The Century-Long Quarrel between Politicians and Scientists

The Science and Religion Project at Bard College Berlin provides interested students with an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the history of science, the history of religions, and the issues that arise when the two are considered together. Over the course of the academic year, student fellows participate in a series of seminars led by world-renowned experts. Each student-fellow responds to a seminar in a blog post.

When it comes to major modern crises—climate change, anti-vaxxers, the proliferation of weaponized technology, to name a few—it becomes clear how science and politics are intimately connected to one another. In our discussion with Siarhei Biareishyk, we looked back to the infamous Lysenko affair as a relevant chapter in history in examining questions at the intersection of science and politics. Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist and biologist, started this political campaign against Mendelian genetics and science-based agriculture and instead in support for Lamarckism. Lysenkoism tainted Soviet history of science: a scandalous affair that led to imprisonment and the dismissal of thousands of Soviet biologists in its political campaign to suppress the dissident scientific opinions, in addition to famine and declined crop yields in the USSR. The Lysenko affair is a historical lesson of the potentially detrimental consequence when there is aggressive political intervention in scientific research.  It seems that the pattern of the Lysenko affair is not at all restricted to a certain political atmosphere like under the dictatorship of Stalin. Reflecting on climate change, I hear echoes of the Lysenko affair: how the values of politics meddle in and impede scientific work. To escape this dangerous pattern, I propose that science and politics  should be kept in check in some ethical boundaries to preserve their intrinsic values, paving a new way for their cooperation. 

Click to read more of Vien’s piece and check out other Science and Religion Project posts!

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