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Yummy Russian Apples

The joy of reading things like a history of Apples often comes in the surprising twists and turns and the connections between seemingly unrelated other things you may be reading. I had in fact just finished reading a biography of Stalin (classy guy I tell ya) and serendipitously my book on apples contains a chapter on the Russian experience with apples. Here is, pardon the pun, a slice:

The peculiar state of Russian plant research is itself a remnant of the troubled history of Soviet science, a recurring echo of the “Vavilov affair” …

As Joseph Stalin tightened his grip on all the institutions of Soviet life, he grew to rely more and more on Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, his brilliant but possessed science adviser. At first Vavilov had been intrigued by Lysenko’s propositions concerning genetic variation and microclimates, but closer examination showed Lysenko to be more an ambitious crackpot than a man of science. Unfortunately, the more that serious biologists rejected Lysenko as an ideologue, the more Lysenko genetics as contrary to Communist thought and the more Stalin began to rely on him. At the height of the national terror surrounding Stalin’s purge trials, scholars and scientists were disappearing from their posts almost daily. Vavilov began to lose his budget. His colleagues, worried for their own survival, began to shun him. A prominent member of Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society, Vavilov ceased to attend international conferences. Throughout, he refused to trim his research, his papers, or his lectures to the Stalinist pattern. Eventually, he was stripped of all positions and imprisoned. In 1943 Vavilov starved to death.

One Response to “Yummy Russian Apples”

  1. Trey says:

    Richard Feynman defined science as the “belief in the ignorance of experts”. I guess Stalin didn’t get the memo.

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