We usually hold back on criticism of the recently deceased, but as the appreciation pieces are being written we’ll say for the record that the late Michael Crichton did a disservice with his denialist potboiler novel State of Fear, which abused climate scientists and environmentalists. President Bush met directly with Crichton while snubbing real scientists. President Obama can begin to set things right by showing that he is instead meeting directly with leading scientists and learning from them.
Post by Rick Piltz
Michael Crichton’s writing kept a lot of people entertained. But he sullied his legacy with State of Fear and his attacks on the climate science community.
Joe Romm on Climate Progress has written an excellent, excoriating commentary on Crichton’s legacy (“Michael Crichton, world’s most famous global warming denier, dies,” November 5, see below for an excerpt) that nails key points. I’ll just add:
I had not previously read any of Crichton’s books, but when State of Fear gained notoriety for its treatment of global warming I picked it up and read it through all the way to the end of the bibliography on page 672. What a dreadful piece of work. To begin with, the novel is populated by unrealistic cardboard characters who speak lines written with a tin ear for dialogue. The storyline ranges from melodramatic, highly visual scenes that read like they want to be made into a movie (thankfully no one seems to be interested in doing this), to didactic pseudo-science lectures, to scenes with environmental organization types that seem to exist in some alternate universe to the one that is inhabited by actual real-world environmentalists. But those are the least of the book’s problems.
Every aspect of the novel seems designed to make up a sustained, scurrilous misrepresentation of the climate science community and the environmental movement. His environmentalists are either eco-terrorists planning to cause a murderous disaster to further their sinister, authoritarian political aims, or they are ignorant fools and hypocrites. The leading climate scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, misrepresent their data, and trade their intellectual integrity for continued funding by bureaucrats with whom they are in collusion to mislead the world into believing that anthropogenic global warming and its impacts are real. The author’s hero, Kenner, is an investigator portrayed as a knowledgeable, savvy expert who supposedly cuts through the scientists’ and environmentalists’ B.S., while using material that might have come from a briefing by Pat Michaels.
Charles McGrath’s appreciation in the New York Times November 5 refers to this as “speculating, in his 2004 novel, “State of Fear,” that global warming might be a hoax.” That doesn’t begin to capture the smear job that Crichton perpetrated on scientists and environmentalists. Nor did the news reader’s comment I heard earlier today on CNN that Crichton “angered environmentalists when he questioned global warming.” Nor did CNN’s online statement that the book “took on global warming and the theories surrounding it.” Nor did the Associated Press when it said that environmentalists didn’t like the book because it was “hurting efforts to pass legislation to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.” The book is insidious from start to finish.
Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies posted a solid, gentlemanly explanation of some of Crichton’s scientific errors on RealClimate (Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion).
Jim Hansen of NASA set the record straight on Crichton’s (and Pat Michaels’) misrepresentation of Hansen’s work (Michael Crichton’s “Scientific Method”).
Further, Crichton carried his misrepresentation of climate science and attack on the integrity of climate scientists into the political arena and the media. So this wasn’t just an exercise in science fiction writing – Crichton seemed to actually believe his own fiction and was willing to use it as a weapon.
Recall that when the book came out in 2004, we were still in the depths of media coverage of global warming based on fake “balance,” in which real science and either disinformation or contrarian views were routinely played off against each other with no invetsigation of the merits. The Natural Resources Defense Council noted this in their write-up of the book (Michael Crichton’s State of Fear: They Don’t Call It Science Fiction for Nothing):
What’s truly scary is the willingness of some major U.S. media to accept a sweeping dismissal—from a novelist—of scientists’ conclusions from decades of research. From Matt Lauer, on NBC’s Today show, asking Crichton whether environmentalists really could control the weather to improve their fundraising, to ABC’s “20/20” refusing to allow scientists to appear on the show when asking Crichton to describe his theory, the state of fiction and science seem to be merging—and that’s not good for our nation.
Joe Romm wrote on Climate Progress November 5 (excerpt – real the full post here):
[Crichton] used his fame in the most destructive way possible — to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific understanding of global warming, to urge people not to take action against the gravest preventable threat to the health and well-being of future generations….
In 2004, he published State of Fear, a deeply flawed novel that attacks climate science and climate scientists. Although a work of fiction, the book had a clear political agenda…
The mistake-riddled book contains a gratuitous Appendix titled “Why Politicized Science Is Dangerous,” where Crichton draws a direct and lengthy analogy between climate science and eugenics and Soviet biology under Lysenko, where all dissent to the party line was crushed and some Soviet geneticists were executed. With no evidence whatsoever, he claims, that in climate science, “open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed.”
Sadly, Crichton chose to use his fame to smear the work of countless scientists who are trying to predict and prevent the unintended consequences of humanity’s dangerous experiment with unrestricted emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases….
Crichton spoke frequently against climate scientists and climate action, including public debates and testimony at a Senate hearing chaired by James Inhofe (R-OK), where Crichton took the opportunity to once again accuse the entire scientific community of fudging the science of climate change.
Crichton even helped persuade President Bush that he was wise to do nothing to address global warming. In 2006, Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote of Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto global warming treaty:
Though he didn’t say so publicly, Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming…. He avidly read Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel State of Fear, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming. Crichton himself has studied the issue extensively and concluded that global warming is an unproven theory and that the threat is vastly overstated. Early in 2005, political adviser Karl Rove arranged for Crichton to meet with Bush at the White House. They talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.
Such is Crichton’s legacy to future generations….
President Bush rarely, if ever, met directly with actual climate scientists, that we know of. So, to begin to reverse this particular piece of the Bush-Rove legacy, perhaps President Obama could let himself be seen meeting directly with leaders of the climate science community, as convened by his new presidential science adviser – and speaking to the public as one who has learned something from them.
That said, I must add, 66 is too young to die. Michael Crichton, R.I.P. and may you be remembered well for “ER” and other work that did no harm.