actual science) censored, denounced as “fascists,” and fired, imprisoned, or executed.
(Note: As you’re probably already aware, openly mass-murdering citizens who dare to think differently is the hallmark of the neo-feudalistic ideology known as communism.)
According to historian Loren Graham, professor emeritus of MIT and Harvard, Lysenko was “a fraud”, “a political tyrant”, and “a sloppy scientist who made claims that could not be substantiated, and who got political support for it, and perverted science through politics.”
His nonsense was naturally exported to other communist countries in Eastern Europe and to China. Lysenkoism (as it was termed) was taught as “the only correct theory.” And they kept teaching it—even as their crops continued to fail year after year after year.
They didn’t dare question.
Under the shiny, humanitarian veneer of Utopian pretext, an oligarchy of “experts” was allowed—in the name of “science”—to censor information, forbid open discussion, uphold disinformation, and define accepted reality for decades as people starved.
For nearly 35 years, it was forbidden to criticize the absurdities of Lysenkoism because it was a politically sanctioned “science.”
Consequently, Lysenko’s asinine “theories” contributed to famines that killed tens of millions of human beings across the world.
So when is science … science?
The word “science” is a nominalization—an abstract noun, much like the word “God” is.
We know the word “God” can mean different things to different people. How about the word “science”?
Merriam-Webster defines science as knowledge, or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method.
And here are some well-established criteria for compliance with the scientific method:
- A scientist does a comprehensive review of prior knowledge.
- A scientist bases their work on logic and objectivity (and tests multiple reasonable hypotheses).
- A scientist uses accurate, evidence-based, and straightforward methods.
- A scientist uses and produces valid and reliable data.
- A scientist provides useful findings (where the size of an effect is considered—not blown out of proportion—before conclusions are made).
- A scientist’s conclusions are consistent with the evidence (not angled to support a particular agenda).
- A scientist provides their experimental evidence (rather than withholds it from examination).
- A scientist offers full disclosure of their methods, data, and other relevant information (so that their work can be independently verified and replicated).
To be sure, scientific evidence must be plentiful, consistent, and repeatable before theories are proposed.
And part of that process includes independent verification and replication of studies.
So … do all researchers claiming to promote science comply with the scientific method?
No. They do not.
And far too often—no one asks them to.
The scientific fields have been in the middle of a replication crisis for some time now. That means researchers are not always required to verify and replicate the results of their studies (some of which happen to be the best “studies” money can buy).
Does one not wonder—as a scientist—if the results of a particular “study” have not been replicated, how can it be anything other than an unconfirmed hypothesis?
The single biggest problem in science is the illusion it has taken place.
How science becomes unscientific
Many “scientists” get handsome rewards for doing sloppy science, including commissioned research and grants from governments, political advocacy groups, etc.
Some even begin their “experiments” with predetermined conclusions, which is not very scientific at all.
They may even be driven by ideological agendas themselves.
Other “scientists” use long, complex writings that certainly sound all science-y, but aren’t. (They might even sneak in citations from sources that do not comply with the scientific method.)
Some also engage in methods that are invalid, irrelevant, or deceptively complex.
And, just like the propaganda boost the Communist Party gave Lysenko, they often get plenty of mass media coverage regardless of their work’s lack of scientific content.
(Note: Throughout history, the role of propaganda is essentially to get the victim to vote for the victimizer.)
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
People in general often use the word “science” as a blanket term, not realizing that the numerous and varied scientific fields are not always homogeneous (“like, you know … because, science, dude”) or democratic in their conclusions.
The fact is real scientists don’t always agree with each others theories unless they’re in a hive mind, totalitarian system where—contrary to any evidence—they’d better believe rye can turn into barley, or else they’re executed.
Many a sneering, intellectual narcissist clucking on with missionary zeal about “science” is simply under the spell of the logical fallacy, Appeal to Authority. (This is when a person blindly believes something is true merely because an authority tells them it is so.)
And though, more often than not, they have no real understanding of what they’re parroting, it is an opportunity to make them feel smarter than they actually are.
The entire web of culture and ‘progress,’ everything on earth that is man-made and not given to us by nature, is the concrete manifestation of some man’s refusal to bow to authority.Robert Anton Wilson
“I believe in science” should not mean, “I do not question expert authority” because close-mindedness is 100% incompatible to a truly scientific mindset.
Creativity, innovation, and progress will always depend upon the diversity and freedom of individual thought. Not the homogenized droning of drones.
Remember, hundreds of years ago, the first scientists who concluded that the earth revolves around the sun were ridiculed and burned at the stake by the “experts” du jour.
This brings us to the occasional misguided individual who confuses science with religious dogma and attempts to bully others (who dare question their wobbly position on something) with loaded words like “anti-science.”
Truly, condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.
Here’s a hint: When open debate is forbidden—that’s anti-science.
It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.Epictetus
Word of the day: Lysenkoism
Lysenkoism is the manipulation or distortion of the scientific method to reach a predetermined conclusion dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.
Suppose a so-called expert comes along and proclaims something is “science” (that they want me to believe).
In that case, I am naturally curious to see proof that the scientific method was complied with in order to reach their conclusion.
Maybe you should be curious too.
Because Lysenkoism can seem like genuine science to the unaware.
And populations that fail to learn from history can often be made to believe that rye can turn into barley—or some such mass psychosis.
So the next time you hear that trance-inducing word: “science” … before you kneel unquestioningly, be scientific and ask questions.
“Did this purported “science” actually follow the science?”
Real science—at its essence—is more about curiosity, experimentation, discovery, and learning—and less about dictating what to think.
©2021 Jack van Landingham
P.S. Here’s a quick video I made on how to break a trance…