I used to have a theory that you could deduce a writers political allegiance from the words and phrases they used. This provided a sport for me and some friends as we would attempt to deduce the political party membership of speakers. It didn’t work very well with the mainstream parties but we were quite successful with the minor parties. For example “at the end of the day” was often used by New Zealand First members and “the reality of the situation” by members of the Socialist Unity Party.
Francis Wheen, in his book: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, describes a similar situation during the early period of the Thatcher’s Tory government in the UK. He says that people were wise to cover their ears and run away whenever politicians or commentators of the day used the word paradigm as it was an indication of dishonest, and often inhuman, policies. We had the same thing here in the 1980s with the phrase “there’s no other way.”
I react the same way to the words “paradigm,” “materialism,” “naturalism,” “Darwinist,” and “Darwinism.” They usually indicate to me a dishonest attempt to attack science and/or impose anti-scientific ideas.
The dogmatism of Lysenko
I have been reading about Lysenko and Lysenkoism in the USSR and realise that similar dogmatic words and phrases were used to attack genuine science there. Lysenko was advancing pseudo science and attacking genetics during the Stalin and Khrushchev periods. Political support enabled him to suppress biological science with disastrous consequences for the country and individual scientists (Peter Pringle’s The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov gives the story of one of his victims).
In 1964 Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet scientists managed to prevent the election of Nikolai Nuzhdin (a Lysenkoist) as full member of the Soviet Academy of Science (see Andrei Sakharov: Memoirs). Sakharov said, in his speech,:
“Together with Academician Lysenko, he is responsible for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning , and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.
I urge you to vote against Nuzhdin.”
When Lysenkoists launched a counter attack Sakharov copmpalined to Khrushchev. Despite a personal relationship with Sakharov, Khrushchev was still imbued with Stalinist dogmatism in this area and defended Lysenko. Arguing with his daughter, Rada, Khrushchev complained of unfair treatment of Lysenko by “anti-scientific Weissmanist-Morganist idealists” (see William Taubman: Khrushchev: The Man and His Era). (In a spooky parallel with today’s US Republican Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Khrushchev also criticised geneticists for working with fruit flies instead of cows!)
Shortly after, Khrushchev was deposed, Lysenko’s position eroded and formally purged scientists were reinstated.
Lysenkoism – creationism parallels
The anti-science ravings of Khrushchev and the Lysenkoists parallels almost exactly the tactics of today’s creationists:
- They labelled honest scientists as Weissmanists and Morganists – creationists use the Darwinist label.
- They accused scientists of idealism – creationists accuse them of materialism.
It’s interesting how similar the dogmatism of the Soviet Lysenkoists and today’s creationists is.