Friday, November 25, 2011

Angry With Michael Crichton

Headnote: This essay came about because two or more obituaries claimed he was "rebuked by congress." I tried doing a tiresome google search using rebuke and testimony. I found only that one or two congresscritters had disagreed that day with Crichton before he even started to speak, with one saying she wanted "facts not fiction" but I found no record of a rebuke.
MAYBE those obit writers were better researchers than I...BUT I suspect they did not like Michael's philosophy.

This week the author of the novel State of Fear, Michael Crichton, has passed away. (Better known for Jurassic Park.) If a politician dies, or even retires, all is forgiven. A gentleman doesn't speak ill of the dead. But Crichton continues, right now, to inspire fresh hatred from the global warming crowd. And he hasn't even been buried yet! I hope his family will eschew the internet.

On the 'net I see people being willfully blind, irrational— and hateful. One fellow, this week, going down a thread, kept raising new straw man arguments, against Crichton, as fast as they were knocked down. This on a thread that started as a sober memorial by fans. The problem, of course, is that, unlike being able to forget an out-of-sight politician, the hate-mongers can't forget how Crichton's essays and speeches are still in print. As is State of Fear.

As it happens the hate-mongers, some of them, will openly say on the web they haven't read his book, nor his testimony before congress. Instead they will attack him as a person, adding that being a mere novelist, and not a scientist, he "should not be allowed to testify" in the first place. His speech in the senate (which as you know is one half of the bicameral congress) is on his web site. I found his speech, but not his testimony. I, for one, sense the hate-mongers are claiming that Crichton testified against global warming and carbon dioxide. By fixating on their claim, like a pit bull stuck to an arm, they don't have to lift their eyes to face the implications of what Crichton actually said.


It is ironic. By expressing hatred, by refusing to read, by refusing to objectively refute, they are living proof of what Crichton testified about: that science, at least in the climate change domain, is moving away from science towards politics and propaganda. It is amazing to me that in our day and age people can graduate college but not soak up basic "Philosophy of Science 101."

Understanding the basis of Science—not just climate science—is the Key.

If I might reference an earlier controversy: I wasn't born yet when Alfred Kinsey did his research. He astounded people by showing that homosexuals were not a mere fraction of a fraction of one percent. And not, it logically followed, just a scattering of "bad" people who had "chosen" to be gay. By using the "Key" an entomologist can have a valid opinion regarding the methodology of a sex researcher. And vice versa. A scientist with a Christian religion who disagrees with Kinsey's 1940's sex research findings should be able to calmly, without hatred, refute Kinsey by doing "new, improved" research. But hatred is a good excuse for claiming, "I don't have the time to research, I don't need to read Kinsey..." Sounds familiar, I know. "I don't need to read the footnotes in State of Fear..." The novel is purely fiction, the copious footnotes are true and pure.


Crichton was a man who knew the Key. He found himself, in this brave new millennium, having to raise the awareness of congress by referring to the methods used in drug research trials, methods which are naturaly more stringent that the ones for, say, sociology. A hate-monger claimed on the web that Crichton was saying that climate research should be just as rigorous and verifiable as medical research. Wrong. Crichton was saying that we should not shrink from trying to have reasonable science standards where possible.

These standards would include doing separate experiments to verify research, and separate computer simulations to verify computer modeling, both in space (today) and in time. (After some years, does the computer model still hold up?) The fact that it took literally years before the United Nations hockey stick graph was verified by two Canadians... and thereby exposed as false... is a disgrace to science. Not just to the global warmers but to Science. The fact that the hockey scientists would not readily share their raw data... is not what I was taught to do as an idealistic student in science class. Unlike magic, a science experiment must be repeatable by others.

I remember when that graph, of global temperatures shooting up like the blade on a stick, made the front pages all over the world. Being an idealist, as I have documented in my Citizen Activists essay, I appreciated that graph. I thought: Sweet! Cool! Wow! ...Years later I did not appreciate abruptly learning how unscientific the graph was. I felt betrayed. I fully expect scientists, in their everyday lives, to be less than saints. I also expect them, in their professional lives, to be reliable. To have, as my grandmother would say, integrity.


Oh dear. Did everyone notice how in the above paragraph I just "had" to wave my activist credentials? A sure sign that society has hysteria is when I have to look away from an issue and, instead, call a time-out to "defend" myself. To me this is so degrading: as in arguing against the horrors of Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunt and suddenly coming to a full stop—and switching gears—to say whether I am now, or have ever been, a witch. Oh well, at least my credentials were on topic; at least I didn't try to gratuitously say whether or not I believed in the environment.

Most folks who have read this far, enjoying people in general, would be bored to hear any more about the hate-mongers.... Many readers, interested in individuals, would rather I moved on to tell my personal story. OK, that suits me, even though I am modest—because my life story is relevant to my being angry with Crichton.

Angry With Crichton, Part II

My life was nice. At a young age, in my twenties, many of my happiest productive hours were spent as a young volunteer reporter for my university student newspaper. Our campus had no career program in journalism, but as keen volunteers we soaked up "Journalism 101." I learned that an ethical reporter will always strive for "balance" by using multiple sources, and then letting the reader decide. If I quote a rehabilitation expert, as head of a parole board, saying that a memorable killer with a life sentence is to be allowed to go free, and if the parole board experts all agree, then I should nevertheless also seek out someone who disagrees, perhaps a tearful survivor. My readers will of course agree with a consensus of experts, but they still deserve a chance to consider the other side.

My journalism peers told a folk story, to promote the rule of balance, of the sole exception to having ethics: a man followed some G.I.s into a Nazi death camp and proceeded to file his grim story without first getting a Nazi quote for balance. "Sometimes," he said "there is no other side."


Years ago l noticed that a certain nation-wide chain of newspapers was publishing every single one of its global warming stories without ever trying for balance. Unfortunately, in the media, ownership tends to mean control. And I think, from some (off topic) scant evidence, that these particular owners are too arrogant to go back and learn ethics 101. For a long time I had noticed this bias. Finally, at last, a syndicated journalist with a weekly environment page addressed the issue by saying that it was fine to not have balance because of the importance of the issue, because readers might be "confused." At the time I hoped it was just "her and the owners" and not "her and the other reporters too." Now my hope has dwindled. That no other journalists rang any alarm bells is a sign of— ...of something disgusting.

My young life was nice. At the age of 17, when I moved out alone from the innocent farm to the big city, I didn't know the slang "grifter." I did know "con artist." I knew I wasn't magically immune to being fleeced. I figured I had only two things going for me. First, cons usually depend on the mark being greedy. I wasn't. Second, the con man usually generates a sense of urgency. So as I gawked at the skyscrapers I resolved to be on the lookout for any such urgings. When the above journalist implied, "the end justifies the means" she was trying to exuse her actions, to herself and others, by trying to generate a contagious urgency.


It was nice how the other student reporters let me volunteer to "do the Ernest Hemingway newsman thing" without first being a student myself. Years earlier, just like young Louis L' Amour, I was an avid reader yet not afraid of hard work. And so I was once a soldier—for six of the happiest years of my life. I was picked for junior (NCO) leadership school. Yes, it was hard.

Of course we took parade drill and book learning such as the Geneva convention. More important was learning problem solving, "task procedure," for on base and in the field, and, most important of all, learning "NATO battle procedure." This meant disciplining our minds to always do certain things in a certain order. Leading an attack was stressfull but straight forward. Equally hard, in a different way, were mock problems such as using our troops to suddenly improvise an effective checkpoint, rescue a wounded paratrooper high up a tree, lead a bomb search without any previous search training, and so forth. As confident soldiers, our tendency during such role playing was to revert to what we thought we would do in real life. Wrong. Or to hurry too fast. Wrong again. Our true goal was this: to learn to use army procedure with due deliberate speed.

Of course in an immediate emergency such as first aide we would "think" super-fast, rather than use deliberate thinking...but we would still follow super-quick procedure (ABC means airway breathing circulation—in that order). There is never, ever, a need to close our eyes and hurry in a blind panic. I won't close my eyes to the scientific method, depite the urgings of persons with a global warming religion.

I wish certain civilians would learn to slow down. Poor U.S. soldiers might have avoided Iraq; we might have avoided eight years of President Bush, if only the Florida designer of the "butterfly ballot" had slowed down enough to take the time to do a user test. At least, to her credit, as a check and balance, she did have the humility to go down the hall and show the butterfly ballot to some other government workers. Unfortunately, they carefully looked it up and down and pronounced it, "Good."

Had the Florida folks slowed down to spend a little money on research into what computer experts call the "user interface" they would have learned something: actual users do not look a ballot up and down. They just look for their candidate's name so they can mark it. They won't always notice if the butterfly "wings" are not symmetrical but offset by a line. God only knows how many votes, which should have gone to Bush's rival, went instead to some guy named Buchanan. Call it the butterfly effect: Someone waves a ballot and years later a storm of steel rages over Baghdad.


Urgency does not excuse panic. I believe there is always time for media ethics, for science ethics, and always time to verify science. We could do double blind experiments; we could take the time to give the same research problem to three laboratories. We could give an experiment, of ice core rings, say, to three labs. Let all three do algorithms and generate equations and do regression analysis and so forth. If all three get a hockey stick then, "Sweet!" No team will dare fudge results. By doing proper science we will never have to sadly say, as Florida did, "If only—."

The late Michael Crichton explained so much so well during his senate speech. His family has restored his web site; once again I can read his speeches and essays. Meanwhile, his hateful detractors not only won't read his testimony, they will not even care to know he has those articles, articles not merely about climate but about things under the general roof of science—and media too. I think people are wrong to be angry at him.

His site includes several PBS videos from being a guest on The Charlie Rose Show. I am grateful to have seen several long video-taped speeches where Michael is charming and understated. Of course, being human, at some level he must have been angry. Perhaps he expressed his anger at home. Figuratively, I am beside him in solidarity. As a guest in Michael's kitchen, I am angry too, right along with him.

Sean Crawford

November, 2008


Forgive my overkill, but here Journalist Jon Franklin, who won a pulitzer for his account of a brain surgery, has posted his a keynote speech to toxicologists, addressing the politicalization of science.  It's quite a long speech but I was fascinated all through, as I'm sure his audience was too. The truth is out there, and it's grim.

And here a local writer tackles the issue of verifying computer models with the real world, over time.

Update for January 2014: Chricthon's website has been changed to leave things out. Here is a snipped version of his speech. It would be sad for you to go from that short version to a link where people, including scientists, are wilfully misrepresenting him to put him down. I don't know if they are being self-important or have a vested interest. I have yet to see him put down by someone who explicitly states a belief that global warming is not (anthropegenic) manmade.

I found several YouTube clips of congress that seems to be made by a Nineteen Eighty-Four type of leftist: everything edited to put Crichton in shadow and highlight his detracters. His actual testimony was NOT shown... I can't fathom having so much hatred as to cause such unfairness.

I referenced Crichton last month in Editing and Climategate, also in my very short essay Global Hot Air, (May 2011) and in my one where I call him my hero, Smokers and World Peace. (September 2011)

By the way, another writer hero of mine is Sir Winston Churchill. I have many of his books. During the war if any of his staff wrote that today in Burma our forces were "fighting with the Japanese" he would have them change it to "fighting against the Japanese."

No comments:

Post a Comment