A writer of unique talents. I hope.

The Metafilter thread about Michael Crichton's unexpected death is less respectful than most death-threads there.

Which is, of course, no big deal. Someone always says "show a little respect, you wouldn't act like this at the guy's funeral" when obituary-thread commenters not only omit the traditional moment-of-silence dot, but even say bad things about the deceased.

But Crichton's grieving family are probably not frantically refreshing Metafilter right now. And MeFi users are, overall, pretty enthusiastic about the advancement of human knowledge. And Michael Crichton did human knowledge a few significant injuries, especially with his later books.

A lot of commenters said they loved Crichton's books when they were kids. I bet I would have, too, but I think I just didn't read any. Maybe The Andromeda Strain, but I'm not sure.

I'm glad only the earlier, less anti-science ones would have been available then, though.

That's because I read State of Fear as an adult, and the only part of it that seemed obviously stupid at the time - never mind the implausible environmentalist Giant Conspiracy, stuff like that's normal in thrillers - was the magic gadget that caused enemies of the enviroterrorist baddies to be struck by lightning, in cheerful defiance of basic electrophysics.

(Enviroterrorists with the ability to suck lightning out of clouds wouldn't need to be enviroterrorists any more. They could just start building lightning power stations.)

The real scientific problem with State of Fear whistled right over my head, though. The book contains several Author Filibusters about climate change - or, more specifically, the allegedly poor quality of our knowledge about climate change - and all of those sounded plausible enough to me at the time.

Only because I looked into it later do I know that Crichton was talking absolute cock, and had to be either fully aware of this fact, or senile, or wilfully ignorant.

(See also: Poor old Antony Flew.)

Crichton didn't seem to be very good at dealing with criticism. He famously named a throwaway character in a later book after someone who'd given State of Fear a very bad review. The throwaway character was a baby-rapist. Classy.

Anyway, I like to think that if I'd read State of Fear when I was twelve, I'd also have looked up the facts afterwards. But I bet I wouldn't have.

The world is, self-evidently, well-stocked with people who don't do any more due diligence on what they read than I would have when I was a kid. People believe bestselling thrillers that make statements about the nature of the world, especially when those statements are the core of the whole story, as they are in all of Crichton's works. If you're writing about things that happen on Planet Zarnax or in the Cthulhu mythos or whatever then that's one thing, but if a book's whole anvil-subtle thesis is that the scientific consensus about climate change is wrong, you need to take your share of the responsibility for everyday voters believing that you're right.

Heck, even utter garbage like Left Behind has an enthusiastic audience of people who don't even bother checking its statements against the Bible. Much less check to see whether, to name just one of a very long list of outrageous wall-bangers, the United Nations really does have the power to take over the whole world on a whim.

Given the power of popular books, it's simply irresponsible to put misinformation about matters vitally important to the whole world in books which you - and your bank account - know are read by orders of magnitude more voters than read the scientific papers that prove you wrong.

If you're the only loud voice that's talking rubbish, then it's not such a big deal. But when there's a genuine culture war going on about climate change, or evolution, or dear-god-now-they're-coming-after-neuroscience, the side you pick matters. State of Fear seems to have become a sort of easy-reading textbook for climate-change deniers. Look, for instance, at the whole-hearted support Crichton got from fellow bullshit artist James Inhofe.

People should be allowed to write, publish and read whatever the heck they like, no matter how contrary to fact it is.

But if you're in the business of lying to people about matters of grave global importance, I for one am not going to shed a tear when you die.

(On the subject of books that contain wise and wordy characters who entirely agree with the author, see also Robert Heinlein, whose books I loved as a kid. In my memory, Time Enough For Love is completely awesome. So I'm not going to make the mistake of trying to read it again now. Fortunately, kids' sci-fi that actually gets the science more or less right also exists.)

58 Responses to “A writer of unique talents. I hope.”

  1. Darien Says:

    When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard (no, that's not code for "I'm a Scientologist"), while we're on the subject of deceitful hacks. I was mainly in it for the frequent, explicit sex scenes, though, because, hey, when you're twelve years old, it doesn't take much more than that.

  2. Miles Says:

    It's interesting that you complain about Michael Crichton lying in his book, when the links you've provided sing the praises of people like Tim Flannery who is a shocking alarmist and bender of the truth.

    The fact is that both sides love to twist things to their chosen belief and ignore things that contradict it, and it will always continue to be that way. Both sides have a point. Entirely dismissing Crichton's arguments wholesale as 'absolute cock' is not entirely helpful, especially if you're unlikely to ever mention the failings in the other side of the argument. IMO. :)

  3. Itsacon Says:

    @Darien: Why am I not surprised? :-)

    As for Crichton, I kinda liked several of his books, but I must say I read mostly those which were more clearly fiction, and having had a solid interest in science from a young age, I might not have been very susceptible.

    That said, The book Jurassic park was a lot better than the movie...

  4. Itsacon Says:

    Note: My link for Darien is not entirely SFW...

  5. Daniel Rutter Says:


    Exactly one page I linked to even mentions Tim Flannery. I don't know whether the quotes from Flannery's The Weather Makers in that article line up exactly with current mainstream predictions, but the statement that large climate changes will still happen even if we massively reduce our CO2 emissions in the coming decades is uncontroversial. I think something more drastic, like solar-powered photosynthesis-ish CO2 collectors or atmospheric - or even orbital - mirrors, shades or reflective dust may prove to be necessary.

    Flannery is certainly a climate change activist, but he's not a climate scientist, and I wouldn't use him as a source. Which is why I didn't. If anything I linked to uses Flannery as a serious source, tell me where I did it, and I'll fix it.

    To say that "both sides have a point", when one side is saying that climate change isn't happening, or is happening but has nothing to do with human action, or is happening and is connected with human activity but may do us good, or is happening and is connected with human activity and is undesirable but cannot be helped, is an example of the fallacy of the middle ground, also known as the argument to moderation. Just because one group says X and another says Y does not automatically mean that the truth lies somewhere in between, no matter how often TV news shows seek to be "balanced" by treating woo-woo fantasies and empirical evidence as if they have equal weight.

    There's plenty of room for valid discussion regarding what climate change will do, how fast it will happen, and how best to combat it or at least minimise its harmful effects. But to argue that it's not happening, or nothing to do with us, or desirable, or incurable, can be said with a high degree of certainty, based on enormous amounts of solid evidence having nothing to do with the unfounded personal opinions you rightly decry, to be simply factually wrong.

    "Teaching the controversy" here is as incorrect as doing the same thing in the creation-versus-evolution "debate".

  6. tantryl Says:

    It's funny someone brought up Hubbard in the comments, I've always thought their writing styles were very similar.

    But at least Crichton didn't decide to make a religion out of it.

  7. Red October Says:

    I heard of Crichton's passing today; we have satellite radio at work and we were listening to the BBC. Rather sad. I enjoyed his earlier books, especially Congo, but I too got the sense that he was very much an anti-science type, even from as early as Jurassic Park.
    Strange, though, that an anti-science person would take that position on climate change; most who take the extreme positions (either the "La La La it's not happening" stance or the "We brought this on ourselves entirely and are rightly doomed because we are evil beings who shape tools" stance) seem to think science is on their side. More rather it's a case of "Figgures don't lie but liers can figgure". i.e. Yes, there is climate change. Yes, some of the agents of it are anthropogenic. Yes, we can probably do something about it, but -and it's a big but, and a huge obstacle to progress in my country, at least- we have to stop making a political football out of it. (Just for one example, certain legislation, I think now repealed, mandated that if a facility underwent a certain dollar amount in upgrades, it would have to meet new, much tougher environmental standards. If it stayed the same, or was repaired, it could go on as "grandfathered". Naturally, since once this threshold was passed, the costs would skyrocket due to the necessity of meeting the tougher standards, many facilities stayed the same, rather than making smaller upgrades that would lower pollution, although not to the levels of the new regs. This sort of thinking still prevails with many people, unfortunately. That and the idea that you can legislate technology into existence.)

  8. hubris Says:

    O.M.G. As a tweenager I thought that Time Enough for Love was the seminal literary work of all time. I used to regularly read through the sections that just had little snippets of advice - I think there were two sections? 3 decades later there is no way I'm going to look at it again, either - instant death by embarrassment would result. But at the time... mind blowing.

    [The only bit of Lazarus Long's advice that's stuck with me is that if there's a huge war starting and everybody's obviously going to get called up for service, join the army right away, so you can get a nice safe desk job before every new recruit has to go straight into the meat-grinder. -Dan]

    It's interesting that after lurking on your blog since day 1 it's a Robert Heinlein reference that's dragged a comment out of me. So, while I'm at it, when are you going to stop strumming your banjo up there on the porch of your place in the Ozarks above Sydney, give up on the furry substitutes and do your reproductive duty as all intelligent, well-educated, wise humans must do to maintain the strength of the gene pool?

    Oh, and on the climate thing:
    1. I don't know how bad, or even real it is, despite reading widely and deeply.
    2. It'll get worse - or not.
    3. I don't know, practically/politically, if there is anything meaningful that can be done about it if it does get worse until a tipping point is reached.
    4. If it does get worse and that tipping point is reached, my faith in humankind, science and the miracle of economics tells me that we'll adapt very quickly.
    5. Just keep doing your bit for science and knowledge, make your little everyday calls about what you buy and and what you do as best you can and everything will be OK.
    6. Can someone else please insert the perspicacious, topical and witty links that are required for membership of this blog in my post as it's 1.42 am and I'm stuffed. Thanks.

  9. hubris Says:

    P.S. You should teach this blog about daylight saving as it's made a liar out of me.

  10. perryizgr8 Says:

    i'm really sorry for the last comment which i messed up. i've always used html where i put the text between and. but here it says something about title="". i also cant figure out a way to delete the comment. here are the links i wanted to share:

  11. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Might I point out that the sites I link to don't use Al Gore as a source either?

    Two do mention An Inconvenient Truth, either the book or the movie.

    One quotes Gore's observation that it will really suck if the West Antarctic ice sheet slides into the sea. But Gore didn't, you know, invent that idea.

    The other mentions the Inconvenient Truth documentary's "striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world".

    I'm fairly sure Al Gore did not take those photos.

    But wait - the two brilliant and insightful blog posts you were so all-fired enthusiastic to bring to our collective attention surely contain none of the errors you're incorrectly claiming I made, right?

    Oh, wait. They both approvingly link to The Great Global Warming Swindle, which is, when held up to the actual evidence, very clearly exactly the sort of dramatic fluffy nonsense-documentary which you apparently believe An Inconvenient Truth to be.

    Jesus Hieronymus Christ on a neon-lit unicycle, guys. Where do you people come from?

    Every time someone dares to mention the vast pile of solid empirical evidence that's led to climate scientists' confident conclusions regarding global climate change, you guys instantly pop out of the woodwork to pretend that these thousands of people all over the world are all in thrall to Tim Flannery, or Al Gore, or the fucking Easter Bunny, based on your own wild-ass guesses or the word of some alleged physicist.

    (Wait, I'll save you some time: In the Seventies, there were some people who thought the global climate was actually cooling. There weren't many of them, and actual climatologists didn't find their arguments at all persuasive, but they did exist. There were even books. Therefore climate change is wrong, QED. Hurrah!)

    This reminds me of the creationists who fervently believe that evolution is some sort of Cult Of Darwin, in which biologists all refer back to the holy Origin Of Species any time they face a crisis in their 149-year-old, entirely unempirical faith. Climatology would have to be just like this - a crazy religion, or a vast conspiracy of idiots, evil people, and evil idiots - for the international consensus to be as it is while rogue geniuses like the Global Warming Swindle people manage to find the truth.

    So: Why?

    Why do you think this?

    Why do you do this?

    Who do you think you're going to impress?

    If you want to win an argument with some imaginary climate-change straw man who conveniently bases his arguments on unsupported opinions, or on his massive crush on Al Gore, or on a hippie hatred of fossil fuels, then go right ahead and do that. You can get your own blog for free (Try Blogsome™!), or just play both sides of the argument in your car. Go nuts.

    But if you're not actually going to address what I - and, more importantly, thousands of properly qualified people all over the world - have actually said, then why the fuck did you bother to comment?

  12. MattC Says:

    I'll believe when a believers cash tells the same story as their mouth. For now it doesn't. Nobody is selling waterfront property and moving to higher ground.

  13. theSeekerr Says:

    I did a similar writeup in the wee hours of this morning - while yours is focused upon the authors responsibility to not fuck with peoples heads, I still figure people just aren’t THINKING hard enough about what they hear. Crichton’s deception was of quite a clever variety, but nobody with a remotely scientific bent would form a strong opinion based on a single source. The Great Global Warming Swindle was about a subtle as a brick to the sinuses in its perversion of the scientific method - actually, it was so bad that I’ve wondered if it was meant to be a mocumentary, much in the same vein as In Search of the Edge.

  14. Miles Says:

    Sorry Dan, my post was meant to say "when one of the links you’ve provided".

    I haven't read the book in question - I do have it but I found it so incredibly boring I gave up a chapter in. From what I read on the links you provided though, it sounded like what Crichton was saying was not that global warming doesn't exist, but that it's not going to be as bad as the alarmists say, and that carbon isn't the main culprit.

    I have no doubt climate change is occurring right now, as it has done since forever and ever. How much we are contributing to it, we really don't 100% know. Whether it will be a completely bad thing - we don't even know that. In the meantime the warming has stopped for the past 10 years. Was that in the models? No one seems to mention it and on the graphs of global temperatures I see on Wikipedia they all seem to conspicuously end at about 2000.

    I guess my problem with the global warming hysteria is three-fold. One is that there isn't much we can do if the models are correct, short of deconstructing our entire society. That's not going to happen. Second is that we can't even predict how bad it's going to be or even if it's necessarily all bad.

    Most importantly in my opinion, is that there are far greater environmental issues we need to address before we look at carbon output. Overfishing, salinification of our rivers, other pollutant output, lack of water... there are so many problems that imo should take priority in fixing.

    Also, stop-gap solutions like solar panels are introducing other, WORSE greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and not doing anything much at all. We absolutely need to devote energy to finding clean sources of alternative fuels especially because of the ridiculous pollution that comes from burning coal and oil, but actually analyse the costs of using them - look at the problems bio-fuels have caused for instance.

    Have you read this article Dan? Sums up how I feel pretty well.


    Also, no need to get worked up or angry when you reply.

  15. Daniel Rutter Says:

    and on the graphs of global temperatures I see on Wikipedia they all seem to conspicuously end at about 2000.

    What, like the one that's cunningly tucked away right at the top of the Wikipedia Global Warming article?

    Mean temperature graph

    Do you really think that graph stops at 2000 because that's the last number on an X-axis that has tick marks 20 years apart?

    See how the graph KEEPS GOING PAST THE 2000 LINE?

    See how there are SEVEN MORE DOTS?

    See that?

    What's 2000 plus 7, children?

    (And then there's the image RIGHT UNDER THAT ONE, which is "Mean surface temperature anomalies during the period 1995 to 2004 with respect to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980". Apparently 2004 also qualifies as "about 2000".)

    Have you read this article Dan? Sums up how I feel pretty well.


    Freeman Dyson, as he cheerfully admits right there, is not a climate scientist either.

    And we're not talking about the computer models - which I'm willing to believe Dyson, who's still a smart cookie despite his advanced age, has indeed studied in detail. We are, rather, talking about the observations of what has happened, and what is happening right now.

    And, so far as I can see, what's happening right now is that the climate is changing much faster than we thought it would. We knew loss of sea ice would mean a lower average global albedo and hence more heat capture, and we knew that melting permafrost would allow ancient peat and such to decompose and let more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but we didn't know the vicious circle would kick off this fast.

    Nobody is selling waterfront property and moving to higher ground. Why?

    Because, uh, sea level is only rising by a few millimetres a year? So if you don't live on a little coral atoll somewhere, you're in no danger?

    Is this a trick question?

    (Plus, I used to live a mile from the beach, but now I live one kilometre above sea level. Hence your claim that nobody is moving to higher ground is refuted. :-)

    Seriously, you guys. Just stop. You're only making yourselves look dumber. I should be writing a review now, but instead I'm here, smacking down stuff like "oh wow, the numbers all stop in 2000, why is it that you can only find people who've discovered this amazing fact on crazy right-wing blogs, I blame the Freemasons...".

    no need to get worked up or angry when you reply.

    Indeed there is no need, but I can't help it. Stupidity always makes me angry.

  16. DBT Says:

    Re climate change.

    Forget Gore and Crichton.

    "L&S 70B"

    Google it.

    Look. Listen. Learn.

    ... or STFU.

  17. corinoco Says:

    If I may stick my nose in...

    "I guess my problem with the global warming hysteria is three-fold. One is that there isn’t much we can do if the models are correct, short of deconstructing our entire society. That’s not going to happen."

    Why? Qualify that statement, please. 'That's not going to happen' is your pessimistic opinion. Further examples: "Women voting? pffft! That's not going to happen!" "USA losing a war in Vietnam? Yeah, right!" If history can teach us anything, it is that societies can, and do, change; sometimes rapidly.

    "Second is that we can’t even predict how bad it’s going to be or even if it’s necessarily all bad." OK, take a revolver, put one live round in the chamber, place to your head and pull the trigger. I can't predict how bad it's going to be for you or even if it will necessarily be bad for you. I can say you've got a 1 in 6 chance of severe injury or death. I can very firmly suggest that such a practice is foolhardy, possiby even very dangerous, and I would strongly advise you not to do it.

    The arguments that apply to climate change scepticism can equally be applied to things like seat-belts and life-boats; why spend money mitigating against ulikely occurences? Such an outlay is actually an investment - spending money against the probabilty of sever injury or death; a prudent decision.

    Spending money to mitigate or prepare for global warming is prudence, and money well spent in any event.

    In the end, thats all it really comes down to, right?

    Oh, and "Also, no need to get worked up or angry when you reply."

    It's Dan's blog, he can do what he wants. Dan also had a very good point: Why?

    Oh, yes, and MattC: "Nobody is selling waterfront property and moving to higher ground." should read "Nobody I HAVE MET OR KNOW OF is selling waterfront property and moving to higher ground."

    Us architects have to take possible global warming into account when designing waterfront properties for long life-spans (100+ years - needed for infrastucture and expensive buildings). Several Sydney councils - notably Manly, Warringah and Pittwater (especially areas around Narrabeen Beach & Lagoon) are possibly at severe risk from even small changes in sea level, and global warming believers or not, they have a duty of care to the infrastructure and warning residents of possible future excess fees, planning restrictions or even forced evacuations. Possible sea-level rise is taken very seriously by all of the structural and marine geotech engineers I work with. A building I am working on in North Queensland was required to have it's base level raised by 200mm (in addition to 1000mm allowance for possible stronger cyclones and storm surges) to allow for possible seal-level rise. So there ARE people putting money where their mouths are, it's just that you are ignorant of them. PS, I'm not a hippy-architect building solar-powered tin shacks, Im working on a $25-million building the developers would rather not have to rebuild if it washes away or ends up being underwater for 6 hours a day.

  18. Miles Says:

    Do you really think that graph stops at 2000 because that’s the last number on an X-axis that has tick marks 20 years apart?

    TBH I only glanced at it, saw the axis ended at 2000, and left it at that. And you're right. SEVEN MORE DOTS. Seven more dots which indicate that the world hasn't accelerated in temperature since 1998, despite further increases in carbon.

    [Freeman Dyson, as he cheerfully admits right there, is not a climate scientist either. -Dan]

    So? I was just saying his views match mine. You're not a climate scientist, yet here you are, expressing your views.

    So Dyson's a smart cookie he's also stupid for believing the alarmism is overblown? Calling people stupid because they disagree with you is hardly the way to win an argument or get a point across.

    [I don't think you're stupid because you disagree with me. I think you acted stupidly when you presented as a serious argument an opinion that you reached after an examination of the evidence that you say took you all of one second (or maybe less; how long is a "glance"?). An investigation that took me five seconds showed me your argument was completely wrong. You did a very stupid thing; please do not now complain if people point and laugh. -Dan]

    Things are happening faster than we thought? If anything it appears to me things are happening either on track or slower than we thought, not faster. There were predictions of much higher temperatures by now, much increased sea level, and much reduced ice cover. The arctic has 20-30% more ice this year than last year, despite predictions that it could be ice free. It just goes to show you how flawed our prediction models are.

    [Nobody sane predicted there'd be no Arctic ice now. Who the hell do you think did predict such a thing?! And the Arctic does not have "20-30% more ice this year than last year", unless you care only about the covered area and do not distinguish between thick perennial ice (which lasts all year) and thin seasonal ice (which melts in the summer). Perennial ice cover dropped by FIFTY PER CENT between February 2007 and February 2008. The annual sea ice minimum is dropping like a stone. -Dan]

    Anyway, you're welcome to believe what you believe, and I don't think I'm going to convince you otherwise. However I think you could stand to be a little bit less smarmy and condescending, and a little more open to hearing what you don't want to hear.

    [I think you could stand to stop talking absolute bullshit as if you were being paid by the hour to do so. But opinions, as you say, differ. -Dan]

  19. Mighty Says:

    Trying to condense the global climate into a single number of merit is one of the most complex things mankind has ever undertaken. Am I not allowed to be skeptical that we've nailed it down to the point that, "The debate is over."? Is that really the scientific approach?

    Are there really no serious climatologists who are doing practical research that call into question many of the basic assumptions of anthropogenic global warming? Nobody reliable who has pointed out systemic problems in the generation of the IPCC reports?

    There's a mountain of money to be had and the intoxicating power to wield control over other human beings. Am I wrong to be wary of the motives of the IPCC, the rest of the global warming crowd, and in fact the entire Green movement? Have they not damaged their own credibility repeatedly with exaggerations, deceptive practices and blatant intimidation?

    I've typed up and deleted a couple of longer versions of this comment. This short version boils down to:

    I am not a denier. I am a skeptic. The global warming crowd has not overcome their credibility problems to my satisfaction.

  20. Erik T Says:

    How is there a mountain of money to be had? Proclaiming disaster is, historically, about as likely to get you lynched as it is to get you rich.

    Of course never mind that the whole issue is, frankly, moot as far as I'm concerned; even if we're not causing the world to get warmer, we have to change how we're living ANYWAY at some point. Society as it exists today is dependent on copious fossil fuel consumption. Whether or not you think we've hit peak oil bla bla bla... even THAT isn't relevant. As long as you can accept that we are using stuff that won't be replaced for hundreds of millions of years... well, then we have to change how our society functions.

    Even a small child can understand that if he takes a piece of candy a day out of a bag on the counter, eventually that bag will be empty. Frankly I sometimes wonder if all the argument against the existence of global warming isn't just a canard to distract folks from this profoundly simple issue.

  21. Miles Says:

    There is a TON of money to be had in global warming, e.g. research grants, overseeing and trading carbon credits, even these "carbon offset" places (with no oversight) can make an easy buck. There's more money to be made by saying "THERE IS A BIG PROBLEM AND WE NEED TO INVESTIGATE IT IMMEDIATELY" than to say "there may be a problem and it deserves our attention".

    And absolutely we need to change how our society functions, and most likely it will happen naturally when it makes more economic sense to do something OTHER than pull oil out of the ground and use that. When the price of oil was heading up to $150 a barrel, alternatives were looking much more attractive. Unfortunately there is not much practical incentive for people to do otherwise for now, especially in poorer nations like India and China who may be the biggest polluters in years to come. But hopefully prosperity will bring cleaner technology... fingers crossed.

  22. Darien Says:

    There sure is a lot of money to be had here. A lot of the fuel savers that we and our host love so much -- swindles that are as old as fuel consumption -- are now being marketed with "save the environment" frippery, for example. Not to mention the explosion of investment and development in the wind and solar power industries; I personally know someone who's changed his career path to wind power development because of all the money to be had.

    Note carefully: I am neither denying nor asserting thing one about global warming in this post. That discussion's gotten a bit heated and I think I'll leave it to cool a bit (no pun intended, I promise). All I'm saying is that, real or not, global warming sure is a great opportunity to cash in in a lot of ways.

  23. ozzieaardvark Says:

    I’m a little shocked at your responses regarding “global warming”.
    You say:
    “Every time someone dares to mention the vast pile of solid empirical evidence that’s led to climate scientists’ confident conclusions regarding global climate change, you guys instantly pop out of the woodwork to pretend that these thousands of people all over the world are all in thrall to Tim Flannery, or Al Gore, or the fucking Easter Bunny, based on your own wild-ass guesses or the word of some alleged physicist”.
    What pile of empirical evidence are you citing?
    The folks in this discussion that most resemble the Intelligent Design crowd are the IPCC Team that continuously put forth proclamations that the debate is over because there’s a scientific consensus. To paraphrase Michael Crichton, when did science become a consensus endeavor? I’ve always held the quaint notion that science was about data and independent replication which, until I saw the rather shrill response from you quoted above, I assumed was your view as well. Where is the data and methodology that enable replication?
    Where is the clear and replicable data and methodology from Michael Mann? Where is the clear and replicable data and methodology from Lonnie Thompson or Phil Jones? Where is the methodological description of how GISS temperature data are “adjusted”? If data and methodology are not open to scrutiny and criticism, it isn’t science.
    You may not have bought the climate change “magic fuel pill” hook, line and sinker here, but you’ve clearly compromised your healthy scientific skepticism. Read:
    Please don’t come back with the stereotypical “they’re all shills for big oil”.
    [I wouldn't dream of it. The oil exploration company that Stephen McIntyre founded was quite a small one! -Dan]
    Also, please don’t come back with a pile of links to “independent, peer reviewed papers” that all cross reference each other in inscrutable ways. This is a public policy debate that’s going to literally decide who lives and who dies, regardless of the outcome. The data and its interpretation are what matters. Arm waving about “mountains of empirical data” add nothing to the scientific discussion. Look at the data and methodology (if you can find them). If it’s all so settled and clear, why not put the data and methodology out there in a clear and organized way?
    Just askin’?

  24. Mighty Says:

    In addition to scams and legitimate research into alternative technologies, there's the fact that cap-and-trade, offsets, etc are ripe for corruption, graft, embezzlement. Does it not give you pause that the IPCC is a UN-affiliated bureaucratic body? Does Food For Oil ring a bell?

    I fully realize that's Guilt by Association. OTOH, the reputation of the UN is pretty darn bad. (And I realize that the IPCC label themselves as a scientific body. What I've seen of their actions doesn't leave me feeling generous about that.)

    And I completely agree that oil is far too valuable to be burning it. I'm a huge proponent of a reasonably-regulated nuclear industry and solar power satellites.

    I also agree that dumping this much CO2 into the atmosphere is an unwise experiment. But the proposed cures I've seen thus far appear extremely likely to destroy the economy. If we do that then it doesn't even matter if anthropogenic global warming is correct or not.

    Do you want to destroy the environment? Historically, the number one way to do that is to have people living in poverty.

  25. Daniel Rutter Says:

    What pile of empirical evidence are you citing?

    DBT helpfully linked to an entire free university lecture series on the subject. Go nuts.

    please don’t come back with a pile of links to “independent, peer reviewed papers” that all cross reference each other in inscrutable ways

    If you find the actual data on which the clear and unequivocal consensus view is based to be "inscrutable", then obviously you're not going to ever be satisfied by it, because you can't understand it.

    You shouldn't have to spend weeks reading the source material and becoming a climate expert, though; I'm certainly not one. I just figure that when the overwhelming majority of qualified people in a field agree, and when dramatic and obvious things like unprecedented melting of Arctic ice keep happening to support what they say, there's a very good chance they're right. If it were all based on questionable statistical analysis and possibly-fallible weather station data then that'd be one thing, but all of those polar bears are not drowning because weather stations are inaccurate or someone slipped a digit in their Excel spreadsheet.

    Is it possible that a great paradigm shift could come along, showing the consensus - which, to reiterate, is as far as I'm concerned just that climate change is happening, is partly our fault, is generally undesirable, and that there's something we can do about it - to be wrong?


    But the depth and breadth of the confirming evidence, insofar as I understand it, seems to me to clearly be so great that I think such a shift is only slightly more likely than one that proves evolution to be false.

    To say otherwise is to agree with the people who say that the whole professional field of, say, oncology, consists only of evil idiots engaging in a giant conspiracy to prevent the truth about the simple and inexpensive cure for all cancers from coming out.

    "Pathological science", where incorrect conclusions spread in a follow-the-leader way or because of political pressure, does occasionally occur. No such phenomenon has ever remotely approached the vastness of the weight of research behind climate change, though. Piltdown Man, N-rays, Lysenkoism, fake cold fusion; all had many, many orders of magnitude less confirming evidence than exists for climate change.

    I know almost nothing about quantum physics, but I understand that classical physics has no explanation for the operation of semiconductors, and that every advance in computing technology since the start of the solid-state age has its roots in quantum theory.

    Could this all be a giant hoax, and the the whole field of quantum physics, and thus modern information technology in general, actually be entirely different?

    Well, sure, I guess. But to present this as a serious argument is preposterous. It'd have to be another of those epic conspiracies, or a contradiction of Occam's Razor so great that I cannot think of words to describe its vastness.

    Or I suppose we could all be living in the Matrix, or something. Radical solipsism can explain anything. But radical solipsism does not provide one with grounds for any action whatsoever or any way to be sure of any knowledge at all, so I do not highly recommend it as a way of dealing with the world.

  26. Chazzozz Says:

    I'm not trying to hijack the scintillating conversation that's been brewing all day...but back to one of the original points of the post, i.e. Michael Crichton's writing talents, I have read some of his work and I agree that it's somewhat iffy, at best. People would rave on about how he wrote 'thrilling' fiction; I was always left wanting after finishing a book.

    Heinlein, OTOH, is an author I have read, and RE-read, several times. Admittedly, his later stuff became somewhat fantastical and hard to swallow, but he always told a ripping yarn. His early work is especially good, and even though some of his 'futuristic' visions haven't exactly stood the test of time, I don't think that it gets in the way of the story.

    I've recently rediscovered another sci-fi author whom I used to read all the time, H. Beam Piper. I remember being a 14yo and thinking how amazing he could write about future history and make it seem so...Real. I read his work today and realise that, apart from space travel, he didn't have any better vision of the future than the rest of them; heck, he talks about people in the 25th century still using movie cameras and audio tape recorders! But again, this kind of stuff still doesn't get in the way of a great story, and I find I love Piper's work just as much now as I did...well, a long time ago. ;-)

    I don't think Michael Crichton was a bad author, I just think he wasn't a particularly good one. I'm glad I didn't spend a lot of time reading his work, and I certainly won't be spending a lot of time celebrating it.

  27. Darien Says:

    Crichton was definitely a hack, but I'm told he's a surprisingly readable hack; one friend of mine really gets sucked in when reading him. I dunno; personally, I never liked him, but, then, I never liked Stephen King either, and I understand he's pretty much in the same position re: hackitude. So most likely the problem there is with me.

    I was quite fond of Piers Anthony when I was a kid also (no, seriously, it's okay; point and laugh). He did write science fiction in addition to his copious fantasy work, and I read quite a lot of it. That guy's another complete hack who can be surprisingly readable, if you get some of his earlier work, from back before it was all puns and nothing else. Oh, and avoid his 600-page epics, too.

  28. Chazzozz Says:

    >Crichton was definitely a hack, but I’m told he’s a surprisingly readable hack...

    I was told that about Terry Pratchett, too, but I never really got into his stuff, either. All the cool kids were, but I tried a couple of books and just wasn't excited. Maybe they were the wrong books...

    I've read some Piers Anthony sci-fi, but only short stories. (I went through a period of devouring anthology-style books.) I don't think it was hack-ish, I found it very insightful and entertaining.

  29. Darien Says:

    Anthony can be maddening -- his good stuff is really quite good, and his bad stuff is really quite bad. He doesn't do anything small, I guess. ;-)

  30. mlipphardt Says:

    That graph you presented, Dan, is interesting. But look what happens when you lay a graph of the solar constant over it;


    This is pretty compelling. To me it looks like most of global warming is due to an increase in the output of the sun.
    [Close, but no banana, I'm afraid. This idea previously addressed here. -Dan]
    Assuming this data is right that is. This has happened before and will happen again. I am not saying we do not contribute to it and there is nothing we can do about it - for the first time in history, there is, if we have the political will to do it. But I am saying that the causes are not entirely man made.

  31. Bern Says:

    You know, I haven't read any Piers Anthony for years... I seem to recall "On a Pale Horse" was a very good book, but that the whole "Incarnations of Immortality" series went a bit off the rails near the end. I enjoyed reading the "Bio of a Space Tyrant" series when I was a a teen. Tell me, does he still have a fascination with old(ish) men having sex with young teenagers?

    Anyway - the comments about people getting their info from right-wing blogs made me laugh. One of the guys at work is a yank, and he's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. And, yes, he refuses to believe in global climate change. Today, he actually managed to piss me off (difficult, especially as he's generally a nice guy). Today's snippet of truth is that Obama is going to destroy the USA, and the stock market falling two days in a row is proof of this, because the stock market is all about confidence, and nobody has any confidence in Obama.

    I tried to point out that, you know, perhaps it's because we're in the middle of the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the market is a little bit volatile as a result. He flat out refused to consider any other cause - it's all Obama's fault, don't ya know?
    What pissed me off is the fact that he flat-out refused to admit that there was any way he might be wrong.

    Nothing like a closed mind, eh?

    [Day-to-day overall stock-market "sentiment" always has to do with almost nothing but what people think will happen the next trading day. It's literally as short-term as that. Long-term trends starting from the day of the election will reflect market opinion about what the new administration may do, but day-to-day prices are swamped by the effect of super-short-term speculation. That's why the US dollar has been climbing higher and higher, despite the US economy obviously going straight to hell; in the long term the $US will be lousy versus the currencies of countries that're in better shape (which does not necessarily include the EU or Japan, given how things are going...), but right now the tidal wave of free money for the American financial sector has been making dollars desirable.

    The fact that Obama won't take office until the 20th of January also, of course, makes a mockery of the USA's mania for counting all the votes in the Presidential election on the day of the election. There is no reason at all to do this, except that the TV networks demand it; they couldn't get decent ratings for a week of laborious hand-counting, but they love the drama of the one-day event, no matter how much of a farce it ends up being. -Dan]

  32. Bern Says:

    BTW, I've read nearly everything that Terry Pratchett has written, and thoroughly enjoyed it all. I think he really peaked as far as the comic fantasy goes back in the early to mid 90s. His more recent stuff is far less 'comic' and far more 'serious' fantasy. In some ways I miss the lighter tone of the older books, but the recent ones are very gripping tales.

  33. Porphyry Says:

    I thought I'd try to to distract you all from the bickering with some ramblings from someone who works in a loosely related field. Mandatory Disclosure: I'm a geophysicist who works for Big Oil.

    I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding and overconfidence about how this "science" business actually works. Don't trust scientists! Consensus is what we use to get funding.

    We speak differently to lay-people than we do to each other. To management and rival groups it's "We can predict X at Y to within 0.0001". To friends and peers it's more "Fuck, I don't know what's wrong. Draw the line through there and make the axes bigger. Christ, What did we do last time?".

    As an example we started running a long and expensive experiment earlier this year. Early results looked pretty shonky and we agonised for weeks about whether to continue. One member of the team thought he could see a trend in the overwhelming cloud of noise. The chief technical scientist said the theory was correct and his "passion for high technology" lead him to believe it was the correct approach. One member just needed to turn up to some meetings to beef up his timesheet. I was the project coordinator and I couldn't see what the $500K of CPU time the whole experiment was going to get us. Using distributed blame modelling, we eventually decided to proceed on the basis that (a) We had to do something. (b) Our funding would be cut - what else were we going to do for 6 months? (c) We could blame the Chief Scientist who was going onto another project (his suggestion) and (d) It's not our money.

    As project coordinator I had to sell it to both our management and to financial backers. Using the dodgiest trend lines of all time, I pushed the line that this experiment utilised the cutting edge technology we needed to address all our uncertainties and reduce our risk. We got the green light to go ahead.

    6 months later the results looked like garbage. What did we do? We increased the error bars on the trend lines and reported it to management as being "difficult data needing further study but within expectations". Are we bad scientists? Maybe, maybe not. I'm pretty sure most of us do it (FWIW we're submitting the mixed results for peer review with real conclusions). We ran an interesting but expensive experiment and learned that this type of modelling doesn't work when certain boundary conditions aren't met. The unsexy scientific grunt work is more often about messing around in the muddy noise than playing with the beautiful equations and predictions.

    So is there money to be made wild predictions from noisy data and bad modelling? Well, we're doing it again. This time I'm asking for $2 million. And it's going to work this time. I promise.

  34. Stark Says:

    Well, as someone who was once a scientist but is now a working schlub in IT I can say the following with complete confidence regarding a question of yours Prophyry, specifically the question "Are we bad scientists?".

    Yes. Yes you are.

    As was I, and for much the same reason you are. It's why I changed careers actually.

    You are in a situation that somewhat forces it (that is, if you wish to continue to get a paycheck and feed your family). Science done on behalf of a party with a vested interest in a specific outcome, where failure to report that specific outcome has dire consequences for the researchers continued employment.... is not science. I think you know this. You know that the research that was conducted was, putting the absolute best possible spin on it here, conclusively rubbish and yet you played it up as inconclusive. This is clearly in direct opposition to all the basic tenets of science. Conclusive data that shows you have a flaw in methodology, process, or simply disproves the hypothesis is still conclusive and widening the error bars to make it look inconclusive is NOT doing science. Science, as you should know, provides answers - not convenient answers, truthful ones.

    To be fair again, this sort of problem exists in all of science research that has targeted funding. There is an expectation of results and negative results are not the kind of thing that make investors jump for joy - even though they are useful in a scientific frame work (knowing what isn't true is often more useful than knowing what is!). The idea of tenure for professors at university - most of whom do research as well as teach - tries to deal with this as the prof. cannot be fired for unpopular results in research. However, there are usually other folks involved who can be fired if grant funding dries up. Lab techs, research assistants, etc. which puts some pressure into the situation. After all we are all human and usually don't enjoy bad things (like unemployment) happening to our friends and associates... so some pressure makes it through to the tenured guy in charge.

  35. Stark Says:

    @mlipphardt - OK, lets do that.
    Since the 2 graphs use completely different data sets and I don't currently have the time to dig them up and build a graph from scratch I'll have to wing it a bit. First thing to notice is time scale. Your graph is 400 years. Wikipedia's is ~160. So, we'd need to trim off 250 years or so from your graph to match them up. Second is the temperature change scale.... which we really can't do anything with because they are relative scales and we don't know what the base numbers for them are. We know it is an average temperature over a certain time span (1961–1990 for the wikipedia graph - unknown for the graph you linked) but we have no baseline to calibrate our comparison of data sets against. Third thing here is the time maximum, your graph stops in 2000 and the last data point seems to be a bit before that while the wikpedia goes out to 2007. Meaning that the meaty end of the data - the part that shows a serious increase – is missing a good chunk or overlay.
    What this means is we cannot, in any useful way, compare those two graphs. The data sets are to undefined for us to do so. What I can tell you though is this : there are many , MANY, models out there that take into account solar constant and even cloud cover and total planetary albedo and not one of them shows that solar increases alone are sufficient to create the trend we've seen over the last 20-30 years.
    Of course, perhaps the most important thing here is that your graph actually supports that the global temperature increases of the last 3 decades is NOT related to solar output. Take a close look at it. See that dashed line marked in the legend as NH Instrumental? That data represents sea surface temperature measurements. Look at the period from 1970 to 2000. See how the solar maximum stays pretty constant while sea surface temperature shoots off the damn graph? Kinda puts a hole in the whole solar output argument.
    Now, go back and look at the wikipedia graph again, and look at the same 30 years stretch. Odd that they both report basically the same thing isn’t it. Also odd that climate scientists keep saying the major damage has been done over the last 40-50 years (as fossil fuels use grew exponentially after WWII) and the problem is accelerating now.. and the data on both graphs supports that hypothesis.
    If you are gonna point to a graph of data to support your point and suggest a comparison perhaps you ought to see if the that data can even be meaningfully compared in the first place and secondly that the data doesn’t actually contradict your point.

  36. mlipphardt Says:

    Stark - I don't think it does. I don't know the source of the Wikipedia graph data, but let's put that aside. My point is that a component of the current warming is due to an increase in solar flux. Nowhere did I say all of it is. And yeah, the data from the study by Texas A&M stops at 2000. So? It still shows a warming trend just like the Wikipedia graph does. And the Texas A&M data is attributable.

    The point I am making is that there are many sources of global temperature increase. Arguably a large contributor according to the data I found is not man made. Understanding a problem is the first step in combating it. So if insolation is rising (and according to the graph it is, and it is pacing the global temperature rise) and contributing more to temp increases than CO2, reducing CO2, while it may feel good to do, will not fix the problem. Reducing insolation will. And yes, there are ways to do that. No, they are not cheap, but they are probably less expensive than the costs involved in doing nothing or doing the wrong thing.

  37. Squire Says:

    On the subject of books that contain wise and wordy characters who entirely agree with the author, see also Robert Heinlein, whose books I loved as a kid. In my memory, Time Enough For Love is completely awesome. So I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to read it again now.

    You really should. I've read it probably 10-12 times in my life (from 15 to 43) and I've thoroughly enjoyed it each and every time. His characters are just as wise and wordy as they were 30 years ago, even if you don't agree with their politics or economics.

  38. ozzieaardvark Says:


    I refuse to rise to the “Drowning Polar Bears” bait :-)

    I’m not a climate scientist either, but long and painfully won experience has taught me that when you hear “the end is near” quickly followed by “send me your money” one is well advised to crank up the sensitivity of their BS detectors.

    You cite Piltdown Man, N-rays and fake cold fusion as examples of scientific hoaxes that never had anything close to the body of evidence you apparently see for global warming. On the other hand, no one that I know of ever proposed restructuring the global economy by imposing massive taxes on the primary driver of human progress over the last 200 years (abundant, cheap energy) on the basis of these examples. Your reference to Lysenkoism is interesting. It’s a rather striking example of using bad science to promote political agendas and careers on the backs of people just trying to scratch out their next meal.

    My use of the word inscrutable wasn’t in reference to the data, it was in reference to the way IPCC Team climate scientists cite each other’s work to add the appearance of validity to their own. The data itself is actually rather straightforward. A tree ring is a tree ring, coral is coral, an ice core is an ice core, a thermometer is a thermometer. Heck, even an infrared radiometer on a satellite isn’t really what one would call exotic (expensive, but not exotic). Aside from thermometers, which have their own problems, none of these things directly measure temperature and the techniques used to translate these proxies to a temperature record are where the debate lies. This statement of course presumes that one can actually countenance a debate on a subject that’s been widely reported as settled science via consensus (BS detector alarms should start ringing now).

    Unfortunately, even those with a technical or scientific education have to make a stark choice. Either believe what you read in the newspaper or start digging out information for yourself. Thankfully, there’s this thing called the Internet that makes that a bit easier and also levels the playing field somewhat between the politico-scientific elite and the lonely voices of the dissenters. I’ve done some digging. What I’ve found is that the data in support of global warming which now seems to be morphing into the more general term climate change (BS detectors should be approaching critical by now) is dubious at best and politically inspired nonsense at worst. Is anthropogenic global warming happening or not? I don’t know. What I do believe, is that there isn’t any truly convincing evidence one way or the other.

    Does this mean that we should all happily go on driving around in Holden Monaros? Hell no. There are any number of reasons why we should reduce the use of hydrocarbon based energy and transition to renewable sources ranging from environmental to economic to nationalistic and beyond. I live in a first world country, I’ve made a tidy living, I’ve lived well below my means for decades and as a consequence I’ve saved enough money to educate my children and live out my life regardless of which financial crisis is the order of the day. Make no mistake. The people that will bear the brunt of any global economic reconstruction as a result of climate change hysteria are the ones that are on the economic edge. They’ll die, and that’s worth more than a few weeks of my time looking at the data.

    Dan, you’re a gem and a voice of reason in a world filled with scam artists and people that don’t have the reasoning skills to avoid them. Your ability to parse through technical and scientific code-speak and translate it into cogent and appealing English are second to none. Please look at the data. Please look at the methodologies. Please look at the politics and the careers that are driving policy decisions that will decide the fate of millions.


  39. RichVR Says:

    Just here to say hi to Stark. Haven't been on in a while. New job. New hours. How ya doing guy?

    Keep kicking ass, dude.

    And now back to your regularly scheduled argument...

  40. Major Malfunction Says:

    *eats popcorn on his ark*

  41. ozzieaardvark Says:

    @The folks talking about authors

    I’m kind of impressed with how the opinions expressed here align with my own.

    I started reading Stephen King as a teenager and dropped off somewhere around Cujo. It all seemed to be getting a little formulamatic.

    I never read Piers Anthony or Terry Prachett because I thought of them as fantasy types and I was looking for SciFi at the time.

    With Crichton I started with The Andromeda Strain and read almost everything after that. They were for the most part entertaining reads, but as he moved toward evangelizing about things like global warming and genetic engineering he clearly compromised the quality of his literary work to push whatever message he’d selected. It sort of felt like the same transformation that George Carlin went through from being an enormously funny guy entertaining us to a mean, grumpy old man preaching to us.

    And then there’s Robert Heinlein. I’ve read everything he’s ever written and I have to say he’s tied as my favorite SciFi author with Dan Simmons. That said, with forty or so years of perspective I’m a little disturbed by how appealing some of his more fascist notions seemed to me in the 1970’s. I also fell off the boat a bit as his later novels obsessed about sex. Don’t get me wrong here. I like sex, but it’s not what I typically look for in a SciFi novel :-)

    Have any of you folks read John Scalzi? In reading his first couple of novels I had the uncanny feeling that he was channeling the early Heinlein. I suppose it was the “smart, experienced people sitting around talking about stuff” approach that gave me that impression. If you haven’t read Old Man’s War and you’re a Heinlein fan, you’re missing out.


  42. Miles Says:

    What a great post ozzieaardvark. Agree 100%.

  43. Red October Says:

    I was going to say something longwinded and, hopefully, meaningful about climate change. But I'd guess that my current fullness of Scotch is inversely proportional to the fullness of my comments with meaning. So I'll just say that Heinlein was awesome! I read Time Enough For Love more times than I can cound, second only to "To Sail Beyond the Sunset". I remember reading it durring a highschool class only to be told it "didn't seem my style". And also, the advice bits are collected into another work, with wonderful illuminations, called "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long".

  44. derrida derider Says:

    Geez this "the climate scientists all stick together and sex up the climate change case cos that makes them important" line is obvious bullshit. All the incentives are exactly the reverse. Anyone who came up with a coherent, testable and tested theory that gives a better explanation of the massive data linking temperature trends to CO2 emissions would become famous immediately and a Nobelist not long after.

    It's funny how there are no candidates for the Nobel among the "sceptics", isn't it?

    And as an economist I'm telling you that, done properly, reducing CO2 emissions costs surprisingly little in the scheme of things. That's precisely because capitalism is incredibly adaptable in well understood ways; the rightwingers claiming otherwise show remarkably little faith in their own free market ideology.

  45. Miles Says:

    It costs surprisingly little to reduce our CO2 emissions by how much?

    If it costs surprisingly little, why do we keep increasing them every year?

    At any rate, the current financial crisis WILL achieve a reduction in emissions, unlike any other schemes current ongoing.

    Has no one else but "right wingers" twigged that carbon trading simply acts as a subsidy for failed economies...?

  46. frasera Says:

    his comments on hysterical blindness are dead on.
    "MICHAEL CRICHTON (closing statement)

    There was a time when I worked in a clinic and, uh, one day a young woman came in, she was in her early twenties for a routine checkup and, I said what’s going on with you and she said I’ve just become blind.

    And, I said, oh my gosh, really, when did it happen, she said, well just, uh, coming into the clinic, walking up the steps of the clinic I became blind.

    And I said, oh, and I’m — by now I’m looking through the chart and I said, well, has this happened before, she said yes, it’s happened before. I’ve become blind in the past, and, what she had of course was hysterical blindness.

    And the characteristic of that, is that, the severity of the symptom is not matched by the emotional response that’s, that’s being presented. Most people would be screaming about that but she was very calm, oh yes, I’m blind again.

    And I’m reminded of that whenever I hear, that we’re facing, whether we wanna call it a crisis or not, a significant global event, of, of, of importance where we’re gonna have species lost and so on and so forth, that we can really address this by changing our light bulbs.

    Or that we can really make an impact by unplugging our appliances when we’re not using them. It’s very much out of whack. And so if… if it were only gonna do symbolic actions, I would like to suggest a few symbolic actions that right — might really mean something."

    when folks who religiously tell you things that mean that without world wide change on a scale unimaginable the climate will change disastrously turn around and suddenly pretend half measures are enough and that the 3rd world/rising nations nullifying anything the west could possibly do just should be put out of mind you know something doesn't jive.

    and now you see this type of nonsense with greens taxing or banning silly things like plastic bags. like it or not, chricton does make this irrationality clear.

  47. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Crichton's statement, above, would appear to suggest that he thinks the full extent of the measures proposed by "greens" are plastic bag bans, unplugging "vampire" appliances, and putting on a cardigan instead of turning up the heat.

    I think it's fairer to say that these measures are all that's managed to actually make it to Crichton's attention. I was going to say "make it past the corporate-owned governments", but in fact considerably more has been done - wind and solar power, improved solar, hydrogen-production and fuel-cell tech, and the list goes on, though I think it's fair to say it's still very early days.

    It'll be interesting to see if Obama can break the fossil-fuel companies' still-strong hold on US government action. Given the serious body-blow that eight years of letting corporations do pretty much whatever they wanted has delivered to... those very corporations..., I doubt anybody's going to have a better chance to change the USA's course in the foreseeable future.

    (China could make a much bigger change than the USA if they wanted to, but I don't think that's going to happen. China are still busy adding a whole United Kingdom worth of fossil fuel consumption to their own consumption EVERY YEAR.)

    (Also, the transcript of this "Intelligence Squared US" debate is in PDF format here; here's their full list of past debates. Re the putative similarity between Crichton and L. Ron Hubbard, Crichton's closing statement sure does read like a Scientology textbook - the difference being, of course, that Crichton was speaking off the cuff, while Hubbard spoke off the cuff to a secretary and then had thousands of copies of his unedited rambling printed as Holy Writ. :-)

  48. Red October Says:

    It's not just companies that stand in the way of progess, the hysterical "greenies" seem only to want to stonewall progress in any of its manifold forms. Right in my state there is a huge plan to impliment an offshore wind power station -it would provide a massive amount of power. People claiming to be environmentalists do not want it to go through, and the best reasons they can come up with are that it might interfere with migratory birds or some such rot. A significantly larger portion of the population seem to think that it would greatly detract from their view. Ha! This sort of nonsense, combined with a pervasive view that nuclear power is dangerous or unhealthful (again often purveyed by the same people who claim to have the planet's best interests at heart), do nothing to further the state of energy generation in my country.

  49. frasera Says:

    "I think it’s fairer to say that these measures are all that’s managed to actually make it to Crichton’s attention. I was going to say “make it past the corporate-owned governments”, but in fact considerably more has been done - wind and solar power, improved solar, hydrogen-productions and fuel-cell tech, and the list goes on, though I think it’s fair to say it’s still very early days."

    no, don't confuse what i say with what he says. the last lines were mine. he also knows about the rest. and it still applies, most of the other measures proposed whether carbon credits to fuel cells do not really address the problem either. and thats the elephant in the room. its like people patting themselves on the back for trying to bail out the titanic with paper cups and condemning anyone that tells them they arent doing squat as not understanding the problem.

    its mostly conspiratorial nonsense that doesn't admit the reality that with todays technology, growth in population and needs for development any measures do not make a dent. and using half baked technology before its time will simply be wasting resources that can be better used in other areas. the idea that 3rd world will just stand still and not develop to reduce carbon is a fantasy. and for the foreseeable future no green tech is cheap or efficient. sure you might say, one day technology will be enough. but guess what, based on projections we don't have that long.

  50. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Sorry about adding your last line to Crichton's statement, frasera. But you were saying the same thing he was - that minor changes to what people do in their everyday lives, like "unplugging our appliances when we’re not using them" (those WERE his words :-), will not address the actual problem.

    What he actually said - in that debate, anyway - was that he didn't see any good reason to believe that the human race's CO2 emissions have a substantial effect on climate change, and that he saw less warming predicted by each new climate model. Thus, he said, the normal progression of technology to solutions that're superior to burning oil seemed likely to be sufficient to deal with the problem, without declaring a "crisis" to exist. We'll just muddle on through, there's no need to get all excited about it; let's direct our attention to helping the poor before making Hundred Year Plans to address climate change.

    I don't think he was anywhere near correct in his conclusions, for several reasons. One of them is that coal is most emphatically not going to run out in the next few decades, and it looks likely to be cost-effective for the burgeoning third-world energy market for a disturbingly long time to come. Another is that I don't actually see any climate-change plans that start out with "Bugger the Third World; let's bomb 'em so we don't have to watch 'em starve."

    I agree, however, that every measure that has been taken seriously by the world's major countries is unlikely to make much of a dent in the problem. Look at all the hoopla over the Kyoto Protocol; Kyoto commits nations to doing very close to nothing at all, but the USA still hasn't ratified it.

    Where my thinking diverges from Crichton's is that I think a case can be made that this lack of action is going to result in wars, famines, plagues and associated economic disruption on an epic scale, in every part of the world where an increase in the cost of living of five bucks a day means you don't get to live any more.

  51. Porphyry Says:

    @Stark - You kind of got my point and kind of missed it too. I know it all stinks as well as you do. It's like you explained my joke and it wasn't funny anymore.

    We're on the same wavelength - I can see you know exactly what I was talking about and you've seen that science is a dirty, dirty business. My little point was that while we squint at dodgied-up graphs the arguments about consensus and about whether one group of scientists is a bigger bunch of shills than another is all a bit (pun intended) academic to me. Tenure or not you still have to get funding for research from somewhere and the people with the money ain't giving it to you for nothing. I very much doubt the LHC was built on the vague intention of "maybe finding the Higgs boson, or something".

    The fact you dropped out of science on ethical grounds reminds me of my cousin who spent years in art school, won heaps of national prizes but never became an artist because he couldn't handle the thought of "selling out his art". Instead he became an administrator at a government office. I'm still in science because I'm curious about science-y stuff and this is the best way to get my fix (yes, I know Einstein was a Patent officer but c'mon). I'm still doing science, he's not doing art: who's sold out more? The fact that scientists need to promise results to schlubs that don't understand our work to secure funding is an unpleasant but necessary part of the job - much like selling paintings to schlubs who don't get art.

    So again were we bad scientists? Well, I'd like to think I'm pretty good at the *business* of science, OK at experimenting and maybe lousy at the modelling theory.

    OK. And lousy at the ethics. Always with the ethics :)

    btw If anyone's keeping count I do think anthropogenic climate change is happening. You know, just in case we want to put out some kind of consensus statement on behalf of the forum...

  52. ozzieaardvark Says:

    @Porphyry - Regarding your last sentence in #53, there may be a consensus in the "climate science community", but I see little evidence of one emerging in this particular blog. Perhaps we should track responses, throw out the last ten and replace them with responses from RealClimate.org, run them through an un-centered Butterworth filter and then screen the others for validity using a unique statistical method that's a secret but may be explained later. A consensus hockey stick might emerge from this… If that was the objective to begin with :-)

    But seriously, your comments about science are dead-on. The biggest problem is that it’s conducted by humans with all their frailties. Putting dinner on the table or putting your kids through University will almost always trump professional ethics (at least in cases where it won’t get you fired or put in jail). The ones we have to watch out for aren’t the little guys that are just trying to do right by themselves and their families. It’s the big guys that understand this and know how to manipulate it to their personal and professional advantage. One should always maintain a healthy skepticism toward them and their message. As someone working for a big multinational company (presumably that’s what “big oil” means), I’m guessing you’ve seen your share of creatures of this sort.


  53. ozzieaardvark Says:

    @ Miles - Thanks, but were you referring to my global warming now morphing to climate change post or my thoughts on SciFi authors? I liked them both :-)


  54. j Says:

    At 53 comments, this has probably gone on long enough.

    But I found this from Obama to be heartening:

    The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, “I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective‘.”
    (http://climateprogress.org/2008/11/06/obama-brian-we-cant-solve-global-warming-because-i-f-ing-changed-light-bulbs-in-my-house/ - http://www.newsweek.com/id/167581/page/2 - shame the rest of the article is mostly mush.)

    That's light years ahead of the attitude of the last administration, no matter which side of the fence you're on.

  55. Rob L Says:

    Go Dan vs the Deniertards, best reading in ages.

    I hope those of the "she'll be right" persuation realise the've alligned themselves with emminent person Dr Jeremy Clarkson...

    If I was a god I think Dan would be a fantastic Top Gear: Star in a reasonably priced car.

    Mop haired nerd guru vs the tall fat one.
    The vitriol would be *ahem* epic.

    Hope you can drive Dan ;-)

  56. Stark Says:

    @RichVR - Hey man, long time! Too bad about the new job, miss your comments 'round here.

    @Porphyry - First off, I re-read my post to you and realize it may come off as a bit heated - wasn't intended that way so i apologize for any offense. In the desire to keep things transparent... I will say that ethics issues with research was not the ONLY reason I left active science research. Money was another one and truth be told the larger one. I hit an earnings ceiling with my current level of education, had a young family to care for, and simply no longer had the time and energy I once had to advance my education level and still live a enjoyable life outside of that. Really, the ethics issues took a back seat to life in general.

    As for science being a dirty business... yes and no. It really depends on what science you are doing. Geotechnical work directly relating back to oil company profits... super dirty. Pure high energy physics that may or may not have applications in other areas is, while not pristine, a helluva lot cleaner on the ethics front. The LHC, if you look at it's history and how it came into being, did indeed get built upon "maybe finding the Higgs boson, or something" . It has no directly useful purpose beyond the pure science it can return. It may possibly lead to something useful outside of knowledge for the sake of knowledge but the funding requests made it clear that this is a low likelyhood and a secondary concern at best. It has no economic goal, no return on investment for the countries involved, other than prestige and contributing to the human understanding of our universe. It is the most ethically pure science we are likely to see in our lifetimes, unfortunately. Astronomy is another area where the ethics of science tend to be much clearer that say, pharmaceutical research. And that's unfortunate. Some of the areas of scientific research that could produce the greatest improvements in the human condition are tainted by capitalism. (Note, I'm not anti capitalist - far from it) this is why it is important for governments to fund "pure" science. Funding that does not have economic gain as a goal for the funding party is what the world needs more of. Much more.

    I might also point out that climate science, up until recently, was funded by and large by non-profit seeking entities. Like the US govt. A group I might add that stands to lose much more in the short term because of the results of the research they funded than they will gain. lately you see more and more climate research being done by energy companies (Ethics Alert!) - both companies that want things to stay as they are and companies that stand to benefit form a major change. so you see wildly conflicting reports. Luckily for us there is a mechanism for filtering this stuff - funding is disclosed in research papers. I think you know as well as I do that scientists partly include this info as a weighting measure for the research itself. I certainly know I did. I think you;d also agree that when talking to fellow researchers you are much more likely to be honest about your data than when talking to the people paying your salary who want a specific answer. I always found conversation amongst fellows - who well understand the pressures involved in the work - to be quite open and honest about the shortcomings of a particular paper or other. Climate.org seems to me to be the climate science community talking in this mode.

    So... I'm ranting. Sorry. Back on topic a bit. While there is definitely less than ethical data out there on climate change it also doesn't take much to sort the wheat from the chaff as it were. The wheat paints a decidedly bleak picture if we don't do something. As for Crichtons' message about half measures... yes, they will NOT be enough. They are a start though. Half measures will slow things down - even if only a tiny bit - and every bit of time we can get gives us more of chance to do something effective. Doing nothing at all is a guarantee for failure. Failure here is VERY bad. So by all means, do the half measures! Get folks to change out lightbulbs and drive hybrids. It preps their mindset for the bigger changes that will eventually need to occur.

    Ahem. I seem to have rambled. Sorry. Day off, no coffee, diminished focus!

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