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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published on topics
including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform,
and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]
Michael Crichton and "global warming"…
Lloyd Billingsley] 12/24/04
Michael Crichton has given the phrase “fear not” a timely new application.
In the December 5 issue of Parade magazine, he advises readers not to be frightened
by the latest pseudo-scientific superstition. He cites plenty of examples.
In 1972, three years after Crichton earned his medical degree,
the world was supposedly headed for a new ice age. Those scientists
who remained skeptical of this theory were blasted as irresponsible.
Before that, Crichton noted, the prevailing fear was too many
"In the 70s, the world will undergo famines – hundreds
of millions of people are going to starve to death," wrote
Paul Ehrlich. Crichton showed how this turned out to be wrong,
and so did the charge that we were running out of gold, mercury,
tin, zinc, oil, copper, lead, and natural gas. We still have
all these things, at prices that fluctuate but which have generally
declined over the long term.
Power lines, cyclamates,
fluorescent lights, and other items were held to be deadly
threats. When they were shown to be false
fears, Crichton says he learned to "start regarding each
new breathless claim with skepticism."
"In this elastic anything-goes world where science – or
non-science – is the hand maiden of questionable public
policy," he said last year in a lecture at Caltech, "we
arrive at last at global warming." The author could see
a familiar pattern: evidentiary uncertainties passed over in
the rush for an overarching policy, grants to support the policy
by delivering findings desired by the patron, and the "isolation
of those scientists who won't get with the program" and
who are blasted as "industry flunkies, reactionaries, or
simply anti-environmental nutcases." He mentioned the veritable
jihad against Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Now something similar is happening to Crichton himself.
of Fear, his
carefully footnoted new novel, dramatizes the conflicts of
the global warming debate. But establishment
critics are dismissing it out of hand. In the San Francisco
David Kipen darkly observed that the appearance of the book when
nations were in Buenos Aires discussing the Kyoto Protocol "might
itself be something shy of coincidental." Had Mr. Crichton
written in conformity with global warming theory, in the manner
of the film The Day After Tomorrow, the review would doubtless
have been much kinder.
Novels of ideas are notoriously hard to pull off and readers
will judge how well Crichton manages the task. Other critics
think the author does just fine, in his usual style. There is
much for the scientifically savvy to ponder and plenty for the
general reader to enjoy.
Meanwhile, as the author recognizes, institutionalized science
and institutionalized environmentalism have shown a propensity
for dogmatism, sanctimoniousness, and reaction. Michael Crichton
finds that prospect troubling and remains skeptical about global
"Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead," he
said in his Caltech lecture last year. "Now we're asked
to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?
And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has
everybody lost their minds?"
And as he told Parade readers, "So many fears have turned
out to be untrue or wildly exaggerated that I no longer get excited
about the latest one."
In other words, put facts above pseudo-scientific superstition
and fear not. That's a fine holiday message and counsel for the
new year. tRO
2004 Pacific Research Institute