Baby and bathwater

Lessons from Trofim Lysenko.

In 1928, a young Russian biologist wrote a revolutionary paper on agriculture.

Trofim Lysenko’s theories fitted perfectly with communist ideology.

For instance, he thought natural selection was Darwin’s greatest mistake.

That there was no struggle for survival among members of the same species, but mutual co-operation for the common good.

Lysenko was everything Stalin believed, so he was put in charge of all Soviet agriculture.

Like Stalin, he thought science was "a bourgeois discipline that insulted the proletariat".

He decreed planting seeds much closer together, because the weaker ones would sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the whole.

He imposed an iron brand of political correctness on Soviet biologists.

The grip of Lysenko’s new thinking was total, unquestioned.

But his thinking was based on political dogma, not scientific fact.

A British biologist said: "He was completely ignorant of the basic principles of genetics and plant physiology. Talking to Lysenko was like trying to explain differential calculus to someone who didn’t know their 12-times table."

But it didn’t matter – Stalin wanted to prove communist thinking was superior.

Consequently, Lysenko received proof that his thinking was superior.

He received awards: three Stalin Prizes, six Orders of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner.

He was made a Hero of Socialist Labour, a deputy and vice-president of the Supreme Soviet and of the Central Committee of the Communist Party – statues were erected in his honour.

But although legislators can pass laws and decrees, it doesn’t change reality.

Even with a massive increase in the amount of land being farmed according to his theories, food production was lower than ever before.

Lysenko’s policies led to famines and seven million dead.

After Stalin’s death, and Kruschev’s fall in 1964, Lysenko was finally exposed as a fraud.

At the General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Sciences, physicist Andrei Sakharov said: "He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views and the degradation of learning."

Lysenko’s views and political correctness had drowned out all other thinking.

By stifling thinking, or the vocabulary we use to talk about it, we stifle progress.

And that’s what we see all around us today.

Political correctness masquerading as thinking.

Political correctness that doesn’t allow us to question the accepted agenda.

New York’s Ad Age recently ran an article about online advertising.

It begins with a media buyer saying: "When I want to make quick money on clicks, I just buy late-night impressions on women’s gaming sites. I guess the users are tired. They click like crazy. I make a lot of money."

So media buyers make big money from mistaken clicks – how does that work?

As the author says: "Clicks are counted as a surrogate for attention."

Experts from online analytics company Moat, also Accordant Media, and the Advertising Research Foundation conducted an experiment.

They served up a blank ad half-a-million times – it received a click rate of 0.08%.

It transpired 50% of those clicks were mistakes, people who were tired or clumsy.

But the client would still have paid, because pay-per-click is, literally, the name of the game.

Which was exactly the reason the space had been bought on those sites.

To lure the unsuspecting into clicking, because the click is all that counts.

Which must run counter to any sort of common sense.

But it’s politically incorrect to say so.

Like the Russian scientists, you risk being labelled as that worst of all crimes: "old-fashioned".

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

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