Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review - State of Fear by Michael Crichton

This site periodically does reviews of books that are related to science and science communication. State of Fear by Michael Crichton is a novel. Despite being fiction, it's become an icon of the climate change denial community. That in itself says a lot. As such it raises interesting science communication issues.

Because this book is really two "books" I'll review them as if they were separate. The first "book" is a novel about the struggle between extremist environmental groups and a rich benefactor with a change of heart supported by a mysterious private paramilitary-ish hero. The focal point of the conflict is global warming. The novel is interesting and the action is exciting enough to keep people reading to the end. That said, the plot was rather predictable in an almost James Bondish sort of way. Still, the book is an interesting read for its genre.

The second "book" is only important because this novel (repeat, novel) has been given almost biblical prominence by the climate denial movement. Some other reviewers even assert that the words of a novelist should be given more weight than all of the world's climate scientists. This inability to separate fiction from reality (perhaps it can be called the "Ayn Rand effect"), is both scary and embarrassing to our society. Crichton's novel, as well as his Authors Note and Appendix, offers so much climate denial propaganda that it is like reading the denial lobbyists' talking point memos. He tosses out the exact same straw men, misrepresentations, and misdirections, laced with semi-truths and out-of-context cherry picks, that have become the mainstay of the denialist industry. Each talking point had already been debunked at the time of the book's publication in 2004, and with another 10 years of data demonstrating unequivocally that we are warming our planet, his talking points seem fantastically silly today.

So read the book as a novel (which, of course, it is), with all the suspension of reality necessary and appropriate for fiction. Just remember it's just fiction. If you're interested in man-made climate change, do your research at NASA, NOAA, the IPCC, and all the rest of the actual scientists in the field.