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  • Richard Byrne

Let The Darkness In: A New Play About Science & Politics

One of the darkest moments of a dark 20th Century was the sustained success of a agronomist named Trofim Lysenko in darkening the course of Soviet science for over three decades.

Lysenko’s rejection of the Mendelian genetics that are the foundation of modern genetics — and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s ironclad support of his theories — had vast human consequences. People starved because of Lysenko’s desire to harness science to political ideology. And scientists who disagreed were purged en masse, or worse.

The disaster that one Soviet agronomist wrought on scientific knowledge in the Soviet Union, with the full backing of the state, was so devastating that the subjugation of science to political realities is called “Lysenkoism.”

So how, precisely, is the weed of Lysenkoism being planted and spreading in the United States in the present day, in a moment of pandemic and a crisis in public health? Experts in agencies reassigned, or muzzled. Respected public health officials forced to stand next to politicians spouting medical ignorance, disinformation, or outright lies. More than 170,000 dead from COVID-19, and the war on science in America that has been a hallmark of the present administration not only continues, but accelerates.

Indeed, as Axios reported on August 23, Trump Administration officials berate officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for “dragging their heels” when they insist on maintaining the rigorous procedures meant to find treatments but do so safely:

According to two sources in the Monday meeting, [White House trade advisor Peter] Navarro had aggressively confronted FDA officials, saying, "You are all Deep State and you need to get on Trump Time." (That's the expression Navarro uses to describe the speed that he says Trump demands.)

This crisis is why I have written a new short play, Let the Darkness In, about the growing scourge of Lysenkoism in the United States.

This play was directed by Andrew Bellware and produced by Laura Schlachtmeyer. It features a dazzling performance by Theatre East associate artistic director and founder Christa Kimlicko Jones.

I invite you to watch it. What is the duty of scientists to resist the growing wave of Lysenkoism? How can citizens insist that science be the foundation upon which we deploy public health resources — and battle a pandemic that seems triumphant everywhere at present?

(Photos: Lysenko (left) speaks in 1935 as Joseph Stalin looks on / Wikimedia Commons; Trofim Lysenko / Wikimedia Commons; Christa Kimlicko Jones in Let the Darkness In / Pandora Machine - 920 Productions; )

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