Skip to comments.Science and Pseudoscience (Michael Crichton and global warming)
Posted on 01/20/2004 9:56:59 PM PST by CedarDave
January 20, 2004
Science and pseudoscience
Posted by Henry
Michael Crichton has made millions by writing mass market thrillers that either regurgitate partially understood scientific factoids, or pander to the nasty little revenge fantasies of male white middle-managers. Hes not averse to spicing his novels up with a hefty pinch of racism (the Fu Manchu in a three-piece suit Japan bashing in Rising Sun) or sexism (in the rather revolting Disclosure). All in all, its rather surprising that Caltech should have asked him to deliver a prestigious lecture. The content and tone of that lecture, however, arent surprising at all. The speech - which argues that global warming is pseudo-science - is as specious a bit of argumentation as Ive seen in a while.
Crichton, through a rather extravagant series of logical contortions, argues that believing in global warming is equivalent to believing in extra-terrestrials. As best I can reconstruct his argument, it goes something like the following.
* The search for extra-terrestrial life is a religion rather than a science, because we are not able to fill in any terms in the Drake equation (a famous attempt to quantify, sort of, the possibility that intelligent life exists in our galaxy).
* The scientific consensus around predictions of nuclear winter twenty years ago, was incorrect and based on pseudo-science.
* There is scientific consensus that global warming exists, but we are not able properly to quantify its risk.
THEREFORE (cue applause, amazement, gasps of awe from the audience)
global warming is a pseudo-scientific religion
Its hard to know where to start. Crichton makes a couple of reasonable (if hardly novel) points. He sees the Bjorn Lomborg affair as evidence that anyone who disagrees with the prevailing consensus is likely to be treated as a pariah (while notably failing to mention that Lomberg is convinced that global warming is real). He points to the desire of scientists for publicity and grants as a possible corrupting factor. Fair enough. But he then goes on to argue that science is inherently antithetical to consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If its consensus, it isnt science. If its science, it isnt consensus. Period.
Science is only science when it has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. The problem isnt just that Crichtons view of science is methodologically and epistemologically naive, and fails hopelessly to describe how science actually makes progress (for a corrective, read Imre Lakatos for starters). Its that its naive in a politically loaded way. Which is another way of saying that it isnt naive at all.
All of Crichtons examples of pseudo-science are chosen so as to suggest that the problem with modern science is that its prone to lefty political prejudice. The implication is that global warming too is a fantasy, the product of more-or-less deliberately biased computer models. Crichton not only ignores the rather substantial cumulation of physical evidence that suggests that global warming is a real threat. He proposes a model of science under which most of the major theoretical advances of the last few centuries wouldnt be counted as science. And he does so in pursuit of a dubious goal - to undermine a set of scientific results that he doesnt like on policy grounds. More than anything else, his style of logic is reminiscent of the creationist quacks who set out to undermine evolution by arguing that its a theory that hasnt been proved. Caltech cant be held fully to blame for Crichtons speech; universities rarely know in advance what their guest speakers are going to say. But it should be a lot more careful about whom it chooses to deliver major talks in the future. Posted on January 20, 2004 05:43 PM UTC
Crichton's speech of January 17, 2003 (Aliens Cause Global Warming) can be found here. The speech is long, but a good read.
Free Republic stories on the speech can be found at:
If this is taxes with reprsentation
Give me taxes without representation
I much prefer a tax on tea!
Instead of everything else.
If you examine what Farrell's said, he offers no real counter-argument to Crichton, and he establishes no facts. Basically all he says is that Bjorn Lomborg thinks global warming is real. Hate to clue Farrell in, but Crichton believes it's real too. Crichton admits that the average temperature seems to have risen .3 C in the last century. He simply disputes whether it has been well established that the rise is outside the normal variation of earth temperatures.
Remember the Vikings called Greenland green land for a reason!"There ia a story about the origin of Greenland's name. The first settler in Greenland, Erik the Red, is reported in old Icelandic sagas to have named the new country Greenland to attract other settlers there. Some historians, anyway, have claimed that due to climatical changes, weather in Greenland in the Middle Ages might have been much warmer than nowadays." Ivan Sache, 3 September 2001
I like the Icelandic saga explanation better, just because it is such a great example of the marketing power of a name.
I am stuck by this phrase, he has something against white male managers, who don't have his superior education.
Science is only science when it has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
I have a theory that global warming is caused by pointy head elites in ivory towers and mine has no verifiable reference to the real world either, so it is valid.
Yeah, to sell real estate.
Note the "logic" here:
Crichton's political views are not leftish:
....THEREFORE he should not be allowed to give a "prestigious lecture" about science at Caltech.
Yep, that dang Rover.
One might well view Lakatoss MRP as a synthesis of what was acceptable in Popper and Kuhn. His main point is that, contrary to naive falsificationism (i.e., Popper), theories of a certain sort the sort that are cores of research programmes are not sharply falsifiable. They can be cumulatively disconfirmed over a period of time, but they can't be decisively knocked out by a single crucial experiment.
This point is charmingly illustrated by the imaginary case of planetary misbehaviour which Lakatos recounts in Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. But in truth we should not need a detour through case-studies, real or imaginary, in order to grasp this point which is that deep scientific theories are no more falsifiable than they are verifiable.
This guy Farrell is a newly minted (2000) Phd in Political Science!
Things that make you say "hmmm".
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.