Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


A speech of Michael Crichton's on the dangers of"religious environmentalism" has been well-received in some conservative and libertarian quarters. If Crichton's speech reflected his own advice within it, environmentalists be scientific I'd have no problem with it.

Instead his Remarks to the Commonwealth Club show him to less an advocate of science and more of a second-rate Ann Coulter or Michael Moore.

The points that he really made were these: (1) most environmentalists are religious airheads, just like Christians, and (2) most people, including most members of the Commonwealth Club, are dumber than Michael Crichton.

The way he made those points was easy. He made scores of unsubstantiated claims. If he had followed his own advice and used science scrupulously to make his points he would have had problems.

For example, the one issue he discusses at length is DDT. He argues that its banning is one example of environmental-religious blindness in that it did not harm animals. But the only"evidence" he gives for this is asserting that it was falsely labeled a carcinogen. That may or may not have been true, I don't know the regulatory history/ But I do know the studies that indicated DDT caused harm concluded that it did so by impairing reproduction, not by causing cancer.

I might not be writing this if he had given even one authority to show that it did not hurt animals. That would have been consistent with his call for a scientific environmentalism. But he doesn't.

Someone reading this might reasonably say,"But in a speech, does he have time to do that? Maybe there is a good study out there that refutes clearly the previous findings on DDT."

Maybe there is. And if any readers know of one I will be happy to post information on it here. I do believe in using science honestly, even when it reveals that I have been wrong.

For the moment, however, Crichton's own words will do for a response. This long excerpt will show his real attitude toward scientific debate and for giving sources. (It will also document my comment about his ego).

I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.

I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous [sic] science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependant [sic] on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.

He does have time. He knows it. He chooses not to because he does not respect his audience. He says so himself.

So why have some pretty intelligent people latched onto this speech? I think it's the same reason Coulter and Moore are popular. They pick targets that their audiences hate and caricature them. Crichton chooses those environmentalists who tend to have an Eden-like view of nature, caricatures them, and then implicitly connects them with everybody concerned about the environment, except for himself or course.

Some readers I think saw the caricature, liked it, and didn't look carefully at what followed. It's a mistake I've made.

The sad thing here is that Crichton's a smart man and a rich man. If he truly wants to support good environmental science, he can do much good. But if this is any indication, good science is the last thing on his mind.

PS Here's the link to Science. Crichton is right that it is good. Put Global Warming and CO2 into the internal search engine and ask yourself if he's read it lately.

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Ken Kingman - 2/14/2007

Bravo....! M.C. states: "I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous [sic] science journals, such as Science and Nature."
I can with VERY LITTLE effort dispute his claims using the very same "prestigious science journals"...without even leaving the confort of my home
Thanks, Ken Kingman (student of sociology at Northern Arizona University)