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PJ Media encourages you to read our updated PRIVACY POLICY and COOKIE POLICY.

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Lysenkoism and Climate Science Heresy

There are lessons to be learned from history. In the 1930s, an obscure agronomist named Lysenko promised amazing agricultural results based on a theory of genetics that was, at best, unusual. Lysenko’s theory completely contradicted the orthodox Mendelian view of genetics, but his predictions were politically convenient to Stalin, both because they promised enough food for everyone and because they fit with the communist theology of an arising species of new socialist men who would fit into the new socialist paradise.

Lysenko rose rapidly in prominence and reputation — at least in the Soviet Union. Disputing Lysenko’s theories became dangerous. Geneticists who persisted in the orthodox Mendelian view were eventually either forced to recant or punished. Some were imprisoned, some were executed, and some simply disappeared.

Science has evolved a whole system of publication, peer-review, and challenge-and-review around the effort to make sure that scientific results can be trusted. Not "proven" in the sense most people understand the word, but at least trusted, and it depends on that famous Russian proverb, "Trust, but verify."

For science to work, for us to be able to both trust and verify, disagreements must be published and discussed openly. In the Soviet Union, under Lysenko, that was no longer the case, and Soviet science suffered from it for decades.

Sadly, it's not always true in the United States either. The science underlying nutrition has suffered for many years from the difficulty dissenting results have had getting published, and the pressure on researchers to conform to the "consensus view." Gary Taubes, in Good Calories Bad Calories, and Nina Teicholz, in The Big Fat Surprise, have both documented this extensively.

Science, thankfully, is self-correcting, and the conventional view is changing as scientists like Eric Westman of Duke show that reducing carbs and increasing fats are effective treatments for a number of nutritionally related problems like obesity and Type 2 diabetes. But while science eventually self-corrects, individual scientists' lives and life work can be destroyed. Not too long ago, Walter Willett, at the time the chair of the Department of Nutrition in Harvard's School of Public Health and still a professor there, was severely criticized in two articles in Nature. According to the second article:

Public-health experts, including Willett, have spent decades emphasizing the risks of carrying excess weight. Studies such as Flegal's are dangerous, Willett says, because they could confuse the public and doctors, and undermine public policies to curb rising obesity rates.

In other words, Willett objected to results that called into question the "simple message" he and others had been trying to convey.

This is important to the actual people involved because Willett, as a very respected, widely cited expert, had a lot of impact on things like funding and promotion. Saying publicly that someone's research is "really a pile of rubbish, and no one should waste their time reading it," could be the kiss of death.