Michael Powell's discussion of the effects on the political debate in this country of the controversy over evolution [Style, Sept. 6] was informative as far as it went. But a lesson from the history of the Soviet Union also should be studied by U.S. political leaders today.
In the 1930s, when Stalin was remaking Russian culture into Soviet culture, party doctrine was applied to all things, and science had to conform to the dictates of the Communist Party. This control was strongest in genetics, with devastating effects on Soviet biology.
The pre-Darwinian ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck held that acquired characteristics of organisms could be passed on to their progeny. These ideas were reworked by Trofim D. Lysenko. Stalin and the party were eager to believe that genetic properties could be altered permanently by changing the environment and that acquired physical changes resulting from those environmental changes would be genetically passed on to their offspring.
This view fit Stalin's hope that by changing the human environment, he could produce the new Soviet man. A generation of Soviet geneticists worked to duplicate Lysenko's purported successes in, for example, changing spring wheat into winter wheat -- to no avail.
Actions such as the ruling by the Kansas school board and statements giving credence to creationism by national politicians are affecting science students in the United States, according to quotations from biologists in Mr. Powell's article.
Attempts to place creationism on equal footing with evolution are based on a lack of information. Evidence for evolution and resulting speciation has been found by researchers working with fish, insects and birds, and is clearly evident in bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. A readily available description of field research in evolution can be found in Jonathan Weiner's "Beak of the Finch."
Scientific theories provide statements that can be used to confirm and predict natural phenomena. To date, evolution has done both; creationism has done neither. We need to learn from the Soviet experience of Lysenkoism the dangers of applying ideology to science.
SARA F. ANDERSON