Its also worth pointing out that Crichtons mistakes in that lecture aren’t limited to climate change – he makes mistakes on nuclear winter and continental drift too. Some of this is documented on his wiki page (or at least it has been; the exact present state varies; the version I mean is this).
I wonder if Crichton hasn’t become one of “those”. People who have an anti-environmentalist ideolgy and who are content simply to make do with the loudest, public sophistry that’s available to them. (The current era has any number of governmental officials and pundits who have proved to be remarkably lazy in constructing their arguments since they have that thing which obviates intellectual exertion: power.)
On the other hand, his criticism of SETI and the Drake equation seem right to me. Of course, we have been “doing” SETI since we started broadcasting in the electomagnetic question, so any dangers attendant thereto are already in play.
each person has somthign to add it is the nature of science that thei unsupported arguments can be defeated in vigerous debate and their better ones can survive. If oyu want jsut hte facts look at a critical review of a persons work from a different perspective and see which parts they accept are correct or much weaker – dont attack.
Bad Science, Bad Scholarship, Bad Journalism, Popular Fiction
My first exposure to Michael Crichton was The Andromeda Strain. It came to me with a reputation as a science fiction “classic”. It turned out to be just dumb and predictable. Since then, Crichton has pumped out barely-believable fiction with…
I’m not going to point out how Crichton distorts the climate science. That’s already been done in the
“State of Confusion” blogs. What I would like to point out is stuff like this Crichton (ABC news article) quote
The controversy the book is bound to stir up almost kept Crichton from writing the book. “I’m 62 years old. I’ve had a good life. I’m happy and I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “I don’t need any of the flak that would come from doing a book like this.”
Well, of course this is just the opposite of the truth. All Crichton projects are meant to be made into movies, garner lots of attention (for him) and most importantly, make lots of money. I’m sure it’s unconscious on his part – that’s the psychological rule – he certainly believes his own nonsense. Equating climate scientists and advocates for change with “eco-terrorists”! He seemed capable of coming up with harmless fictions (like Jurassic Park) for money and fame, but I didn’t know exactly how far that went until now. And to top it all off, he made a point of doing “research” and interviewing climate scientists who talked honestly about their work to him. The treachery and dishonesty of this is staggering.
Bear in mind that joining the anti-science movement now happening in the U.S. (for example, the barely concealed creationism in “Intelligent Design” or the censoring of EPA reports on climate change) is a very popular and profitable thing to do. By actively joining this attack on science, Crichton gets the “Red State” vote, re-affirms people’s denial about the bad news climate science brings and provides a new false “authority” for those people to use. And, he makes a lot of money in the bargain.
What a dream combination! Can’t wait to see the movie.
Both “Red states” and “blue states” attack or attempt to bend science as is convenient to their causes. It is easiest to ignore those from your own side since their scotoma (blind spots) are located in the same places as your own.
Crichton also had an article in the December 5 Parade (Included in many Sunday papers) promoting his book and lambasting “scientific predictions of doom.” He claimed, once again, that there were widespred predictions of doom from a cooling planet made in the 1970s.
I am sorry I used the “Red State” metaphor. What I meant by this was a rhetorical reference to Americans everywhere, in all states, who are threatened by and reject science. I hope the main part of my comments about Crichton’s motives will not be overlooked
It is discouraging that a very large percentage of Americans do not believe that evolution occurred and think that God created the world on some “Biblical” timescale (less than 10 kya ago). Many such people want to believe that climate science is a hoax perpetuated by climate scientists and other environmentalists seeking funding to maintain themselves. This appears to be Crichton’s position and is another example of a “Big Lie”. Just the opposite is the truth as any look at websites maintained by fossil fuel interests will confirm. The so-called “contrarians” are funded by these self-serving and highly profitable Coal, Oil & Gas lobbies. By and large, climate scientists are just doing science and scraping by on whatever funding they can get (funding that I fear, in the current political climate, will diminish shortly). NGO’s are not exactly “swimming in cash” (but Exxon-Mobil is).
Rejection of science is the issue, not “Red” versus “Blue” states. And finally, the Bush administration’s attack on climate science and the cultural backlash against this science, which now includes Crichton’s self-serving book, should concern us all greatly.
After all, the scientific results are not going to just “disappear” because these people fear and reject them.
Crichton then goes on to make the classic error of confusing “weather” and “climate”
Nonsense Mike. Obviously Crichton knows this. This is an example of the problem with Real Climate: it’s not really real, it’s advocacy. We don’t need more of that, we need even handed analysis from those who are presumably qualified to give it. Every time you show your colors you play into the hands of skeptics but more importantly you keep the mud stirred up obscuring the issues. That’s the last thing we need.
Ummm, joma, “Mike” is Dr. Michael Mann. He has a Ph.D in Geology and Geophysics. He is no advocate, but an actual scientist with a proven track record.
What is Crichton? An author. A bit more informed than an ordinary person, maybe, but no scientist, that’s for sure!
It is not the scientists who are “obscuring the issues,” but the skeptics who have no track record, whatsoever. That is, Pat Michaels, Fred Singer, Robert Balling, Sherwood Idso, etc. have very little, if anything, published in peer-reviewed journals on climate change, meaning their approach may be fatally flawed.
It is the skeptics who are “obscuring the issues” so they will continue to get funding from companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch/Shell, and other fossil fuel companies. Should these skeptics fail to produce their garbage, they would receive little to no funding whatsoever.
Crichton then goes on to make the classic error of confusing weather and and climate
Nonsense Mike. Obviously Crichton knows this.
So if Crichton really does understand the difference between weather and climate, but still insists on making statements like “Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?” , then the only reasonable conclusion is that Crichton is being dishonest.
Ice Age/Global Warming hysteria is likened to the time when “scientific” man believed that the world was flat and if we were to sail beyond the horizon, we would fall off that planet and die.
Twenty five years ago we were told by the “scientific” community that mankind was going to perish from an Ice Age caused by our pollution. Since that fearmongering theory did not pan out, today the “scientific” community now declares mankind is going to perish because of Global Warming caused by our pollution.
The fact is climates change and having lived “close to nature” most of my life I fully recognise that Nature has the power to destroy me in an instant. I do not need mass hysteria from the “scientific” community to fabricate fear of Ice Age/Global Warming to tell me something I already understand.
By the way, neither the scientific communinity nor the environmental movement have the power to predict the future or predict Nature. You give yourselves far too much power over things you cannot prove. All of your scientific theories are meaningless unless you actually reach the horizon. Guess what, turns out the “scientific” community was wrong about the Earth being flat.
Twenty five years ago we were told by the scientific community that mankind was going to perish from an Ice Age caused by our pollution. Since that fearmongering theory did not pan out, today the scientific community now declares mankind is going to perish because of Global Warming caused by our pollution.
Paging Dr. Connolley… Paging Dr. Connolley [Done – see above – William]
Ummm, joma, “Mike” is Dr. Michael Mann. He has a Ph.D in Geology and Geophysics. He is no advocate, but an actual scientist with a proven track record. What is Crichton? An author. A bit more informed than an ordinary person, maybe, but no scientist, that’s for sure!
Actually, Crichton is Dr. Michael Crichton, graduate of Harvard Medical School.
[Response: which makes him Michael Crichton, M.D., not Dr., if you want to be pedantic (I often do) – William].
Your two examples of when the mainstream of “scientific thinking” believed something that turned out to be wrong* is not terribly helpful. There also, of course, are many more examples in which the mainstream of science believed something that turned out to be right, and you’ve given us no way to usefully distinguish between the two. This, in fact, is a fundamental error Crichton himself made in his Caltech talk. I could liken the belief in a 4-plus billion year old Earth “to the time when `scientific’ man believed that the world was flat and if we were to sail beyond the horizon, we would fall off that planet and die,” but that wouldn’t advance a discussion of the age of the Earth.
* I’m granting here for purpose of discussion your 1970s ice age example, though it’s clearly questionable.
It is not helpful to point out what man used to believe or did not believe. It seems to me that most of us would believe that science has progressed and our ability to understand our environment has improved somewhat since the dawn of man and even since the 1970s. The real issue is what scientists using generally accepted scientific methodology believe now. I cannot refuse to make decisions today based upon the knowledge that information I had yesterday or a decade ago was incorrect or the knowledge that I have ever made a bad decision. This mode of thought leads to paralysis and the inability to make any decisions about what is the appropriate human response to what we believe is happening or will happen. The fact that we may be wrong proves nothing and shouldn’t be a rationale for total inaction — which is pretty much what we have under the current American administration.
I think I read the coming ice age theory in the Readers Digest around 1956 or 1957. (I was about 12). I haven’t been able to google it up. Possibly, Ponte wrote it since he was once an associate editor there. There was probably nothing unique in that article, but I’d like to see it again if anyone has it.
> What I meant by this was a rhetorical reference to Americans everywhere, in all states, who are threatened by and reject science.
Fair enough david – and you are right that some people are more in search of finding a market for their product than finding the truth, and that those markets often just want the “truth” that makes them feel they were right all along or that allows them to not feel guilty about what they do.
It is my undestanding that no “scientific” community ever thought the Earth was flat; the Earth as a globe has certainly been understood since early Greek culture. In Europe, anyway, a flat Earth was a product of religion, not science. I realize this is a bit off topic, but my point is that science, eventually, usually comes to an accurate conclusion. The global warming hypothesis that exists today is supported by available data, and is certainly our best guess as to what is actually happening.
With all the hype you guys have given to State of Fear, I (and I suspect a lot more) had to get a copy. It’s now been wrapped for Christmas but I managed a quick peek and can see why so many of you are exercised by it. Someone pointed out elsewhere in this site that many ordinary people are casual sceptics. Brits in particular are instinctively sceptical and lately have had good reasons to question anything that has the government’s or EU’s fingerprints on it. Casual sceptics do not generally proselytise but informed ones and those that think they are informed most definitely do. To get informed on this subject is an arduous project even for those well-educated in maths and science. It requires hours of surfing and is so boring relatively few bother to do it.
State of Fear on the other hand looks like a good read and if they turn it into a movie it will be even easier to absorb. Never mind if is scientifically correct. Expect it get to get tougher!
Crichton’s example of Wegener and continental drift is actually an example I use to describe the way science is supposed to work. A new and significantly different explanation for facts must not be accepted without lots of scrutiny. Geologists were right to reject continental drift until the facts caught up with the proposed explanation. (I intentionally do not use “theory” for Wegener’s continental drift ideas.) SETI is not a good example either. SETI is not based on the belief that ETs exist; it is an attempt to search for evidence of their existence.
Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now weâ��re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?
This kind of comment makes my teeth itch. As a meteorologist, I know only too well the shortcomings of weather prediction. I also know just how good near-term (i.e. within the first 12 hours) forecasts really are. What Crichton is really saying is that because we can’t provide him with a bullet-proof forecast for the next 12 hours, we should discount long-term climate forecasts. Aside from being non-sequitur, we’re talking about forecasts, not prophecies. There’s a huge difference between them.
It seems that debate is shaping up nicely on your blog. Congratulations.
I second Joma’s comment to refrain from turning this blog into a platform for advocacy. I’m a great believer in letting the light shine on a poorly constructed hypothesis and letting the heat of intellectual battle forge the consensus that can be agreed upon. I think the global warming deniers have a poor case for their position, however, I’m leery when I see those who study the issue overplaying their hand. It’s far easier to hold the feet of the deniers to the fire for there is evidence that is incontrovertible but the totality of the scientific findings are not all rock solid. There is room for skepticism.
A healthy practice of science requires skepticism and that’s why I find Dr. Mann’s dispute with Dr. McKittrick & McIntyre to be healthy for the process. Let each objection be answered in the full light of day. This healthy process is a far better testiment to scientific process than the whole Lumborg-Scientific American affair which smacked of censorship and advocacy and prompted me to end my subscription to that journal.
I don’t know it to be the case, but I suspect that Crichton didn’t delve too deeply into the literature and his position is one centered on providing compelling drama and entertainment. The way I read his essay is that he is concerned about process and overreach. Regardless, I don’t think people should be turning to him as an authority on the subject – he’s a dramatist. That said, this site should painstakingly rebut, with links and citations, the claims of deniers and let people of good conscience see the process of science play out. If you become advocates, which I think is a far easier road to follow, then you’re granting the deniers a legitimacy that they haven’t earned.
That said, I don’t think that Crichton is completely off his rocker :) He points to a few instances in his essay where he thinks that the science has turned into advocacy. Specifically, he writes:
The 1995 IPCC draft report said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It also said, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes.” Those statements were removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on climate.”
The two statements from the draft report were more accurate positions about the state of knowledge in 1995. They properly hedged and didn’t go beyond what was known. The final statement drastically changed the tone and underplays the rightful role of skepticism. It seems that Crichton had a problem with the process that IPCC used back then and I agree with him on this issue. I’m also quite certain that matters have firmed up in the following years but it would be a logical fallacy to use recent findings in support of the political decision involved in the 1995 IPCC statement.
As to the questions I raised in the previous thread about model validation, let me flesh out my concerns in a little more detail. I’m fully aware of the enormity of the task before climate researchers as they try to model worldwide climate but I don’t think, and I’m quite open to being corrected on this issue, that the models have the same degree of confidence that, for instance, nuclear explosion models have. More here and here. And while modeling nuclear explosions is a complex task, the modelers have data from over a 1,000 previous explosions and have found that the models quite accurately reflect the dynamics involved in an explosion. Even so, some are recognizing that the aging of the stockpile is calling into question some of the variables incorporated into the models and validation would help to more accurately model those variables.
I applaud recent news, like the world’s fastest supercomputer being used for climate modeling, for I think that trying to model the number of variables is a herculean task far greater than that encountered by the nuclear weapons designers.
That said though, I’m extremely bothered by articles such as the one published last January in Nature entitled Extinction risk from climate change by Thomas et al. The article is chock full of conditionals and the authors reference a range of climate scenarios in their models. Further the model that they use for this study is built upon a compositional fallacy. They state:
The approach has been validated by successfully predicting distributions of invading species when they arrive in new continents and by predicting distributional changes in response to glacial climate changes; (emphasis added)
I think that the model falls apart logically when it is extended beyond what is known. The model was validated so that we knew that parts of the whole X have characteristics A, B, C and then extended to the conclusion that therefore the whole X must have characteristics A, B, C.
How an article like this passes peer review is beyond me. I don’t consider that to be science. It’s simply a computer run with some data. It’s quite possible to have a Garbage In – Garbage Out outcome to this kind of science.
Further, climate modelers, unlike the nuclear modelers mentioned above, have to work with a lot of proxy data, and how these proxies are modeled can introduce a lot of error into the models. I look at this site which goes into extensive discussion of the model validation procedures and I conclude that climate scientists can’t yet speak with the degree of certainty that we’d all like. There appears to be little replicability between the nine models shown in this graphic and against the pollen proxy model at the bottom.
Back to Crichton, in his essay he also writes:
Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepeneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.
Too often I read in studies where the authors are running their own data, or that of associates, in their models. These associations are too close for my comfort.
While Crichton may be way off base in his references to the state of knowledge in the field I do grant him points on raising some legitimate process concerns. The science can only get better if there is a more adversarial approach and the findings can be debated. At least, that’s my point of view.
TangoMan, back off on the analysis. You bring in validation of nuclear explosion models. Why? You talk about double-blind experiments. Why? What do you want, an extra planet or two to do experiments on?
TangoMan, you mostly raise good points, but about the ’95 IPCC report, the problem with leaving in qualifiers, even if they’re true, is that they’re so easily quote-mined by people who take them out of context and present them as the conclusion of the report. Certainly overstating the evidence is not justifiable, but I don’t think that’s what the IPCC did. One simply must be careful about negative language, because it’ll get picked up by one’s ideological opponents and presented alone as representative of one’s views.
To the bloggers; you oughta link to the Panda’s Thumb: http://www.pandasthumb.org/. Very similar project to yours, only about evolutionary biology. I suspect at least some of you know about it already, of course.
One simply must be careful about negative language, because itâ��ll get picked up by oneâ��s ideological opponents and presented alone as representative of oneâ��s views.
It comes with the territory. If scientists become advocates and massage the data and/or message to fit the ideology then all hope of impartial science is lost.
The science should be impeccable. If there is negative language that is exploited by the deniers then the job of advocates is a little harder but at least the reputation of the science is preserved and that only works to the benefit of the advocates.
BTW, I am a bit peeved at having a comment censored. There was nothing at all inflammatory in its content, and if you’re censoring me for raising process questions then frankly I’m disappointed in how your blog is shaping up.
[Response: In order to keep the signal-to-noise ratio at a reasonable level, we have a comment policy that moderates comments based on relevance to the post, as well as avoiding inflammatory comments. I’m sorry if you feel your comment was wrongly deleted, but you are free to repost. – gavin]
I, having lived in the arctic, can only state that it is a very fragile ecosystem. Therefore, research and remediation of GHG’s is essential.
We, here in Canada get the real world experience of even the most minor climate changes as part of our daily reality.
The Great Lakes are a micro laboratory of land mass/water mass climatological interactions. Observations do not require decades, but merely hours. I believe this reflects the macro model analysis examining the global patterns.
Environment Canada has network of RADAR stations that show preceipitation levels in almost real time. I would suggest referring to the various stations animated displays as study reference.
The Georgian Bay area of Lake Huron is a major weather producer and is also a continental focal point for arctic and Gulf of Mexico air mass mixing.
The Great Lakes provide a year round lab to study weather interaction and formation. The desert southwest, i.e., Arizona provides another excellent area of research with comparative data between the normal (dry) and monsoon seasons.
My concern is with SETI. What if there is an alien version of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act)? If you think our RIAA is tough, consider what a version of the RIAA capable of interstellar travel might do to our planet if they found us illegally decoding their intellectual property. I assure you, it would make runaway global warming look quite desirable.
P.S. Has anyone considered Crichton’s case for immortality? How do we know we are going to die eventually if we don’t even know what we are going to eat for breakfast next month?
The assertion that Crichton is an enemy of science is absurd. He is harshly critical of the *theory* of global warming. If being critical of a widely held view is to be an “enemy of science”, we’d better watch out. He is an “enemy” of the theory of global warming. That doesn’t mean he’s anti-science. It also doesn’t mean he’s in any way like those who argue against evolution for intelligent design.
More importantly to me, whatever Crichton thinks, he doesn’t want to force his views (or regulation resulting from his views) on anyone. It was wonderful to find a popular author who doesn’t think the solution to problems is State regulation. That is, someone who believes that individuals should be free to run their own lives, and shouldn’t have their lives run by bureaucrats (no matter how well-informed they say they are about the environment).
The assertion that Crichton is an enemy of science is absurd. He is harshly critical of the *theory* of global warming.
Seemingly without much reason. It is one thing to be critical of the science and then point out problems with it. It is quite another to make a lot of false assertions based on either misunderstanding or mischaracterizing the science. Unfortunately, Crichton does the latter.
With regard to “The Day After Tomorrow” and all those attempts to portray it as a political football cooked up by climate scientists to sell the so-called “eco-doomsday” scenario of the “Left”, note that not only has no climate scientist ever condoned the movie as legitimate climate science, a simple check of the movies credit’s reveals that it was based in part (large part) on The Coming Global Superstorm, by Art Bell and Whitley Streiber – which is clearly stated in the movie’s end credits for anyone careful enough to investigate! For those who aren’t familiar with him, Art Bell is a well known UFO, Psychic Phenomena, Alien Abductions, etc. crank and talk show host who is a favorite of UFO and paranormal enthousiasts nationwide. A credible representative of the Climate Science community he ain’t! For more about Art Bell, see this article about him from CSICOP< ?a>.
Aside from Crichton’s views on global warming, the broader point that has much merit is the increasing politicization of issues that are foundationless. Not to say that global warming is a good example, but we could easily turn to the commercials and attacks of the 2004 presidential election to see many instances of it, talking points with no proof.
Now as for your criticism of Crichton confusing climate and weather… I think you are stretching it. I have a hard time believing that Crichton doesn’t have a grasp of the difference between the two, that is something you learn to distinguish between in elementary school science.
Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?
There is nothing in those two sentences that suggests that he is confused. He is saying that nobody believes weather predictions that are 12 hours ahead and people are asked to believe climate predictions that are 100 years down the road. It wouldn’t make sense for him to make a statement about weather 100 years from now, because instantaneous weather doesn’t mean anything in terms of trends… or anything for that matter. Obviously he is talking about climate change. I feel you are nitpicking because he is asking you to use sentence context to do some reasoning.
[Response: You’ve missed the point here. Crichton has implicitly implied here that the predictability of weather is in some way analogous to the predictability of climate. It is not. I suggest you investigate the hyperlinks provided to find out why. -mike]
[Response: no. Dr, when used formally as a title, means a doctorate. Doctor, used of a medical doctor, is a courtesy title – William]
[Response: no. You are merely suscribing to one particular convention/etiquete. Your real climate link indicates that you are from the UK where the convention is different than in the US. Like the climate, typical usage varies over time and geography. – SkinnyPuppy]
Speaking of ice ages — for what it’s worth, Crichton’s characterization of the Pleistocene Ice Ages in California (p. 404 – 406) is so poor that I suspect he did little or no research at all on the topic. Glaciers in California were localized, generally in mountain valleys; there was no great ice sheet covering the state, and no retreating “ice wall” at the end of the Ice Ages for the state. (The big ice sheets were up north in what is now Canada.) Flat-lying areas of the state were replete with water, with abundant vegetation, and with all those mammoths, mastodons, horses, bison & camels that we all know and love from places like the La Brea “tar pits” (in Los Angeles, remember). This was true for almost two million years — even during periods of peak glaciation. As the localized glaciers dwindled, feeding streams and rivers and lakes, plants thriving at lower elevations would likely have (relatively) quickly colonized the newly exposed terrain. (Think of how quickly plants are coming back at Mount Saint Helens.)
The idea that California was “basically wet sand” (p. 404) that dried out over a few thousand years, became arctic tundra that could only support small animals, and etc. and etc. — and that this “was basically the same everywhere in post-glacial North America” (p. 405) — is ignorant nonsense.
I won’t even get into Crichton’s apparent assumption that it’s been “proven” that early Americans hunted the Pleistocene megafauna to extinction …
Today, January 7th, 2005, Michael Crichton was interviewed by Ira Flatow on NPR’s Science Friday. This sited link is available for this week’s show, so it will expire soon. (Use the archives at npr.org to get it when it expires).
Very revealing to those of you who want to hear it from the man himself. Lots of incoherent talk about urban heat island effects, natural variability RE: the “Little Ice Age”, predictions of glacial period predictions in the 1970’s, etc. No references made.
Literarily-speaking, this book marks where Crichton formally jumps the shark. Which is especially strange since Clancy hit the same shark some years back. What’s even sadder is that his entire thesis swiftly became irrelevant after 2001, at which time the real professionals at fearmongering stepped in and helped America to forget its climate-related fears entirely.
If Crichton wants to talk about cynical fearmongering I could recommend some more-timely subjects for his attention.