Russian Government Embraces Pseudoscience as Scientists Warn of Public Embrace of "Reptilian" Theory
One of the themes I’ve tried to explore over the last few years is the way that bad ideas about history and science work their way into public policy, where these bad ideas have genuine and measurable impacts on real people. We saw this when the Mound Builder myth helped to inform Andrew Jackson’s rationale for the Trail of Tears. We saw this when the false facts of scientific racism helped to justify Jim Crow laws and eugenics. We see it now with Donald Trump’s reported fascination with anti-vaccine activism. At every step, bad ideas were used to make life worse for whole groups of people. That’s why I was disturbed yet fascinated to read about the ways that Vladimir Putin has put pseudoscience to work in Russia, at the expense of actual science.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Maria Antonova reported this past week that Russian scientists gathered to protest the pseudoscience of government-supported researchers and pundits with a Razzies-style award ceremony in which they cast votes for the worst offenders into a tinfoil hat. The “prize” was a trophy shaped like an Egyptian pyramid on which a Reptilian shape-shifter sits in the pose of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The “winner” was Irina Yermakova (also transliterated as Ermakova), a biologist who told state television that human males evolved separately, out of original hermaphroditic Amazons. According to Yermakova, the Y chromosome is 80,000 years younger than the X. She cites ancient rock carvings of hermaphroditic women to claim that men are essentially a superfluous accident. She also advocates a conspiracy theory that GMO foods are an American weapon intended for anti-Russian genocide.
She is far from alone. Mikhail Kovalchuk, the head of Russia’s most famous nuclear research institute and a top science advisor to Putin, informed the Russian Senate that the United States and an ill-defined global elite are breeding a special subspecies of human to serve as slave labor. Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino, is a believer in the “nooscope,” a magical device that predicts the future by reading the “global consciousness.” The figure involved in running children’s issues for the state, Anna Kuznetsova, believes that children bear the traits of all the men their mothers had sex with. She and Yermakova must have interesting conversations.
According to Antonova, Putin’s government has embraced pseudoscientific conspiracy theories because they attribute nefarious motives to the West and help convince ordinary Russians to see the West as the enemy. These conspiracies attack the West on the playing field where it retained the most prestige: culture. If the material culture of the West and the science that supports it are inherently evil, corrupt, and dangerous, then Russian culture is by definition all the more important and beneficial. To that end, Antonova says that Putin’s government is dismantling Russian science and actively promoting pseudoscience, but at the same time pseudoscientists have learned that they can easily achieve money and power by promoting falsehoods that dovetail with the Kremlin’s message of the moment. Conveniently, they also denounce real scientists as anti-Russian.
And what passes for pro-Russian belief today? “Even educated people are starting to talk about reptilians that have taken over and are plotting world government,” geneticist Svetlana Borinskaya. It’s no wonder, then, that Russian television is enamored of the ancient astronaut theory and a few years ago had Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock on a channel controled by a close friend of Putin to denounce American actions as the work of a vast, genocidal conspiracy.
Given that our incoming president, Donald Trump, has nominated for top jobs a who’s who of climate change deniers, believers in gay conversion therapy, creationists, conspiracy theorists, and whatever weird brand of religious pseudo-archaeology Ben Carson represents, it doesn’t look like America will be too far behind in awarding its own reptilian pyramid of shame come next year.
12/4/2016 10:02:22 am
It almost makes you wish the Cold War hadn't ended.
12/4/2016 12:11:31 pm
We live in strange times to be sure.
12/4/2016 12:16:49 pm
It's not a problem.
12/4/2016 12:47:37 pm
12/4/2016 12:46:09 pm
Really not surprising given the USSRs pushing Lysenkos genetics, ufos, and other bizarre views which fit the narratives to protect the state from dissentient forces. As for scientists, I saw first hand when I was a researcher at a high energy research facility how researchers would drop their objection on anything the founders were pushing. I knew one Ph.D. chemist who got gobs of Strategic Defense Initiative money in grants but thought the whole thing was a joke. The scientific method and peer review are what makes science be more objective than govt but scientists are people and just as susceptible to be bought off as the rest of us which is why in all due respect Jason, climate change theory has become more politically driven than based on testable theories like quantum mechanics or nuclear physics, I know many physicists who have reservations on the modeling used for climate research.
An Over-Educated Grunt
12/4/2016 01:06:15 pm
And with equal respect, I will point out that the purpose of modeling is to create a simplified version of a system which will of necessity lose some fidelity to reality based both on simplification and on the math used to run the model. It is possible to get useful information out of a flawed model and impossible to build a perfect model without replicating reality, and avoiding massive, expensive, equally problematic lab experiments is the point of running simulations to start with.
12/4/2016 01:44:31 pm
Jason, I think that last paragraph was a bit alarmist. I'm sure there have been numerous politicians, past and present, that could be placed in the categories you mentioned. This country may not be where it should be, but do you really believe we're heading to the same place as Russia?
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
12/4/2016 02:38:53 pm
I hope not, but I don't have a lot of confidence in this country anymore. I do, however, still have confidence in the immutable law of history that says everything is worse in Russia.
12/4/2016 02:51:41 pm
"I am familiar with this law. A Russian wrote it!" -Pavel Chekov
12/5/2016 10:36:18 am
On the other hand, look at how many Alex Jones will reach with President Trump.
12/5/2016 04:37:15 pm
I'd pay to see a Cenk (aka the Young Turk) versus Alex Jones death match...ha ha
12/6/2016 08:12:32 pm
Did you know Wilcock is now also a pizzagate believer/promotor (probably for opportunistic reasons) to the point of making Alex Jones look like Rachel Maddow? Do you think it's possible that the Kremlin is paying him to publish this codswallop?
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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