Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Is This Wikipedia Entry On Lysenko Weird?

Does this Wikipedia entry on Lysenko seem unusual to anyone?

3 Comments:

Blogger Dark Avenger said...

I believe there were deleterious consequences to adopting Lysenkoism in the USSR. The only point of reality in that article is the statement that Lysenko was wrong about the inheritance of the vernalization trait.

This seems to me to comport with the reality of Lysenko and his theories:

By 1948, Lysenkoism represented the Soviet party line on evolution. With Stalin's support he became a hero of the Soviet Union and a vice president of the Supreme Soviet. Although a subsequent massive reforestation campaign based on Lysenko's ideas was a disaster, it was not until Stalin's death in 1953 that his star began to fade.

Criticised by Khrushchev, it soon emerged that he had faked experiments to support his theories. By 1965 Lysenko had lost his directorship at the institute and was discredited, but he remained an agricultural adviser to Khrushchev. He died in 1976.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, I agree.

Also, it seems really weird to me that there's no mention of that for which he is most famous, i.e. the distortion of science for political ends. And what about the business about changing wheat into rye by altering the environment? This just seems like a weirdly positive essay on Lysenko. Like...about as positive as it could possibly be without being flat-out propaganda or something.
Am I crazy on this? Do I just have an overly negative view of Lysenko? I've never read a book on him...maybe the standard view of the guy I've absorbed is all wrong...

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

No, that's the same way he was seen in Biology, as a crank who happened to have the protection of Stalin and thus was invulnerable in the Soviet state until the latters' death.

As I remembered, there is a chapter about him in the book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I would imagine there's a copy of this work by the late Martin Gardner in your institutions library. You don't have to read the whole thing, just the chapter on Lysenko.

OTOH, the Wiki has a good article about Lysenkoism. It's not like the biography you linked to, by any means:

Rise

Lysenko's political success was due in part to his striking differences from most biologists at the time. He was from a peasant family, and an enthusiastic advocate of the Soviet Union and Leninism. During a period which saw a series of man-made agricultural disasters, he was also extremely fast in responding to problems, although not with real solutions. Whenever the Party announced plans to plant a new crop or cultivate a new area, Lysenko had immediate practical suggestions on how to proceed.

So quickly did he develop his prescriptions — from the cold treatment of grain, to the plucking of leaves from cotton plants, to the cluster planting of trees, to unusual fertilizer mixes — that academic biologists did not have time to demonstrate that one technique was valueless or harmful before a new one was adopted. The Party-controlled newspapers applauded Lysenko's "practical" efforts and questioned the motives of his critics. Lysenko's "revolution in agriculture" had a powerful propaganda advantage over the academics, who urged the patience and observation required for science.

Lysenko was admitted into the hierarchy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and was put in charge of agricultural affairs. He used his position to denounce biologists as "fly-lovers and people haters," and to decry the "wreckers" in biology, who he claimed were trying to purposely disable the Soviet economy and cause it to fail. Furthermore, he denied the distinction between theoretical and applied biology.

Following the disastrous collectivization efforts of the late 1920s, one of USSR's greatest agricultural problems during the 1930s was that many peasants were thoroughly unhappy with the collectivization.[citation needed] Lysenko's "new" methods were seen as a way to make peasants feel positively involved in an "agricultural revolution". The party officials believed that peasants planting grain — for whatever reason — was a step in the right direction and a step away from the days when peasants would destroy grain to keep it from the Soviet government. Academic geneticists could not hope to provide such simple and immediately tangible results, and so were seen as politically less useful than the charlatanism of Lysenko.

7:44 PM  

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