on April 30, 2005
First of all, this book is fiction, just like the Da Vinci Code. Yes, there are factual nuggets. However, the nuggets are conveyed in a manner that is very much like the propaganda that some of the characters rail against.
Second, having been trained in the Earth Science; a member of local, national, and global environmental groups; and an Environmental Science teacher I LOVED THIS BOOK! Why? Because it makes you think about what you know, why you know it, and where the information comes from. Nobody should take information published second-hand and not think about how data can be misconstrued (including the data published in this book).
Third, State of Fear makes you think about the hypocrisy of American Environmentalism: living in enormous houses in the middle of forest-fire prone landscapes, driving everywhere, wasting water, and then paying money to large environmental groups who overstate scientific findings (just like the energy companies do). Assuaging our guilt isn't going to make the world a better place.
Finally, Crichton encourages us to not be sheep. Think for yourself. Read the primary sources of data with an open-mind. Live the way you wish everyone else lived. Judgement without compassion is worthless.
on January 21, 2005
Crichton has written a surprisingly serious and well researched indictment of the favorite sacred cow of the environmental movement -- global warming -- embedded within a typically action charged Crichton novel. The author uses Socratic dialogue and other devices to educate the reader as to what the data are showing in this complex, politically charged issue. The principal characters come well armed with graphs and data selected to back up their points, often lecturing the less informed, though environmentally concerned, characters (and the reader) on the true state of the art of the science. At the same time, the author indicts the environmental NGOs, the media, the research funding agencies, and political leaders for promoting their agenda with slanted, inaccurate portrayals of what the science is saying. He paints a jaundiced view of the motivations and methods of radical environmentalist organizations and their supporters. At a higher level, the book's title derives from a semiconspiratorial view, espoused by an eccentric, not quite credible character, that the climate warming issue is actually part of a complex social dynamic aimed a creating and maintaining a continual sense of anxiety and fear among the population at large. These literary devices call to mind Ayn Rand's influential novels, in which for example Howard Rourke is used to lecture us on the virtues of individualism and integrity.
As a scientist familiar with the climate warming issue, having managed research in the area, I believe Crichton's book makes an important statement to the many who believe that the issue is settled, that human-induced warming is real and that catastrophe will follow. He is absolutely correct in casting significant doubt on the definitiveness of the science and in indicting the politicization of the science surrounding it. He rightfully warns us to be skeptical about what we are told from the variety of mainstream sources we are exposed to. I suspect that it will be difficult for anyone whose mind is not closed on the global warming issue to read this book without gaining a different perspective. However, it would also be wrong for the reader to conclude that the opposite is true -- that the issue is a complete fabrication. The fact is that we understand little about the nature and extent of any effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that much more research is needed, including work on new technology to provide humanity with the ability to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. This research needs to be conducted on a level playing field, in which funders and researchers seek only the best answers we can get.
on December 10, 2004
Michael Crichton has always used the latent but, in his view, underappreciated dangers associated with scientific advancement as a theme in his books (microbiology in The Andromeda Strain, genetic engineering in Jurassic park, and so on).
In State of Fear he reverses field and uses the incorrectly perceived threats of environmental disaster as the underlying impetus for a novel. In Crichton's view, the whole global warming argument is false. His view is that environmentalism has degenerated into a quasi religious system devoid of scientific veracity. Thus, the proponents of the global warming hysteria are pushing faith over fact, many of them have lost their moorings and the inevitable result is a grand conspiracy.
At the heart of this conspiracy is Nick Drake, head of a radical environmentalist group. Outraged that a significant source of funding has been closed by the donors getting Drakes science debunked by a MIT professor, drakes sets out on a murderous course that is designed to both do away with his detractors and enemies while concomitantly creating a profound state of fear about global warming among the public.
As is generally the case with Crichton, an avalanche of scientific data is imparted in Crichton's usual informative yet entertaining manner. Many will debate the validity of Crichton's "science" as regards the issue of global warming. As Crichton so deftly displays in this novel, this issue has become more political than scientific in many ways and there's no reason this novel won't be analyzed in that light.
The story has all the traditional strengths and weaknesses of a Crichton novel. Crichton is an accomplished technician and that comes through in this novel. It can justifiably be called a page turner. However, the methodology of using characters to do the education creates a scenario wherein the characters become somewhat robotic and predictable, not truly fully fleshed out human beings.
However, that's quibbling. This is a very fine novel. I suspect one's enjoyment will be colored to a great degree with how strongly one leans to or away from Crichton's premise. That aside, this ranks as one of his better works.
on January 24, 2005
As a scientist, this was a joy to read!
I am a specialist in mosquito-borne diseases. I worked for the CDC in the US for 22 years. Now I work for the Pasteur Institute in France.
For more than 12 years I have been battling the mis-information on my speciality that is doled out by global warming alarmists. I believe I am winning: predictions of the "spread" of malaria, dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases were once top of the list of dangers predicted by these ignorant, uninformed people.
Sadly, the alarmists have now switched to sea-level rise and other dangers, despite the protests of professional scientists. Crighton's book reveals the disgraceful way that this mis-information is peddled. Let me summarize in my own words:
More than a million articles are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals every year. The lay-public is unaware of this colossal output; popular information on research findings is limited to "newsworthy" articles, selected, described and interpreted by the media.
Professional scientists rarely draw firm conclusions from a single article, but consider its contribution in the context of other publications and their own experience, knowledge, and speculations. The complexity of this process, and the uncertainties involved, are a major obstacle to meaningful understanding of scientific issues by non-scientists.
In the age of information, popular knowledge of scientific issues-particularly on issues of health and the environment-is awash in a tide of misinformation, much of it presented in the 'big talk' of professional scientists. Alarmist activists operating in well-funded advocacy groups have a lead role in creating and promoting this misinformation. In many cases, they blatantly manipulate public perceptions with emotive and fiercely judgmental 'scientific' pronouncements, adding a tone of danger and urgency to attract media coverage. Their skill in promoting notions of scientific 'fact' sidesteps the complexities of the issues involved, and is a potent influence in education, public opinion and the political process. These notions are often re-enforced by attention to peer-reviewed scientific articles that appear to support their pronouncements, regardless of whether these articles are widely endorsed by the relevant scientific community. Scientists who challenge these alarmists are rarely given priority by the media, and are often presented as 'skeptics'.
The democratic process requires elected representatives to respond to the concerns and fears generated in this process. Denial is rarely an effective strategy, even in the face of preposterous claims. The pragmatic option is to express concern, create new regulations, and increase funding for research. Lawmakers may also endorse the advocacy groups, giving positive feedback to their cause. Whatever the response, political activists-not scientists-are often the most influential cohort in science-based political issues, including the public funding of scientific research.
In reality, a genuine concern for mankind and the environment demands the inquiry, accuracy and skepticism that are intrinsic to authentic science. A public that is unaware of this is vulnerable to abuse.
In a totally unexpected manner, Crichton has succeeded where we scientists have failed: he has communicated with the lay-public.
He deserves a medal for his service to humanity.
This book reminded me very much of Moby Dick with its heavy emphasis on both an adventure story and sharing detailed information. Those who prefer one aspect or the other will probably find themselves flipping quickly through the pages that emphasize the other aspect.
Popular opinions are almost always wrong. That's the theme of this book. The point is made in the context of describing how global warming, as perceived by the public and media, is different from what scientists are describing. Dr. Crichton argues through his story that we can waste a lot of time and resources on popular delusions, and we need to get our facts right. His appendix I on the dangers of politicized science is something everyone should read. The eugenics example is a chilling one.
The adventure story itself is a Frederick Forsyth/Clive Cussler-type thriller written from the perspective of a young lawyer who tags along with a James Bond-like character who single-handedly saves the day along with his trusty, almost silent, sidekick. They are about as good a source for scintillating conversation as the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Instead of greedy multinationals or rich megalomaniacs being at fault, this story looks at how lawyers and rabid environmentalists can get carried away.
In typical Michael Crichton fashion, the story develops around little-known scientific facts about how humans can influence the environment. So if you wanted to know more about how giant ice bergs, tsunamis and flash floods can be created, this is your book. At the same time, there are nice subplots around how to track terrorists via the Internet and an obscure way to assassinate people.
I found myself drawn to both the adventure story and the global warming information. It's a nice combination for the reader who likes a little substance along with their thrillers. Even I, though, thought the global warming was overdone. The characters needed a lot of work to become interesting, rather than just being devices to drive the plot along. I graded the book down accordingly.
I kept thinking as I read this book that I would like to read a book like this by Dr. Crichton that looks at people manufacturing domestic terrorism for political gain. Perhaps that will be his next subject.
I didn't realize what I was getting into when I picked up this book recently. I've enjoyed many of Michael Crichton's earlier novels, not only Jurassic Park but also some of his lesser known works such as A Case of Need, one of his very early novels. My impression of Michael Crichton has always been that he brought a certain amount of technical expertise to his writings, along with a level of integrity, that caused them to raise to a level above most other thrillers and similar works.
Reading State of Fear, I found myself confounded by the point of view that began to dominate, that of skepticism regarding the global warming and environmental points of view that I had always more or less taken for granted. Surely Michael Crichton is not suggesting that Global Warming is not a Real Threat?? Can it be??
Well, it's not quite that simple, but first let me comment to the book itself. It's a good read, beginning seemingly as a 'good guy' vs 'bad guy' story with the corporate interests playing the expected role as 'bad guys', but early on there are questions raised about whether or not the bad guys are in fact the corporate interests, or if they are in fact the environmental interests, or are they both equally 'bad'. And then along the way, in the discussions that take place between the characters as they discuss the environmental movement and whether or not it is solidly based on real science and actual data, there is a good amount of real data included, for example charts of the warming trends of cities throughout the world, that do not present the expected evidence of a general warming trend. Is this real data, or something fabricated to support the story? The truth is not fully clear until the book is completed and the afterward is read (Crichton calls it his 'Author's Message' and in two or three pages he lays out very clearly his point of view with respect to the environmental movement and global warming, and it is quite interesting to read).
He also substantiates the data provided throughout the book, and the conclusions he presents in his 'Author's Message', as well as the astonishingly thorough and diverse listing of references that are provided, are such that I have to feel that there is something serious here that merits thoughtful reflection.
If nothing else, it is that afterword, written by Crichton to give his own point of view, that is worth reading. I am appending it here to my review, confident that I am not violating any copyright restrictions since Crichton's own website also offers it for anyone to read.
This is a book that is both entertaining, and as well it is unexpected and thought provoking.
I am still not sure what to make of it.
Michael Crichton's 'Author's Message' from the book State of Fear:
A novel such as State of Fear, in which so many divergent views are expressed, may lead the reader to wonder where, exactly, the author stands on these issues. I have been reading environmental texts for three years, in itself a hazardous undertaking. But I have had an opportunity to look at a lot of data, and to consider many points of view. I conclude:
- We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty.
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
- We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the "Little Ice Age."
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
- Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess-- the only thing anyone is doing, really-- I would guess the increase will be 0.812436 degrees C. There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else's. (We can't "assess" the future, nor can we "predict" it. These are euphemisms. We can only guess. An informed guess is just a guess.)
- I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributable to human activity. I suspect that the principal human effect will come from land use, and that the atmospheric component will be minor.
- Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better.
- I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after two hundred years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don't know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness, but it is evidently a hardy perennial in human calculation.
- There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers. So far as I know, nobody had to ban horse transport in the early twentieth century.
- I suspect the people of 2100 will be much richer than we are, consume more energy, have a smaller global population, and enjoy more wilderness than we have today. I don't think we have to worry about them.
- The current near-hysterical preoccupation with safety is at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism. Public education is desperately needed.
- I conclude that most environmental "principles" (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantages of the West and thus constitute modern imperialism toward the developing world. It is a nice way of saying, "We got ours and we don't want you to get yours, because you'll cause too much pollution."
- The "precautionary principle," properly applied, forbids the precautionary principle. It is self-contradictory. The precautionary principle therefore cannot be spoken of in terms that are too harsh.
- I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences.
- I have more respect for people who change their views after acquiring new information than for those who cling to views they held thirty years ago. The world changes. Ideologues and zealots don't.
- In the thirty-five-odd years since the environmental movement came into existence, science has undergone a major revolution. This revolution has brought new understanding of nonlinear dynamics, complex systems, chaos theory, catastrophe theory. It has transformed the way we think about evolution and ecology. Yet these no-longer-new ideas have hardly penetrated the thinking of environmental activists, which seems oddly fixed in the concepts and rhetoric of the 1970s.
- We haven't the foggiest notion how to preserve what we term "wilderness," and we had better study it in the field and learn how to do so. I see no evidence that we are conducting such research in a humble, rational, and systematic way. I therefore hold little hope for wilderness management in the twenty-first century. I blame environmental organizations every bit as much as developers and strip miners. There is no difference in outcomes between greed and incompetence.
- We need a new environmental movement, with new goals and new organizations. We need more people working in the field, in the actual environment, and fewer people behind computer screens. We need more scientists and many fewer lawyers.
- We cannot hope to manage a complex system such as the environment through litigation. We can only change its state temporarily-- usually by preventing something-- with eventual results that we cannot predict and ultimately cannot control.
- Nothing is more inherently political than our shared physical environment, and nothing is more ill served by allegiance to a single political party. Precisely because the environment is shared it cannot be managed by one faction according to its own economic or aesthetic preferences. Sooner or later, the opposing faction will take power, and previous policies will be reversed. Stable management of the environment requires recognition that all preferences have their place: snowmobilers and fly fishermen, dirt bikers and hikers, developers and preservationists. These preferences are at odds, and their incompatibility cannot be avoided. But resolving incompatible goals is a true function of politics.
- We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy. Scientists are only too aware whom they are working for. Those who fund research-- whether a drug company, a government agency, or an environmental organization-- always have a particular outcome in mind. Research funding is almost never open-ended or open-minded. Scientists know that continued funding depends on delivering the results the funders desire. As a result, environmental organization "studies" are every bit as biased and suspect as industry "studies." Government "studies" are similarly biased according to who is running the department or administration at the time. No faction should be given a free pass.
- I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.
- I personally experience a profound pleasure being in nature. My happiest days each year are those I spend in wilderness. I wish natural environments to be preserved for future generations. I am not satisfied they will be preserved in sufficient quantities, or with sufficient skill. I conclude that the "exploiters of the environment" include environmental organizations, government organizations, and big business. All have equally dismal track records.
- Everybody has an agenda. Except me.
on March 26, 2005
Michael Crichton's latest novel depicts a cadre of environmentalists preparing a legal case to sue the US on behalf of a Pacific island which will be swamped when "global warming" causes the sea levels to rise. They've put together a think tank of lawyers and climatologists to prepare the case for court. But the more they study the data, and present the data to simulated juries, the more they realize their case is very, very weak. Their only hope to continue to obtain funding is to cause spectacular global climate disasters during well-publicized environmental conferences and hope people demand "something be done about it." The hero of the book discovers their plots and tries to prevent or thwart them to save innocent life.
Although global warming is the main example, the real topic is the "state of fear" we are in due to the media's easy acceptance of pseudo-science. Think of recent examples: Alar on apples, brain cancer from cell phones or power lines, silicon breast implants, coffee, eggs, and of course, global cooling and warming. This is not to say these problems are not worth investigating, rather Crichton's point is these things become scary by media infusion before the evidence has been fully assimilated. And the universities and laboratories doing the research have financial and political biases to arrive at predetermined conclusions. He makes a strong case for double-blind testing, as is done for pharmaceutical research, to be the only way to remove prejudice from testing.
I don't believe this book will ever be made into a movie. It attacks and ridicules Hollywood (stars and others) as "limosine liberals" who fly around the world in gas-guzzling jets and justify their luxurious mansions while pining for a return to nature a la natives in thatched huts.
I thought the action story was good, the data was presented effectively and the bibliography of references was impressive. I have the feeling Michael Crichton felt he had to overstate his case to combat the onslaught of media bias that presents these crises in only one way ... doom and gloom, putting us all in a "state of fear".
on March 26, 2005
Most of the reviews so far have separated the book into two parts: an action-romance-adventure thriller, and an exposition on a political subject. I will keep with the pattern.
The fiction part of the book is a little improbable, to say the least. Crighton has some pretty unlikely characters - a civil litigator, an executive assistant, an actor - chasing around the globe in roles better suited for highly trained commandos.
Yet Crighton may be excused for this because clearly the novel was written with an eye on the movie to follow. And rather than allow a screenwriter to heavily edit the story, Crighton provides up front the necessary elements for a Hollywood box-office hit. And so all the women are beautiful, and the prospect for sex is ever-present, the action scenes are exciting, the special effects guys are given clear guidelines to do their wizardry; and the chapters are short, each representing a nice bite-sized scene. Like Jurassic Park, it should be a thriller.
Unlike Jurassic Park, the underlying premise - the political story - is not so improbable. Indeed, it is Crighton's purpose to expose the popular and currently prevailing view on global warming as the improbable scenario. By citing a wealth of scientific data, available to any and all from peer-reviewed prestigious sources, Crighton shows us just some of the many flaws in the global warming theory, especially as it is popularly understood.
Crighton attributes this to a global conspiracy. I would disagree on this, his ultimate thesis. The more likely and mundane reason the science has strayed so far from what the facts truly are can be found in the nature of science research funding. That is, no researcher ever gets a grant proposal funded by saying, "we hypothesize there is no significant problem (and are ready to study the non-problem over the next 2 years for a cost of several million dollars)."
Nevertheless, I would predict this book could do to the global warming activists' movement what Reagan did to the Soviet Empire: make its continued existence untenable. Whether they are for or against Crighton's political views, the book is a must-read for those who want to participate as the debate goes forward.
on August 20, 2015
I'm normally a fan of Crichton's novels; more often than not, they're thrilling page-turners that I can devour in a few sittings, and enjoy like a good action movie. While I've known some of his novels to be a little transparent in terms of the themes they try to express to the reader, never have I encountered a Crichton novel to be so clearly a vehicle for his views than State of Fear. And while Crichton does his best to put forward plenty of sources supporting his denial of the theory of global warming (in and of itself respectable, if not personally agreeable), the way his argument meshes with the plot, or rather encumbers it, drags the novel down in my eyes. It's unfortunate, too, because a more moderate stance could have made the plot more nuanced and ultimately more enjoyable.
As it stands, the plot is predictable and tiresome. Eco-terrorists, supported by an environmental activism agency, attempt to stir up natural disasters around the world in order to bring light to the problem of global warming, and it's up to a couple of unlikely heroes, together with a mysterious pair of government agents, to save the day. Even for an airplane-novel, the characters are too one-dimensional and uninteresting to attract much interest, especially when it becomes apparent that they exist solely to deliver Crichton's argument. There's the lawyer, our protagonist, who believes strongly in global warming until the facts, delivered by the unflappable government agent, begin to break through his naivety and clue him in to the real truth. A couple of other characters appear--there's the single-digit IQ actors who only support global warming because it's fashionable; a philanthropist who also learns right from wrong; his assistant, the stubborn romantic interest who also "sees the light"; the head of the environmental activism agency who immediately appears whiny, scheming and evil--but Crichton fools no one with this.
Perhaps the most distressing part of the novel is that every counter-argument has an answer that leaves no room for doubt--with every such rebuttal, the protagonist is stunned (I envisioned him clasping his hands on his face and turning to the camera, wide-mouthed, as it zoomed in)-- and the conspiracy inflates to wacky and delusional proportions. Counter-arguments are waved off as talking points, which is easy to do when they don't have the benefit of the numerous citations that the supposed truth enjoys. The attempt to persuade never lets up as characters launch into diatribes about nature conservancy (wrong), academic integrity (a falsehood), native peoples (crass cannibals who need civilization), the media (fear-mongering), politics (fear-mongering), CFCs (banning them killed hundreds), DDT (banning it killed millions), and so on. The fear of global warming is then written off as the replacement of the fear of nuclear war, and that's that.
It's rambling, incoherent, and worst of all reads like a propaganda piece. I would have had no issue with the novel if it had stuck to what initially appeared to be a researched, balanced critique of global warming, but as it quickly delves into conspiracies and lecturing, it's hard not to see the novel as a disingenuous soapbox for Crichton. If you can look past this, there's some decent action, but ultimately there's not much here.
on May 24, 2014
I realize there are many who are totally clueless about the subject of paleoclimatology and who get all their information from the the TV News who will object to Crichton's lack of respect for the mindless hype that is the current talk about "Global Cooling and the coming Ice age." Ooopppsss That's right. That was the 1970s. I meant "Global Warming." Oooopppsss.... That's right. That was two years ago. I meant "Climate Change." Oooopppsss..... That's right. That was last year. What I MEAN to say is "Climate Disruption!" That's what the TV News is calling it these days. Right? This year, anyway. But Michael Crichton was a smart fellow. A political agenda contrived to make Americans and Europeans pay a tax to a global entity that would ultimately control more political power than their own countries would was not enough to convince him that anthropomorphic (Whatever the U.N. would have us call it now) climate change is real.
Climates have always changed and they have often changed rapidly. For example, how do the TV News viewers think man got to the Americas? They walked! They walked across a stretch of land (not ice) that is now the Bering Sea. At the time, earth was cold and a great deal of snow and ice was trapped in the mountains surrounding the land bridge that man used to get here from Siberia, but then the dreaded "Global Warming" happened, 12,000 or so years ago. That wasn't caused by paleoindian campfires folks. It was a natural event. The snow and ice melted to such an extent that the Bering Sea was formed, and it still exists.
Crichton had a gift for parlaying science in a way that the average person could wrap his mind around it. He did exactly that in Jurassic Park. The possibility really does exist that viable DNA will be found in frozen mammoth carcasses and using modern elephants as "mothers", mammoths will be brought back to life. Imagine the ticket sales at THAT zoo! He did the same in "State of Fear". He used the vehicle of the techno-thriller to convey what the real agenda is behind the hype that is man-caused "Climate, global whatever" and it's a good thriller with references to scientific articles to back up his claims, or rather the direction in which he leads his readers.
He's no Shakespeare. The writing is simple. As for the story line, it often reminded me of one of the old westerns in which a cowboy was shot and seemed to die, then got up to say one last word, and then seemed to die, then got up again, etc., etc. How many times did we think the character of "Evans" had gone to meet his maker? Four was it? Five?
Some of the science that he did not submit scientific references to were overly simplified, but again, he did not back up his claims in these instances. For example, it is by no means decided among anthropologists (of which I am one) that terminal Pleistocene megafauna all died out as a result of being over hunted by man. And when the character of Bradley refers to the fact that he read a book by an anthropologist who said cannibalism never existed, well, I knew that guy (Bill) and he never said people didn't eat people. He said people never treated other people simply as bush meat but rather they ate human flesh as symbolic gestures, gestures of defiance, just as they ate Bradley in "State of Fear".
Bottom line, those who get their science from the TV News are idiots, just as Crichton presented them and for those people, this could be an educational read. But for those of us who just enjoy a fun techno-thriller, "State of Fear" is great too. It lost a five star rating by me because the same people died too often. That got silly. Other than that, it's a classic Michael Crichton novel and I recommend it.