Thursday, February 09, 2006

State of Fear Still has Liberals Thrashing

Last night I became suddenly curious about the fate of Michael Crichton's last book, State of Fear . In case you aren't familiar with it, Crichton makes an unusual direct plea to his readers, through an author's note and scientific journal citations embedded in the text of his fictional story, that we resist global warming alarmism.

It's been more fun to read the hysterical liberal comments on Amazon (approaching 900 now) than it was to read the book. And I couldn't help but wonder: Would liberal anger at Crichton's apostasy keep this book from reaching the silver screen as his offerings so frequently do? I searched Publisher's Weekly and the Web for any mention of the sale of the movie rights, but found none.

I did, however, run across this fun diatribe against Crichton and State of Fear. The writer, Marc McDonald, manages to crank out 850 words, without even attempting to refute a single specific citation in the book. Instead, he points to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and another fictional Crichton book, Rising Sun, to show why alarmism is good, and Crichton is wrong.

McDonald's use of Rising Sun to criticize Crichton's track record is especially inapposite. He says Crichton's now clearly inaccurate portrait of a looming Japanese economic threat leaves him no credibility on global warming predictions. But Rising Sun makes predictions only through its characters. There is no direct statement of Crichton's opinion; nor are there footnoted citations as in State of Fear. Crichton typically prods both sides when treating any sensitive issue; it's not clear what he really believed about Japan.

If Crichton did fear the Japanese, his opinions squared with the alarmist popular wisdom of the time. And perhaps he learned from that to consider more carefully and investigate more deeply before taking the popular, alarmist position again.

UPDATE: Marc McDonald responds in the comments below and gets his facts wrong again. He says:

I wasn't primarily interested in going after Crichton's citations. I'm fully willing to admit that citations exist that support both sides. Instead I was more interested in challenging Crichton's central premise in the book: that global warming simply doesn't exist. One can argue about the extent of global warming---but it is positively ignorant to claim that it doesn't exist. The vast majority of the world's scientists believe that global warming is real. A small minority disagrees. If casting my lot with the majority of the world's scientists makes me an "alarmist" then so be it.

Actually, Crichton doesn't at all deny the existence of global warming. His author's message includes the following personal conclusions:
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
  • We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the "Little Ice Age".
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made. Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows...I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributable to human activity. I suspect that the principal human effect will come from land use, and that the amospheric component will be minor...Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better....
  • There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers...
(If you care to read the whole thing, go to the Amazon listing for State of Fear and search inside the book for "authors message".)

Crichton has also posted the text of two entertaining speeches that give further insight into his thinking: Environmentalism as Religion and Aliens Cause Global Warming. He has quite low regard for those who determine the correctness of scientific theories by voting:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.
He proceeds with a litany of historical cases where scientific evidence was ignored in favor of consensus, sometimes resulting in thousands of preventable deaths. And let's not forget, while treating McDonald's argument from authority, that the "majority of scientists" who sign vague statements of concern about global warming are often not themselves climatologists; Nor are they risking professional credibility or academic standing as they would by submitting a shoddy journal article or peer review. We don't judge professional advice received at cocktail parties by the same standard as that given in the office of our doctor or lawyer for good reason. It's the same difference.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Marc McDonald responds:
This piece says that I "crank out 850 words, without even attempting to refute a single specific citation in the book."
Well, I wasn't primarily interested in going after Crichton's citations. I'm fully willing to admit that citations exist that support both sides.
Instead I was more interested in challenging Crichton's central premise in the book: that global warming simply doesn't exist.
One can argue about the extent of global warming---but it is positively ignorant to claim that it doesn't exist.
The vast majority of the world's scientists believe that global warming is real. A small minority disagrees. If casting my lot with the majority of the world's scientists makes me an "alarmist" then so be it.

Anonymous said...

Fine: believe whatever you wish to believe and continue to distort other people's arguments, (as well as endlessly splitting hairs on fine points). Does Crichton, like most right-wingers, believe global warming is a fraud? I think it's clear that he does---at the very least, he believes that the fears over global warming are grossly exaggerated. It's clear that "State of Fear" has an agenda---to persuade public opinion in the U.S. against taking action such as signing the Kyoto treaty.

You may wish to reject informed worldwide scientific opinion and get your data from pulp fiction novels like "State of Fear" (as well as Nobel-winning climate scientists like Rush Limbaugh). However, as temperatures continue to rise and set new records across the globe, I'd suspect that you're going to find yourself increasingly in the minority on this issue. I mean, there are still right-wingers out there who believe that Clinton murdered Vince Foster. Hey, it's still a free country.

Speaking of "getting facts wrong," I'd like to point out that your "facts" about my arguments are wrong. You say:

"Instead, he points to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and another fictional Crichton book, Rising Sun, to show why alarmism is good, and Crichton is wrong."

Uh, actually, nowhere do I remotely advocate the idea that "alarmism is good." Instead, my arguments are against Crichton's own alarmism. He, (like most right-wingers) hysterically exaggerates the "threat" of "tree-hugging" environmentalists. The reality is that the environmental movement in the U.S. is weak and impotent and has little clout in Congress, compared to the likes of ExxonMobil.

Ashley said...

Rush Limbaugh won the Nobel Prize!? Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster!? How does that pertain to the discussion?

Anatoly Grishin said...

Mr. McDonald, please respond to Dr. Crichton's well-researched FACTS and stop beating about the bush! The issues are clear.

1) Global warming may be occuring but SINCE when?
2) How much of it if any IS ATTRIBUTABLE TO human activity?
3) How much of it is ATTRIBUTABLE to NATURAL phenomena?
4) How can we predict what will be?
5) How can we link future states to present situations?

These are the hard-edged questions Dr. Crichton boldly asks and so elegantly addresses.