Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monsanto, Lysenko--two birds of a feather?

Last night I stumbled on the following:

     “Imagine a biologist listed Lysonky as an acknowledgement on an evolutionary biology paper. His version of evolutionary biology was a causative factor in the Soviet famines.”

It’s in a blog called “Random Rationality” and the page has the elevating title, “Pigs, GMOs and Bullshit” (http://randomrationality.com/2013/06/12/pigs-gmos-bullshit/).  I blinked.  What was this?  I’d never heard of Lysonky.  Quick, John, the Google!

Which seemed unpromising.  The first two hits referred to a town in Kentucky called Lyson (Lyson KY, get it?).  The next few were incomprehensible.  It wasn’t till more than halfway down the page that I found…Random Rationality!  That, and another Monsantoite blog that quoted RR verbatim were the only hits that listed Lysonky.  No-one called Lysonky seems ever to have existed.

Something’s wrong somewhere, I thought, for this is on Random Rationality, and no less an authority than Mary Mangan PhD has declared that “It’s hard to find this level of quality discussion on this topic around the internet, where murky misinforming fear-mongers overwhelm the discussions.”  And then I got it.   Of course!  The author meant Lysenko—the man who singlehandedly set back Soviet biology by thirty years. It was too convoluted a misspelling to be a typo—just Random Rationality maintaining its high level of quality discussion. Context: the author that Random Rationality was trying to skewer had acknowledged two prominent anti-GMO figures, Jeffrey Smith and Arpad Putzai, in her paper.  In other words, RR was trying to say that Smith and Putzai are modern versions of Lysenko: unscientific anti-GMO propeller-heads whose policies if followed would result in disastrous famines. 
But RR committed a second and far more damaging blooper in those two sentences.  The Russian famine was in 1932-33.  According to Wikipedia, “in 1928, Trofim Lysenko, a previously unknown agronomist, claimed to have developed an agricultural technique, termed vernalization, which tripled or quadrupled crop yield by exposing wheat seed to high humidity and low temperature.”  He’d have had to work pretty fast to cause a nationwide famine within four years of making his first claim.  It was only after the famine that he achieved the degree of power necessary before he could influence Soviet agricultural policy.  Indeed, far from “his version of evolutionary biology” being “a causative factor in the Soviet famines”, it was the famine of 1932-3 that caused his version of evolutionary biology to rise to the top.  The Soviets were desperate to resolve their agricultural crisis—Lysenkoism was a straw but they clutched it anyway.

It was very short-sighted of Monsantoites to bring up Lysenko.  But now that they have, let’s look at why the comparison is so bad for them.  There are far too many disturbing parallels between what Monsanto and Big Ag in general are doing and what Lysenko and his followers were doing, so many that you start asking yourself where the differences are.

Or even if there are any differences.

Lysenkoites acted to address a crisis.  Monsantoites are acting to address a crisis.
The crisis Lysenkoites acted to address was a shortage of food in the USSR.  The crisis Monsantoites claim to be trying to address is a shortage of food in many regions of the world.

The crisis in the USSR resulted not from inability to grow enough food but from purely political factors (in this case, attempts by Communists to collectivize agriculture).  The crisis in today’s world results not from inability to grow enough food but from purely political factors (in this case, a world politico-economic system that keeps a large part of the world in poverty and without a viable infrastructure).

Communist politicians could not tackle the real causes of the food shortage for ideological reasons (to do so would have put an end to their policy of ending private ownership).  Modern democratic politicians cannot tackle the real causes of the food crisis for ideological reasons (to do so might mean interfering with the free market economy to which they subscribe, something that the corporate interests--without whose money they couldn’t get elected—wouldn’t like at all).

Lysenkoism did result in what Wikipedia calls “marginally greater food production on the farms”.  Monsantoism may well lead to “marginally greater food production on the farms”—the jury’s still out on that one.

In the USSR, the party-controlled media “applauded Lysenko's ‘practical’ efforts and questioned the motives of his critics.”   In the USA, the corporate-controlled media applaud the Monsantoites’ “practical” efforts and question the motives of their critics.

Lysenkoism claimed to be scientific, but wasn’t.  Monsantoism claims to be scientific, but isn’t (much more on that in subsequent posts).

In the USSR, Lysenkoism produced many negative consequences, including an immense setback for the biological sciences and the persecution and even execution of its critics.  In the world today, Monsantoism has produced many negative consequences and will surely produce many more.  It persecutes its critics to the extent to which it is able.  Even if we leave aside (until Swanson et al. is tested) the lasting damage it has caused to health and to the environment, there is the damage it will do not only to agriculture but to the whole of culture if it isn’t stopped (see my next post).

A government in bed with Lysenkoites completed the collectivization of the USSR’s farms.  Governments in bed with Monsantoites will complete the industrialization of the world’s farms, and in so doing will irrevocably change for the worse the nature of life for billions of people.  You’ll see what I mean in the next post when we confront the seemingly simple question, what is a farmer?

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