Thursday, 23 December 2004

Global Warming? Hot Air.

George Will on Michael Crichton's State of Fear:
"State of Fear," with a first printing of 1.5 million copies, resembles Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" -- about 6 million copies sold since 1957 -- as a political broadside woven into an entertaining story. But whereas Rand had only an idea -- a good one (capitalism is splendid), but only one -- Crichton has information. "State of Fear" is the world's first page turner that people will want to read in one gulp (a long gulp: 600 pages, counting appendices) even though it has lots of real scientific graphs, and footnotes citing journals such as Progress in Physical Geography and Transactions -- American Geophysical Union.

Crichton’s subject is today’s fear that global warming will cause catastrophic climate change, a belief now so conventional that it seems to require no supporting data. Crichton’s subject is also how conventional wisdom is manufactured in a credulous and media-drenched society.


Climate-change forecasts, Harvey writes, are like financial forecasts but involve a vastly more complex array of variables. The climate forecasts, based on computer models analyzing the past, tell us that we do not know how much warming is occurring, whether it is a transitory episode or how much warming is dangerous—or perhaps beneficial.

One of the good guys in “State of Fear” cites Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.” Which is why 30 years ago the fashionable panic was about global cooling. The New York Times (Aug. 14, 1975) reported “many signs” that “Earth may be heading for another ice age.” Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned about “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.” “Continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) could herald “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” (Science, March 1, 1975). The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that Nebraska’s armadillos were retreating south from the cooling.

My feelings on Crichton’s book are mixed. I was pretty bothered by the movie The Day After Tomorrow and its attempt to influence people with hysterical claims about global warming. If Crichton’s book is more factual, for a fiction book, then it might be useful. Even so, I’m not crazy about the blurring of actual science and fiction.

Update: Crichton's name corrected in post.

Sunday, 2 January 2005

Global Warming

And this is different than The Day After Tomorrow in what way?:

Killer hurricanes, towering tidal waves and destructive lightning storms are all meant to prove the scientists’ point about the deadly effects of global warming. The environmentalists are the villains. The corporate shills who have been paid big bucks to debunk the global warming community are the good guys. According to Crichton, global warming is a myth.

In today’s world of increasing corporate control of almost every facet of our public and private lives, Crichton’s screed against the environmental movement should come as no great surprise.

After all, the publisher of “State of Fear” is Harper Collins, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the same people who feed Americans and people around the world a daily dosage of right-wing propaganda billed as 24-hour news.

Murdoch can wave his big money around and always expect to find some novelist; screenwriter; movie director; journalist; left, center, or right-wing magazine editor; cartoonist; or research institute fellow to allow himself or herself to become human versions of coin-operated nickelodeons or Laundromats.

I’ve mentioned my own concerns with Crichton’s book before, but I don’t see how it’s any different than other propaganda coming out of Hollywood. Being swayed by Crichton’s book makes about as much sense to me as being swayed by a cheesy film that supports global warming. The Crichton book at least has the virtue of footnotes to actual science. Why is the author of the column willing to overlook its failings, while fixating on Crichton’s?

Crichton made a speech last year that addressed many of my concerns on politicizing science. The speech is referenced here, and here’s an excerpt from another column:

“Several thousand of the earth’s scientists,” it says at one point, “agree that global warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution from human activities represents a profoundly serious threat to human civilization and to even the most robust and insulated natural ecosystems. Their comments are echoed in the Draft Scientific Consensus Statement on the Likely Impact of Climate Change on the Pacific Northwest prepared by scientists at Oregon and Washington universities in the fall of 2004.”

The red flag is the reference to thousands of scientists and “consensus.”

The factual truth of anything never depends on how many people agree with it.

Michael Crichton, the author, made that point in a lecture last year.

“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks,” he wrote. “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.”