Russian & Soviet Science and Technology

Biological Sciences

The Russian and Soviet contribution in biology is less significant than that in mathematics, but the available materials are, somewhat paradoxically, more numerous. Topics that have particularly attracted the attention of Western historians are the reception of Darwinism in Russia in the nineteenth century and the Lysenko affair in the twentieth; these both relate to a third topic that has attracted scholars: genetics.

On Darwinism, the most discriminating and thorough work is Daniel Todes, Darwin without Malthus: The “Struggle for Existence” and Russian Evolutionary Thought in the Nineteenth Centuty (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). Some of Todes’s main ideas can be found in his “Darwin’s Malthusian Metaphor and Russian Evolutionary Thought, 1859-1917,” Isis, 1987, 78:537-551; and his ÒV. O. Kovalevskii: The Genesis, Content, and Reception of His Paleontological Work,” Studies in the History of Biology, 1978, 2:99-165. The profound influence of the Russian tradition of morphology on the formulation of Soviet Darwinism is the subject of Mark Adams, “Severtsov amd Schmalhausen: Russian Morphology and the Evolutionary Synthesis,” in The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, edited by Ernst Mayr and William Provine (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 193-225. A more general treatment of Darwinism in Russia is Alexander Vucinich, Darwin in Russian Thought (Berkeley/Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1989). James Allen Rogers has three articles on the subject: “The Reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species by Russian Scientists,” Isis, 1973, 64:484-50; “Charles Darwin and Russian Scientists,” Russian Review, 1960, 13(4):371-38; and “Russian Opposition to Darwinism in the Nineteenth Century,” Isis 1974, 65:487-505. Another source on this topic is Sarah Swinburne White, “The Reception in Russia of Darwinian Doctrines Concerning Evolution” (PhD. diss., Univ. London, 1968). Also useful is George L. Kline, “Darwinism and the Russian Orthodox Church,” in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought, edited by Ernest J. Simmons (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), pp. 307- 328.

One proponent of a characteristically Russian modifocation of evolutionary theory is Peter Kropotkin, known for his work on “mutual aid” within species. There is no biography of Kropotkin that takes full account of both his biological and political interests, but his political views and activities are analyzed in Martin Allen Miller, Kropotkin (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1976). Also worthy of examination is James Alien Rogers, “Prince Peter Kropotkin, Scientist and Anarchist: A Biographical Study of Science and Politics in Russian History” (PbD. diss., Harvard Univ., 1957).

A more widely known–indeed, notorious–figure in Russian biology is T. D. Lysenko. The most complete work on Lysenko is David Joravsky, The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970). Another important work, written by a Soviet biologist who became an opponent of Lysenko, is Zhores Medvedev, The Rise and Fall of T D. Lysenko (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1969). More idiosyncratic is Dominique Lecourt, Proletarian Science? The Case of Lysenko translated by Ben Brewster (London: NLB, 1977). For a study of late Lysenkoism see Mark Adams, “Genetics and Molecular Biology in Khrushchev’s Russia” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard Univ., 1973), a source that also contains much information on biochemistry.

That the field of population genetics was largely established in Soviet Russia before Lysenko’s rise to power is the significant conclusion of a series of articles by Mark Adams. Two were published in the Journal of the History of Biology: “The Founding of Population Genetics: Contributions of the Chetverikov School, 1924-1934,” 1968, 1(1):23-39 and “Towards a Synthesis: Population Concepts in Russian Evolutionary Thought, 1925-1935,” 1970, 3(1):107-129. Adams discusses how the term gene pool derives from a Russian concept in “From Gene Fund to Gene Pool: On the Evolution of Evolutionary Language,” Studies in the History ofBiology, 1979, 3:241-285. And Adams summarizes the significance of the Russian strength in population biology in “Sergei Chetverikov, the Kortsov Institute, and the Evolutionary Synthesis,” in The Evolutionaty Synthesis (ed. Mayr and Provine, cit. earlier in this section), pp. 242-278. Adams is currently working with Soviet scholars on a joint edition of the letters and papers of Theodosius Dobzhansky, the prominent Soviet geneticist who emigrated to the United States.

The related subject of eugenics occupies Loren R Graham in “Science and Values: The Eugenics Movement in Germany and Russia in the 1920Õs,” The American Historical Review, 1977, 82(5):1133-1164, where he shows that interest in eugenics was not tied uniquely to right-wing political movements.

Before the advent of industrialization there was a strong school of ecology and conservation in the Soviet Union, one with important prerevolutionary roots. Douglas Weiner has explored this topic in number of articles, including “The Historical Origins of Soviet Environmentalism,” Environmental Review, 1982, 6(2):42- 62; and “Community Ecology in Stalin’s Russia: ‘Socialist’ and Bourgeois’ Science,” Isis, 1984, 75:684-696. Weiner has also written an important book analyzing the early history of Soviet conservation and identifying the roots of Lysenkoism: Models of Nature: Conservation and Ecology in the Soviet Union 1917-1935 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1987).

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