Politics Science

Communist “science”

Yesterday was May Day, and Catallarchy has posted its annual Day of Remembrance for for the victims of Communism.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is a rather extensive article about just what can happen when political ideology is allowed to warp science, specifically what happened to science under Communism because of Trofim Lysenko:

Lysenko’s doctrines were an unholy merger of Lamarckism with Stalinism: the infinite malleability of man was mirrored by the infinite malleability of plants. (Lysenko claimed that if you grew plants incrementally further and further North each year, they would gradually adapt to the climate to the point where you could grow anything in the Arctic.) Biology was turned into a political play, with revolution occurring within the cells of the body. Competition for resources was replaced with the notion that plants of the same species do not compete but rather help each other to survive.

The reality of chromosomes and genes was denied altogether, these being derided as “bourgeois constructs.” Stalin himself argued for a distinction between “proletarian” and “bourgeois” science, extending Marxist class-struggle doctrine into biological science. Lysenko’s false empirical claims mirrored the Stalinist bureaucracy’s trumped-up economic claims. His persecution of scientists merged with Stalin’s paranoid persecution of political opponents.

The conclusion:

The Lysenko affair acts as a tragic reductio ad absurdum of the blurring of political ideology with science, and an extreme reminder of the importance of scientific institutions that promote free inquiry. We are all prone to wishful thinking concerning our pet theories. Without the freedom to challenge even the most popular doctrines, the vision of the true believers replaces conjecture and refutation and errors can be amplified into disasters.

The key strength of science is its ability to self-correct. When that ability is removed by fusing politics with science in such a blatant way, particularly in the context of a totalitarian regime that demands certainty over the uncertainty that all science must acknowledge and the openness to change based on new evidence, the results are travesties of science, such as Lysenkoism under the Communists and racial hygiene and ill-fated attempts to forge a “German physics” (as opposed to the “Jewish physics” of physicists like Albert Einstein) under the Nazis.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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