Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov was a Soviet geneticist, botanist and agronomist, and collector of one of the world's largest seed banks, who was sentenced to death in July 1941 for defending scientific truths about genetics. While he escaped his death sentence, he lived the last twenty years of his life in a Soviet labour camp, disgraced and ostracised. His crime was to have criticised
the notion that changes to an organism in its lifetime can be passed on to offspring via genetics. Because Lamarckian inheritance emphasised the importance of the
it was the favoured evolutionary theory among the socialists and communists of the time, and thanks to the advocacy of Trofim Lysenko, scientists who departed from this orthodoxy were shunned, persecuted, and in the case of Vavilov, sent to a gulag. When the siege of Leningrad occurred, Vavilov and a group of botanists who were holed up in a secret vault, famously chose to starve themselves before consuming their seeds, which they were preserving for the sake of humanity. While Vavilov died in obscurity, he is now recognised as one of the greatest Russian scientists of all time.
Thankfully in 2020, geneticists are not forced to conform to pseudoscientific orthodoxies, no communist dictatorship exists in the West, and nobody is at risk of being sent to a labour camp to spend decades of their life in obscurity. Lysenkoism does not prevail, and scientists accept the reality of Mendelian genetics, most of the time. Nevertheless, ideas of environmental determinism do remain surprisingly persistent. Pseudoscientific ideas that deny biological or evolutionary truths are discussed in
on a weekly basis. If you are reading this now, you will be familiar with them. The most recent example we have highlighted was the “controversy” surrounding
JK Rowling for emphasising the reality of biological sex.
Today, another scientist is being persecuted for discussing scientific truths. His name is Stephen Hsu, and he does not work in Russia, or China, but in the United States of America, at Michigan State University. He is being targeted by a Twitter mob and group of post-graduate students for his research and writing, and is being misrepresented and slandered as a “racist” and “sexist” despite condemning racism and sexism repeatedly in his public blog posts and interviews.