9. When Bad Science Was Elevated to Political Faith
In the Soviet Union of the 1930s and 1940s, criticism of the ridiculous Lamarckian Inheritance theory was treated not as academic, but as political subversion and deviancy. The logical chain was chilling, and lethal: Comrade Stalin endorses Trofim Lysenko. Trofim Lysenko endorses Lamarckism – or at least his take on Lamarckism. You disagree with Lamarckism. Therefore you disagree with Comrade Stalin. It follows that you are a subversive, a Trotskyite, a foreign spy, fascist agent, or capitalist stooge seeking to sabotage the USSR.
Soviet scientists who scoffed at the quackery of Lysenko and his revived Lamarckism were arrested by the dreaded NKVD, the KGB’s predecessor. They were brutally interrogated, tortured, sent to the gulag where many died, or executed outright. Over 3000 mainstream biologists were fired, jailed, arrested, or executed in a campaign instigated by Lysenko to eliminate his scientific opponents. The Soviet Union had once been at the forefront of genetics, but research in that field, which disproved Lamarckian Inheritance and showed up Lysenko as a quack, was wholly abandoned. It was revived until after Stalin’s end in 1953, by which point the Soviets had fallen decades behind.