Jesters Up-End a Day of Serious Science

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“What good is a philosopher who doesn’t annoy anyone?”

This question may finally provide an answer to the riddle: What is it with Michael Crichton, anyway?

The “father of the techno thriller” was the marquee speaker at The Environmental Wars – a Science Skeptics conference during which a parade of speakers with stunning academic credentials had offered a whole day’s worth of data proving that the debate about climate change is over.

Crichton, of course, is President George W. Bush’s favourite climate change analyst. The author of Jurassic Park, the creator of the television show ER, the seller of 150 million books in 36 languages worldwide, is also a self-appointed climate change expert. At least, he presented himself as such in the best-selling State of Fear—a book that dismissed the notion of man-made climate change as a trumped up conspiracy by unethical environmentalists.

Crichton, his 6’10” frame unbent before a politely skeptical audience, took the podium Saturday night and immediately began castigating all assembled for their lack of skepticism. On a defensive tangent, he ran through the history of eugenics in the United States, talking about how many Americans were sterilized between 1920 and 1964 and condemning California’s scientific community for not standing up against this outrage.

He then concluded by saying “if it happened once, it can happen again.”

The implication, clearly, was that the assembled skeptics should be ashamed of themselves, and should not dare challenge his right to say patently unreasonable things about the state of climate science.

(One of the skeptics in attendance, a scientist clearly shy of his 40th birthday, later asked forgiveness for not having spoken out against forced sterilization – and also for failing to take action against the Spanish Inquisition.)

In the face of a polite question as to whether even the most skeptical observer might have to finally agree when a point of science is well proven, Crichton said:

“There is always a debate. And to say there is not debate ought to be a danger sign. It means that the people who disagree have been shouted down.”

Alas, no luck. Crichton went on at a self-satisfied length, quoting Diogenes (who originally asked the question about a philosopher who does not annoy) and dismissing those who accept the climate change consensus as idealogues. “Now the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking about it; now the Council of Christians is talking about it, I have nothing more to say about climate change. Now it’s a spiritual issue, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Annoying? Yes. Credible? No, not against the serious scientists who had come before. Entertaining? Quite.

And perhaps that’s even closer to the explanation of Crichton’s current role: he is a professional jester. He is George Bush’s fool.

 

Following lightly on Crichton’s heals was ABC’s favourite libertarian, 20/20 host John Stossel.

Stossel was even more entertaining, and considerably more forthright than Crichton, criticizing his media brethren as alarmists and saps, easily led into outrageous stories by trial lawyers who are out to make a buck. Scare stories sell, Stossel said, offering myriad examples of famous American media outrages that turned out to be overblown. (Who knew that Love Canal was really no problem at all?)

“Global warming,” Stossel said, “is a project for people who want to control other people’s lifestyles.” It’s a dirty plot to make Americans give up big cars and to check industrial development. “And the press is hysterical and unable to sort this out.”

Can you imagine?

It was heartening, after listening to this dim view of people who only moments before had seemed highly enlightened to hear Stossel’s prescription for improving the quality of the public discussion. He said:

“I think blogs are our best hope.”

Hear, hear.   

 

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