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Sacred Cows

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I recently read Michael Crichton’s latest effort “State of Fear.” I seldom take anything I read at face value, and extraordinary claims always require extraordinary proof. This is the mental health policy I have personally implemented so I do not go prematurely nuts from surfing the world wide wasteland. So much of the web is silly and absurd and not believing is the only sane approach to take.

We seem to fear many things these days and perhaps we all need to take a deep breath and rationally assess what we are fed by those special interest groups that are telling us we are doomed. A little careful research will prove some of what we think we know is incorrect.

Given that Michael Crichton wrote State Of Fear, I decided to follow up and do a little due diligence. Mr. Crichton has carefully documented the claims he makes in his book and that makes his writing about the environment slightly more credible than the usual sources of misinformation.

If you have not read State of Fear, I recommend that you do. No spoilers here, but allow me to tell you that the story is a fictional story about ecological terrorists supported by a framework of verifiable facts. He shoots large holes through many of the commonly held beliefs we all seem to share regarding global warming and the ecology.

I happened to catch a recent television program on ABC, presented by John Stossel. Again, many popular beliefs and myths were explored and dispatched using facts; something many people seem to ignore when they desperately trying to prove a point. I am certain Mr. Stossel will get hammered for suggesting (and proving) the claims he has made, as will Michael Crichton.

Bob Maxey – Salt Lake City, Utah.

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About Robert Maxey

  • An interesting counterpoint from Columbia University

  • JRT

    I found the major problem with State of Fear is the relationship between the Tsunami & Climate Change. After basing the entire book on science, we are supposed to believe that the well-educated characters in the book are going to confuse an earthquake or underwater landside event like a tsunami is related to global warming. Maybe it was RC’s inside joke on his readers.

  • Crichton does have solid scientific and academic credentials – in medicine. As far as I know he is not a climatologist and has no training in this area. The thing about Cricton to remember is that all of his books tend to be couched as skeptical cautionary tales – he specifically grinds his own ideological axe, one focused on demonstrating that human pride, power and scientific arrogance combine to create dangerous situations (i.e dinosaurs running amuck, or nano-technology running amuck, or bio-technology running amuck (are you catching the theme here?).

    Critchton has some legitimate points to make on the questionable and faddish nature of some of the greenhouse effect theories but…while he lambastes climatologists for selectively taking their data from the narrow slice of recorded climate studies, he then does pretty much the same thing when refuting them.

    I’m cautious about Cricton’s conclusions for a couple of reasons: 1). climate studies are a tremendously complex and poorly understood set of systems and virtually all the data points available to work by are recorded during an interglacial – the data is naturally somewhat suspect.
    2). Cricton has demonstrated in his previous works that his understanding of the scientific principles notwithstanding – he often gets his science very wrong (on nanotechnology in particular).

    The third and overwhelming reason to avoid State of Fear is that it is poorly written, prone to lecturing, with shallow, uninteresting characters and a genuinely silly plot. The only high point was the truely vicious end he plotted for the Martin Sheen character…

    A better (and a more fun read to boot) take on the global warming issue is Larry Niven’s ode to sci-fi fandom Fallen Angels (available free online at the Baen Free Library).

  • Despite the people who blow him off as ‘just a novelist’, Crichton is really quite a bit more. He has genuine academic and scientific credentials and really does make an effort to research and document the science in his books – sometimes to the detriment of the narrative quality of the books, as seems to be the case with State of Fear.

    If Crichton is skeptical about global warming, his is an opinion worth considering, especially when you add to it the many, many scientists who think that blaming global warming on human activities is absolute bunk.


  • MC does take the time to document many of his assertions. I have looked at his research and I have found more value than fluff in his comments and sources. That is all I can say.

    The true believers will never believe the hard science. The environment is perhaps something that needs to be added to the list of others things we do not discuss. Just like politics and religion.

    I suppose the reason MC added the footnotes was to enable the reader to check up on his reportage. Granted, the work is fiction, but as I said, it is built on a framework of facts and we can look up his references and assess the information with clarity. We will believe or we will not believe.

    What bothers me is the “need” to change public policy and enact laws based upon faulty research and spurious data.

    He should be commended for giving us a place to begin our own search for the truth.

    Someone asked, “Why the world is willing to pay attention to what novelists and political pundits think about the complex science behind global climate change.”

    Very good question. Why should we. Perhaps for the same reasons we are forced to listen to others comment with little on no science backing them up. Climate change is a complex science, but it does not take a scientist to look at the historical climate data, the EPA research, the Chemical Society and their data supporting MC’s comments about DDT.

    There are many people out there spouting opinions they cannot validate with facts. Opinions do not need facts, but opinions are often taken as fact by a largely ignorant general public. We make decisions based upon a sound bite here and there.

    Robert Maxey – Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Thanks for the call-out, DrPat:)

  • Aaman Lamba found it “an ambiguous book to review. It is in fact, a very good book hidden inside a bad one.” He also called Crichton a “master of the application of bad science to thrillers”.

    Then there’s the meta-criticism:

    SteelR seems to think Crichton is full of, um, hot air. He uses just enough to fill a balloon about Social Security reform.

    rageforward wondered “Why the world is willing to pay attention to what novelists and political pundits think about the complex science behind global climate change…”.

  • There are many other threads on this book, which I suppose means it has hit a nerve for several critics.

    Tom Bux thought it was “…not intellectual fertilizer, but will keep you interested enough”.

    Lucas Brachish felt that in State of Fear, “Michael Crichton, with his prestigious Ivy League anthropology and medical degrees in tow, did his part to confuse the issue.”

    Bill Wallo was bothered by “…many instances in State of Fear where the narrative comes crashing to a complete stop so that Crichton can speak through his characters about something.”