Wednesday, August 13, 2008

State of Fear - bring on the SUV

First, Kenner (the superhero protagonist) says there is no global warming, then goes on to say that the world is cooling, then says that global warming is good for the world and finally proceeds to disparage all the scientific consensus on anything. I was expecting (hopefully) that he was going to produce references supporting evidence that smoking doesn't cause cancer... which was about the only scientific conclusion he seemed to leave alone though. The references are good, irrefutably so but then why does even all this fact-spouting remind me of standard rhetoric. Why does it seem the arguments are constructed and paced in such a way that most of us (;)) professional arguers would recognise as the trick we use when we're short on facts but long on opinion?

It would've been way better if Kenner had an equally informed opponent whom he beat on strength of interpretation of data but instead he is given the likes of limousine liberals and gulfstream environmentalists, the likes of Evans and Ted. Why didn't Crichton show us the conversations with Morton, or the slow conversion of Morton? why is the tone so shrill, desperate and preachy?

Oh btw, Kenner is the supreme being. He has information about everything and everywhere in the world (in his brains twit; no.. he doesn't carry a google enabled phone), is never surprised (he always conveniently misses attempts at life and then comes to pick up the pieces of his comrades), never in the position to need to apologise (because he's right everytime) and finally **Spoiler** single handedly saves the world from evil redneck environmentalists about to create havoc at many spots in the world (conveniently timed and placed at Cessna flight distance for Kenner) with the help of one Nepali side-kick (who's the next-in-line supreme being), some skeptical environmentalists who are bombarded with info on why they're well meaning but completely stupid. His greatest achievement though is to convert one of those idiot environmentalists (oh didn't Kenner say environmentalists usually aren't educated?) who happens to be an incredibly intelligent billionaire named Morton. Of course, Crichton thinks the actual details of conversion and the arguments and facts bandied about in such a conversion would be too much for us. So Morton conveniently disappears during and after his conversion.

Weather IS impossible to predict for more than 10 days but arguably, isn't climate more predictable than weather? If Australia plays Kenya, you can't predict the next ball or the next over, but you CAN predict the outcome of the match. Ok lets take a better example; take a section of a water pipe and try to predict the turbulence in the section and you'll find it impossible... but damn it you can very well predict the aggregates of volume, force and cross-section when it comes out of the bloody tap. Ok maybe that example wasn't great either but I'm enough of an engineer to know that aggregates are easier to predict than snaphots of variables.
The loss of knowledge exclusivity to researchers and professors maybe true but they have their own niches and always did. They don't have to compete with other knowledge workers, except maybe for professors of finance. The new knowledge workers occupy positions that have been CREATED over the last few decades. Moreover its not like every scientist is a climate scientist.. so why are only climate scientists scaremongers, what about sub-atomic physicists, aerospace scientists, etc.. Why don't they have some universe destroying theory that will employ them perennially? Climate scientists, an umbrella term for scientists within disciplines like geophysics, meteorologists, climatologists, even archaeologists form a miniscule %age of scientists (as would any particular discipline) ; so how do you explain their overwhelming power to create fear among the world... fear that hurts those benign corporates, those gentle giants, the Oil companies. I don't buy it at all.
Its no use dissing scientists for the sake of demonising climate change. So we are expected to believe in a grand consensus of scaremongering scientists who are some kind of self-organising collective organism and come together because they lost "intellectual exclusivity" but not in a consensus that corporate-employed scientists will most probably come out with results that're favorable to the corporate they work in? Lets not forget that climate change science has come into the mainstream only this decade. While it is people and politicians left of center and actively ignored scientists from relevant fields that were carrying the torch in the previous decades.

The stupid statement about lack of refridgerants in the 3rd world... people don't die because of badly refridgerated food. People here just cook everytime they eat. This half-bakedness seems to be the depth of argument. I live here, I know. And fridges here, when you can afford them, are as good as anywhere else.

Why didn't Crichton make use of the last great planet-girdling scare, the Ozone layer depletion? He could've disparaged the left-wing hysterics, the bad science, the planetwide secret society of mad scientists wanting to take over the world by scaring you about increased risk of skin cancer. He didn't. Why? Because they don't exist. It would've been hell for the seeming agenda that his novel carries because it was good science, carried out by thorough scientists, supported by right-thinking bureaucrats who warned well informed politicians and people, who forced change . Finally the ozone layer threat was diminished not by people turning off their fridges but by scientists and engineers working successfully to find replacements for CFCs and laws and policy by developed nations and some devoloping ones to cut down or ban CFCs and forcing change in the INDUSTRY. Crichton's seeming uninterest in investigating this issue makes me seriously suspect his really stupid, insecure statement in the last page "Everyone has an agenda, except for me".

From what I see, the IPCC is not at all like the left-wing, grant grabbing bunch of bureaucrats and scientists with forked tails that Crichton makes it out to be. Its statements are moderate, taking care to emphasise what is theory and what is fact, references everywhere (more than kenner) and a non-alarmist tone. In fact the former head disagrees with the developing nations joining the Kyoto protocol because it would be restrictive to poverty eradication (maybe because he's Indian, but hey he's also IPCC) Agreed that its climate modeling techniques seem to be the center of lots of resonable doubt but the organisation itself and the results it produces aren't hysterical as crichton makes it out to be.

Some scientists dispute that global warming is happening, more agree that its happening but dispute the hand of human beings in global warming, some may agree or disagree or maybe uncommitted but dispute what the effects of real or hypothetical global warming would be. The vast majority of disputers seem to be the ones who think that the average temperatures are rising but it maybe natural and most probably not of anthropogenic nature.

Having said all that and also premising that I've always been a sceptic (of everything.. which includes climate change), the book, though obviously biased, did show to me the depth of disagreement in the scientific community and that the scientists have valid and serious concerns. But the book having the tone it does, makes me suspicious of its agenda. Crichton, I love all your books, you're one of my favourite authors but you really messed up here.

From what I see, most scientists that do offer some disagreements don't dispute climate change due to global warming. And its not because of the reasons offered by Crichton of expectation bias and some grand conspiracy theory of scientists colluding to keep the population in fear. They seem to do it piecemeal. One scientist disputes the effect of urban bias, one the sun's effect, one the albedo, one the effect of CO2 vs Methane, but taken as a whole the argument for global warming doesn't seem to be disputed by them, some just dispute the effect THEIR speciality has on global warming. In the In fact Crichton has disingenuously tailored together these disputes at appropriate sections of the novel to what seems a deliberate attempt to mislead any reader. (but I do put in a disclaimer that since there seems to be reasonable doubt on the consensus, and Crichton having a far better view of these things, he just might be... just might be telling the truth, just in a bad way)

As a novel, "State of Fear" is incredibly bad; if there was an agenda, an attempt at propaganda, which I strongly suspect, it was very poorly delivered; if anyone paid him money to deliver an agenda, please take the money back.

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