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Michael Crichton's State of Fear

  1. Dec 23, 2004 #1
    Hi Everyone.

    I have just read Michael Crichton's new book - State of Fear. I have enjoyed many of his books in the past, as I love the way he combines often very plausible science with a thriller plot (yes I know a lot of his science in his past books is not plausible - and for some reason this upsets a lot of people - but they were not in scientific journals... they are novels).

    His newest book is a different species though. Unfortunately, plot-wise, it is a bit weak. However, the scientific argument he puts forward is pretty compelling. I do allow for some ignorance on my behalf here, since climatology is not something I have ever studied (I am going into 3rd year physics study in 2005). To put it very succintly, his main argument is that global warming is a highly politicised argument, with a very weak scientific basis (i.e. we know the planet is warming, but enormous and erratic climate change has been part of Earth since long before people ever showed up on the scene - so we do not know if we are the cause of said warming, if the trend will continue, and if it is really a worry at all).

    I have done some reading on the net of how people have reacted to his book, but since the book is very new, these are mostly book reviews, and I do not know how legitimate these people's opinions are. Of course, they have in many cases been very scathing, as you would expect any environmentalist to react to this kind of suggestion... which is in fact another main premise of the novel. He argues scientists who disagree with the theory of global warming are instantly labelled as industry stooges with a political agenda, and there is no open forum for them to argue their viewpoints. This brings to mind "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lombrog, cited by Crichton as one of his major sources (but not the only one - his book is very well researched and resourced). I recall the reaction to Lomborg's book - which was much less alarmist than current ideas of global warming, and disagreed with many 'accepted' beliefs. He was completely discredited in a barrage of ad hominem attacks, many of which were later shown to be unfounded. If I recall correctly, Time magazine said something along the lines of: no matter whether he is right or wrong, the reaction towards his publication by the scientific community is disgraceful. (Here's what Matt Ridley had to say in Time: http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,994022,00.html)

    I again must admit I have not read Lomborg's book - but it would not be much benefit as I said before this is not my field and I would not be able to review it critically.

    What I want to ask is: Where can I do some more reading on the topic? I want to know if Crichton's arguments are justified or if he has just cherry-picked his data to suit his argument? (something he accuses environmentalists of doing in his book - so this would indeed be VERY hypocritical of him)

    Has anyone here with a climatological background read it? I would like to see a specific response to what he has argued, rather than just a general debate.

    I should say Crichton is not anti all forms of envrionmentalism. He does at various times suggest "better" ways humanity could go about "saving" the Earth - but it would be too long and tedious for me to go into here - I can only suggest you read the book, if for nothing else just to hear his argument.

    I am going to have to ask nicely that I not be attacked for being ignorant or for using a novelist as my scientific resource. I know this is a hotly debated and sensitive issue for some people, but it is my desire to learn more about the topic. Any direction you can give will be much appreciated.

    Thanks
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 23, 2004 #2

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    Couple years of physics? You've met various conservation principles, energy and mass balances, dab of thermo, probably some chemistry, measurement methods; climate studies and global warming arguments depend on those same principles. What arguments of those you've seen make more physical sense to you?

    If you get the odd "free" hours to spend your next couple years, grab an intro geology, or meteorology, or oceanography course --- see how "applied physics" looks/works in the various "earth sciences" --- and, if you've got the hours to waste, compare the quality of the understanding of "applied physics" in the environmental science areas.
     
  4. Dec 23, 2004 #3
    What you say about the things I have studied is true. However, these arguments are not made in a physics sense. The greenhouse effect is perfectly physically sound - Venus is of course a good example of greenhouse gone beserk. However, theory requires observation - here we enter the mire. The arguments at this point become statistical. It is really just a case of literally millions of observations of numerous variables - mean temp, mean temp adjusted for population (heat island effect), sea level, glacial movement, ice thickness in antartica and other places, temperature of the upper atmosphere etc. Now of course, the pro global warming side obviously made a good case - I don't need to look at their reports to know at least that at some point they must have done so for public and scientific opinion to be what it is. In Crichton's book, he makes the argument statistically as well, with various graphs and whatnot, all referenced to legitimate scientific organisations and studies (it will take me some time to look through some of these).

    The whole problem here, of course, is statistics is pretty malleable, and can be made to or even just interpreted to agree with the preconceived conclusion.

    As for my studies, I appreciate the advice. I do not have a lot of options in my course, and even then I am also very interested in biology, biophysics, genetics etc so I need to try to find a little time for those as well! However, I do have atmospheric physics as an option in my mainstream degree, so I am now thinking of giving that a go....
     
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