State of Fear — Science, Ethics, and the Impossibility of Prediction

Originally published in 2005

Michael Crichton, the father of the “techno-thriller,” has sold over 100 million books worldwide in thirty different languages. For almost three decades, he has been delighting critics and fans alike with books and films such as The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, The Great Train Robbery, Sphere, Rising Sun, Disclosure, The Lost World, Timeline, Jurassic Park, and Prey.

In his most recent book, State of Fear, Crichton argues that environmentalism has degenerated from a discipline based on evidence, to a kind of highly-politicized pseudoscience, where “facts” are determined more by group consensus than by reproducible results. To complicate matters, much of environmentalism is concerned with what is going to happen on a global scale, and so one cannot test the veracity of a given hypothesis until the future has become the present. Needless to say, elevating what is necessarily speculation to the level of fact causes enormous problems—problems many environmentalists have nonetheless ignored for decades. Sure, in 1970 many leading environmentalists predicted a devastating ice age by the year 2000, but who wants to remember that?

Michael and Ken discuss some of the rather extreme reactions to State of Fear, ranging from venomous outrage and smear campaigns to hearty applause and an invitation to the White House. In fact, Michael is a self-described “political agnostic,” and simply advocates that policy drafted by any party be based on the evidence of today, not the speculation of tomorrow. As he points out, there is a profound moral and ethical dimension to how science informs our national and international agendas: “If it [the environment] is not a genuine problem… and we go and spend a kazillion dollars on that instead of feeding hungry people, then we have done a terrible, terrible, terrible thing.”

Now, given that State of Fear has made him public enemy #1 in certain circles, you might think that Michael knows how to write himself into a tough spot, but Ken shares what just may be a worse fate: “I’m trapped in a bad Michael Crichton novel and I don’t know how to get out!” Such is Ken’s progress on his own latest book, The Many Faces of Terrorism, and so Michael kindly takes the time to straighten him out.

We hope you enjoy this dialogue with these two men of incredible stature—which, if not always reflecting their intelligence, at least reflects their height. At over 13-feet tall combined, these guys give redwood trees a run for their money…

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