Chapter 6: Science and its Social and Political Context
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. John Stuart Mill Perhaps the best-known modern example of how politics can contaminate the conduct of science was Soviet geneticist Troﬁm Lysenko’s rejection of the ‘dangerous’ Western concepts of Mendelian and Darwinian genetics and evolution in favour of somewhat bizarre Lamarckian views that, under a socialist system, cows could be trained to give more milk and their oﬀspring would then inherit these traits. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle had received similarly short shrift in Soviet science. Claus and Bolander have noted the key features of what is now known as Lysenkoism, and many can be seen in the politicized science of today: a necessity to demonstrate the practical relevance of science to the needs of society; the amassing of evidence as substitute for causal proof as the means of demonstrating the ‘correctness’ of the hypotheses; ideological zeal supplanting devotion to science, so that dissidents could be silenced as enemies of the truth. Manipulating data to support the ideological cause was permissible, since this was a higher truth (Claus and Bolander, 1977; see also Cole, 1983). But a close relationship between politics and science is something on which the political Left does not have a monopoly. Lysenkoism might appear to be a rather extreme example of social and political factors inﬂuencing the conduct of science, but there is ample evidence that much of the science relating to environmental problems is at least at risk of being...
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