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“Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves” by Michael Crichton

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I normally don’t spend much time reading Parade Magazine, but it was at the top of the pile of the Sunday paper this morning, and the cover said “Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves” by Michael Crichton.

The famous author takes two pages out of Parade’s celebrity coverage to point out that

From world overpopulation to Y2K to killer bees, many of the dangers we’ve warned about never materialize. Isn’t it time for some healthy skepticism?

He begins the story by pointing out that many scientist spent the 1970’s fretting about global cooling and a coming Ice Age. From there it’s on to overpopulation worries, scarcity worries, worries about machines, overhead power lines and all kinds of other things.

To borrow from the Church Lady — “Isn’t that special!”

Michael Crichton has spent his career getting us to worry, fictionally, about all kinds of things. The first book of his I read was The Andromeda Strain which was fear about space-based germs hitching a ride on returning spacecraft. His book Rising Sun was supposed to get us worried about the Japanese buying up our country. Of course, the Japanese economy entered a decade-long slump at about the time the book came out. There were also the fears about unregulated cloning in Jurassic Park and there were probably other worries in other books of his I haven’t read.

Anyway, he has a new book coming out this week called “State of Fear” which is supposed to be a “superb blend of edge-of-your-seat suspense and thought provoking commentary on how information is manipulated in the modern world” according to the blurb on Amazon.com. I haven’t seen an advance copy, so I don’t know how fearful I should be.

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About Bruce Kratofil

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    This should be read purely as a publicity gimmick and information manipulation mechanism, similar to the game that’s been playing out across the web for the State of Fear book – I signed up too, through the banner that appears above (only in IE)

    Michael Crichton’s new book is another contextual headline grabber, similar to Ken Follett’s new “Whiteout”, and any of Tom Clancy’s book, although Tom Clancy at least provides a pseudo-insider look at the way things work in the corridors of power.

    Thank you for the reference

  • Claire

    Bruce, I don’t discount Michael Crichton and his ideas. They have pretty much all come to pass or could conceivably come to pass in some form or another. He is an excellent fiction writer, with a touch of truth in his writing. None of his “possibilities” are inconceivable. I enjoy him, and thank you for posting this interesting piece about what he said with reference to his writing.

    Claire

  • Duane

    Crichton writes entertaining novels, Claire, but don’t assume that he comes up with this stuff himself. He keeps one eye on the popular science literature, then dreams up a novel depicting how an extrapolation of current ideas and technology will come back to bite us in the ass.

    And Bruce, I agree with you all the way. I go back as far as Crichton’s The Terminal Man, where he tries to show us the horrors of computers, and ever since then, his most common approach is to get us to believe that he is a science authority, then show the products of science running amok. It sells, because most Americans do not like science, and they like to see scientists portrayed as irresponsible Dr. Frankensteins. It goes down easy.

  • http://www.bjkresearch.com/bugblog/ Bruce Kratofil

    By the way, that flashing ad for “State of Fear” that you see at the top of the BC page is there independently of this review. It looks like Harper Collins is pulling out all the stops for this one.

  • Marvin

    I just finished the book, and it is excellent! Full of footnotes, references, interesting and thoughtful arguments, and–fictional characters, plots, subplots, and action!

    I particularly enjoyed the part where the fictional heroes were trapped by cannibals, and the one person who was so outspoken in defense of the “noble savage” and the nobility of primitivity, was the first one to be eaten! Jolly good, old chap!

    Time to quit that religion and start thinking for yourself, friend.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I find Crichton to not be a terribly good storyteller, though he’s head and shoulders above Stephen King. But the rumor mill is saying good things about this book – especially in the area of debunking a lot of the currently popular junk science on global warming – so I plan to get my wife to read it and summarize it for me. I find that’s the best way to enjoy a Crichton novel.

    Dave

  • Closet Reader

    Crichton made four mistakes in his comments on Solar Photovoltaics:

    1) Solar PV is cost effective for houses exposed to PG&E tier 4 & tier 5 rates (unless you think the PG&E rates will drop over the next 30 years). The actor’s mansion is probably exposed to those rates and would benefit from Solar PV.

    2) The implication that we would have to pave Massachucetts or a chunk of Texas to generate Solar PV is misleading. The suggestion that paving Los Angeles with Solar PV is ludicrous, is actually quite reasonable. Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego — urban locations — are the hot beds where solar pv is being installed, not remote desert wildernesses.

    3) The suggestion that Solar PV enables access to remote locations is absurd. In the first place, we commonly build structures in remote locations without using Solar PV — for example, the Alaska Pipeline. In the second place, when building a cabin in the woods, the main portion of the cost is the cabin itself and not the electrical generating system — Solar PV isn’t sufficiently less costly than a gasoline generator to dramatically increase the building of cabins in the wilderness.

    4) The statement that we cannot supply three times our current power consumption without using fossil fuels unless we develop new technology is silly. In the first place, we will have to develop new technology in order to supply that kind of power using fossil fuels. In the second place, existing Solar, Wind, and battery technology can provide enough energy if we are willing to pay for it. However, since we have steadily developed Solar PV technology over the past 50 years, it seems likely that we will continue to develop the technology into the future.

    Based on the presence of these errors in areas that I understand, I’d have to assume that the remainder of the book is similarily error filled.