Lessons from the Wannsee Conference, Lysenko and the Sparrow

If you are an observer of Science, Technology and Society one realises that Science and Technology cannot be separated from the Arts, Culture, Business and Politics. In politics let us look at four moments in human history,

First, The Wannsee Conference

A meeting of representatives of the different agencies of Hitler’s Third Reich met to decide how to handle their Jewish Problem. Years before this Hitler and company were able to embed into German Law means to separate and in dew Jews, non-Aryans and other undesirables. This was not a new thing hatred against the Jews and campaigns have happened before : (i) expelled from Spain; (ii) forced into Ghettoes; (iii) ordered to wear badges or judenstern in public; and (iv) pogroms. At Wannsee the Nazi’s were able to put a system to the exploitation and purge of the Jews. This was a system that followed a production assembly line for cars by Ford. However, instead of producing a car for the masses; masses of Jews were eliminated in a genocide that the Nazi’s called the Final Solution. Majority of the Nazi officials meeting at Wannsee were lawyers a study of the minutes and other related documents one notes a lot of words used in a round about way to describe exploitation and murder (EUPHEMISMS) – resulting in a distrust of words.

It is of no surprise then that Auschwitz and Dachau resembles industrial estates.

One of things that can be observed with the Nazis is their use of Science and Technology to improve weapons and technology of war. This of course is not limited to the Nazi’s alone their Allies and Opponents were also involved in this technology race. It is then ironic that the same racial law and anger against the Jews of the Nazis led them to their defeat in the tech race. In particular the production of the Atomic Bomb was won by the United States with the help of scientists hounded and fled from Germany. One of them was Albert Einstein – a German Jew who was forced to flee because of the Nazis. Hitler and the Nazis assured their defeat by alienating and killing their pool of scientists.

After the war Germany’s technology were spoils that the Allies got. V2 Rocket scientists like Von Braun were adopted by the US and in turn allowing them to develop ICBM and the Nasa Space Program.

TWO, Stalin and Trofim Lysenko

Trofim Lysenko was a Russian Scientist who promoted non Mendelian Genetics. Lysenko was also a politically astute scientist. Whenever the Party suggested an agricultural measure, he would be the first one to suggest a remedy that will. Also his adherence to non Mendelian Genetics – which in a nutshell is that an organism can change despite the inherited characteristics – was in line with the Party belief that a comrade can change regardless of their background. And more importantly his friendship with Stalin made Lysenko a powerful scientist in the Soviet Union. Anyone who disagreed with him were told to be quiet or suffer a holiday to a gulag or a permanent residency in cemetery. The only scientists who were not affected by this Lysenkoism were nuclear scientists. Stalin may have been as or even more bloof thirsty than Hitler but he was not dumb enough to delapitate his important scientists. The influence of Lysenko thrived even after Stalin’s death affecting the growth of Biological and Agricultrual Science in Russia.The successors of Stalin eventually backtracked on supporting Lysenkoism and Lysenkoism became a pejorative term to describe any science use to support a political purpose.

Third, The War Against the Four Pests

When Mao Zedong and the Communist came to power in China, one of Mao’s aim was to modernise the country. This include an increase in industrial and agricultural production. At the same time Mao was organising farmers into collectives and communes he launched the War Against the Four Pests – Rats, Mosquitos. Flies and Sparrows. In particular Sparrows were targeted because they ate the grains. Several things were done to kill the Sparrpws – hunting them, destroying their nests and even playing loud music (The loud music prevented them from landing and resting – in effect the Sparrows were killed by exhaustion). The campaign was a success there was a significant decrease in the Sparrow population of China. Unfortunately, The Sparrows also preyed on the Locusts and with the Sparrows gone the population of Locusts increased. This large Locust population feasted on the crops that led to the collapse of China’s agriculture. The people of the commune and cooperatives were not prepared for this and forced to eat green crops (crops to young to be harvested) and sometimes even shoes. Famine and death followed. It is believed more than a million or even a billion died. There were political repercussions to what would be known as the Great Famine. The least was the revision of the propaganda of the War Against the Four Pests – the Sparrow was dropped from the list and replaced with the cockroach. Mao Zedong was severely criticised by his colleges. And this resulted in backlash of all critics during the Cultural Revolution.

Mao’s War Against the Four Pests is story of an ecological disaster. The cause was political, the effect was ecological and it affected China’s politics.


A study of Science and Technology in history will reveal that progress, the lack of it or the abundance is dependent on the influencers and the movers of society. Business and politics make science and technology possible. Orwell once said everything is politics and this is true. The Bayt Al-Hikma would not be possible with the caliphate of Haroun Al- Raschid and Al-Mammun.Su Song was a scientist, philosopher and a statesman. One wonders if Gallileo and company were part of the ruling political elite would they have been hounded. Arguments and counter-arguments that can probably fill up an afternoon or two of lively discussion.

What is important at least in the post and the earlier one is to realise how Science and Technology can and is affected by Politics an Business. Perhaps it is not bad to learn from it.

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A Game of Monopoly or STS in US Industrialisation and Imperialism

Updated post originally written here.
Did you know that the game Monopoly had its beginning as a tool to teach people the reality of business and its impact on human society? The game originally done by Elizabeth Maggie was hoped to be an educational tool. It was so successful that years later Clarence Darrow developed it into the game we know now. Thanks to the game board company Parker Brothers, they were able to settle with Maggie and went to market and sell the game called Monopoly by Clarence Darrow.At this point in time, Monopoly has become the most popular game in the world giving fun and squabbles among friends and family – indeed the object of the game is to be richest.

I wonder though did the aim Maggie to have the game as educational tool in revealing to its players  the human cost and evils of monopoly survive? 

A look at the game of Monopoly brings in mind the coming out of the United States as a world power. This was the time when the United States came out of a civil war where the industrialised and technologically advance North prevailed over agricultural South. One of the factors that led to the North’s victory was the use of the railway and the telegraph – troops, supplies, information and commands were moved at a fast paced that it helped the North defeat the South. And at the same time this was happening the industrialists came to dominate American business – people like Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockerfeller and J.P. Morgan became the Industrialists of the United States.

It is no accident then that aside from real estate the major businesses you can see on the Monopoly board would be the train lines and the utilities – electricity and water. This brings us to J.P. Morgan.

It is said that J.P. Morgan was the inspiration for Uncle Moneypenny or Mr. Monopoly. J.P. Morgan was an astute investment banker who became the owner of railways, four companies  in the Monopoly game, US Steel and several electric companies. In an era of unregulated stock exchange and business J.P, Morgan knew how to leverage and how to make a profit. Of interest to us is the story about J.P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison and Nicholas Tesla.

Tesla was a former employee of Edison, who became his rival as to whose electrical system,would eventually be used by the United States public. Tesla’s partner was Westinghous while Edison’s partner was J.P. Morgan. Edison and Tesla were competing to provide the technology to produce electricity. Edison and Morgan attacked Tesla two ways. Edison did his best to show that Tesla’s technology was dangerous – efforts included electrocution of an elephant and a convict, while Edison’s partner Morgan indirectly attacked the financial viability of Tesla’s project forcing Tesla to sign over his copyright to Westinghouse and future investors. In the end although Tesla and Westinghouse won the Arizona contract. J.P. Morgan was not perturbed though and pursued his financial attack on the company of Westinghouse. He, Morgan, only relented when Westinghouse agreed to lift the copyright from Tesla’s technology. After that Morgan was able to set-up several electric companies across the United States – incidentally one of the utilities in Monopoly was the electric company. As for Edison, Morgan bought controlling shares of the company and took control.

Industrialists and Financiers like J.P. Morgan used technology and money to provide service to a number of Americans. However, at the same time unregulated business led practices that increased profits but neglected the works. The plight of the workers led to a public backlash of big business, prompting the Democrats to field a candidate who was anti-monopoly: anti-Trust .The solutions of Big Business was to back a pro-business candidate who won his name was William Mckinley. It was years later when another political challenger to Big Business rose up, this time from the Republican Party – Theodore Roosevelt. The solution of Big Business was to make him Vice-President. However, in an ironic twist of fate, McKinley was not able to finish his second tern: He was assassinated by one of the victims of Big Business, one of the laid worker from J.P. Morgan’s business empire. With Roosevelt as US President , Anti-trust cases and legislation were implemented. Tycoons like Rockefeller were brought to court, but J.P. Morgan was not – some say this was because at the time he was working with the United States to build the Panama Canal. To be sure though J.P. Morgan was more astute than Rockefeller, his political contacts and clout saved him.

An Aside: Richard Gatling and William Mckinley: The Gatling Gun and American Colonialism

Another piece of technology from the American Civil War was the Gatling Gun. Basically, It was designed to minimise losses by increasing losses on the other side. The automatic gun was so effective in bringing up the enemy’s mortality that it is still being used today. Incidentally, the gatling gun played an important role in the Spanish-American war, enabling Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to conquer San Juan Hill. American victory over the Spanish gave three new countries to the United States and its President William Mckinley Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The Americans gave Cuba freedom; Puerto Rico the protectorate and the Philippines benevolent assimilation, commonwealth and independence with parity rights. Roosevelt eventually became the Vice-President of Mckinley and then President after Mckinley was assassinated by an anarchist, who happened to be an ex-employee of the US industrialists.

Looking at the game Monopoly now brings back more than memories of Big Business but the ascent of the United States from a former British Colony to a Super Power with its own new territories. It was McKinley who decided  take the Philippines via Benevolent Assimilation, Commonwealth, and Independence – other former colonies ceded by Spain fared differently Cuba was declared indecent and Puerto Rico was made into a protectorate. Of course Monopoly still allows us to learn how big business operates. Of course, there are anti-trust laws and regulations now but that only means Big Business now are more creative in their ways

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Futurama – Time Travel and Multiple Worlds – Things to Remember

First. If you could go back in time what would you do? Stop Antonio Luna from going to Cabanatuan? Stop Ferdinand Marcos from leaving Malacanang in 1986? Prevent the death of a loved one? Win the lottery in 2000 and leave it to your future self? Buy stocks in Google or Apple? Or watch the Triumph of Julius Ceasar as he entered Rome? Second, would you rather go a world where Antonio Luna did not die and he was able to convert Baguio into a fortress? Or perhaps a world where things turn out differently?

Time travel and multiple world have been a common thread in Art and Culture. It would be interesting to look at has there been a scientific basis for this and has Science & Technoloy had an impact in this thread of Art & Culture, and vise-versa?

One recent and entertaining examples of this is the cartoon Futurama, where in the episode Roswell that Ends Well and Farnsworth Paradox. In films you can see this in Terminator; Back to the Future; Somewhere in Time; The Time Machines; Looper and the 12 Monkeys. Or perhaps you might remember the other tv series like Time Tunnel; Dr Who; Quantum Leap; and those Star Trek episodes. But does this have a scientific basis?

Interestingly enough there are theories for the Grandfather Paradox; Multiple Worlds and time travel. It is a world that can be equally aggressive as any chronos-time war and confusing as the Crisis in Infinite World. There is the story of a party hosted by Stephen Hawkins complete with food and champagne but no guests, since the invite was only given a few days after the party. Hawkin’s point was quite clear. Time travel back into time was not possible. Although, nothing in Science and Technology is written in stone.

The Theory of Multiple Worlds came about because of the study of Quantum Physics. Scientists observe that in the quantum universe things were not behaving as they should: based on the established laws of physics. Something else was at work. Multiple Worlds made it possible to explain how these things work differently from what was expected. And now we even have String Theory.

Physics is not my area of science but it is important to see how Art and Culture were able to explain the physics of time travel and multiple worlds by depicting it in the form of a story. Making more palatable to its viewer and reader. In the process making the science more understandable.

There is however a caveat to this. The first one would be the depiction of science and technology in art and culture becomes credible when grounded in actual study. The second it should recognise that Art and Culture has an equally important effect on Science and Technology. And this is because Art and Culture conveys: (i) Ideas that are hoped for: a better world via Science & Technology; (ii) Society’s concern over the use of Science & Technology: Frankenstein’s Monster & the Atom Bomb; (iii) Warning of the consequences of actions in the future: I am Legend and a Distant Sound of Thunder; and (iv) glorying or condemning Man, Science & Technology: The Veldt and the Martian

Also as we enjoy the products of Art & Culture that inspire and in return inspire Science & Technology one vital thing that must be considered when learning about their scientific basis is that these are products of the scientific process. In other words these theorems and laws are considered plausible and valid because they were proven, until at such point were they proven to be otherwise. In Science and Technology the only thing dogmatic is the adherence to critical thinking and importance of valid proof.

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