| Outlook |

Follow the Science, Part II: Lysenko’s Ghost

The greatest immediate impact of the subordination of science to “woke” ideology is likely to be felt in the quality of medical education


Trofim Lysenko “probably killed more humans than any scientist in history,” as director of Soviet agriculture under Stalin, according to Sam Kean in the Atlantic. Celebrated by the Soviet press as “the barefoot scientist” — he was illiterate until he was 13 — Lysenko was a devoted Communist who rejected modern genetics on ideological grounds, as reinforcing the status quo by denying the capacity for change. Instead he subscribed to a form of Lamarckianism, and sought to “reeducate” crops by soaking their seeds in freezing water. He was convinced that by such techniques he would soon grow orange trees in Siberia.

Placed in charge of Stalin’s “modernization” of Soviet agriculture, he oversaw a decline in food production, even as the cultivated land increased 163-fold. The famines produced by Stalin’s agricultural policies resulted in the death by starvation of seven million people, and when Lysenko’s methods were introduced by Communist China in the late 1950s, 30 million more died of starvation.

Nor was the subordination of Soviet biology to ideology  a singular example. In a letter to the Journal of Physical Chemistry, Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry at USC, describes how in her native country “entire disciplines were declared ideologically impure, reactionary, and hostile to the cause of working class dominance.” Notable examples of “bourgeois pseudo-science” included genetics and cybernetics, quantum mechanics, and general relativity, which were criticized for their lack of alignment with dialectical materialism.

Krylov argues that something similar is taking place today in the United States, where the Left is politicizing even hard sciences such as chemistry, to pursue an ideological agenda. Unapologetic expressions of ideological commitments have infected STEM education, social science research, and, perhaps most alarmingly, medical school education.

Nature, arguably the world’s leading scientific journal, recently announced that they will reject or retract any research that “promotes privileged, exclusionary perspectives” or “negative social consequences for studied groups.” Nature Human Behavior lamented that “science has for too long been complicit in perpetuating structural inequalities and discrimination in society.”

The US Energy Department is the nation’s largest funder of physical science research. Every grant proposal submitted to the department must include specific proposals for promoting equity and inclusion.. The department’s requirements for sponsoring scientific conferences center on the promotion of “groups historically minoritized.” Not surprisingly, the official appointed by President Biden to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Science has no background in the sciences related to the areas of the department’s major physical science research. Her primary experience is in diversity issues.

Jonathan Haidt, one of the country’s leading social psychologists, recently created a stir when he resigned from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology over its demand that any researchers seeking to present their findings must include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism commitments in their proposals.

THE GREATEST IMMEDIATE impact of the subordination of science to “woke” ideology is likely to be felt in the quality of medical education, and thus medical care and research. A group called Do No Harm , headed by Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, an emeritus professor and former associate dean at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, found that medical school are requiring essays designed to weed out those applicants  insufficiently committed to the DEI agenda. Such essays are required at 36 of the top 50 rated medical schools, and eight of the top ten.

Applicants are asked, for instance, to “share their reflections on, experiences with, and greatest lessons learned about systemic racism.” University of Pittsburgh med school asked applicants, “How will you contribute to opposing specifically systemic racism, anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and misogyny?”

At the University of Minnesota’s white coat ceremony for incoming medical students, they took an oath to promote a culture of anti-racism and confessed that the white coats they were wearing are a “symbol of power, prestige, and dominance.” Led by associate dean for medical education, Dr. Robert Englander, they professed to recognize “inequities built by past and present traumas rooted white supremacy, colonialism, the gender binary, ableism, and all forms of oppression.” They further swore to “honor all indigenous ways of healing that have been historically marginalized by Western medicine.

IT IS CRUCIAL to understand that calls for “equity” contain a specific factual assertion: There are no academic disparities between minority students and non-minorities. Thus any differences in acceptance rates, or test scores, or professor’s evaluations, can only be explained by systemic racism. That conclusion is treated as axiomatic — i.e., not subject to refutation. Yet the idea that any factual statement cannot be contested violates the scientific method, in which every hypothesis is subject to testing, and Karl Popper’s rule that non-falsifiable statements have no validity in a scientific context.

A 2022 study by professors at several leading medical schools concluded that the differential in evaluations of internal medicine residents must be the result of either bias in faculty assessments, the impact of a noninclusive learning environment, or structural inequities in faculty assessment. When Professor Goldfarb suggested a fourth possibility — “Could it be [that minority students] were just less good [on average] at being residents?” — his “racist statements” were instantly denounced by the chair of medicine at University of Pennsylvania and two deans sent an email to the entire student body that Goldfarb is emeirtus and no longer teaching.

The effort to eliminate substantial disparities in results has resulted in a war on standards. Fifty-six percent of black applicants with below-average GPAs and MCATs are admitted to medical school, which makes them seven times as likely to be admitted as comparably situated whites and nine times as likely as similarly situated Asian applicants. The MCATs have been scrubbed of questions in which there was a substantial differential in correct answers along racial lines,and one-quarter of the questions now deal with social issues and psychology, rather than hard science. Yet the one standard deviation difference (that’s a lot) between minority and non-minority test-takers persists.

One solution has been to abandon the MCAT requirement for some minority applicants (University of Pennsylvania) or admit applicants with a “strong appreciation of human rights and social justice” after two years of college and without MCATs (Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai).

After two years of medical school, students take Step One exams of the US Medical Licensing Exam. The scores on those exams play a large role in who is selected for competitive residencies. The Step One exam was made easier by adding non-science components, such as “communications and interpersonal skills.” Yet the one standard deviation between minority and non-minority students still remained. As of January 2022, the Step One exam was made pass-fail.

The “anti-racism” crusade has also greatly affected medical research. For instance, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the most prestigious funders of basic scientific research worldwide, recently announced a $1.5 billion effort to fund scientists committed to running “happy and diverse lab[s] where minoritized scientists will thrive and persist.”

The “anti-racist” brigades, whose ranks include the entire American medical establishment — i.e., the AMA and the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) — have a second factual axiom, that all differences in health outcomes for minorities can only be explained by systemic racism. That assumption encumbers medical research in unnecessary red tape. Heather Mac Donald, on whose superb article “The Corruption of Medicine” (City Journal, Summer 2022) I have drawn heavily, reports how one physician-scientist recently lost her NIH grant because she had too few blacks in her trials of an anti-cancer drug, even though that particular cancer afflicts few blacks. Mac Donald noted the irony that diversity advocates, who insist that race is a social construct, without biological reality, adamantly require a certain percentage of minorities in medical trials.

Those who are harmed most by the assumption that only systemic racism, and not cultural or genetic factors, can explain differential health outcomes are blacks themselves. Blacks have higher rates of complications during pregnancy and delivery. But physicians in inner city hospitals report that those same mothers also have higher rates of morbid obesity, hypertension, and are more likely to be inattentive to prenatal care and doctor appointments. All the diversity training for doctors is unlikely to have any benefit, Mac Donald points out,  when “efforts at behavioral change are [labeled] racist and convincing patients that they have power over their health is victim-blaming.”

TROFIM LYSENKO is enjoying a revival of popularity in Russia today.  Sadly, similar ideological certainties advanced by America’s medical establishment are lowering the quality of doctors being produced, shaping the research being done), and convincing many of the brightest undergraduates who aspired to a life in medicine that they might be better off pursuing careers on Wall Street. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 933. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com)

Oops! We could not locate your form.