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.