< Things: Nepotism Edition
Things: Non-Nepotism Edition >

[Comments] (3) You Promised Lots Of Bread But All We Got Was Your Heel: I was a little discombobulated reading a Ken Macleod weblog entry where he said that "Lysenko's theories did not lead to the deaths of millions." I generally trust Ken Macleod on what did and did not lead to the deaths of millions, but I'd somehow got this same idea in my head despite having read a whole book about Trofim Lysenko. What happened?

Since reading the book I'd conflated Lysenkoism, a mainly postwar phenomenon, with the famines in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, which did kill millions. The book, The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko by Zhores A. Medvedev, says this about the effects of Lysenkoism:

The controversy directly affected the fate of thousands of Soviet scientists and the character of secondary and higher education in biology, agriculture, and medicine [by making it suck].

No mention of a famine. This is one of those books that couldn't get published in the Soviet Union despite being all conciliatory and "Come, comrades, let us further the cause of socialism by not founding our biology on dumbass theories of evolution!" So it probably wouldn't mention a famine if there had been one--not classy. But although there were periodic food shortages throughout the lifetime of the Soviet Union, the big famines were pre-Lysenko, and the periodic shortages didn't stop post-Lysenko.

Lysenko was responsible for setting Soviet agricultural science back about twenty years, and I suspect that had a spillover effect that led to the Soviet Union needing to import grain. And if you had some magic way of calculating the excess deaths due to Lysenkoism you'd get a lot, but not in the millions, and few by direct causation.

I can't find my favorite line from the book, which is someone arguing that although the capitalist world subscribes to non-Lysenko theories of potato husbandry, "I think a capitalist, too, enjoys a good potato."

Update: I never explicitly mentioned how fascinating Rise and Fall is, but it... is. That's why it's one of about five books I've held on to since college. Highly recommended. Also, searching reveals there was a story in July 1954's F&SF called "The Lysenko Maze", by Donald Wollheim. Wonder what that was about. Also, Donald Wollheim was the guy who published those unauthorized versions of Lord of the Rings in the 1960s.


Comments:

Posted by Evan at Thu Jun 12 2008 22:54

a capitalist enjoys a good potato, and a boy will eat ivy..

(i don't recall where the second part is from)

Posted by Brendan at Sat Jun 14 2008 02:00

I enjoy the title of this post.

Posted by Leonard at Sat Jun 14 2008 09:06

Then you'll also enjoy the "East Side Story" parody from MAD in the 60s, which pitted the Reds against the West.


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