In the late 1940's, the world of Russian intellectuals found itself subjected to the political whims and whips of dictator Joseph Stalin and his supporters. Poets, artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians saw their works assailed by the political leaders of their country on the grounds of ideological impurity. Science and its practitioners soon became the next victims. "[T]heoretical physics, cosmology, chemistry, genetics, medicine, psychology and cybernetics were all systematically raked over."1 Denying objective reality as well as objective scientific research, this pogrom "attempt[ed] to change fundamental human attitudes over the whole range of knowledge by the use of naked police power."2 The label given to this politicization of science -- Lysenkoism -- derived from T. D. Lysenko, a Soviet biologist who sought to destroy the science of genetics in the name of Marxism.
In the Soviet Union, scientists who failed to align themselves in the politically correct fashion and accept the new orthodoxy discovered themselves out of work, imprisoned, or consigned to the netherworld of official -- and sometimes physical -- nonexistence. "The triumph of Lysenkoism was the most extraordinary of all the indications of the intellectual degeneracy of the Party mind..."3
While no scientist in our country has been jailed or murdered due to his beliefs, the same insidious seeds of intellectual destruction committed in the name of political agendas have taken root in our society -- and in some instances even been nourished by governmental officials and policies. Under Soviet style Lysenkoism, it became evident that "[w]hen encouraged by the political system, quackery prevailed and 'good' scientists deferred to politically imposed scientific truth."4 In recent years, a similar substitution of politics for reality as one's standard for truth has made itself evident in such areas as environmentalism, economics, and medicine (in its research on gun ownership, cigarettes, and drugs).
The pattern of distortions, omissions, and lies continues to expand in ripples as faulty or fradulent research is selected by politically motivated individuals and used to advance their goals of political control. In press releases and in the halls of government, these falsehoods are passed along to a public which often lacks the knowledge or ability to recognize and refute the pronouncements handed down by the authorities they are instructed to trust. The issue is not simply one of reasonable disagreements over interpretations of data and theories. As did their earlier brethren, the proponents of modern-day Lysenkoism seek "to change...human attitudes...by the use of naked police power," i.e., by appealing to government and its monopoly on force rather than persuasion to achieve their ends.
The most blatant example of this mind-set comes from the field of environmentalism. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) researcher Steven Schneider said that, "We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."5
Given the track record of recent years, many of those in the environmental movement have opted more frequently for the former rather than the latter alternative. Examples of eschewing honesty in favor of political effectiveness abound in this area. A few prime examples include:
The end results of this environmental Lysenkoism have been tax-funded research money funneled towards scientists who accept the official lines on these issues; increased regulations limiting our freedom and violating our property rights even while we suffer needless monetary costs; fatter coffers for the environmental groups who choose to be "more effective than honest" while scaring the public about nonexistent dangers and ignoring more urgent and real problems; more power for such agencies as the EPA; the brainwashing of our children in government schools to accept environmentalist philosophy and falsehoods; a widespread assault on the free market and our industrial society; and a general diminishment in the quality of our lives.
In economic science, Lysenkoism is well documented in any number of publications. Whether considering the effects of minimum wage legislation, taxation, monetary policy, business regulation, monopolies, child labor, zoning, inflation, tariffs and subsidies, free trade, labor policy, banking, public schools, welfare, rent control, social security, or health care, the fallacies, lies, and distortions which continue to find their way into print and public awareness hardly seem to have diminished over the decades. Despite the best efforts of statist economists, however, reality has, perhaps, begun to reassert itself in this realm as people have witnessed the results of implementing politically motivated economic policies. As with environmental Lysenkoism, many of the reasons for the continued presentation of economic falsehoods and their results are the same.
In medicine, unfortunately, the trend seems to be drifting more in the direction of Lysenkoism. Warnings about drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes exaggerate the dangers associated with use of those products and often act as smokescreens for policy suggestions that would usurp more of our freedom and expand the power of the state even beyond its currently bloated boundaries. Groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the American Heart Association adopt many of the same strategies utilized by environmental groups as they seek to impose by governmental edict their vision of a perfect world...while accepting our tax money to help them do so.
Many of the claims of these groups fly in the face of the available evidence.6 For example, assertions that smoking causes lung cancer and coronary artery disease; that it leads to net economic losses for our society; is addictive; occurs because people are ignorant of its dangers; and presents a real danger to nonsmokers from secondhand smoke are either wrong or unproven. Such facts, however, do nothing to diminish the anti-smoking hysteria gripping our nation.
Similar observations can be made regarding research on marijuana, cocaine (and crack-babies), alcohol, and other drugs. If used in excess, any of these substances can cause harm. Yet the claims made by those seeking to ban or limit their availability do not withstand critical observation.
Exorbitant claims are also made in the medical community on the risks of contracting AIDs (acquired immune deficiency disease). Indeed, claims that "anyone" can contract it are greatly exaggerated. For those who do not use shared intravenous drug needles or engage in homosexual sex, the chances of contracting AIDs are minimal. Yet again, tax-funded research dollars and desires to control through political means what some see as undesirable behavior are at stake.
Finally, in a direct assault on a Constitutionally recognized right -- our Second Amendment right to keep and bear firearms -- some medical researchers have apparently decided to "prove" that increased gun ownership means increased death and that only gun control will solve this "problem"...even if they must cite nonexistence sources to bolster their case. Examining recent literature reveals some truly disturbing facts on the state of gun research in the medical community.7
This, of course, is one of the main problems with Lysenkoism, no matter in which era it occurs. Subordinating truth and reality to any cause can only be destructive. While in a free society we can withstand assaults from sloppy, ignorant, or unscrupulous reseachers, that struggle becomes much more difficult when those assaults are sanctioned and supported -- philosophically and financially -- by members of our government. With such government organizations as the CDC and the EPA spreading propaganda rather than promoting truth; with most scientific research funded wholly or in part by the federal government; with politicians using the results of faulty or fradualent research to impose new regulations and legislation on the citizenry and shrink still further the realm of freedom; with falsehoods being repeated as received wisdom in our state-run schools and inculcated in our children; with all of these actions and more occurring, we can see how far our scientific community has travelled down the path towards a modern version of Lysenkoism.
Government has no place engaging in an advocacy that violates its basic purpose of protecting our rights. Researchers who would abandon objectivity and seek to impose by force rather than persuasion their views of the world should take caution. The lion they seek to use in obtaining their own goals can just as easily turn upon them when they least expect it.
1 Paul Johnson, Modern Times, revised ed., 1991, p. 453.
2 Ibid., p. 453.
3 Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, 1990, p. 296.
4 Leonard Cole, quoted in Science Under Siege, Michael Fumento, 1993, p. 347.
5 Quoted in Official Lies, James Bennett and Thomas DiLorenzo, 1992, pp.157-158.
6 As detailed by Bennett and DiLorenzo in Chapter 9, Official Lies.
7 See Don Kates et. al, "Bad Medicine: Doctors and Guns," in Guns: Who Should Have Them? edited by David Kopel, 1995. This article was originally published in somewhat different form in the Tennessee Law Review, vol. 62, 1995, as "Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda."
8 Ibid., p. 236.
9 Ibid., pp. 280, 281.