Lysenko and Global Warming

Cliff Ollier

Paul Johnson (2008) wrote that the greenhouse bandwagon is like Marxist or Freudian science. A better parallel might be with Lysenko pseudo-science.

Lysenko was an insignificant agriculturalist who thought he had a new way of developing crops that would vastly increase food production in the starving Russia of Stalin. It was called vernalisation, and included treating seeds before cultivation to affect their behaviour.

Significantly, Lysenko introduced his ideas first through politics, and had heavy backing. Some think his idea had a Marxist backing, because it claimed biology could be modified in the way that communists wanted to control people's behaviour. The government was anxious to increase food production and quell disturbances amongst the growers, and Lysenko was an adept propagandist and became a cult leader who impressed the peasants.

Lysenko became the head of the Soviet Lenin All Union Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and ran all the nation's research in the area. He promised to triple or quadruple crop yields.

He demonised conventional genetics, which again suited his masters who believed it was the basis behind fascist eugenics.

Opposition to Lysenko was not tolerated, and was labelled 'bourgeois' or 'fascist'. Lysenko used his position to denounce Mendelian geneticists as "fly-lovers and people haters", which had serious consequences. From 1934 to 1940, with Stalin's blessing numerous geneticists were shot, and others exiled to Siberia. Vavilov, for example, a truly great geneticist and biogeographer, was sent to Siberia where he died of starvation in 1943, and Lysenko in person took over his role of Director of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Any survivor of the purge had to keep quiet. In 1948 genetics was officially labelled a 'bourgeois pseudoscience' and genetic research came to a halt. Krushchev also supported Lysenko, but after his departure in 1964 the Academy of Sciences investigated the records and a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. The ban on genetics was lifted in 1965.

When Lysenko denounced Mendelian thought as reactionary and decadent: he also announced that his speech had the approval of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The parallel is that the Global Warming movement was really kicked off by James Hanson, when he gave evidence to a United States Senate Committee in June 1988. Ever since, the IPCC has worked through national and international organisations. Hanson became climate adviser to the US President, to Al Gore and many others including Lehman Brothers, who saw carbon emission trading as a new business opportunity. The IPCC claims its reports are written by 2500 scientists, but in fact they are written by only about 35, controlled by an even smaller number.

Opposition to Global Warming is likened to denial of the Holocaust. We are repeatedly told that there is no debate---hardly a scientific approach. The influence of the IPCC spread throughout the administration, and it became increasingly difficult to get research funding without being a believer in global warming.

Why would governments be persuaded to follow this idea before it was scientifically evaluated? One reason may be that there was a rising tide of what some have likened to a new religion---Environmentalism. Of course no politician wants to be seen as 'anti-environment', nor lose the votes of the Greens. The Greens, for their part, are happy to follow the climate-change line because it gives them enormous political power. As a minor party they hold the balance of power, and the major parties dare not offend them.

The propaganda machine of the IPCC is magnificent, with its greatest tool being the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth. It still has enormous impact, although the High Court in Britain did decide it could not be shown in schools without comment because it contained major errors. I suspect this film was the reason the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Al Gore and the IPCC. Another propaganda hit was the "Hockey Stick Graph", purporting to show temperature was rising at an ever-increasing rate. This has been totally discredited, but it still seems to be branded on the collective mind of politicians and the public. Much Government propaganda has been lent to support Global Warming, and major media outlets such as the BBC in Britain have chosen to join in on the Global Warming side.

Climate change, like Lysenkoism, is much easier to understand than the complexities of real science. This appeals to the public and also to politicians and other influential people who can talk as if they understand it. If questioned about details they refer back to the IPCC reports.

So-called "independent reports" on climate change have been produced by Nicholas Stern in Britain and Ross Garnaut in Australia. Both Stern and Garnaut make it plain they are not scientists and have based their conclusions on the IPCC reports. Yet both continue to make public statements warning about the increasing dangers of climate change as if they were experts. This merely keeps their reports in the public eye, and echoes the flawed science of IPCC Global Warming.

At a lower level, without the need for evidence, everything can be blamed on Global Warming---droughts, floods, malaria, hurricanes and even cooling! The IPCC rhetoric continues although their predictions failed to come true, just as Lysenkoism continued when the promised crop increases never arrived. The IPCC forecast ever-increasing temperatures, but global temperatures have become lower since 1998. They have now put off Global Warming for 15 years because some other factor has intervened. Their models did not predict this event, but such detail does not affect the faithful.

Some scientists sided with Global Warming in the early days, and are so committed they cannot get off the bandwagon. Others worked for the IPCC, but resigned when they realised how their work was being twisted, or that real science did not support the claims that were made. Luckily we do not have the equivalent of Siberia to deal with them. The Global Warming affair has already lasted twenty years, and many administration and scientific research centres have sprung up---most of the latter being computer simulators. Computer simulation has a part to play in science, but it should not replace observation, and hypothesis testing and falsification. There are now Departments of Climate Change, for which read "Departments of Global Warming Blamed on Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide"

We should not forget the basic fact, that the one villain in the piece, and the one that is costing billions of dollars, is anthropogenic carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of 'vernalisation' in the Lysenko era.

In summary, the comparisons between Lysenkoism and Global Warming are:

1. Work first through political organisations.
2. Claim that the science is settled. There is nothing to debate.
3. Disregard or deny all the accumulating evidence that the predictions are wrong.
4. Demonise the opposition (Mendelian geneticists; deniers of Global Warming).
5. Victimise the opposition (execution and exile; loss of jobs or research funds).
6. Relate to a current ideology (Stalinism; Environmentalism).
7. Support a vast propaganda machine.
8. Create a huge bureaucracy where many people have careers dependent on the ruling concept.

The parallel is expressed nicely by Helena Sheehan, who wrote of Lysenkoism: "What went wrong was that the proper procedures for coming to terms with such complex issues were short-circuited by grasping for easy slogans and simplistic solutions and imposing them by administrative fiat."

Lysenkoism was eventually replaced by real science. The same will happen to Global Warming eventually, because real science will not go away.


Paul Johnson, 'The Nonsense of Global Warming', Forbes Magazine. 6 October, 2008.

Helena Sheehan, Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (Humanities Press International). 1993

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