Michael Crichton, whom most people probably know as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of the television series ER, is no dummy or hack writer, although he's used the theme of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a number of times (good-intentioned science produces a monster).
He's probably one of the smartest guys in America today, and he's been raising issues that are far more important than the legal circus surrounding the death of a glamorous tramp or the problems of Britney Spears.
Crichton graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. His books have been translated into 36 languages. Thirteen films have been made from them. He has also received a Technical Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in using computer programs in film production. His knowledge of computers is extensive.
His recent book about global warming, emphasizing the pseudoscience involved and the hype, riled the world, although his conclusions often have been misstated. He thinks global warming is occurring, and he predicts a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius during the next century. In other words, he doesn't buy all the catastrophic predictions that have even filtered down to my 7-year-old grandson, who casually informed me that New York would soon be underwater. Crichton scoffs at computer modeling, which he says is not supported by the data.
Charlie Rose, the best interviewer on television, recently showed dismay that Crichton would stand alone against the great consensus. Thinkers have been doing that for millennia. There was once a great consensus that scurvy was an infectious disease, despite years of reports by sea captains that crew members recovered as soon as they were able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. The history of science and medicine in particular is a history of the consensus being shattered by individual thinkers. Doctors, for example, no longer bleed patients, a practice that probably killed many of those in their care.
At any rate, Crichton is concerned about two problems. One is the politicizing of science. Another is the commercialization of university research. The old idea that new scientific knowledge should be shared with the world is giving way to a desire to patent it and make money from it. In fact, as the old gangsters knew so well, the world is all about money.
As anyone familiar with fundraising can tell you, pending catastrophes and crises sell; reason doesn't. Climatologists who said, "There is some gradual warming, but we don't know for sure what will happen in the future, so we'd like some money for further study" would get few grants. I've heard people talk about Hillary Clinton's fundraising ability, but I guarantee you that Republicans will raise tons of money to "stop Hillary" as if she were the Medusa or a female version of the Antichrist. Hype and exaggeration seem to have infected every aspect of American life.
In this atmosphere, Crichton is like Ayn Rand's fictional ideal man of reason. Look at the data. Apply reason. Make sure the data is correct. Even I, a techno semi-illiterate, know that computer modeling is simply a fancy straight-line projection. Unfortunately, life is more about circles and cycles than straight lines. Global warming is taking on the aspect of a religious belief rather than science. No matter what happens — hot or cold, wet or dry — it's blamed on global warming. And, like the Darwinians, the global-warming folks treat dissenters as if they were evil heretics.
May I suggest that you go to Crichton's official Web site and read the text of several of his speeches? I think you will find the intelligent conversation refreshing.
February 26, 2007
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.