Soviet spring of Trofim Lysenko

Lysenko was an agricultural researcher who in 1929 claimed to have invented "vernalisation". He chilled and soaked winter wheat, planted it alongside spring wheat, and reported that he got a better harvest. In fact, vernalisation was an old peasant technique, and Lysenko’s experiment was based on one field of wheat, in one season, on his father’s farm.

He also claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited by the next generation — as if parents who go in for weightlifting could be sure of children with big biceps and six-pack abs. This evolutionary heresy is still known as Lysenkoism.

Joseph Stalin liked practical peasants who promised success, and the state bureaucracy wanted immediate improvement in Soviet agriculture — why wait for a five-year plan? — so Lysenko came to dominate Soviet biology. His theories were preposterous but he remained director of the Institute of Agricultural Genetics until February 1965, when an expert committee finally exposed a long career of false data and distorted science.