Monday, January 24, 2005

State of Reality

Half a week ago Kenneth Green wrote this review of Michael Crichton’s newest book, State of Fear. It’s a good review and it’s a quality book—fast paced and informative. It was also an unexpected libertarian contribution from the man whose books often revolve around the arrogance accompanied with science (The Andromeda Strain), firms (Congo) or both (Jurassic Park, Timeline).

Easily his most political novel, Crichton attacks the theory of global warming, weaving scientific evidence with an all-too-real fictional story about eco-terrorists sabotaging the environment in order to push the global warming doctrine.

I loved this book and I torn through its 600 pages in a couple of days. It’s a fast, informative read (like so much of his other work) and encapsulates libertarian criticisms of politics.

The over-arching lesson of State of Fear is there’s a danger when we politicize science. When politicians become party to scientific theories, there’s a tendency to exaggerate, distort or manufacture the conclusions to perpetuate what the author calls, the state of fear. Reminiscent of Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear, Crichton talks of the “politico-legal-media complex” that’s replaced the military-industrial complex of yesteryear. Each of these factions has a genuine incentive to manufacture fear. “Politicians need fear to control the public. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media need scare stories to capture an audience. Together, these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless.” (p456) And of course powerful mechanisms of the political branch are interest groups.

Thus we get bullshit. Environmental interest groups scream global warming is a dangerous threat, DDT causes cancer and the West should regress its society to simpler times. In reality, there’s not a shred of scientific evidence that global warming exists, DDT’s safe enough to eat and “simpler times” is a euphemism for poverty. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when an island native took apart a Hollywood actor for singing the praises of the “old ways.”

Fear mongering is a powerful, self-perpetuating force. Because there’s so much money and power behind the lie of global warming, few people feel safe denouncing it. So many scientists support the theory despite the lack of evidence because those who criticize it are in danger of losing their funding. Crichton points out that all opponents of the theory are retired, and are no longer seeking grants.

Before reading Crichton’s books, I was on the fence when it came to global warming. Everyone said it was happening, but no one seriously challenged it. While scientists screamed it was happening, their data seemed to rely on computer models predicting decades in advance (an astounding feat considering my weatherman can’t forecast the temperature two weeks from now). But I never heard of any contrary evidence until now. Once again, Crichton masterfully joins science fact with engaging storytelling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope Crichton's economics are better than his science. While Andromeda Strain was reasonable, Prey, Congo, and Timeline had about as much scientific merit as the movie The Core.

As for DDT, if you want to eat a handful of it, that's fine with me; but you won't find any scientists who would suggest it. From the MSDS: Poison if swallowed. May be harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Absorption is considerably enhanced by the presence of oils.