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To Intimidate Scientists, No Stalin Is Required


Lysenkoism, anyone? As Jonathan Wells has summarized the Lysenko story here:

Stalin’s favorite scientist was agronomist Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976). In the 1930s and 1940s, Lysenko gained Stalin’s favor with various ill-founded ideas about heredity, and he used his political power ruthlessly to suppress his critics, many of whom lost their jobs and some of whom suffered imprisonment or even death.

Seeking a Biological Basis

Fast forward to 2019. An article from Reuters reports, “Online activists are silencing us, scientists say.” It highlights the severe reaction faced by researchers trying to find psychological rather than medical solutions to chronic fatigue syndrome. Many scientists face abuse and threats from an outraged minority who want there to be a biological basis for symptoms. 

Michael Sharpe, an Oxford University professor, discovered this outrage for himself when he published the results of a study. Reuters notes: 

Sharpe no longer conducts research into CFS/ME treatments, focusing instead on helping severely ill cancer patients. “It’s just too toxic,” he explained. Of more than 20 leading research groups who were publishing treatment studies in high-quality journals 10 years ago, Sharpe said, only one or two continue to do so.

This is crazy. (I mean that metaphorically, not as a psychological or medical diagnosis!)

The campaign to have evidence-backed treatments discredited was “doing a terrible disservice to sufferers from this condition,” said [Simon] Wessely [professor of psychological medicine at King’s College London, former president of Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists]. “Patients are the losers here.”

Yes, It Sounds Familiar

Critics of materialistic evolutionary theory will be all too familiar with this way of silencing unwanted opinions. It doesn’t require the power of a Stalin. Censors can make the atmosphere “toxic” in other ways, with no need for the intervention of a political dictator. All it takes is a certain level of professional abuse or intimidation. Prudent researchers will seek safer ways to exercise their curiosity.

It’s crazy, and a terrible shame. No one wins by preventing scientists from exploring and pursuing the evidence where it leads. Research should not be stifled — whether that’s in the study of biological origins, or in medicine and psychiatry.

Photo: Joseph Stalin, via Wikimedia Commons.