Who knew that Michael Crichton was at heart such a skeptic? Many of the successful author's most popular techno-thrillers, such as The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park, take a kernel of science fact and then grow an elaborate science fiction crisis around it. But in his new book, State of Fear, Crichton takes what many believe is a current crisis of science factglobal warmingand minimizes its threat. Go to Crichton's website, and you'll find a speech Crichton gave at Caltech in 2003 that highlights many of his objections to what he calls "consensus science": where the consensus opinion of the scientific community is regarded as a worthy substitute for actual scientific evidence, particularly in cases where that consensus influences public policy. As he puts it:
"Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won't get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and 'skeptics' in quotation marks, suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply antienvironmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done... Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way."
In the speech, Crichton points to example after example where the scientific consensus was later proved to be wrong. For years, Crichton notes, the whole theory of plate tectonics and continental drift was deemed to be wrong by the scientific consensus of the time:
"Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for 50 years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geologyuntil 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: It took the consensus 50 years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees."
In the case of global warming, Crichton is particularly skeptical of computer models that try to predict what Earth's climate will look like in the future. No one knows if they are accurate, only that when back-tested using historical data, they have been accurate in predicting climate change in the past. As for the future, we'll have to wait and see.