False facts that actually changed the world

We thought we could change nature by force of will, so we ruined a region’s agriculture

In 1936, Trofim Lysenko presented the bizarre theory of Lysenkoism to the Conference of the Lenin Academy in Moscow. The idea completely undermined all the previous work done by geneticist Nikolai Vavilov (who promoted things like crop diversity and breeding crops by selecting desirable traits). Lysenko offered up the completely nutty theory that any crop could be made to be made to thrive in any environment just by exposing it to that environment over successive generations, and the Soviets loved it. It was what they were trying to do to their citizens, after all, and even as Vavilov’s absolutely correct theory was pushed aside (and he starved to death in a Soviet prison), Lysenkoism became the agricultural system of choice.

The Conversation says that lasted into the 1960s, giving it plenty of time to do some serious damage. Soviet farmers were taught one plant would sacrifice itself for the good of its neighbors, that they chose their reproductive partners, and they’d get used to those cold Russian winters.

They didn’t. According to the Smithsonian,┬áit pretty much ended the advancement of Soviet agriculture and biology, kicked off a series of food shortages, famines, and crop failures, and left actual scientists imprisoned, dead, or simply gone. Lysenko essentially told Soviet leaders what they wanted to hear and stopped science for decades.