Lysenkoism

Overview


Lysenkoism is "a biological doctrine asserting the fundamental influence of somatic and environmental factors on heredity in contradiction of orthodox genetics" (Merriam-Webster, 2013).

Historical context

State of biological science

Trofim Lysenko - Soviet Pseudoscientist
Trofim Lysenko - Soviet Pseudoscientist

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was the soviet pseudo-scientist who propounded the theory of Lysenkoism. This theory was grounded mainly in Lamarck's theory of evolution, which hypothesized that traits acquired by an organism is inh
erited by its offspring (soft inheritance). Although Lamarck's theory was largely discredited after the successive publication of Darwin's theo
ry of evolution by natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and Mendel's theory of genetics in Experiments in Plant Hybridization, Soviet officials favored Lysenko's claim that acquired traits are heritable. By this theory, loyalty and love of the State that is indoctrinated can be inherited, ensuring the longevity of the Soviet regime.

Development of Lysenkoism

The USSR suffered major famines from 1921-1923 and 1932-1933 as a result of forced confiscation of grain along with coerced collectivization of farms. The low crop yield coupled with a expanding industrial sector failed to meet the agricultural demands of the growing populace. Soviet political leadership then sought for immediate solutions to assuage the critical food shortage.

In 1928, Lysenko, who worked as an agronomist, claimed to have developed a new agricultural technique that tripled crop yields by exposing wheat seeds to an extreme amount of cold and moisture. This cold-soaking of grain seeds is thought have accelerate flowering in spring-sown plants. He coined the process "vernalization", and believed that vernalized seeds would in turn produce hardier offspring that can survive extreme environmental conditions and thus produce more robust yields. His initial success of marginally increasing crop production was exaggerated by the Soviet mass-media, while subsequent failures were unreported. Vernalization was adopted as the standard agricultural procedure years after.

Major claims

The effects of vernalization would be inherited, such that the process would not have to be repeated annually. (Oxford 1999)

Experimental Data

(The same data that refutes Lamarckist theory will refute Lysenkoism)

But is Lysenkoism (biological theory) a science?



Reasons for classifying Lysenkoism as pseudoscience:

Demarcation:


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(the USSR passed a motion dictating that all textbooks must conform to the theory of Lysenkoism (Oxford 1999)

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Here is a video summary of Lysenkoism and its impact on science and agriculture in the USSR.


What about epigenetics

Epigenetics is an emerging field within genetics that focuses on ...
The difference between Epigenetics and Lysenkoism is that the former begins with a hypothesis that is collaborated with experimental results, while the latter begins with an ideological conclusion, and publishes only confirmations of the theory, while disregarding contrary evidence.

Consequences of Lysenkoism for Soviet Science and Agriculture

The infusion of political ideology into the scientific discipline of biology, and specifically genetics, had grave consequences for the advancement and integrity of both science and agriculture in the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

Regression of Biological Sciences

With Stalin's support, Lysenko put many prominent Soviet genetics on trail, convicting them of practicing pseudo-science or "facist" science, with the result of sending them to gulags, or execution. This eradication of leading researchers reversed decades of genetics research, back into the state of Lamarkist genetics. (Hudson, 1946)

Shortly after, in an ironic exchange of genetics based upon Mendelian inheritance was declared to be a "bourgeois pseudoscience".
(Gardner, 1957)

Low agricultural yields and resulting famine

The uncompromising support for Lysenkoist genetic theory impacted Soviet agriculture in two ways. First, many disastrous experimental failures of collective cultivation suggested by Lysenko were kept secret, while the press cherry-picked the successful data in order to support the continued practice of his methods. Second, the censure of all alternative theories impeded improvements in agricultural efficiency that was needed to keep pace with growing population and diminishing agricultural sector. Ultimately, with the negligence of alternative methods, Lysenkoist practices contributed to lower agricultural yields that contributed to famines.


Conclusion


The case-study of Lysenkoism illuminates the importance of demarcating science from pseudoscience. First, the continual progression of science is not a guarantee. Rather, science requires vigilant maintenance to ensure that all new additions and changes to its body of knowledge are collaborated by empirical observations and are coherent with the existing theoretical structure. From the 1920s to 1964 (when Lysenkoism was formally renounced as pseudoscience), the regression of Soviet biological understanding to the Lamark-ian era in the 1800s demonstrates that, if unchecked, political will can stifle scientific development.

Furthermore, the significance of accurately identifying true science is not restricted to scholastic discussions among philosophers of science. Rather, science often profoundly affects the well-being of society through its many applications. As the role of government involves the well-being of society, and as the allocation of funding for various research projects is a zero-sum game, the identification and collective support of true science is essential. In the USSR, the failure to identify Lysenkoism as specious contributed to the deaths of many scientists and peasants via persecution and famine.

An important consideration is the cause of Lysenko's success in persuading Soviet officials why he was correct as opposed to the actual biologists. The meticulous methodology of the scientific process rendered it too timely (and thus unattractive) in the eyes of politicians who desired a rapid and simple solution to all societal problems.

References

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Bortolotti, Lisa. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008. Print.

Hudson, P. S. The New Genetics in the Soviet Union. Cambridge: English School of Agriculture, 1946. Print.

Thagard, Paul. "Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience." CCLWeb: PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of
Science Association Vol. 1978, Volume One: Contributed Papers (1978): 223-234. Web.

"Lysenkoism." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2013.Web.

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Lysenkoism." ch. 12). New York: Dover Books, 1957. Print.

"Lysenko" A Dictionary of Scientists. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

(Bortolotti, 2008)

(Hudson, 1946)

(Gardner, 1957)
(Hudson, 1946)

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