Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion
Gavin Schmidt @ 13 December 2004 -
In a departure from normal practice on this site, this post is a commentary on a piece of out-and-out fiction (unlike most of the other posts which deal with a more subtle kind). Michael Crichton’s new novel “State of Fear” is about a self-important NGO hyping the science of the global warming to further the ends of evil eco-terrorists. The inevitable conclusion of the book is that global warming is a non-problem. A lesson for our times maybe? Unfortunately, I think not.
Like the recent movie “The Day After Tomorrow”, the novel addresses real scientific issues and controversies, but is similarly selective (and occasionally mistaken) about the basic science. I will discuss a selection of the global warming-related issues that are raised in between the car chases, shoot-outs, cannibalistic rites and assorted derring-do. The champion of Crichton’s scientific view is a MIT academic-turned-undercover operative who clearly runs intellectual rings around other characters. The issues are raised as conversations and Q and A sessions between him (and other ‘good guys’) and two characters; an actor (not a very clever chap) and a lawyer (a previously duped innocent), neither of whom know much about the science.
So for actors and lawyers everywhere, I will try and help out.
The issues Crichton raises are familiar to those of us in the field, and come up often in discussions. Some are real and well appreciated while some are red herrings and are used to confuse rather than enlighten.
The first set of comments relate to the attribution of the recent warming trend to increasing CO2. One character suggests that “if CO2 didn’t cause the global cooling between 1940 and 1970, how can you be sure it is responsible for the recent warming?” (paraphrased from p86) . ...
Secondly, through the copious use of station weather data, a number of single station records with long term cooling trends are shown. ... Global warming is defined by the global mean surface temperature. It does not imply that the whole globe is warming uniformly (which of course it isn’t). ...
Next, and slightly more troubling, we have some rather misleading and selective recollection regarding Jim Hansen’s testimony to congress in 1988. ...
Another issue that often comes up in discussion about the surface temperature record is the impact of the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE), and here it appears on p370. ...
A central issue in the book concerns sea-level rise. Vanuatu is singled out for special attention since the islanders there are understandably concerned about their low-lying islands eventually being swamped. Sea level however is a surprisingly difficult thing to measure. ...
There are only a few out-and-out errors, but to be generous, they probably just slipped through the editing process. ...
Review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear
Masters finishes and extensive review with the following:
In a conversation about trying to educate an ignorant environmentalist about the realities of Global Warming, Kenner sums up for me the essence of Crichton's presentation of science in State of Fear:
"Her intentions are good," she said.
"And her information is bad," Kenner said. "A prescription for disaster."
The excessive interruptions of an otherwise good story by Crichton's bad science make State of Fear a bad buy.
For further reading...
For one of the more balanced and up-to-date views of the controversies surrounding the Global Warming issue, see Dr. Stephen Schneider's web site. Dr. Schneider, one of the world's foremost climate experts, has testified frequently before Congress on environmental issues and is one of the lead authors of the IPCC scientific reports. He has criticized both industry-funded skeptics and environmental groups on their biased treatment of the Global Warming issue.
Skeptics have routinely called global warming "a hoax", and attacked the credibility of scientists promoting the idea. Are the skeptics right? To shed light on the issue, it is helpful to review how the same skeptics treated the ozone hole issue. Read the
The latest IPCC summary has an excellent summary of what the best scientists in the field figure we know and don't know about Global Warming.
New York Times Sunday Book Review
'State of Fear': Not So Hot
By Bruce Barcott - Jan. 30, 2005
There's a problem with Michael Crichton's new thriller, and it shows up before the narrative even begins. In a disclaimer that follows the copyright page, Crichton writes: "This is a work of fiction. Characters, corporations, institutions and organizations in this novel are the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, are used fictitiously without any intent to describe their actual conduct. However, references to real people, institutions and organizations that are documented in footnotes are accurate. Footnotes are real."
Yes, there will be footnotes. Although "State of Fear" comes dressed as an airport-bookstore thriller, Crichton's readers will discover halfway through their flight that the novel more closely resembles one of those Ann Coulter "Liberals Are Stupid" jobs. Liberals, environmentalists and many other straw men endure a stern thrashing in "State of Fear," but Crichton's primary target is the theory of global warming, which he believes is a scientific delusion. In his zeal to expose the emperor's nudity the author cites, ad nauseam, actual studies that seem to contradict the conventional wisdom on global warming. Hence, footnotes.
Scholarly trappings aside, "State of Fear" does follow the basic conventions of the mass-market thriller. There are villains, there are heroes and there is an evil plot to be foiled. ...
A review of the distorted science in Michael Crichton’s State of Fear
By Gavin Schmidt on February 2, 2005
Book Review: Bad fiction, worse science
Michael Crichton has achieved celebrity status as a novelist, film director, and television producer/series creator. Trained as a doctor, Crichton never pursued a medical career but instead successfully combined his interest in science with a talent for storytelling. His novels and other productions frequently begin with some scientific underpinning—dangerous organisms brought to earth by space capsules in The Andromeda Strain; dinosaurs restored to life from fossilized DNA in Jurassic Park. In most of his novels, he envelops this scientific content in the now-classic formula of a modern technothriller: starkly defined heroes and villains; Earth or some large part of it at risk of destruction; and beautiful, intelligent, available women saved from death by even more able and heroic men. Crichton’s novels attract many readers who take pleasure in reading understandable explanations of cutting-edge science and technology in the sugarcoating of a mass-market thriller.
In his new novel State of Fear, Crichton retains most of the formula while adding a heavy-handed political message. ...
Crichton Thriller State of Fear
Michael Crichton's book State of Fear has characters debating data (complete with graphs and footnotes) and concepts that cast doubt on the validity of global warming evidence. This doubt is echoed in the author's message at the end of the novel and in public interviews.
Readers may understandably take away some misconceptions from his book. To clear up these misconceptions, we have selected some representative cases to discuss; the list below, however, is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the errors in Crichton's book.
- How was Michael Crichton able to take the same data that climate scientists use and come to the conclusion that global warming isn't a real threat?
- State of Fear uses graphs that don't show a warming trend. How can specific locations show cooling if global warming is happening?
- What is the "urban heat island effect" and is it contributing to warming?
- Crichton argues that C02 in the atmosphere is not closely correlated with warming trends. So why is C02 blamed as a greenhouse gas?
- Several times Crichton notes that glaciers are expanding not retreating. Is this accurate or only part of the story?
- Michael Crichton says we can't predict the future. Does this preclude our taking steps to reduce heat trapping gas emissions?
- Why do we have to act now to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels?