In Kaunas district, in Noreikiškės, there is a street named after Liudas Vailionis (1886–1939). The future university professor, who bought land in these surroundings before the war, established a family homestead and named it Varžupius. Both the preserved homestead and the name of the street are undoubtedly reminiscent of an outstanding personality, an active public figure, the vice-chairman and chairman of the Lithuanian Rifle Association, one of the initiators of the establishment of the Higher Courses in Kaunas, which grew into a Lithuanian higher school, now widely known as Vytautas the Great University.
It was not easy for L. Vailioniis to move from working with students at school to teaching students in courses, and then at the university. Not only programs, textbooks were missing, even Lithuanian terms were missing. Since he taught subjects related to the knowledge of the plant world – general botany, plant anatomy, morphology and physiology – he began to create (more correctly – to expand) a dictionary of botanical terms, because the previous ones no longer met the growing needs, as many subjects were taught to university students in Lithuanian for the first time. This activity of L. Vailionis, like other pioneers of Lithuanian studies, was really important and highly appreciated.
Not for nothing in 2011 a solid book was published about the first head of the Department of Botany of the University of Lithuania (since 1930 – Vytautas Didios), associate professor, and later professor L. Vailionis. in 2021 this book has been reprinted. The larger part of it consists of daughter Danutė Vailionytė-Narkevičienė’s memories of her father, the smaller part consists of a few scientific popularization and nature protection articles published by L. Vailionis himself in periodicals and other publications, a rich bundle of memoirs. These are memoirs published in the press or speeches given during the funeral of L. Vailionis, commemorating anniversaries, etc. A bibliography of the works of L. Vailionis is also presented.
It is understandable that a rare reader delves into such detailed lists of published works, more often, as soon as he picks up the book, he turns to the fourth cover, where the personality to whom the book is dedicated is briefly introduced and his most important merits are indicated.
It is worth discussing what we find there. The cover of the monograph of the second edition reads very loudly: “L. Vailionis […] – the pioneer of botany and biochemistry sciences in Lithuania.” By the way, this text is also in the book of the first edition, but in a place intended only for librarians and therefore hardly noticeable – in the bibliographic description of the publication.
To an ordinary reader, such merits to science sound very solid. And for specialists? Historians of science at the conference “Scientia et Historia” noticed the error and discussed it (it was read in the report “Is Liudas Vailionis – really the pioneer of botany in Lithuania?”). It is mentioned there that back in 1781-1782 A 5-volume work “Lithuanian Flora” was published in Gardin and Vilnius (both cities of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the time annexed by Russia), which clearly testifies to the high level of botanical research already in the 18th century.
It was not easy for L. Vailioniis to move from working with students at school to teaching students in courses, and then at the university. Not only programs, textbooks were missing, even Lithuanian terms were missing.
Vilnius University professor Andrius Sniadeckis (1768–1838) is considered to be the creator of the foundations of biochemistry in the world. This is publicly evidenced by the commemorative plaque dedicated to him in the Old Town of Vilnius, embedded in the wall of the building of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports. Therefore, L. Vailionis cannot be considered the pioneer of either botany or biochemistry in Lithuania.
If the wrong assignment of priorities was not distributed in the media on the Internet, as, for example, in the online article of the Botanic Garden of VDU (the 135th anniversary of the birth of botanist Prof. Liudas Vailionis (botanikos-sodai.lt) or in the National Values Election, 2012, etc. , maybe it should not be discussed. It is unpleasant to adjust the merits of an active public figure and pedagogue to science (only to science!) to a lesser extent than is advertised, but the gross errors of such announcements must be made public, otherwise the wrong image formed by those who read the printed word will remain so, and even spread further.
By the way, maybe such merits are attributed to L. Vailionis (L. Vailionis himself has nothing to do with this!) due to a technical error, when the word “university” was omitted after the word “beginner”? However, it goes wrong twice: in both the first and second editions (with the discussed “modification”). Therefore, it remains to be assumed that the misleading text was written simply as an occasional exaggeration in order to highlight the personality (the first edition is for the 125th anniversary of L. Vailionis’ birth, the second is for the 100th anniversary of VDU). The real facts were not delved into casually and as a result they were overlooked… Who wrote this text can only be guessed, but the responsibility for the content of the monograph from the first cover to the last rests with its compiler (by the way, the author is indicated on the cover) and the publisher.
I touched on, but did not answer the question of what the professor’s contribution to science really is. Of his 20 published works presented in the bibliography, about 18 can be attributed to the popularization of science and only two to the publication of scientific research results. The most valuable is a scientific article written in French (by the way, the only non-Lithuanian one) and undoubtedly intended for a wider circle of readers than the local scientific community. It describes a fungus species new to science, called Gymnoascus sudans, associated with birch disease. In the modern mushroom “bible” of the world, which is titled “Index fungorum” in Latin, this species is not only mentioned, but the last name of L. Vailionis and the year of description of the species (1936) are indicated next to its name. This proves that this species is considered to meet the status of a species according to modern criteria, and the priority of its discovery is recognized to L. Vailioniis since 1936.
Perhaps this work would be the greatest scientific achievement of L. Vailionis, by the way, not in the field of botany, but in the field of mycology (the science of mushrooms). True, at that time mycology was still classified as botany, but nowadays it is not. L. Vailionis has briefly described and, in his opinion, a new species of algae, assigning it to a new genus, but this fact is underestimated in the modern “bible” of algae: the name of the genus given by L. Vailionis is mentioned, but unfortunately it is empty in that genus – there is not even L himself No species described by Vailionis or anyone else. Apparently, the species he described was already known. L. Vailionis did not have time to do any more scientific research in bars – he died shortly after reaching the age limit of 50.
These notes are not just an analysis of a particular slip-up with the facts in the printed word. They can serve as a signal to writers: do not fall into powder traps that lead to dangerous limits of ethical violations.