Trofim Lysenko dominated Soviet "science" for two whole generations, from the 1920s to the mid-1960s. His basically screwy but highly pretentious theories about the inheritance of acquired characteristics came to dominate Sovgenetics even if they flew in the face of the long accepted, tried-and-proven Mendelian kind. But if communism could invent a New Man, why couldn't this favorite of Stalin's invent a new science?
Sovscience proved as reliable as the rest of the Soviet system, which would all come tumbling down -- but not till the mid-'90s. Now, 20 years later, it's staging an impressive comeback under a new Stalin named Vladimir Putin, and there are those who would make Lysenko a hero again. The more things change in
It was back in 1928, just after another five-year plan had proven a five-year bust, that Trofim Lysenko first came to the grateful attention of the Party by borrowing an old trick of the simplest Russian peasants: Make winter wheat sprout in the spring by exposing its seeds to the cold. They'd been doing it for centuries, but Comrade Lysenko gave that traditional technique a new and scientific-sounding name, vernalization, and made it sound like a scientific breakthrough. He backed it all up with charts, graphs and illustrations as neat as those double hockey sticks the climate-changers used to impress the gullible in our own time. But like them, Lysenko was just practicing politics, not science. Much like those who believe that if hundreds of political appointees endorse climate change, it must be real. As if scientific truth were determined by majority vote.
Comrade Lysenko's phony agronomics is reminiscent of the just as phony but highly popular movement dubbed eugenics, the belief that human beings could be bred as selectively as cattle or chickens. Much like climate change now, eugenics won the enthusiastic support of the best and brightest of its day:
The solution to all our problems was quite simple: All that had to be done to produce a better race was to assemble a gene pool of "the most transcendentally superior individuals" -- like Nobel Prize winners -- and make sure they went forth and multiplied. All of which struck one Nobel laureate,
Intellectual fads may come and go, but people's gullibility remains constant. In every field from economics to nutrition, there will always be cranks with their own pet theories, devoted following and cherished delusions. If you doubt it, just look around today.