Olga Lepeshinskaya (biologist)
|Born||Olga Borisovna Protopopova
August 18, 1871
|Died||October 2, 1963
Olga Borisovna Lepeshinskaya (Russian: Ольга Борисовна Лепешинская) born as Protopopova (Russian: Протопопова) (1871–1963), was a Soviet biologist, a personal protegée of Vladimir Lenin, later Joseph Stalin, Trofim Lysenko and Alexander Oparin. She rejected genetics and was an advocate of spontaneous generation of life from inanimate matter.
Lepeshinskaya completed her study as a feldsher in St. Petersburg in 1887 and practised at various places in Siberia. In 1898 she joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and later the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1903 she and her husband left Russia and went into exile to Switzerland for three years. In 1915, she completed her medical training in Moscow.
Lepeshinskaya was a participant in the October Revolution. She lectured at the University of Medicine in Moscow until 1926, briefly interrupted by a 1919 stay at the University of Tashkent, then worked at the K. A. Timiryazez Institute of Biology. In 1941 she became the head of the Department of Live Matter at the Institute of Experimental Biology, USSR Academy of Medical Sciences for the remainder of her career.
Lepeshinskaya worked well into her eighties and died in Moscow at the age of 92 from pneumonia.
In the 1920s Lepeshinskaya discredited the work of her supervisor, Alexander Gurvitch, who investigated biophotons and mitogenic rays. She claimed that low doses of ultraviolet light were released by dying cells that had been treated with high doses of UV light. Later she claimed that cells could propagate by disintegration into granules which could generate new forms of cells, different from the parental cells. Also, crystals of inorganic matter could be converted into cells by adding nucleic acids. Further, she espoused spontaneous generation and the presence of a "vital substance". These claims were propagated as official dogma in the Soviet Union. A claim that soda baths fostered rejuvenation led to a temporary shortage of baking soda. She based her career on claims to observe de novo emergence of living cells from non-cellular materials, supporting such claims by fabricated proofs which were "confirmed" by others eager to advance in the politicized scientific system. Actually, she filmed the death and subsequent decomposition of cells, then projected these films reversed.
In May 22–24, 1950 at the special symposium "Live Matter and Cell Development" for the USSR Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences that was supported by Stalin and chaired by Alexander Oparin, Lepeshinskaya gave the keynote speech, and her discoveries were celebrated as revolutionary by the invited audience. She was the recipient of the Stalin Prize for that year, and her ideas became mandatory instruction in biology. In 1952 a second conference took place to demonstrate "using experimental methods" that the bourgeois Virchowian concept of cell development (only a living cell can produce another cell) was replaced by a "new dialectical-materialistic theory on the origin of all living cells from non-living matter." While her impact and dogmatic dominance have parallels to those of Lysenko, her claims were never officially renounced but just faded away.
She involved her daughter Olga and her son-in-law Vladimir Kryukov in her work; in contrast, her husband, Panteleimon Lepechinsky, thought little of it. "Don’t you listen to her. She’s totally ignorant about science and everything she’s been saying is a lot of rubbish" he told a visitor.
- Gratzer, W. B. 2000. The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty. Oxford University Press
- Lepeshinskaya, O. B., 1954. The Origin of Cells from Living Substance. several editions in several languages.
- Zhinkin L. N. and Mikhaĭlov V. P., 1958. On "The New Cell Theory" Science, New Series, Vol. 128, No. 3317 (Jul. 25, 1958), pp. 182–186
- Grant J. Corrupted Science. Fraud, ideology and politics in science. ff&f, 2007. p. 277ff. ISBN 978-1-904332-73-2.
- Rapoport JL. The doctors' plot of 1953. Harvard University Press, 1991. p. 254ff. ISBN 0-674-21477-3.
- Birstein VJ. The Perversion of Knowledge: the True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press, 2004. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-8133-4280-1.