Regarding the Jan. 26 news article “Freeze on EPA, other agencies may be felt in the Triangle”: The news that research by EPA scientists must “undergo review” before their findings can be released to the public is disturbing for anyone familiar with the history of science.
One thinks of Galileo persecuted for the then heretical view that the earth moves around the sun.
Less well known is the story of Nikolai Vavilov from a more recent time – the early 20th century – when the role of the Inquisition was taken over by a militantly secular regime, Stalinist Russia.
Vavilov was a botanist who studied plants collected from around the world. In the early days of the USSR his research was supported by Lenin. He fell out of favor when Stalin came to power.
The “Red Tsar” was taken by the work of Trofim Lycenko, a proponent of the concept that acquired characteristics can be inherited. Lycenkoism did not produce the increased crop yields it promised, and scientists whose work was based on genetics were persecuted.
Vavilov died in prison of starvation, an ironic fate for a man who hoped to end famine in his country. He was posthumously “rehabilitated,” but Lycenkoism remains a reminder of the dangers of subordinating science to politics.
Lynn Mitchell Kohn