The Minister of State for Science and Technology said:
“We are evolving every year, every decade. That’s a fact, whether it’s to the intensity of the sun . . . or to the effects of walking on concrete. Of course, we are evolving to our environment…
But somehow I doubt that the doughty minister has ever heard of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. What Mr Goodyear said has some similarity to Lamarck’s discredited theory that individuals evolve during their lifetime directly in response to their environment, and then pass on those evolved traits to their offspring.
Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, holds that individuals–by some process of mutatation–are born slightly different from others of the same species. If that difference helps an individual to survive it will be passed on to succeeding generations.
Put another way: as opposed to Lamarck (and Mr Goodyear), the environment does not cause the individual to evolve; the individual is born evolved. If that change then helps in the enviroment of the time it will be passed on.
I also doubt that Mr Goodyear has ever heard of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, whose Lamarckian beliefs won the support of Stalin. With the usual horrific results for those who differed:
…the Lysenkoites carried on a campaign against the geneticists that became more and more vicious and more and more slanderous. Scientific and philosophical arguments increasingly gave way to political ones. The pursuit of genetics was spoken of as synonymous with adherence to the cause of reaction …and this was identified with racism and fascism. Yakovlev, one of the highest administrators in Soviet agriculture, referred to genetics as the “handmaiden of Goebbels’ department”. Various geneticists and supporters of genetics were named and accused of sabotage, wrecking, espionage, terrorism, and Trotskyism. Prezent, in a 1937 article, singled out Agol, Uranovsky, and Bukharin as representing the “powers of darkness” opposing the creative direction being taken by Soviet biology. These bandits and Trotskyists had supposedly sold out, wholesale and retail, the interests of Soviet science.
The main target of the campaign was Vavilov, who was becoming ever more resolute and forthright in defending genetics and resisting the forces moving to destroy it. He was identified by the opposition as the main stumbling block standing in the way of complete victory for Lysenko’s views. Vavilov believed the situation was becoming intolerable and complained of Lysenko’s low level of culture, his outmoded scientific views, but most of all about his intolerance and the reprisals that were taken against those who disagreed with him. Vavilov was defiant, despite the danger, and he declared in 1939:
We shall go the pyre, we shall burn, but we shall not retreat from our convictions. I tell you, in all frankness, that I believed and still believe and insist on what I think is right…. This is a fact, and to retreat from it simply because some occupying high posts desire it is impossible.
Vavilov was not being overdramatic. Already he had lost his position as president of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences, succeeded first by A.I. Muralov and then by G.K. Meister. In 1937, each of these in his turn was arrested and in 1938 Lysenko succeeded to the post. In 1938 Vavilov was rebuked by the presidium of the Academy of Sciences for isolating the Institute of Genetics from the trend stemming from Academician Lysenko’s scientific work. Prior to this, a campaign against A.K. Koltsov, director of the Institute of Experimental Biology, had cleared the way for the election of Lysenko as academician.
In 1940, Vavilov was himself arrested, and Lysenko replaced him as director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences. In 1941, Vavilov stood trial and was found guilty of sabotage in agriculture, belonging to a rightist conspiracy, spying for England, and a string of other charges. Although he denied all accusations and the “evidence” consisted of false testimony, he was sentenced to death. After spending several months in a death cell, Vavilov’s sentence was commuted, but he died in prison in 1943 of malnutrition.*
*Vaviloy was posthumously rehabilitated by the USSR Supreme Court in 1955, before the 20th Congress of the CPSU.
More after the jump.
Vavilov was not the only one. The growing ascendancy of Lysenko coincided with the purges that reached into virtually every Soviet institution during 1936 to 1939. Already, before Vavilov’s arrest, the losses among Soviet biologists had been staggering. In 1936, Israel Agol, Max Levin, and Solomon Levit, all communists working in the field of biological theory, were publicly denounced as “enemies of the people” and arrested. With regard to Agol and Levin, the charges involved vague references to “menshevising idealism” and association with a trotskyist conspiracy. As to Levit, the director of the Institute of Medical Genetics, his studies of human heredity had supposedly made him an abettor of nazi doctrines, or so it was declared at a meeting of the science division of the Moscow party organisation, presided over by Amost Kolman. Levit died in prison and his institute was closed. The other two were shot.**
**All three were posthumously rehabilitated, as were a number of other biologists and agricultural specialists who perished during this period.
They were followed by a host of others. Many were arrested. Of these some were shot, while others simply died in prison. Others were witch-hunted, lost their jobs, and were forced into other areas of work. Institutes were closed down. Journals ceased to appear. Books were removed from library shelves. Texts were revised. Names became unmentionable. The 7th international congress of genetics, which was scheduled to be held in Moscow in August 1937 was cancelled. When the congress did take place in Edinburgh in 1939, no Soviet scientists were present, not even Vavilov who had been elected its president…