Who’s stamping out science today? It is, of course, safe here and now to dump on old Soviet Trofim Lysenko:
Lysenko was opposed to the idea of a “substance of heredity,” or genes, explains Loren Graham, a historian of science and professor emeritus at MIT. Instead, Lysenko believed, as had been suggested by some scientists in previous centuries, that plants and other organisms acquired their characteristics by responding to their environments, and that those acquired traits could be inherited by subsequent generations through some nongenetic mechanism. The practical implication, Lysenko argued, was that plants could be trained to develop desirable traits in just a couple of generations. His best-known technique, “vernalization,” involved treating seeds from winter-growing, frost-sensitive plants with moisture and cold to trigger development in the spring—something he believed would become a permanent trait and boost yields…
As his popularity grew, he eliminated rivals. Respected geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, who had mentored Lysenko and ran the Academy of Agricultural Sciences before Lysenko took over, was arrested in 1940 after Lysenko and allies complained of his “anti-Soviet” views. Vavilov loyalists were dismissed, imprisoned, or executed; Vavilov starved to death in prison in 1943. Lysenko’s infamous 1948 address accelerated his takeover: scores of Russian geneticists were subsequently fired—some committed suicide or fled abroad—and criticism of so-called Lysenkoism became impossible…
Lysenkoism has since become almost synonymous with political oppression of science. But recently, some of Lysenko’s proclamations have been exhumed in the context of epigenetics and nongenetic mechanisms of inheritance. Some Russian academics claim his 1948 speech was misunderstood, and that he was really a pioneer of developmental biology—arguments that scientists and historians view as grave misrepresentations.Catherine Offord, “Stamping Out Science, 1948” at The Scientist
Excuse us. From this distance, to whatever extent Lysenko thought epigenetics was a feature of life forms, he was right. To whatever extent Darwinians opposed the idea, they were wrong. The rest is totalitarianism, whether of Lysenkoists or Darwinists.
The public-health consensus around COVID-19 and the proper or necessary interventions to take against it shifts all the time. This consensus shapes public policy and leaks out into respectable mainstream news outlets; most insidiously, it becomes encoded as a quasi-official public line that every individual on social media is obliged to repeat and share or else be subject to demonetization, warnings, censorship, and accusations of spreading disinformation. The polarization of our politics and of public-health elites has left us with two categories of thought on COVID: the Science, and dangerous (sometimes racist) conspiracy theories. Half the time, the conspiracy theories become the Science. Belief in the efficacy of masks or in the lab-leak theory made these transitions. But these shifts don’t happen upon the publication of credible new scientific studies. There is almost no public jousting and argument among scientists and researchers. There is just a sliding from one position to another when it becomes safe. Long after these shifts take place, CDC guidance often comes to incorporate them.
Credible scientific evidence that outdoor transmission of the coronavirus was negligible was available late in the spring of 2020, even as newspapers were still shaming people about being on beaches and a solo paddleboarder was arrested in California. But CDC guidance on outdoor activities and outdoor mask-wearing didn’t change for a year. We’ve long had evidence that children under twelve are far less likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID than they are from the flu. The scientific evidence is all there in the open that children are basically safe to gather together, but the mysterious scientific consensus hasn’t developed to the point of making it safe to say this in public.Michael Brendan Dougherty, “The Fall of Saint Anthony Fauci” at National Review
And the lab leak theory has always been a reasonable idea, not a conspiracy theory. Yet it was treated as a conspiracy theory for purely political reasons…
We’ll get back to our main interests soon. We’ve focused on this issue because it’s a great teaching opportunity on why “trust the science” is not a wise approach when we have no good reason to trust what goes into the science. That’s true across the board, including the issues we regularly focus on
See also: More on the COVID-19 lab leak theory It’s off topic for ID as such. But it is important for helping people work through a general principle that concerns all issues that pertain to science: “Trust the science” is not a good approach when the science is so clearly not bound by any standards of grappling with the facts of nature. (Darwinism anyone?)