Are Post-Modernists the Most Recent Version of Lysenkoists?

Lysenko was a fraud, who did great harm to Soviet science; and post-modernists?

Posted Jan 12, 2014

I am grateful to Christopher Badcock for his cogent and terrifying account of the Soviet "geneticist," Stalinist boot-licker and scientific fraud, T. D. Lysenko, who did immense damage to mid-century Soviet science. Indeed, it has been suggested that his malign influence may have been substantially responsible for the remarkable failures of Soviet agriculture, leading—among other things—to Nikita Khrushchev's eventual overthrow.

In this regard, I can't help wondering about our own vulnerability—here in the presumably enlightened West—to the pseudo-scientific frauds that have been promoted from European and American universities, under the label of "post-modernism." Although its consequences have been less dire (and certainly, at least to my knowledge—and unlike Lysenko's execrable legacy—non-lethal!) the depradations of post-modernists have also negatively impacted Western science, one again under the guise of political correctness. And as the "Sokal hoax" revealed so dramatically, the purveyors of post-modernist poppycock have typically been no more scientifically informed than the late and justly unlamented Lysenko.

In addition, let's not forget our current crop of modern-day Lysenkoists—the apostles of special creation, aka "intelligent design." Their "science" is grotesquely ill-informed, such that any pretense of empirical validity is readily disproved...and yet, they keep rising from the dead (and in that sense even worse than Lysenko), staggering awkwardly and covered with flies, refusing—with the insistent energy of fundamentalist certitude—to succumb to the light of reason and data.

Lysenko redux.

David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist, long-time Buddhist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, whose most recent book is Buddhist Biology: ancient Eastern wisdom meets modern Western science, just published by Oxford University Press.