Feb 3, 2017

Bringing it all Together: Lysenko, Lamarckism, and the Midwife Toad

Three concepts. Three terms I was KIND OF, vaguely, familiar with. But, until today, did not realize connected up in a neat package with a bow on top.

It was today, you see, that I read Chapter 10 of Betrayers of the Truth. Betrayers is an early 80s expose' of Science as actually practiced. Science, in all its human ambition, hubris, fraud and deceit. It's a curious book, written by some mainstream science writers, but attacking the sacred myths of mainstream science: objectivity, professional integrity, peer review, the scientific method, and all the rest. They tear Science a new one, basically.

One might ask, What's their game, exactly, here? Biting the hand that feeds them, it would seem. Are they a limited hangout of some sort, or propping up some other myths? Perhaps so, but they raise

some interesting points, which brings us to the title of this blog post.

I've come across this idea of "Lysenkoism" in the Soviet Union numerous times, so I had some idea that it represented scientific corruption under a corrupt state. The book fills in the details. Basically:

There was this guy named Lysenko, a "crank" Soviet scientist, but the state favored him over the "real" scientists, you see, and cowed everyone into toeing the Lysenko line --- that's the gist of it.

Lamarck, of course, was rehashed in every science class I ever took as Darwin's joke of a competitor, the guy who thought giraffes' constant neck-stretching led Nature to go ahead and give their baby giraffes some longer necks, already. Via some scientific mechanism of course: maybe they had phlogiston in their necks, that sensed all that stretching. Or was phlogiston some other place-holder substance?

Anyway. What a fruit-loop, that Lamarck. Obviously Darwin was the better theorizer; he had that ape-like brow and giant God-like white beard. What did Lamarck have? Probably some effete French pompadour and ruffled collar.

And then the Midwife Toad: Maybe slightly more obscure than the other two concepts, but I did know that Arthur Koestler wrote a book called The Case of the Midwife Toad. I didn't know what the damn case involved, or why the toad was a "midwife." But I certainly liked the title. Every time I encountered it I'd think, "That might be interesting to read some day. Find out what's up with that midwife toad." But, it never seemed quite pressing enough to get into just at that moment. "Leave the midwife toad for later," I must have thought to myself.

In fact, it turns out that Koestler's book is about a famous case of scientific fraud, in which a researcher claimed to prove Lamarckism through his toad breeding (a note of caution I should think to all you toad breeders who may be reading this.)

Skeptical parties investigated. They looked at the toad's little footsies. Did they have the claimed "nuptial pads", never seen on wild midwife toads? No. The "pads" had been painted on with ink. Distraught, the alleged fraudster shot himself. It was a great fable about how anti-Darwinists make up stories and then die in disgrace.

However, Koestler takes an "anti-" position. He's such a contrarian, you see: he thinks someone else inked the toad footsies, the dude was innocent, but shot himself anyway after being framed.

Obviously Koestler is looking out for us, being skeptical and all, showing us how the mainstream got it wrong with their unthinking indictment. Koestler wants to be fair to Lamarckians! Of course, he is still propping up the whole official story of the "Midwife Toad," in its essentials.

But now to pull the strings of these disparate propaganda narratives together. I guess you could say there's a beauty of sorts to their strange interlocking. "Betrayers" points out that Darwinism and Lamarckism were not just twin dialectics about evolution, but also ideological twins: Darwinism being associated with laissez-faire capitalism, and Lamarckism being the theory of choice for socialists.

Weird, I know, but apparently the thinking was, "If -D- is true, everyone has to duke it out in the marketplace... you know, to be like Nature!" And then the socialists rejoined, "Ah, but if -L- is true, then we have to educate the dumb plebes, so that their children will be born smart instead of stupid (they keep being born stupid as it is.) And then, eventually, everyone will be born worthy, like the rich are now! It will be grand," etc. Or something... It's a little unclear to me. Apparently they thought very little of the poor as is, but held out some hope for them under a Lamarckian worldview, as being potentially improvable.

So, bringing in the toads again, you see how it is now: that toad fraudster guy, he was a socialist of course, in addition to being a scientist. That's why he was so het up about Lamarckism. (God, these propagandists! What tangled webs they weave!)

Apparently his line of thinking was something like: "I want to help the little people; okay, I'll believe in Lamarckism, and try to prove it in my science; hey, you got any toads?"

So then too, the sci-guys trying to discredit him were ideologically driven as well: "Don't prove Lamarckism or we'll have to educate the poor! And, like, do other socialist stuff!

"F---, if you prove Lamarck, we'll paint some ink on your toads, and drive you out of the field in disgrace... and that's no 'croak'!"

Hey, I just tell you what they told me. It doesn't make much sense to me either, but there you go.

And of course, Lysenko. Well, the Soviets were very keen on Lamarckism, because, see above: it dove-tailed nicely with that whole communist revolution they had going on. Their education commissar even made a propaganda film about the anti-capitalist toad (okay, they made it a salamander for the movie; you know how movies play fast and loose with source material.)

The gist of the film was this: capitalist pig scientists "ink up" a salamander, to smear a good lefty scientist. He thinks of killing himself, but instead gets a call from the Russkies: "Hey baby, come East! Come chill with us in Moscow and drink some vodka, and breed toads over here, baby! We LOVE Lamarck.. he's our man!"

Come to think of it though, I'm not sure exactly where Lysenko fits in. Was he a Lamarckian? Maybe, but all we really know is, he had a lousy method for growing wheat, and if you spoke up about it, you might lose your cushy government science gig.


  1. Tangled webs, indeed! Apparently, there can never be too many tangled webs, and especially if they involve frogs...er...toads.

    I come here for the art, but I stay for the dialogue. Since my last visit here, your have been inculcating the world in the finer points of toad socialism, I see. Very nice, Mister Rocks. Very nice, indeed!


    Be that as it may, I need a drink, now - and I don't even drink.

    This blog site is a respite for me from the harshness of reality. Did I mention that I finally bought some more Styrofoam cups?

    Well, I did. I most certainly did. Not the most environmentally-friendly decision that I've ever made, no doubt, and while I never really cared for them as a kid, having passed GO and collected my two hundred dollars - which is apparently still the initiation fee to get into the Club of Adulthood, I have found that Styrofoam is one of those things that just seems to grow on you, as an adult.

    Now, I know what you're thinking, Tim. It's Tim, right? Do you mind if I call you Tim? Like I was saying...WAIT...allow me to interject that Styrofoam must, of necessity, be capitalized. And here I was, just polluting the place up with non-capitalized Styrofoam cups. The blasphemy of it all!

    Anyway, I seem to have lost my train of thought. If you happen upon it, then please do return it to me on my next visit.

    If it doesn't prove to be too much of a disruption to your Lamarckian frogs and what not.

    Eh? What's that??

    But of course - Toads! Lamarckian toads, not frogs, be they of the Lamarckian or of the Darwinian kind.

    Sayyyyy...Didn't this place use to be a blog about art?

    Have you considered just giving up art, altogether, and focusing your efforts wholly upon literature of the obscure?

    The mirror of convenience that I have painted for you to look into aside, your writing has a strong flavor of dialogue to it - even when you aren't engaged in dialogue proper. This place is like a crazy carnival with some homemade rides - rides that you just know have to be bad for your safety, if you dare board them.

    You've planted art, and up springs all manner of words. Which, Mister Rocks, are the weeds, and which are the flowers?

    Your purpose, Mister Rocks? What is it? Multi-faceted, obviously, but what lies at its core?

    That image of that toad, above. It reminds me of a fairy tale type of 78 RPM big record album, from my days of early youth. Froggy went a courtin', if I remember correctly.

    My vacation is over. Be sure to enjoy your day, Mister Rocks!

    1. Well now I'm confused too, but it sounds like you enjoyed the essay so I'm glad of that:-)

      Anyway, Big News coming soon, so stay tuned... I'm just holding off a bit to give my vast readership a chance to digest this toad piece...

    2. Well now I'm confused too, but it sounds like you enjoyed the essay so I'm glad of that:-)

      Anyway, Big News coming soon, so stay tuned... I'm just holding off a bit to give my vast readership a chance to digest this toad piece...

  2. I love the essays almost as much as I enjoy the double posts. Twice as much of the same goodness!

    Confused, eh? Where did I lose you at? It all makes perfect sense, if you understand. Your essays are the same way, I suppose.

    Not that I would know.

    When I was a young kid growing up, we had some of those big old 78 vinyl records. One was a fairy tale song type of record. It's how I leaned who Froggy went a courtin' was. Your posting about toads, so that's what it reminded me of.

    The question asking of you had thought about giving up on art, altogether, was an exercise in sarcasm - sort of. You spend more time writing than drawing, of late, where this blog is concerned. Your art originally brought me here. Yet, having lured me here under false pretenses, now you starve me of your art. I feel like it is World War II, again. You're rationing us, after all.

    The tangled webs quip at the beginning is a tribute to your confusing material. You're WAY OUT THERE, sometimes. Your rocket ship of intellectualism disintegrates. It's interesting stuff, to e certain, but where's the art?

    The Styrofoam cups remark was just me sharing news that I had recently bought some Styrofoam cups to drink out of. The ice in my drink melts slower, when I use the Styrofoam cups. My drink doesn't get watered down from the ice, as quickly, compared to when I drink from other cups. As a kid growing up, though, I didn't really like Styrofoam cups.

    The mirror of convenience is a reference to me asking you, "Have you considered just giving up art, altogether, and focusing your efforts wholly upon literature of the obscure?" In other words, I've prompted you with an easy way out. Just give up art, and focus upon your writing. That's not what I would prefer that you do.

    Where I asked, "You've planted art, and up springs all manner of words. Which, Mister Rocks, are the weeds, and which are the flowers?" I am referring to you create art (planted art, the seeds of art), but what springs up on this blog when I visit it, of late, are words, not art. So, which are the weeds? Your art or your words? I am asking you where your priorities lie, with art or with words? Of late, you seem to desire words more than you desire art. Thus, your art has become weeds to you, of lesser value, as demonstrated by your preference for words over art.

    Or in layman's terms, draw more!

  3. Now it all makes perfect sense...

    I guess you could say I'm on sabbatical from comics at the moment. Trying to get some personal tasks taken care of. I am drawing & inking an old story from c.2012 that was left half-finished. But only in odd hours, more for fun than as a serious project.

  4. I have visited your blog several times, since you announced this "sabbatical" of yours.

    Nothing new to be found here. These are not the droid comics that you're looking for.

    Your fandom boos you.