[OPE-L] The Lysenko Effect by Nils Roll-Hansen

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Dec 16 2004 - 11:56:30 EST

Argument draws from Dominique Lecourt's analysis of damaging effects
of Bogdanov's and Bukharin's proletkult and instrumentalist
philosophy of science. Less sympathetic to dialectics than, say,
Levins and Lewontin.

The Lysenko Effect

The Politics of Science
Nils Roll-Hansen
Control of Nature
Series Editors: Morton L. Schagrin, SUNY College at Fredonia
Michael Ruse, Florida State University
Robert Hollinger, Iowa State University
"Roll-Hansen provides an intense re-examination of the Lysenko
controversy introducing materials from previously inaccessible
archives and from the public press and popular scientific journals
not utilized in earlier accounts. ... he adds an important new
interpretation of this devastating phase of Soviet science. His bold
conclusions and their links to recent science - society debates are
sure to create discussion and controversy among students of the
social role and social structure of science...".
Everett Mendelsohn
Professor of the History of Science
Harvard University
Ukrainian agronomist T. D. Lysenko (1898-1976) was the leader of an
influential Soviet agrobiological school that rejected standard
genetics and instead promoted a brand of pseudoscience that held sway
among Soviet biologists for over twenty-five years. The dominance of
Lysenko's pseudoscientific ideas has been characterized as the
biggest scandal of 20th-century science. That it happened under a
regime that took particular pride in building its policy on science
makes the affair particularly interesting, even for Western observers
free from totalitarian governments. The Soviet Union was the first
country with a government policy and large-scale public support for
science. Agricultural science was a main showcase for this
unprecedented investment in science.

In this in-depth study of Lysenkoism, historian of science Nils
Roll-Hansen seeks to understand how Soviet biology went so wrong.
Unlike other scholars who have studied Lysenko's influence,
Roll-Hansen argues that the corruption of Soviet biology should not
be explained primarily as the result of Stalin's despotism and the
willful intervention of party hacks into the objective methods of
science. Because of ideological and economic pressures to produce
tangible benefits to society, says Roll-Hansen, Soviet biology, under
Lysenko's leadership, succumbed to a wishful-thinking syndrome, which
paved the way for Lysenko. By such thinking scientific objectivity
was compromised in favor of ideas that accorded with progressive
political ideals and economic goals as determined by the ruling
politburo. Roll-Hansen draws provocative parallels between Lysenko's
bad science in mid-20th-century Russia and attempts by Western
theorists today to construe science in social constructivist terms or
to exercise political control over scientific research.
Based on archival materials not previously accessible, The Lysenko
Effect is both a valuable contribution to the history of science and
an instructive case study in the ways in which ideals of social
progress can skew the results of objective science in any society.

Nils Roll-Hansen (Oslo, Norway) is professor of history and
philosophy of science at the University of Oslo, the author of The
Freedom and Necessity of Science: Pasteur's Theories in Growth and
Decline and the editor (with Gunnar Broberg) of Eugenics and the
Welfare State.

PAGES: 335 pp   COMMENTS: Notes, References, Index
ISBN: 1-59102-262-2     BINDING: Paperback
PRICE: $25      SIZE: 6 x 9
CATEGORY: Humanity Books

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Dec 17 2004 - 00:00:01 EST