A too-typical tragedy of science in the Soviet Union

Originally published at: A too-typical tragedy of science in the Soviet Union | Boing Boing


It was so much worse than that, even. Lysenko was not just “less qualified”, he had a full blown nonsense pseudoscience of his own invention around plant development. It took over in the same way that QA-n-n has taken over the Republican Party today. The Soviet establishment embraced “Lysenkoism” hook, line, and sinker. Lysenko is likely responsible for hundreds of thousands of starvation deaths that real science would have prevented.


Yeah, Lysenko essentially rejected Darwin and adapted his ideas from Lamarck. And his work was carried over to the China by Mao, contributing to the famines of Great Leap Forward.


The seed bank that he painstakingly reassembled was again threatened in the 1940s, this time by war. The samples in the Leningrad institute were not evacuated before the city was besieged by the Nazi invaders.

However, in a great act of scientific heroism, the collection was preserved by the staff of the institute. Despite the near starvation conditions imposed by the blockade, the staff protected them and refused to allow them to be eaten, even though nine of the researchers died of hunger.


The world also nearly lost Sergei Korolev who was arrested on trumped up charges (derived by torturing his bosses), denounced by colleagues[1] in fear of their own lives and sent to the gulag to mine hold at Kolyma.

He was still a prisoner when he worked on missiles for the Red Army, only being released in 1944. The charges against him were only dismissed in - wait for it - 1957, a year after launching the first ICBM and the year he put the first satellite in orbit.

[1] one of whom was his former friend Valentin Glushko, the genius behind many Soviet rocket engines. Korolev never forgave him, the two men constantly feuded over the direction of rocket development and slowed the Soviet space programme after its early successes. One consequence of which was that Korolev’s Soviet N1 Moon rocket didn’t use Glushko engines. Forced to use novel, and almost completely untested engines, it couldn’t lift enough payload and all four launches failed.


His work catapulted Soviet biology decades behind that in the West. A ban on Mendel’s theory of genetics wasn’t lifted until Lysenko himself was removed from power in the mid 1960s.

Russia being Russia of course, Lysenkoism has been creeping back into the ‘scientific’ discourse for patriotic reasons:



Vavilov was not only ‘the future pride of Russian science’ but an especially agreeable person, belonging ‘to a category of people of whom you won’t hear a bad word from anybody at all’.

Which is exactly why an insecure and jealous sh*tbag like Lysenko, who understood his own incompetence, would go after Vavilov the moment he got power. As one of the most horrible members of a homicidal regime, Lysenko was no doubt the sort to have a particular hatred of a man who was his better in every way.

Perhaps one of Putin’s useful idiots will show up here to explain how it’s just Russia trying to assert its scientific greatness in the face of a Western scientific conspiracy.


Vavilov v. Lysenko and the Soviet Seed Bank was covered in an episode of the new Cosmos.


The story of Vavilov and Lysenko is covered really well in a two part episode of Behind the Bastards. Part One: The Russian Scientist Who Helped Kill 30 Million People - Behind the Bastards | iHeartRadio Part Two: The Russian Scientist Who Helped Kill 30 Million People - Behind the Bastards | iHeartRadio


Lysenko has Twenty-First Century heirs in the people whose political theory establishes that masks don’t prevent covid transmission.


By the way, according to a 1926 study by Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov traced Apples to the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan, finding the parent trees in valleys protected from glaciers during the last ice age. Bears had carried the seeds from the mountains to the valleys in their scats, & people found the trees & fostered them. I can’t complain now if the bears take some of my apples: after all, they gave them to us. (cf. S.B. Morrow, Wolves & Honey/2004. p. 82)

A tidbit I found.


But the irony is Russia did have real scientific heroes that they can celebrate in a way that would be both be honoring science and their history – Dimitri Mendeleev, who created the periodic table of elements. Nikolai Vavilov, who has noted was an leading early geneticist. Ivan Pavlov, who created much of early experimental psychology. And my favorite, Ilya Mechnikov, who not only discovered innate immunity, but championed the importance of the microbiome.


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.