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Dr. Ann Livschiz
Department of History, Department of Biology
Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne
Both the United States and the USSR realized the importance of public morale to the Cold War. ‘Winning’ the Cold War hinged on the glorification of all things Soviet or, on the other hand, all things American. The Soviet Union was particularly adept at using a sophisticated system of propaganda to garner popular support and manipulate public perception of both the USSR and the “capitalist” west. This system of propaganda was important to survival of the Soviet Union, and Stalin became proficient in its use. Biology in the Soviet Union had diverged from Western biology just a few decades before the Cold War. Beginning in the 1920s, a plant breeder named Trofim Lysenko began to formulate his own ideas about the nature of heredity. His theories, based on Communist ideology and a then-debunked theory of heredity developed by Jean- Baptiste Lamarck, openly attacked Western genetics. By 1948, conformity with Lysenko’s ideologically useful, though questionable, ideas was enforced by Stalin’s regime. Geneticists who disagreed were persecuted—those who failed to support Lysenko would be imprisoned or sent to a labor camp. This threat created unity among most Soviet scientists, and the subsequent presentation of scientific advance was popularly celebrated as a scientific triumph and indication of the superiority of Soviet science over “capitalist”/Western science. Both the Soviets and the Americans were manipulated by fear of foreign influence—this fear helped to bring about the rise of Lysenko and spurred the American scientific community to form a united front against Lysenko’s ideas. American biologists, driven by the Cold War compulsion to glorify American biology, unified under the idea of “Mendelian” genetics, and praised Gregor Mendel vociferously. The American scientific community had defined its theory of heredity according to how the Soviets viewed it, as “Mendelian-Morganism.” The impact of this exchange, which was shaped by the goals of the Cold War, can still be felt today in how the development of the science of genetics is presented to American students, particularly the emphasis on Mendel.
Arts and Humanities | Biology | History | Life Sciences
Habegger, Rachel, "Lysenkoism: a Triumph of Soviet Science" (2015). 2015 IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium. 28.