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Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was Joseph Stalin’s favorite scientist. He rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of a new pseudo-science of hybridization which had strong political appeal to Stalin and his leadership clique. For the better part of a generation, Lysenkoism terrorized the Soviet scientific establishment—it was used to propel highly unqualified figures into the upper reaches of the academy and critical research institutions, because of their political loyalty and not scientific abilities. Andrei Sakharov writes compellingly of Lysenkoism and the damage it did at a critical time in Soviet history, contributing to famines and causing the death of untold thousands and undermining the state’s commitment to science generally.
Reading this morning’s newspapers it was impossible to avoid thinking of Lysenko and thinking of how close we have come to the same menace in America today. Science is viewed as a threat, and it is suppressed or toyed with whenever it is seen as potentially undermining myths on which the Bush Administration seeks to build.
The departing Surgeon General gives compelling evidence of just this.
Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations. The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.
Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.
And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name. “I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said. The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.
In the balance of his testimony, Carmona cited a long series of incidents when he was directed to distort, withhold and revise scientific studies because their conclusions contradicted cherished Bush Administration myths—about homosexuality, AIDS, the dangers of smoking tobacco, and the benefits of smoking marijuana.
But Carmona’s testimony is just one piece of the current puzzle. Some of the more disturbing elements have come out of NOAA and NASA, where data concerning global warming has been routinely manipulated to support an Administration agenda of downplaying the risks associated with this phenomenon.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”