Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lysenkoism - science in a postnormal context?

When science becomes important for stakeholders, when decisions are urgent, when social values are affected, and uncertainties large - then science is confronted with a number of challenges. Science operates in a postnormal situation. Some people, among them me, then speak of "post-normal" science, even if the terminology is not very well defined.

Climate science is in such a post-normal situation; other contemporary examples refer to BSE and other environmental issues.
I wondner, are there other, bigger cases? Cases, which may allow us to study how a scientific community liberates itself from the limitations and constraints of a post-normal situation?

I have two cases in mind, one is the (relatively short lived) Arian physics-period in the 1930s of Germany, the other is the 30-year conflict (ca. 1932-1962) about genetics in the Soviet Union, which is associated with the name of Trofim D Lysenko. By chance I came across a 1994-book by Soyfer, who describes the rise (and fall) of Lysenko mainly as a matter of evil and good; the analysis of Roll-Hansen (2005, 2008) I find much more convincing, as it describes the intellectual context, the Zeitgeist not only in the USSR but also in the West, the utility of some arguments in favour of a broader societal context, the mending with race theory and eugenetics, which brought about the collapse of genetics in the USSR with a formal decision in 1948. Interesting also that Lysenkoism disappeared from the governmental, intellectual and academic stages (but not necessarily from the popular folklore) not because of the disolution of the USSR but simply because new scientific findings became known.

I would appreciate hearing your opinions on these matters - and suggest that we keep in mind Nils Roll-Hansen's suggestion: "In brief, it is time to study the Lysenko effect rather than the Lysenko affair".


Roll-Hansen, N., 2005: The Lysenko Effect. The Politics of Science. Amherst, NY: Humanity Book

Roll-Hansen, N.,  2008: Wishful Science: The Persistence of T.D. Lysenko’s Agrobiology in the Politics of Science, OSIRIS 2008, 23 : 166–188

Soyfer, V. N., 1994: Lysenko and the tragedy of Soviet science, translated from the Russian by Leo Gruliow and Rebecca Gruloiw,Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 380 pp


Werner Krauss said...

Hans, you write: 'I wonder, are there other, bigger cases? Cases, which may allow us to study how a scientific community liberates itself from the limitations and constraints of a post-normal situation?'

Unfortunately, no other cases come to my mind. Instead, I want to suggest the following: in these cases, science does not liberate itself, but it is liberated - either by new scientific findings or else by politics.
In the case of climate change, I think it is politics that will have to realize that climate science did its duty and is not of real help any more. Climate policies will emancipate themselves from climate science - there are so many good reason for example for emission reduction that the 100% certainty from science about climate change is not necessary anymore. Once politics just goes on, science can go back and study again the complexities of climate change, but without the political pressure. Climate science itself has no chance to liberate itself, because it was almost from its beginning post-normal.
Does this relate to your question?

Hans von Storch said...

Ok, Werner, I agree. "science is liberated ...". No other caases - really? - Hans

Anonymous said...

Werner, when you say "Climate science itself has no chance to liberate itself, because it was almost from its beginning post-normal."

I am sorry, but I can not agree with you. I find that the development of the GCMs during the 60s, 70s was pure science. I have no doubt that the theories of Hasselmann relating the AR(1) characteristics of the SST with the stochastic atmospheric forcing are pure science. I know for sure that the studies (Ramanathan Coakley, Manabe..) of radiative-convective equilibrium were pure science. ....

I can accept (to some extent) that from the 200xs onward political pressure has been huge. I am not an expert in the questions of post-normality and I prefer not to talk about that with experts like you.

However, I can not accept that climate science was almost from its beginning postnormal. No, Werner, sorry, but you are not being fair. I think that climate science deserves more than that.



Werner Krauss said...


Thanks. Very interesting. Your intervention reminded me of Klaus Hasselmann's famous article in Die Zeit from 1997:
I think, you are partially right. I don't know if it is possible to determine a point when politics started to strongly influence the course and identity of climate science. And which parts of it. Of course, there are still many climate scientists who just try to understand climate or aspects of it.

richardtol said...

Post-normal science is research in which objective facts and value judgements cannot be separated.

Instead, you use "post-normal science" as a synonym for "politicised research".

Climate research is intrinsically post-normal, and cannot be "liberated".

The term "liberation" seems to suggest that climate research is being oppressed.

The politicisation of research can be undone. The social sciences have always been post-normal, well before the term was coined. (See Kuhn.)

The social sciences maintain their pseudo-objectivity because funding for the core discipline comes from sources who are interested in quality only.

For example, a climate economist cannot stray too far from the received wisdom in economics without losing the ability to publish in core economic journals. (See PIK.) Those journals are run by people whose funds do not depend on their position on climate policy.

There is a lot of money in climatology, but the bulk of it comes from people with an interest in the political implications of the results.

If independent money cannot be found, the practice in medical research is the way forward: double blind experiments, and disclosure of all results.

Werner Krauss said...

@Richard #5
Glad to read that you know what post-normal science is. Is this your definition, or which is the higher authority you rely on? Anyway, it's a good definition, but it does not contradict my statements. Isn't it exactly the highly politicized situation where objective facts and value judgments indeed cannot really be separated? It's exactly in this situation when science cannot slow down things as they usually do; and I agree, this was always the case at least in current climate science (since the eighties?). 'Liberated' means, as far as I understand Hans, to go back to the normal slow procedures in science, without the pressure to produce immediately usable results.

Hans von Storch said...

what did you mean with "See PIK" in
For example, a climate economist cannot stray too far from the received wisdom in economics without losing the ability to publish in core economic journals. (See PIK.) Those journals are run by people whose funds do not depend on their position on climate policy..?

My question was if there are examples of sciences in a postnormal situation (I try to avoid the term 'postnormal science', because it seems to be defined differently in different quarters), with the postnormal conditions diminishing? Examples could be Lysenkoism; another the challenge of theoretical physics in the 1930s by what was called "arian physics". The challenges represented by the schools of thought pushed for by Trofim Lysenko or Philipp Lenard are simply gone (and mostly forgotten).

Since when would we find climate science in a post-normal situation? Dennis' and my paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteworological Society , which described the situation, is based on data sampled in 1996.
-- Hans

Anonymous said...


Lysenkoism and Aryan Physics were not really predicated on urgency or severity so don't appear to meet the (vague) criteria of PNS.

Importantly though, what L and AP do show is that scientists (within a political regime/framework) can be swayed. Whether this is by 'fraudulent' behaviour, unconcious bias, inappropriate incentives etc is the $64,000 question. It could also due in part to the weeding out of gainsayers and the playing down of evidence to the contrary.

Climate science is "post-normal" science (in a Kuhnian sense, as opposed to PNS) due to the existence of the IPPC, a political body which is essentially built on a warmist axiom. The IPPC plays the role of a Maxwell's demon, selecting only that research which supports the warmist view, to create the enchantment that distance from expertise inevitably leads to.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous2 "Phil Sci"

Nils said...

I agree with Richard that post-normal science and politicised science are two different things, though I assume that neither of them can actually be avoided. According to Funtowicz and Ravetz, post-normal science relates to "problems with combined high decision stakes and high systems uncertainties" (1993: 750) - perfect match for climate change. Also, "normal" science is a part of "post-normal" science, meaning all the stuff jon mentioned in comment #2 is included in the concept, yet it goes beyond that. Therefore, there can't be "liberation" from the post-normal status (neither decision stakes nor uncertainties are going to magically disappear). Likewise, my personal view is that there can't be any true "depoliticisation" of science - it rather switches from one political context to another, or is being "repoliticised". As Robert Cox has shown in 1981, even straightforward "problem-solving" is bound to certain interests and worldviews (cf. Habermas' "Erkenntnisinteresse") - hiding behind the normal/post-normal divide on the problem-solving side will not wipe scientists clean of that dilemma. I therefore wonder whether Hans' striving for scientific "independence" is actually a re-idealisation of science, something already lost long before Oppenheimer and comparable figures. If then a group comprising of several members calling for "honest brokering" comes forward with the highly political Hartwell-Paper, it becomes clear that this struggle is not about clean vs. politicised science, but about discursive dominance within the post-normal context.

Hans von Storch said...

Nils & PhilSci (8/9) - you are certainly right that I am trying something like a "re-idealization". Which is my alternative of opposing statements "everything is everything". If all science is postnormal, then why speaking about postnormality. The concept would be worthless. By the way, this is why I perceive many contributions of cultural sciences as irrelevant, because many of them avoid concrete cases, but make often merely grandiose claims. Anyway.

But I find in my own scientific practice that this concept is not worthless. And indeed, I use the term "science in a post-normal situation" (as opposed to "post normal science, which seems to be defined differently in different quarters), and the question is whether such a situation may disintegrate, and under which conditions.

Did anybody from the Hartwell-group (I am not part of it) claim that the paper would be an Honest-Broker contribution?

Finally: Lysenkoism had very much to do with urgency, namely with the modernization of a agricultural system which -for whatever reasons - could no longer feed the USSR population. A demand by the government/party was to reduce the time period for generating news species from, say 10-12 years to about 4-5 years. Read Roll-Hansen. Very interesting book, very knowledgeable about the details and the Zeitgeist in the 1930s.

richardtol said...

The "economists" at PIK do not publish much in economic journals.

My definition of post-normality paraphrases Funtowicz and Ravetz, who coined the term.

Post-normality is intrinsic to policy relevance. If you inform decisions, you need to beware of mixing facts and values.

Normal climatology would study Venus and Mars (without reference to Earth) or the deep past (without reference to the present).

@ReinerGrundmann said...

About Post Normal Science (PNS)

Some months ago we had a thread about this with a guest post from Silvio Funtowicz.
He commented on my take regarding climate change. I had asked:
"So is climate policy an example of PNS?
Yes, in that there is uncertainty, stakes are high and decisions urgent. And No, because at the institutional level there is nothing that resembles that "extended peer review", i.e. social inclusion of those interested in the outcome of the policy. "

Silvio replied as follows:
"I fully agree with this assessment. Still it is interesting to note how and why the framing of the issue has evolved since the problem was in the province of atmospheric chemists, and this is surely the result of some type of epc."

EPC=extended peer community.

This element of EPC has been missing so far in the contributions above and it is an interesting question if EPC was present in Lysenko's case. I would doubt it. Where was the involvement of the lay public in Stalinist Russia?

Hans von Storch said...

In my understanding, the extended peer REVIEW element was something which was added at a later time; but because of the somewhat floating definition of PNS I am using the term "postnormal situation", which is characterized by "high stakes, high uncertainty, (values involved), (urgency)". EPC may be a manner to deal with such a postnormal situation. Policy relevance follows from the four criteria given above.

Lysenko: Involvement of lay public in the USSR - yes, massively. The unity of theory and practice was a key ideological element of the new socialistic science. (By the way, the country Stalin was leading, was USSR not Russia :-)

Hans von Storch said...

On 15 May, I had asked Jerry Ravetz
"would you agree that Lysenkoism would be an example of science in a postnormal situation? ".

His response, from the same day was:

Thinking about it, there was:

Facts: how to increase agricultural productivity in a backward and battered rural economy?
Values: conflict of State and peasants, plus ideological disputes within science: elitism v. romantic/populism.
Stakes: feeding an industrialised nation, or collapse.
Urgency: Hitler on the horizon.

Instead of a democratic debate there was a demagogic assault, using the dictatorship for support. In that sense, the phenomenon was 'Lysenkoism'. Similar things happened in other disciplines. Linguistics was one. Earlier, some scientists used the official orthodoxy of Marxism to engage in professional battles, accusing each other of not being Marxist enough.

In the end, Lysenko was exposed as a charlatan, and did not long survive the death of Stalin. In that sense, old-fashioned honest research was effective for a correction when it got a chance.

One might even say that Soviet agriculture was beyond-post-normal, a really 'wicked' problem. To imagine that old-fashioned honest research could have solved the practical problems of Soviet agriculture is to miss the point of PNS.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Hi Hans- To respond to your question (following from Nils):

"Did anybody from the Hartwell-group (I am not part of it) claim that the paper would be an Honest-Broker contribution?"

The answer is "No" -- The Hartwell Paper has a explicit focus on advocacy for a particualr set of climate policies. We are very open about this advocacy.

It is possible for one to call for a greater presence of "honest brokering" in climate debates, while at the same time advocating a particualr position. These are not inconsistent.

For instance, I can say that climate policy would benefit from many perspectives at the table, while my own views are a small subset of those perspectives.

Rainer S said...

For examples of PNS, one just needs to open the daily newspaper.

Most of "modern" epidemiology is just that, serving Healthism ideology.

Even more astounding, when compared to AGW disputes, one does not need more than a decent basic math education to see through the scams about chemicals, mobile phone radiation, food ingredients, salt, alcohol use, ETS and the like.

The basic problem in all cases of PNS appears to be the precautionary principle, which has supplanted true risk assessment.

Remedies? None, as long as money can be made from scares.

Anonymous said...

Comment by Nils Roll-Hansen, Oslo:

On my own part I hesitate to use the expression "post normal". It apparently refers to Kuhn's concept of "normal science" with the "post" suggesting a development in time - "post normal" succeeding "normal". It might be more appropriate to say "pre-normal" since the inevitable social and political embeddedness of science was not abandoned with development to the historical stage that Kuhn calls "normal science", i.e. science governed by a paradigm. However, I don't think that even Kuhn himself would claim that any branch of science ever became strictly "normal". Also he gradually became less insistent on the sharpness of paradigm differences and revolutions. Kuhn's original theory in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" can be made to fit the history of an axiomatically and logically highly structured science like physics quite well. But the historical developments in biology, geology and other more natural history-like disciplines are more recalcitrant.

Well this was just a short comment on "post normal".

As for Ravetz' comments on Lysenkoism I think he underestimates its closeness to mainstream science in the early period, especially before 1936. It was not simply a "demagogic assault" in this early phase, but a set of ideas that were taken seriously by many of the leading biologist in the the USSR. Ravetz depends too much on the still dominant cold war account and interpretation of Joravsky, Graham and others. The active support that Nikolai Vavilov gave to Lysenko up to 1935, as well as the international recognition of his vernalization work, is clear evidence that some of his theoretical ideas and experimental were widely considered to be interesting contributions to genuine science. This is a main point in my book.