Essay Cold War Rhetoric of the Lysenko Era

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The Cold War Rhetoric of the Lysenko Era

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union forced its biologists to support the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, which opposed the conventional theory of genetics accepted by the scientists in America and most of the world. This theory that environmentally induced changes to an organism’s physical or biochemical traits could be passed on to its offspring was the main tenet in Lamarck’s work during the early 1800s. It was accepted by most biologists during Lamarck’s time, until the work of Darwin on evolution by natural selection in the mid-1800s and the discovery of Mendel’s work on heredity in the early 1900s lead most biologists to discount Lamarck’s theory. However, in 1948,
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A Soviet scientist, Medvedev, argues that the dominance of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union was caused by “the classification of science as bourgeois or proletarian, the government’s aim to increase agricultural production, the censorship in the press, the isolation of Soviet scientists, and the Soviet’s centralization of science” (247-252). Joravsky, an American scholar, discounts Medvedev’s argument on the influence of Marxist theory and emphasizes Lysenko’s appeal to improving collectivized agriculture (The Lysenko Affair 228). Soyfer, a recent Russian scientist, adds that Lysenko’s appeal to Stalin’s personal interests and views may have caused his popularity with the state (Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science 202). However, these scholars focus on the forces operating within the Soviet Union, and give little consideration to the larger Cold War climate. The rhetoric of Lysenko’s speech and other texts produced during the time shows that the Cold War had a profound influence on how ideas were interpreted. The Cold War environment may have motivated the Soviet state to support Lysenko’s theory because it conflicted at a fundamental level with the biological theory accepted in America and promised to propagate nationalist pride by…

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