, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 415-442
Date: 17 Jun 2011

Defending Scientific Freedom and Democracy: The Genetics Society of America’s Response to Lysenko

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Abstract

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the leaders of the Genetics Society of America (GSA) struggled to find an appropriate group response to Trofim Lysenko’s scientific claims and the Soviet treatment of geneticists. Although some of the leaders of the GSA favored a swift, critical response, procedural and ideological obstacles prevented them from following this path. Concerned about establishing scientific orthodoxy on one hand and politicizing the content of their science on the other, these American geneticists drew on democratic language and concepts as they engaged in this political issue. The relatively weak statements that did emerge from the GSA attracted little attention in the scientific or popular press. The intensely politicized atmosphere of American science complicated the GSA’s task, as domestic concerns about protecting democracy were beginning to constrain academic freedom. In the context of American Cold War culture, Lysenko became just one example of the dangers the Cold War world presented to scientific freedom.