I am grateful for Michael Crichton speaking out so forcefully and effectively on global warming before he died in 2008. His novel “State of Fear” presaged the media circus of the last decade since the book appeared in 2004. In particular, the attitudes and behavior of climate fear mongers in the novel seemed incredible at the time, but were validated in spades by the Climategate revelations.
To be honest, I was not that thrilled reading the story in 2005, lacking any awareness that such a campaign was underway. I was reading anything Crichton wrote because of my interest in science and technology, and his focus on the near future effects. His other novels were much more compelling: Jurassic Park, Congo, Disclosure, Air Frame, to name a few.
But State of Fear included not only a novel, but many pages of graphs and analyses that showed the weaknesses in alarmist claims. And there were transcripts of Crichton speeches that laid waste to climate claims. The appendices got into my awareness much more than did the story itself.
Judging by what others have said on blogs, I was not the only one for whom this book triggered a skeptical stance toward global warming alarm. It was a wake up call for some, and for others, like myself, it was an inoculation against the viral media onslaught to come.
Let me explain with a brief tangent
Edward De Bono wrote extensively some decades ago on the subject of lateral thinking, or “thinking outside of the box.” His studies of human problem solving showed emphatically that everything depends on the sequence in which information enters a person’s awareness.
Thus, on a topic where I have no opinion, my mind is open to various perspectives. Fairly soon, however, I am likely to form a gestalt, or paradigm that makes sense of what I know, which involves discounting or dismissing facts that don’t fit. This occurs because uncertainly and ambiguity is uncomfortable, even painful if the matter is of great consequence.
Over time, I accept any and all information that reinforces my gestalt, and become increasingly resistant to facts that challenge or contradict my paradigm. This occurs because it is even more painful to discard a gestalt that I used to organize my thinking, since I now become disoriented, unable to process new information that comes to me.
This is background to understand how serious is the educational propagation of the man-made climate change notion. I went through this process regarding global warming starting in 2009 as an adult with a background of a degree in organic chemistry, and I came out skeptical of the IPCC consensus perspective. That outcome would be less likely if I were a young student today.
And the critical event was Crichton’s novel, evidence and speeches that preceded my exposure to the alarms, and predisposed me to question and examine critically. My takeaway message from Crichton had been: “When you hear scary things about the climate, don’t take them at face value–investigate and get a second or third opinion.”
In fact that experience regarding climate science led me to the slogan of this blog: Reading between the lines and underneath the hype.
Michael Crichton had two principle concerns concerning science and society, which led to his criticism of global warming. First, he warned against governments capturing science as a tool to cow the population into funding and submitting to politicians’ policies. Second, he thought scientists in many fields were far too certain and trusting of their knowledge and tools, especially computerized systems.
On Rampant Media Speculation (2002):
But just in terms of the general emotional tenor of life, I often think people are nervous, jittery in this media climate of what if, what if, maybe, perhaps, could be…when there is usually no sensible reason to feel nervous.
Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It’s not sensible to listen to it.
On Enivronmentalism (2003)
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, if you look carefully at the core beliefs, you will see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
And so, sadly, with environmentalism it ncreasingly seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner or be saved, whether you are going to be on the side of salvation or on the side of doom, whether you are going to be one of us or one of them.
Am I exaggerating to make a point? I am afraid not. Because we know a lot more about the world than we did forty or fifty years ago. And what we know now is no longer supportive of many core environmental myths, yet the myths do not die. Let’s examine some of those beliefs. . .
I want to argue that it is now time for us to make a major shift in our thinking about the environment, similar to the shift that occurred around the first Earth Day in 1970, when this awareness was first heightened. But this time around, we need to get environmentalism out of the sphere of religion. We need to stop the mythic fantasies, and we need to stop the doomsday predictions. We need to start doing hard science instead.
On Politicized Science (2003):
Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Which means, in turn, that if somebody tells you the consensus of scientists believes something or other, you should be immediately suspicious.
Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible. In one context, perhaps you will get mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.
That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn clearly—and defended.
What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that given a catchy name, a strong policy position, and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis can be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over, without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.
And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science—or nonscience—is the handmaiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Dramatic announcements are carefully contrived. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” in quotation marks—suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists in many fields are uncomfortable about how things are being done.
To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.” But now, large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world—increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs.
Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the model makers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system—no one is sure about
that—these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years
from now is simply absurd.
Wow. Talk about hitting the nail on the head a decade in advance.
For those who want to read more (highly recommended):
State of Fear pdf is here:
State of Fear ebook is here:
And a final word from the novel:
Our planet is five billion years old, and it has been changing constantly all during that time. […] Our atmosphere is as violent as the land beneath it. At any moment there are one thousand five hundred electrical storms across the planet. Eleven lightning bolts strike the ground each second. A tornado tears across the surface every six hours. And every four days, a giant cyclonic storm, hundreds of miles in diameter, spins over the ocean and wreaks havoc on the land.
The nasty little apes that call themselves human beings can do nothing except run and hide. For these same apes to imagine they can stabilize this atmosphere is arrogant beyond belief. They can’t control the climate.
The reality is, they run from the storms.
Thank you Michael Crichton. I hope we can still pull the plug on the present day State of Fear.