Review of Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”

LOLQuack Michael Crichton
LOLQuack Michael Crichton

So I found a copy of Crichton’s book, State of Fear, in a box labeled “Free Books!” at the Coast Guard base, and figured I should go ahead and read it. I’ve read most of his other fiction, which is equally disposable, but usually a fun and brainless way to burn some time.

State of Fear “received strong criticism from climate scientists, science journalists, and environmental groups, for inaccuracies and misleading information,” but did receive “the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) 2006 Journalism Award (source). Crichton has also made regular appearances on the Rush Limbaugh show, where he is referred to as the “great American author” and is allowed to criticize Global Warming Theorists unchallenged.

The book’s first 30 pages includes a cryptic scene at a fictional place called the “International Data Environmental Consortium (IDEC)”, which is conducting a Department of Homeland Security-style data mining operation, surveying chatter on the Webbernets. They’ve discovered a great deal of interest from the hacker-community in topics like, “Cellular Encryption,” “Controlled Demolition,” “Flood Mitigation,” “Missionary Diaries of the Pacific,” and “Rain Forest Disease Foundation (RFDF) (Crichton, 32-33).” From this, the Institute, Consortium, or whatever it is (Department of Homeland Security), knows that a “serious Alpha extremist group” is planning something mysterious and foreboding.

Right off the bat my suspension of disbelief is suffering. I want to be entertained, but my reason and intellect are all ready seriously offended. So I put the book down for a few days.

When I picked it back up, things just got worse.

Crichton’s Bizarro World

There are no Exxons offering $10,000 to any scientist who would dispute Global Warming, no funding disinformation factories like the American Enterprise Institute, or a the Republican-controlled White House editing out global warming conclusions from research reports in Crichton’s State of Fear. These real-life events are completely omitted.

No. In Crichton’s fantasy world, it’s those powerful environmentalists using their incredible monetary wealth to intimidate scientists into distorting the facts to support global warming so they can scare the public into donating money to environmental organizations, which are a front for the global eco-terrorist operation, ELF, which is executing their nefarious plot to generate global catastrophes that will scare people into donating more money to environmental causes.

No wonder he fits right in on the Rush Dimbulb show.

Crichton, who wants his readers to believe he is of the scientific mindset, makes the glaring mistake of using the word “theory” the way non-scientists do in everyday language:

“No, it is a theory,” Balder said. “Believe me, I wish it were otherwise. But in fact, global warming is the theory that increased levels of carbon dioxide and certain other gases are causing an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere because of the so-called ‘greenhouse effect.’” (Emphasis Crichton’s, 81)

In the scientific lexicon “theory” is almost synonymous with “fact.” So, if Global Warming is just a theory, then so is Evolution and Gravity. Crichton’s abuse of the world makes sense if he’s purposefully trying to bamboozle his readers.

Crichton’s agenda makes for really lousy storytelling. The whole book reads like one of those after-school specials from the 1950s, where the kid gets lectured on the importance of aluminum or agriculture or hydroelectric power. Only in this case we have Attorney Peter Evans, who gets talked down to by everyone he meets for naively accepting the scientific consensus on Global Warming:

“But Mr. Scientist sir,” Peter Evans’ voice cracked, “I thought CO2 emissions were warming the Earth through the Greenhouse Effect.”

The scientist laughed condescendingly, “Nonsense Peter. The only scientists who say they believe in Global Warming are just trying to get Federal Grants.”

“Golly gee wilikers Mr. Scientist Sir!” Peter Evans said, “I guess I was just plumb all wrong about the threat of Global Warming! It’s just a bunch of liberal poppycock! Thank you so much for setting me straight!”

“My pleasure Billy–er, Mr. Evans. Be sure to tell all your friends.”

Much of the 567 pages is exactly this kind of dialogue.

Manufacturing Debate about Global Warming
Manufacturing Debate about
Global Warming

Crichton gets points for using references in his work, which is impressive for fiction, and admirable because it does push his work into the Hard SF genre, no matter how badly he mangles his sources or cherry picks them. Rush Dimbulb’s two works of “non-fiction” have no references at all.

The problem is that Crichton so obviously works backwards in thought, coming up with a fictional plot device and then trying to support it, often resorting to fringe studies and discredited sources to make his square pegs fit in reality’s round holes.

“We spliced the Dinosaur DNA with frog DNA!” was Crichton’s explanation for how scientists filled in the missing genetic information when cloning dinosaurs (Not a direct quote from Jurassic Park), but as Daniel Dennet pointed out, this makes no sense. Birds are more closely related to dinosaurs than frogs. Heck, even humans are more closely related. It’s this sort of laziness in Crichton’s research that really bother’s me, and State of Fear delivers this in droves.

Crichton’s State of Fear references include mischaracterizations of Robert Aunger’s challenges to memetics (which Crichton calls a “trendy quasi-scientific idea (p.584),” books attacking “elitist egos of Western environmentalists (p.584),” “intellectuals” who invariably worsen complex situations (p.587), discredited climate change articles from the 1970s, and the stage magicians Penn and Teller–I know whenever I’m immersed in academically-published research tackling a complex scientific conundrum, I always make sure to check with someone who can pull a rabbit out of their hat or saw a scantily-clad woman in half.

Yet his references don’t back up the outrageous claims Crichton makes. Where are the names of all the professors from all the prestigious Universities and Institutions that will dispute Anthropogenic Global Warming (Crichton, 90)? Where are all the peer-reviewed journal articles published proving it’s not true (Crichton, 93)? Crichton makes the ludicrous claim that organizations like PETA, the Audubon Society, and Sierra Club fund eco-terrorist groups like the Earth Liberation Front (Crichton, 182), and he can get away with it because this is purely a work of fiction, no matter how many spurious footnotes he puts in his bibliography, he can’t be sued for slander.

Dittoheads have been clinging to this book like a polar bears to a shrinking iceberg, and Crichton has made the most of it, making the talk show rounds, regular appearances on the Rush Dimbulb show, and raking in the $$’s, all the while standing outside the actual debate on Anthropogenic Global Warming. The one place you won’t find Crichton, is engaged in the actual scientific discussion.

Crichton compares the present scientific consensus on Global Warming to a supposed scientific consensus on eugenics in an Appendix hypocritically titled, “Why Politicized Science is Dangerous.” It’s hard to believe a person as moderately intelligent as Crichton doesn’t recognize that comparing Global Warming theorists to Nazis might be just a tad political.

The real hypocrisy here is that Crichton portrays environmentalists as money-grubbing, lawsuit-happy fanatics, less concerned with the environment than with fear-mongering and celebrity-promotions to draw attention to their cause (Crichton, 154-160), but State of Fear is just one long fear-mongering, manipulative, over-hyped work of Science Fiction meant to popularize NeoConservative talking points.

Hilary Clinton puts the smackdown better than I can:

History will remember Michael Crichton’s State of Fear the way it remembers McCarthyism and Reefer Madness.






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