Judged on body count, Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko far surpasses Midgley and relegates other dangerous scientific discoveries like dynamite, poison gas and even atomic bombs to the ranks of ‘also-rans’.
An enthusiastic but badly-educated communist, Lysenko held some pretty radical scientific beliefs. He rejected Darwinism, for example, and had no luck with genetics. Despite flying in the face of progress, Lysenko enjoyed the support of the equally unlevel-headed Joseph Stalin, who him put in charge of Soviet agriculture, with predictably disastrous results.
Preferring to have his critics jailed, fired or even killed rather than reason with them, Lysenko insisted with dictatorial authority that the nation’s farmers plant their seeds very close together. His reasoning? Plants from the same ‘class’, like people, he believed, never compete with each other. Lysenkoism, which was also practised in other communist countries including China, also prohibited the use of fertilisers and pesticides on collectivist farms.
Regardless of the type of crop – wheat, rye or potatoes – just about everything that Trofim Lysenko’s ideologically-driven, crackpot agricultural methods touched rotted and died, condemning both the farm workers and the many millions of people who relied on their dwindling crops, to starvation.