Infamous Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko has become topical again after the recent WSJ “Don’t Panic (about global warming)” letter (read about it also here and here). In the interest of historical record, I am posting here the recovered text of “Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’” written some years ago by Professor Cliff Ollier and mentioned in this blog almost four years ago.
The original link does not work any longer (and the WaybackMachine hides the text for some reason). There is also a slightly different version in the Lavoisier Group website. (h/t Justin Ert)
Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’
by Professor Cliff Ollier
Trofim Denisovich Lysenko [Трофи́м Дени́сович Лысе́нко; pictured left] (1898 – 1976) was an insignificant agriculturalist who thought he had a new way of developing crops that would vastly increase food production in the starving Russia of Stalin. It was called ‘vernalisation’, and it included treating seeds before cultivation to affect their behaviour.
Significantly, Lysenko introduced his ideas first through politics, in which he benefited from weighty support. Some argue that his precepts had a Marxist flavour, because they asserted that biology could be modified in the way that communists wanted to control people’s behaviour. The government was anxious to increase food production and to quell disturbances among the growers, while Lysenko was an adept propagandist. He became a cult leader who impressed the peasants.
Lysenko was the head of the Soviet Lenin All Union Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and he ran the nation’s research in this field. He promised to triple or to quadruple crop yields.
He demonised conventional genetics, which again suited his masters, who believed this to be the basis behind fascist eugenics.
No Opposition Tolerated
Opposition to Lysenko was not tolerated, and was labeled ‘bourgeois’ or ‘fascist’. Lysenko used his position to denounce Mendelian geneticists as “fly-lovers and people haters”, which had serious consequences. From 1934 to 1940, with Stalin’s blessing, numerous geneticists were shot, and others exiled to Siberia. Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov [Николай Иванович Вавилов; pictured left] (1887 – 1943), for example, a truly great geneticist and biogeographer, was sent to Siberia, where he died of starvation in 1943, while Lysenko, in person, took over his role as Director of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Any survivor of the purge had to keep quiet. In 1948, genetics was officially labeled a ‘bourgeois pseudoscience’, and genetic research came to a halt. Krushchev also supported Lysenko, but, after his departure in 1964, the Academy of Sciences investigated the records, and a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. The ban on genetics was finally lifted in 1965.
When Lysenko denounced Mendelian thought as reactionary and decadent, he also announced that his speech had the approval of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The parallel for the ‘Global Warming’ movement is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which works through national and international organisations. The IPCC claims its reports are written by 2500 scientists, but in reality they are drawn up by only about 35 people, and are effectively ‘controlled’ by an even smaller number.
Opposition to ‘Global Warming’ is often likened to ‘Holocaust Denial’. We are repeatedly told that there is no debate – hardly a scientific approach. The influence of the IPCC has spread, and it has become increasingly difficult to get research funding without being a ‘believer in Global Warming’.
A New Religion
Why would governments be persuaded to follow this idea before it was scientifically evaluated? One reason may be that there was a rising tide of what some have likened to a new religion – ‘Environmentalism’. Of course, no politician wants to be seen as ‘anti-environment’, or to lose the votes of the ‘Greens’. The ‘Greens’, for their part, are happy to follow the climate-change line because it gives them enormous political power. As a minor party or influence they hold the balance of power, and the major parties dare not offend them.
The propaganda machine of the IPCC is magnificent, with its greatest tool being the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth. This still has enormous impact, although the High Court in Britain did decide it could not be shown in schools without comment because it contained major errors. I suspect that this film was the reason that the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Al Gore and to the IPCC.
Another propaganda hit was the infamous ‘Hockey Stick Graph’, purporting to show that temperature was rising at an ever-increasing rate. This has been totally discredited, but it still seems to be branded on the collective mind of politicians and the public. Much Government propaganda has been lent to support ‘Global Warming’, and major media outlets, such as the BBC in Britain, have chosen to join in on the ‘Global Warming’ side.
Climate change, like Lysenkoism, is much easier to understand than the complexities of real science. This appeals to the public, and also to politicians and other influential people, who can talk as if they understand it. If questioned about details, they simply refer back to the IPCC reports.
So-called ‘independent reports’ on climate change have been produced by Nicholas Stern in Britain and Ross Garnaut in Australia. Both Stern and Garnaut make it plain that they are not scientists and have based their conclusions on the IPCC reports. Yet, both continue to make public statements warning about the increasing dangers of climate change. This merely keeps their reports in the public eye, and echoes the flawed science of IPCC ‘Global Warming’.
At a lower level, without the need for evidence, everything can be blamed on ‘Global Warming’ – droughts, floods, malaria, hurricanes, and even global cooling! The IPCC rhetoric continues, although their predictions have failed to come true, just as Lysenkoism continued when the promised crop-yield increases never arrived. The IPCC forecast ever-increasing temperatures, but average global temperatures have become lower since 1998. They have now put off ‘Global Warming’ for 15 years because some other factors have intervened. The models did not predict this, but such details do not affect ‘the faithful’.
Some scientists sided with ‘Global Warming’ in the early days, and are so committed that they cannot now get off the bandwagon. Others worked for the IPCC, but resigned when they realised how their work was being used, or that real science did not support the claims that were being made. Luckily, we do not have the equivalent of Siberia to deal with these scientists.
‘The Global Warming Affair’ has already lasted over twenty years, and many administrative and scientific research centres have sprung up – most of the latter involving computer simulators. Computer simulation has a part to play in science, but it should not replace observation, hypothesis-testing, and falsification. There are now ‘Departments of Climate Change’, for which read ‘Departments of Global Warming Blamed on Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide’.
A Lesson From History: Parallels With Lysenkoism
We should not forget a basic fact, namely that the one villain of the piece – and the one that is costing billions of dollars – is anthropogenic carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of ‘vernalisation’ in the Lysenko era.
In summary, the comparisons between Lysenkoism and ‘Global Warming’ can be rehearsed as follows:
1. Work first through political organisations;
2. Claim that the science is settled. There is nothing to debate;
3. Disregard, or deny, all the accumulating evidence that the predictions might be wrong;
4. Demonise the opposition (Mendelian geneticists; ‘Global Warming’ Deniers);
5. Victimise the opposition (execution and exile; loss of jobs or research funds, public and media humiliation);
6. Relate to a current ideology (Stalinism; Environmentalism);
7. Support a vast propaganda machine; and,
8. Create a huge bureaucracy where many people have careers dependent upon ‘the ruling concept’.
The parallel can be seen perfectly in a work by Helena Sheehan(1), who wrote of Lysenkoism:
“What went wrong was that the proper procedures for coming to terms with such complex issues were short-circuited by grasping for easy slogans and simplistic solutions and imposing them by administrative fiat.”
Lysenkoism was eventually replaced by real science. The same will happen to ‘Global Warming’, because real science will not go away. _____________
(1) Helena Sheehan, 1993. Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History. (Humanities Press International, Inc.).
Further Reading: Paul Reiter, 2004. ‘Passion and politics cloud the climate debate.’ (Nature 431, 739, October 14, 2004|doi:10.1038/431739c).
Timely broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time” series, about NOTE UPDATED LINK Lysenko and “lysenkoism”, the propaganda-based “science” that Stalin’s agricultural adviser managed to sell as “truth” from 1928 to 1962 at least.
In 1928, as America heads towards the Wall Street Crash, Joseph Stalin reveals his master plan – nature is to be conquered by science, Russia to be made brutally, glitteringly modern and the world transformed by communist endeavour.
Into the heart of this vision stepped Trofim Lysenko, a self-taught geneticist who promised to turn Russian wasteland into a grain-laden Garden of Eden.
Today, Lysenko is a byword for fraud but in Stalin’s Russia his ideas became law. They reveal a world of science distorted by ideology, where ideas were literally a matter of life and death. To disagree with Lysenko risked the gulag and yet he damaged, perhaps irreparably, the Soviet Union’s capacity to fight and win the Cold War.
The MP3 of the programme can be NOTE UPDATED LINK downloaded here.
What makes it relevant to the climate debate is the list of parallels that can be made between Lysenko’s “Soviet biology and genetics” and contemporaneous thoughts of Anthropogenic Global Warming:
(a) Results, and success are declared before an experiment has completed (at position 12m10s, in the mp3 file above). In AGW, just look at the innumerable papers that take AGW as established truth, even as the debate on “attribution” is still very much open among mainstream scientists.
(b) Proponents always declare “victory”, no matter what happens, and are always ready to shift the ground (mp3 position: 14m15s). That’s quite common in AGW circles: nowadays, if the planet warms up or cools down, it’s anyway compatible with AGW theory.
(c) Science is presented as a series of “solutions”, not simply as “knowledge” (mp3 position: 19m45s). AGWers cannot disentangle research from advocacy: for example, the IPCC is politically active, to the point of qualifying for a Nobel Peace Prize.
(d) According to the scientists, central planning is better than free capitalism (mp3 position: 35m45s). From Al Gore to London School of Economics’ Professor Lord Giddens, there is only one thought: free markets are not good enough, and a big State intervention is needed to save the planet from climate doom.
Ironically, the BBC guests laughed only up to a point to the witty remark made by one of them: that Lysenko’s personality and attitude would have made him a “guaranteed success in British science today” (mp3: 24m15s).
Even more ironic is the fact that Lysenko himself did come up with a geoengineering way to change the climate of Siberia (by planting trees in clusters, so that the weakest ones would sacrifice themselves to let the most resistant plants survive).
And in case you wonder: no, it didn’t work…