Robert McDonald's Reviews > State of Fear

State of Fear by Michael Crichton
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's review
Nov 14, 2007

did not like it
Recommended for: nobody
Read in November, 2007

I never expected to read this book. But my mom left a copy of Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear at my house, and I found myself reading it. The book is an odd mix of fiction and pseudo-scientific argument.
As a fiction piece, it’s actually okay. For reasons that are irrelevant to the plot, evil villains are trying to shear a big iceberg off into the ocean, create a flash flood in a canyon, and make a tidal wave hit LA. The good guys are of course trying to stop them, and manage to stop them just in time. Crichton’s a good writer, and this book is fun to read. For a Crichton book, though, it is one of his worst, and nowhere near as entertaining as Andromeda Strain. Mostly this is because his rhetorical goal for the novel continually gets in the way of the plot.
The central argument of the book seems to be: “It’s not clear global warming is caused by people, and even if it is it’s not clear how bad it’ll be, therefore we should do nothing.” The evil villain of the book is a cabal of environmental groups determined to scare the populace to maintain funding for the military-industrial complex in the post- Cold War world. Global warming is thus fundamentally a hoax perpetrated by tens of thousands of people, in Crichton’s view. Even better, they all manage to keep the hoax secret. Apart from errors of fact, of which there are several, the book also makes several serious errors in its reasoning.
First is the widespread use of anecdotal reasoning. For instance (and yes, I see the irony here), Crichton makes a big deal about how the warmest year on record in the US was 1934. Whether of not this is true depends on how you calculate average temperature, but it doesn’t really matter- 1934 was really warm. But, fifteen out of the 25 warmest yeats since records started being kept in 1895 have occurred after 1981. Globally, the trend toward warmness is even stronger. Particular anecdotes are irrelevant; in a large enough body of data or a large enough collection of papers you can find a factoid to support almost anything.
Second is the intentional misrepresentation of scientific uncertainty by Crichton. For example, he talks about how global circulation models are uncertain about how increases in temperature will affect cloud cover and hence albedo. This is true, there is uncertainty on this point, but it doesn’t necessarily follow logically that everything about the model is wrong. When I estimate that a townhouse in Cambridge costs $350,000 to $500,000, I have some uncertainty in my estimate, but that does not imply the true value if zero. When the IPCC says the net radiative forcing of human activities on climate is +0.6 to +2.4 W/m2, there is some uncertainty in that estimate, but that does not imply the true value is zero.
Finally, Crichton has misunderstood how science works. The process of peer review is a blind review of the facts cited in a paper, exactly the opposite of how Crichton portrays it. There is intense competition in science, with multiple groups analyzing the same data, exactly what Crichton calls for. Sadly, Crichton’s book of fiction was not peer reviewed, nor did he face any competition from competing scientific interpretations of the literature about global warming, which allowed this travesty of a rant to be published.
-The Cosmopolitian Ecologist
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Moore don't write so much

Sonny Since you believe in peer review, I'm peer reviewing your review. I don't like it. Since you believe peer review approval should have something to do with whether things are published, please remove your review.

Brandon Hill Did you read the same book I did? You think his central message was “It’s not clear global warming is caused by people, and even if it is it’s not clear how bad it’ll be, therefore we should do nothing.”

I'm interpreting your review as a global warming fan who is having a hard time hearing a different veiwpoint. What he did point out was the hypocrisy in the people (celebrities) who claimed to be 'enviornmentalists'.
The character that had the least belief in global warming was actually the one with the smalled 'carbon footprint'.
He isn't saying 'do nothing'. He is saying to not just react and try to fix everything in the environment in stupid ways. He spoke about how many interventions humans have made to 'fix' the environment have ended up doing more damage. We just need to be smarter in what we do as a society and not just believe everything the media feeds you..

message 4: by Hujia (new)

Hujia pseudo-scientific argument? Isn't it a little bit too truculent and too sensitive to the "sacred" topic even in novel literature? As if nobody should dare to question and fictionize this overpoliticised and thus doubtful notion of "global warming"? Whoever express an inkling about gw should be condemned and scolded with an environmental Manifesto. This is definitely not a cientific work, but in listing relevant articles and producing charts of basic facts and figures, it does lay bare some worrisome aspects of the non-scientific and ideologized faces and interests of and behind gw...

Tippy Jackson Hey homie,

Nice review. I think there's a lot of people who are just not educated on the language of science. For example, all statistical information has uncertainty by definition, but that does not mean it is irrelevant. Also, people apparently don't know what it means to be peer reviewed...I'm glad you took the time to explain some of these things. I know some folks have said that you are a "fan of global warming," (I can tell you just love it!) but I can tell that you read the book, found the facts wanting and have made an educated opinion about what you read. I don't know exactly what your opinion on the subject is, but I do know you can spot misinformation and rhetoric when you see it.

Tippy Jackson Brandon wrote: "Did you read the same book I did? You think his central message was “It’s not clear global warming is caused by people, and even if it is it’s not clear how bad it’ll be, therefore we should do no..."

The examples he used to describe how people try to fix things and end up doing more damage are also completely ignorant. For example, he said that stopping DDT use ended up spreading malaria. Studies have shown that actually, using DDT just selects for DDT resistant mosquitoes, who reproduce and have immunity against our pesticide. Plus, since the chemical kills other animals as well, it kills off the natural predators of the mosquitoes, and since prey items always reproduce faster than their predator counterparts, populations of mosquitoes actually greatly increased in areas where DDT was used after a period of 2-3 years. Not to mention for example in Bolivia, using DDT killed off the birds of prey and many cats, causing an increase in rat populations that allowed the deadly spread of a hemorrhagic disease. I can actually go on and on about this, but you get my point. Everywhere he uses short-sited, inaccurate or incomplete science, missing the forest for the trees if you will.

Rusty The most telling aspect of the Global warming debate is the absolute lack of a discussion on the source for all this heat, the sun. You don't see much commentary on the fact that other planets have heated up as well. Crichton's 'State of Fear' was a gift to those who have the ability to think for themselves. People like Robert and Tippy bring a smugness and conceit that interferes with their ability to appreciate the issue as a whole. It is this mindset that serves as the biggest detriment to the Left.

Tippy Jackson At rusty-

If you want to read more discussion on the fact that other planets have heated up as well, it's not hard to find. In the nutshell, here are the 3 major arguments against that idea:

"Not all planets in the solar system are warming
Only 6 planets or moons out of the 100+ bodies in the solar system have been observed to be warming. On the other hand, Uranus is cooling (Young 2001)

Solar activity isn't increasing
More crucially, the whole theory that a brightening sun is causing global warming falls apart when you consider solar output hasn't risen over the past 30 years (when warming has been highest) according to direct satellite measurements that find no rising trend since 1978, sunspot numbers which have leveled out since 1950, the Max Planck Institute reconstruction that shows irradience has been steady since 1950 and solar radio flux or flare activity which shows no rising trend over the past 30 years. Ironically, it's the sun's close correlation with Earth's temperature that proves it has little to do with the last 30 years of global warming.

"What's causing warming on other planets? With the exception of Pluto (which is still an enigma to astronomers who recently voted it out of the planet registry in a moment of pique), climate change on other planets are fairly understood:

Martian climate is primarily driven by dust and albedo and there is little empirical evidence that Mars is showing long term warming.
Neptune's orbit is 164 years so current brightening is a seasonal response (Neptune's southern hemisphere is heading into summer).
Triton's warming is due to the moon approaching an extreme southern summer, a season that occurs every few hundred years.
Jupiter's storms are fueled by the planet's own internal heat (the sun's energy is 4% the level of solar energy at Earth). When several storms merge into one large storm (eg - Red Spot Jr), the planet loses its ability to mix heat, causing warming at the equator and cooling at the poles.
Pluto's warming consists of two observations 14 years apart noting a difference in atmospheric thickness which implies warming - scientists are unable to explain why yet. But considering Pluto's orbit is equivalent to 248 Earth years, this says nothing about climate change. It's like saying Earth is warming when comparing winter to summer. Plus Pluto is more than 30 times farther away from the Sun than the Earth is. If the Sun were warming up enough to affect Pluto at that vast distance, it would blowtorch the Earth."

This nice summery, with all of their sources can be found here:

They are also happy to take any scientific debate you would like to share with them.

Further, why do people who have "the ability to think for themselves" need Crichton's book to tell them what to believe? I do appreciate the whole issue, but I will only listen to arguments based on science. I will also point out that neither Robert nor I have actually stated our personal opinions on the topic of climate change, only that the misuse and misrepresentation of science is frustrating. What you call "smugness and conceit" I call name-calling from someone who does not have a scientific argument.

Robert-I'm sorry I'm ranting on your comment column; this will be the last you hear from me.

message 9: by Bart (new) - rated it 1 star

Bart "I'm interpreting your review as a global warming fan who is having a hard time hearing a different veiwpoint."

The problem is that the "different point of view" is a festering bowl of gross misinformation. There are a group of people that believe that the earth is flat. They believe this because of a single proof where there was an estimation of how far away a boat could get before you were unable to see it due to the curvature of the earth (bedford level experiment). What scientists at the time failed to realize was that refraction of light over that distance can cause the phenomenon. Because of that key experiment in some people's eyes, the earth is flat.
Another example is vaccinations. People think that because there is a compound in vaccines that has a mercury molecule that it will give your child mercury poisoning. Pop quiz: what is table salt composed of? Sodium: a toxic and explosive compound and Chlorine: a toxic gas that was used to kill thousands as a biological weapon. Yet somehow when you eat salty french fries or potato chips you don't immediately drop dead like you would if you had tried to mix the pure chemicals on their own.
When you ask to have a discussion you have to be able to respect both sides of the discussion. Crichton and other deniers immediately poison the well by saying that all the climatologists are involved in a conspiracy to prove climate change is false. On top of that Crichton takes the weakest platform possible, that maybe it is caused by us, maybe it isn't, let's just wait for the world to burn to see. lets scale back all laws etc restricting industry so that they can have it easy like in the good old days.
THAT is where the money is coming from. Industries that refuse to be responsible because it costs a little more.

message 10: by Bart (new) - rated it 1 star

Bart Brandon, here's a website for you to discuss:

message 11: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Carr Global warming is real, dingbats. My 11 year old son knows more than Crichton because he has common sense.

message 12: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat I think a lot of you seem to be missing the point here. If you bothered to read the author's notes, you'd know that Crichton expressed that he was not sure either way and even the scientists that produced facts that may deduce that global warming is false still believe in it. This is not about who is wrong and who is right and whether it is real, it's to make a point that the common people should not just believe what is told to them by the media. Just because he involves a plot wherein environmentalists are trying to cause disasters does not mean he is putting all these people in the same boat, this is still fiction...

It has opened my eyes and reminded me to not just blindly accept information given to me, that does not mean being belligerent or disrespectful but purely seeking knowledge and truth. I wholly believe in the 'State of Fear' idea though, our governments know too well that scared masses are easier to control than correctly informed and intellectually curious and grounded masses.

message 13: by Bart (new) - rated it 1 star

Bart Kat wrote: "I think a lot of you seem to be missing the point here. If you bothered to read the author's notes, you'd know that Crichton expressed that he was not sure either way and even the scientists that p..."

He says that in the footnotes, but paints an entirely different picture in the 200+ pages before that. He started back-peddling before anyone could attack his tripe. It is a good lesson to learn that you shouldn't believe everything you read and if you're going to have an opinion on something it needs to be well researched. Unfortunately you didn't entirely learn your lesson since you believed what he wrote.

message 14: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat Did I say I believed it? I said it was still fiction and that while he has painted a picture that some people may find unsavoury, it is still fiction. But in the same book he helped me realise something rather important, and that's what I appreciate.

message 16: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg McDonald's post is a case-study in ideologically-motivated "Nothing to see here folks, move along" spin - and ends, not surprisingly, with an oblique nod to censorship. Which is a nice confirmation of some of the things Mr. Crichton talked about in this novel, and in his excellent January 2003 talk at Caltech, titled "Aliens Cause Global Warming" (it's posted online and I highly recommend it, even for Keepers Of The Faith like Mr. McDonald here.)

Namely, if you turn science on its head by starting with a premise and doctoring data and malleable computer "models" to fit that preconceived premise - see the East Anglia University Climategate scandal of November 2009, which some among The Faithful apparently missed - then you're basically adopting the methodology of the schoolyard liar: You've made the facts of reality itself your enemies, and you must expend enormous energy to a.) defend your fake premise against contradictory data - i.e., facts - and b.) attempt to silence, usually by force, anyone who threatens to collapse your fakery. See the old story of The Emperor's New Clothes.

We are seeing this in the alarming, neo-fascistic demands from many within the "green" cult that anyone so impertinent as to engage in the standard scientific process that is questioning dogmatic pronouncements and presenting contrary data, should be imprisoned and/or executed - or at minimum muzzled, as Mr. McDonald seems to be advocating here. This is unprecedented in any modern scientific question, so why in the comical proposition that human beings have not only perfected planetary terraforming but have done so accidentally?

As Crichton correctly observed, the politicization of science is profoundly dangerous - for science, for politics, and ultimately for human rights. Once a scientific hypothesis (not "theory,") is wedded to an ideology - in this case: retooled collectivism - the True Believers in that ideology will accept that hypothesis without question, as a faith-based component of their pre-existing worldview, and lash out at heretics - excuse me, "deniers" - with the frothing hatred and fervor of their Medieval-Inquisitor forbears. For those harboring an opposing worldview, there is also a powerful incentive to discard anything that is a part of that opposing ideology.

The ultimate arbiter in any dispute is reality itself; scientific inquiry and consequent data are the factual components of reality which can only be evaded, not escaped.

If you want useful indicators of pseudo-scientific fakery in the attempted fusion of politics and science, keep an eye out for classic logical fallacies such as the Argumentum Ad Populum (the idea that what's false for one person magically becomes true if believed by a thousand,) the Argumentum Ad Metum (the appeal to fear, e.g. "The SKY is falling! Auuggh! We must do something, now!")

Above all - maybe even above the no-brainer of: Revelation of massive international scandal, ca. 2009, involving the intentional manipulation and suppression of data to protect the "global...something" alarmism - if you hear someone suggest that dissenters should be silenced, know with certainty that you are hearing a dogmatist attempting to defend a premise he knows cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The casualty in this mess is science itself.

That is the core message that Crichton wrote into this novel and in his 2003 Caltech talk.

And that heretical view is what the McDonald mentalities think should not be "allowed" to be seen. Think about the implications of that for a minute.

The preposterous hypothesis of "anthropogenic cooling, ermm... warming, ermm... changing, ermm... something-something, ermm... whatever" - exposed as international fraud in 2009 and inconveniently contradicted by natural phenomena themselves in the years since - has become a full-blown religion. "Believe - or else," is the mantra.

And that is the precise, polar opposite of science. For details, see Mr. Crichton.

message 17: by Priscilla (new) - added it

Priscilla So, in other words, you believe some thoughts or books are so dangerous, they ought to be banned. Interesting. There are several countries around the world that hold that value. America is not one of them.

message 18: by Ivan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ivan I think this is the reason, why this book should be read. It's the most coherent popular counterargument. It does fail, because he's not a scientist and he does cherry pick his data, but those are exactly the reasons which any thinking person should pick up. I also found it funny how Crichton self-inserted as the "superman and superscientist" Mr. ****er and how contemptibly he assassinated his ideological enemies in the book.

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