Aliens Cause Global Warming: A Caltech Lecture by Michael Crichton

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Originally published on Sunday, February 08, 2009 in Seattle PI by David Horsey - click for more

The “exoneration” by Climategate investigations (like Muir Russell) that never bother to talk to skeptics, create an impossible conundrum of having essentially a trial with judge, jury, reporters, spectators, and defendant, but no plaintiff. The plaintiff is locked outside the courtroom sitting in the hall hollering and hoping the jury hears some of what he has to say.

Given this, I thought it valuable to revisit this Caltech lecture on the state of science and consensus by the late Michael Crichton.

– Anthony Watts


Caltech Michelin Lecture – January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today. Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do.

Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.  Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind.

The world might not be a very good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world. But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones.

I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity.

Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free. But let’s look at how it came to pass.

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains.

In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-just so we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice.

Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion.

Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered.There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

One way to chart the cooling of enthusiasm is to review popular works on the subject. In 1964, at the height of SETI enthusiasm, Walter Sullivan of the NY Times wrote an exciting book about life in the universe entitled WE ARE NOT ALONE. By 1995, when Paul Davis wrote a book on the same subject, he titled it ARE WE ALONE? ( Since 1981, there have in fact been four books titled ARE WE ALONE.) More recently we have seen the rise of the so-called “Rare Earth” theory which suggests that we may, in fact, be all alone.

Again, there is no evidence either way.

Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not among astrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologists were harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI was a “study without a subject,” and it remains so to the present day. But scientists in general have been indulgent toward SETI, viewing it either with bemused tolerance, or with indifference. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s kind of fun. If people want to look, let them. Only a curmudgeon would speak harshly of SETI. It wasn’t worth the bother.

And of course, it is true that untestable theories may have heuristic value. Of course, extraterrestrials are a good way to teach science to kids. But that does not relieve us of the obligation to see the Drake equation clearly for what it is-pure speculation in quasi-scientific trappings.

The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage-similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example-meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter. In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences reported on “Long-Term Worldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations” but the report estimated the effect of dust from nuclear blasts to be relatively minor.

In 1979, the Office of Technology Assessment issued a report on “The Effects of Nuclear War” and stated that nuclear war could perhaps produce irreversible adverse consequences on the environment. However, because the scientific processes involved were poorly understood, the report stated it was not possible to estimate the probable magnitude of such damage.

Three years later, in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Sciences commissioned a report entitled “The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon,” which attempted to quantify the effect of smoke from burning forests and cities. The authors speculated that there would be so much smoke that a large cloud over the northern hemisphere would reduce incoming sunlight below the level required for photosynthesis, and that this would last for weeks or even longer.

crichton and drake equation
The Drake Equation. Pure science -or Pure Hooey?

The following year, five scientists including Richard Turco and Carl Sagan published a paper in Science called “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions.” This was the so-called TTAPS report, which attempted to quantify more rigorously the atmospheric effects, with the added credibility to be gained from an actual computer model of climate.

At the heart of the TTAPS undertaking was another equation, never specifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:

Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr Pe etc

(The amount of tropospheric dust = # warheads x size warheads x warhead detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burn duration x Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity x Particle endurance, and so on.)

The similarity to the Drake equation is striking. As with the Drake equation, none of the variables can be determined. None at all. The TTAPS study addressed this problem in part by mapping out different wartime scenarios and assigning numbers to some of the variables, but even so, the remaining variables were-and are-simply unknowable. Nobody knows how much smoke will be generated when cities burn, creating particles of what kind, and for how long. No one knows the effect of local weather conditions on the amount of particles that will be injected into the troposphere. No one knows how long the particles will remain in the troposphere. And so on.

And remember, this is only four years after the OTA study concluded that the underlying scientific processes were so poorly known that no estimates could be reliably made.

Nevertheless, the TTAPS study not only made those estimates, but concluded they were catastrophic. According to Sagan and his coworkers, even a limited 5,000 megaton nuclear exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35 degrees Centigrade, and this change would last for three months.

The greatest volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperatures somewhere between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed global temperatures by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change three times greater than any ice age.

One might expect it to be the subject of some dispute. But Sagan and his coworkers were prepared, for nuclear winter was from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign. The first announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan in the Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized, high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear war was held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, the most famous and media-savvy scientists of their generation.

Sagan appeared on the Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times. Following the conference, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so on. The formal papers in Science came months later.

This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold. The real nature of the conference is indicated by these artists’ renderings of the effect of nuclear winter. (Not Shown)

I cannot help but quote the caption for figure 5: “Shown here is a tranquil scene in the north woods. A beaver has just completed its dam, two black bears forage for food, a swallow-tailed butterfly flutters in the foreground, a loon swims quietly by, and a kingfisher searches for a tasty fish.” Hard science if ever there was.

At the conference in Washington, during the question period, Ehrlich was reminded that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were quoted as saying nothing would grow there for 75 years, but in fact melons were growing the next year. So, he was asked, how accurate were these findings now?

Ehrlich answered by saying “I think they are extremely robust. Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places. What we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group of scientists”

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.

In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let’s review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever.

In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no.

In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no.

In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory.

Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra.

The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor-southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result-despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

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 fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology-until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. 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.

But back to our main subject. What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was a meaningless formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. It was political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance.

Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can be found in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman was characteristically blunt, saying, “I really don’t think these guys know what they’re talking about,” other prominent scientists were noticeably reticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying “It’s an absolutely atrocious piece of science but who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?” And Victor Weisskopf said, “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.”

The nuclear winter team followed up the publication of such comments with letters to the editors denying that these statements were ever made, though the scientists since then have subsequently confirmed their views. At the time, there was a concerted desire on the part of lots of people to avoid nuclear war. If nuclear winter looked awful, why investigate too closely? Who wanted to disagree? Only people like Edward Teller, the “father of the H bomb.”

Teller said, “While it is generally recognized that details are still uncertain and deserve much more study, Dr. Sagan nevertheless has taken the position that the whole scenario is so robust that there can be little doubt about its main conclusions.”

Yet for most people, the fact that nuclear winter was a scenario riddled with uncertainties did not seem to be relevant. I say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible.

In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.

That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn clearly-and defended.

What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, its robust scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor of Nature, repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, Stephen Schneider, one of the leading figures in the climate model, began to speak of “nuclear autumn.” It just didn’t have the same ring.

A final media embarrassment came in 1991, when Carl Sagan predicted on Nightline that Kuwaiti oil fires would produce a nuclear winter effect, causing a “year without a summer,” and endangering crops around the world. Sagan stressed this outcome was so likely that “it should affect the war plans.” None of it happened.

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact.

After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it ” impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.)

Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun”, and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.”

The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science; there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems.”

Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions.

And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact.

The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established.

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 anti-environmental nut-cases.

In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done. When did “skeptic” become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.”

But now, large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world-increasingly, models provide the data.

As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs. This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well.

Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands. Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?

And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the model-makers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horse****?

Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport.

And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was.

They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS. None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it.

I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”

Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever going to happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago.

In 1990, climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows for sure. But it is impossible to ignore how closely the history of global warming fits on the previous template for nuclear winter.

Just as the earliest studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties were so great that probabilities could never be known, so, too the first pronouncements on global warming argued strong limits on what could be determined with certainty about climate change.

The 1995 IPCC draft report said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It also said, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes.”

Those statements were removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on climate.” What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this contentious area.

The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t. In trying to think about how these questions can be resolved, it occurs to me that in the progression from SETI to nuclear winter to second-hand smoke to global warming, we have one clear message, and that is that we can expect more and more problems of public policy dealing with technical issues in the future-problems of ever greater seriousness, where people care passionately on all sides.

And at the moment we have no mechanism to get good answers. So I will propose one. Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them.

The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations that all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups.

In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore with what seriousness we must address this.

I believe that as we come to the end of this litany, some of you may be saying, well what is the big deal, really. So we made a few mistakes. So a few scientists have overstated their cases and have egg on their faces. So what?

Well, I’ll tell you.

In recent years, much has been said about the post-modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct.

We can take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press. The past president of the AAAS wondered aloud how Cambridge could have ever “published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review.” (But of course, the manuscript did pass peer review by three earth scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and all recommended publication.)

But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new McCarthyism-coming from scientists? Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not facts.

The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”

It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.”

Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we have come to? When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given only a page and a half. When he said it wasn’t enough, he put the critics’ essays on his web page and answered them in detail.

Scientific American threatened copyright infringement and made him take the pages down. Further attacks since, have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That’s why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That’s why the facts don’t matter.

That’s why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He’s a heretic. Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just never thought I’d see the Scientific American in the role of Mother Church.

Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively separate science from policy.

The late Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that “Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference– science and the nation will suffer.”

Personally, I don’t worry about the nation. But I do worry about science.

Sources:

Michael Crichton’s speeches and essays at these two URLs

http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-Speeches

http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-essays

Crichton’s official web page:

www.crichton-official.com

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July 9, 2010 8:29 am

Anthony
That is some read.

Howard
July 9, 2010 8:41 am

That’s my favorite MC speech.
If you’ve got time check out the Michael Crichton interview on Charlie Rose (youtube has it). He touches on genetics, and all sorts of things, but he spends a good deal of his time discussing AGW. It’s very good.
HB

DirkH
July 9, 2010 8:42 am

“The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”
It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.””
And it didn’t even register with them that Lomborg believes in AGW. The stupid moves of ‘Science’, surely on their way to irrelevance.

Steve Keohane
July 9, 2010 8:42 am

A good mind, he saw clearly and left fertile seeds.

vboring
July 9, 2010 8:56 am

Thank you for posting this. I wish I had read it in 2003.

Sebaneau
July 9, 2010 8:59 am

The cartoon is superficially funny, but it inverts reality: the conservatives are the ones for national defence, and the liberals are appeasers.

P.F.
July 9, 2010 9:00 am

Does anyone know the copyright status of this? Can one print it out and distribute in a non commercial way (under the fair use doctrine)? Or does CalTech have a claim to it and require permission?
REPLY: This is distributed on other websites also. Since it is a transcript of a lecture given in a public forum, at a publicly funded institution, I see no issues with it. – A

Dr. John M. Ware
July 9, 2010 9:03 am

This is the clearest exposition of the ethics and dangers of consensus-“science” that I have yet read. Please keep this in the Archives of this site permanently! I have read Crichton’s novel _State of Fear_; the novel explores in fiction what the above essay details in history and fact. Thank you for publishing this essay! Please spread it as far abroad as possible.

July 9, 2010 9:10 am

Thanks, Anthony. I always enjoyed Crichton.

Dave H
July 9, 2010 9:15 am

Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.
But that is because a lay debate, or a lecture, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.
It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent as Crichton, who produced some good work in his lifetime, ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful book, State of Fear.

Ed_B
July 9, 2010 9:15 am

I recall visiting Hiroshima in 1993, and seeing modern apartment buildings all around, and Disneyland like tours for school kids going on in what was once ground zero..
I was astonished. Do I believe the scientists and environmentalists who talk about radiation contamination for eons.. or do I believe my lying eyes?
Now I know I must NOT accept scientific statements as valid, especially coming from NAS, Scientific American and Nature, but must do my own fact checking on the internet.

Pamela Gray
July 9, 2010 9:17 am

Wow. Just wow.

Jim G
July 9, 2010 9:21 am

Excellent article. Politics has always made the decisions with few of those in power having any real knowledge of science or math just like today.

Dave Wendt
July 9, 2010 9:21 am

It would be nice to imagine a world where school children, instead of being forced to sit through multiple showings of AIT, were treated to a video of this lecture and for good measure a full selection of the many wonderful videos Richard Feynman produced on science.
The clarity of thought in this piece highlights the magnitude of the loss the world suffered with the untimely demise of Mr. Crichton.

GeoFlynx
July 9, 2010 9:21 am

Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors. Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!
REPLY: Yeah sure, whatever. Gore sold fiction too. Pachauri wrote a smutty sex novel, guess we’ll have to throw them out too. – A

Jay
July 9, 2010 9:25 am

Wow, that man is an excellent writer !
To draw all of these related ideas together, with such precise language, putting his thumb on the pressure points.
Wow, every CAGW partisan should read this.

Nylo
July 9, 2010 9:26 am

Best lecture ever, regarding the state of science. 7 years have passed, and it is still so damn right.

GeneDoc
July 9, 2010 9:28 am

I love this lecture. It should be required reading for all new students in science MS/PhD programs. It’s such a shame that Dr. Crichton didn’t survive to see today. Where are today’s Feynmans, Handlers and Crichtons?

Gunther Dieckmann
July 9, 2010 9:30 am

Anthony,
Thank for posting this great article. I work in area of corporate energy research and I am stunned by the attempt of management’s insistence that the researcher must assign a probability of technical success and commercial success to their proposed project prior to approval. Unfortunately, these numbers have no real basis of fact since the critical experiments have been yet been run. For some reason, it seems as if a generation of people have lost sight on how to “reason”, and easily swallow pseudo-scientific equations like the Drake equation as providing a logical basis of support, when in reality none exists.

July 9, 2010 9:33 am

Thank you for posting that. Eloquent and insightful, and poignant too, given that he died so young. Something to keep.

MikeEE
July 9, 2010 9:34 am

Absolutely brilliant! These are the kinds of articles that keep me coming back.
I’ll note that that the Scientific American response to Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist was precisely what made me buy the book. It was soooo over the top ridiculous…as a result I’ve become a skeptic.
MikeEE

Diesel
July 9, 2010 9:36 am

Great read! When someone who tries to explain the “theory” of man-made global warming, I rebut by asking them to explain the Coriolis effect to me. My point, if they can’t explain a simple atmospheric process, how can I listen to their ramblings on something I consider too complex? It sure is consensus science. It sucks, since most kids in college are told “temperatures are rising; it’s caused by CO2 emitted by man kind; end of story”.

Neo
July 9, 2010 9:37 am

Not only are human beings wealthier, they are also healthier, wiser, happier, more tolerant, less violent, more equal. Check it out – the data is clear. Yet if anything the pessimists had only grown more certain, shrill and apocalyptic. We were facing the `end of nature’, the `coming anarchy’, a `stolen future’, our `final century’ and a climate catastrophe. Why, I began to wonder did the failure of previous predictions have so little impact on this litany?
I soon found out. Like others who have tried to draw attention to improving living standards – notably Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg – I am beginning to be subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification by the pessimists. They distort my argument, impugn my motives and attack me for saying things I never said. They say I think the world is perfect when I could not be clearer that I advocate progress precisely because we should be ambitious to put right so much that is still wrong. They say that I am a conservative, when it is the reactionary mistrust of change that I am attacking. They say that I am defending the rich, when it is the enrichment of the poor that I argue for. They say that I am complacent, when the opposite is true. I knew this would happen, and I take it as a back-handed compliment, but the ferocity is still startling. They are desperate to shut down the debate rather than have it.

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 9:39 am

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. 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.

I was going to make several comments but Crichton hit the nail on the head with his last 2 paragraphs. Need I say more? I wish more alarmists would read his lecture. :o(

hunter
July 9, 2010 9:39 am

Thank you for reposting this.
Dr. Crichton was a true visionary and accomplished in many areas of life.
His most damning point is the one about when consensus is invoked.
We lost him far too soon.
Scientists deserve the negatives they are going to experience by embracing CAGW/AGW.

John W.
July 9, 2010 9:42 am

Thanks for posting this.

Randy
July 9, 2010 9:44 am

WOW! What more needs to be said. We need to act. This needs to be published far and wide. Everyone must read this.

Tony Armstrong
July 9, 2010 9:45 am

The most reasoned and rational comments that have been written on the subject, this must stand as one of the great speeches of modern times.

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 9:46 am

I knew I’d be back.
Remember Bikini Atoll and the nuclear blasts that detroyed the corals? The Earth is more resilient than previously thought.

“Bikini Atoll coral biodiversity resilience five decades after nuclear testing.”
“Five decades after a series of nuclear tests began, we provide evidence that 70% of the Bikini Atoll zooxanthellate coral assemblage is resilient to large-scale anthropogenic disturbance. “

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187160
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13668-nuked-coral-reef-bounces-back.html
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080415101021.htm

Steve Fitzpatrick
July 9, 2010 9:46 am

A great essay. No wonder the guy makes a fortune on his books.

July 9, 2010 9:50 am

Thanks for posting that. I’ll be using that in class next semester in my on-going attempt to get my students to bloody well THINK.
I wish he were still in the game. He was a powerful ally and a good writer. (I did, however, think his use of chaos theory in Jurassic Park was misapplied — to say the least.)

Buz From Topeka
July 9, 2010 9:52 am

Well Done! Should be required reading in our schools.

July 9, 2010 9:52 am

“Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places.
Ehrlich should know, since he’s made enough of them…
— Millions will die every month of starvation in the 1970s, and it’s already too late to save them.
— The Third World will be decimated by plagues in the 1980s.
— We’ll be out of oil and freezing to death in the dark by 1990.
— America’s air will get worse and worse as long as we continue to use internal combustion engines, and there’s nothing we can do short of banning the automobile.
Gloom, despair, and agony — oh, my!
Of course, whenever he’s been asked why none of his predictions ever came true, he merely claimed he was right, but underestimated the timeline. Or that he was misquoted. Or that he never made the statement.

Curiousgeorge
July 9, 2010 9:53 am

I love Crichton. He was possibly the most rational man in the last hundred years. I miss him.

jorgekafkazar
July 9, 2010 9:55 am

There are other forces at work in this debacle. “Publish or perish” ensures that teaching is subordinate to grant begging. To obtain funding, the line between science and mendicancy has been crossed more and more. The sure way to gain MSM attention and journal publication is to deny the truth of a seminal work in an established field of study. No field should be sacrosanct, but these attacks are often based on extremely poor science, with little genuine content, mostly blatant assertions and staunch denial of earlier findings. This process has worsened and has resulted lately in widespread passage from academic mendicancy to thoughtless whoredom. Science is dying.

Marc77
July 9, 2010 9:59 am

Great article.

pwl
July 9, 2010 9:59 am

Impressive, most impressive.
‎”Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well.”
Ironic that the blind climate scientists will be able to see more clearly being double blinded! [:)]

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 10:00 am

That´s what I feel every time I see Al Baby. Perhaps the Rosswell thing really happened, and from then on. Do you really know his biography? Because he´s really a very weird guy. ☺☺☺

July 9, 2010 10:00 am

I think the independent research institute is a great idea. If there was research, done with open access to data sets and methods, that both ‘warmists” and “skeptics” could agree was rigorous and free from bias… well, we might actually get somewhere.
REPLY: No argument there, but keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world. -A

mhecker
July 9, 2010 10:01 am

Brilliant !

jack morrow
July 9, 2010 10:01 am

A very smart man and a great read. This type stuff is why we hang out around here.

stephen
July 9, 2010 10:07 am

I had my kids read this shortly after I first ran across it, oh five years or so ago. My daughter recently graduated college with her BS in Astrophysics, also a graduate of Paradise High School, not far from Anthony’s home town. My son is close to his computer science degree at UCLA. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

M White
July 9, 2010 10:10 am

It would appear that a scientific consensus can lead to ill health and deaths in the general population. Perhaps a consensus requires a health warning.
Warning – A consensus can damage your health.
I’m sure that there is a consensus among the those who frequent this site.

Jarmo
July 9, 2010 10:13 am

This piece should have been compulsory reading for all those panelists reviewing Climategate.

John Robertson
July 9, 2010 10:14 am

I also recommend that folks go to Michael Crichton’s web site and read his essays. They are well worth reflecting on in these troubled times for science…

pablo an ex pat
July 9, 2010 10:15 am

Wow !
Is he sadly missed or what ?

John Whitman
July 9, 2010 10:16 am

This was written 7 years ago. It turned out to be very accurate.
John

Scott Covert
July 9, 2010 10:16 am

It is easy to see a central theme to these hoaxes. Read and judge for yourself.
You are a brave man Anthony, you will be burned at the stake some day but there will be a statue of you outside the Watts Institute in about 60 years.
Keep up the good work and stick to your guns!

July 9, 2010 10:18 am

Excellent reading.
What was behind the nuclear winter scare? It seems to me like “let the Soviets swallow the Europe without fight”.

July 9, 2010 10:19 am

keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world.
It would seem like the pooled funds would make influence like pushing a rope. I’d say transparency, transparency, transparency should be the mandate of this institute.
It seems like it’d be valuable for issues other than climate as well. If there are concerns about the independence of researchers on issues like, say, stem cells, this would be a valuable corrective.
I’m all in favor of doing pretty much anything other than two sides yelling at each other.

Gail Combs
July 9, 2010 10:24 am

WOW!
This gets bookmarked.
I would like to print the article out and hand it to every school and University science teacher to remind them exactly what science IS.

Peter Plail
July 9, 2010 10:30 am

Thank you, Anthony, for drawing this to our attention. Here is one predictive model (of human behaviour) that has subsequently proved only too correct.
I defy any warmist to read it and not feel shame.

Cassandra King
July 9, 2010 10:31 am

What a read!
There are those few people ahead of their time and able to grasp the big picture rising above petty selfish desires and there are those mired in their present unable to see beyond their own limited comprehension of limited penned in by self interest and cowardice.
We have visionaries so few in number that they are more precious to humanity than any amount of money because they show us an overarching vision of what is and what could be, they are the sign posts to a better future and they are almost universally despised and hated and shunned by the small blinkered petty majority who guard their status with supreme jealousy.
If you are beyond your time and you clearly see the small minded games around you and you dare to speak out then your name becomes despised, many are those who cannot admit error and cannot reform their beliefs and so few are those who can admit error.
In a decade Chrichtons memory will honoured where it was despised, his works will be praised by those who now decry it, he will be seen for the visionary he is and that is the tragedy isnt it?
The establishment heaps praise on false prophets and hurls mud at the real prophets, those who could change the world for the better cling to old certainties and prejudices and hide their ignorance by attacking others.

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 10:34 am

Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

This is eery!
Things Caused By Global Warming
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

July 9, 2010 10:35 am

A very well presented analysis of how science has lost its way in the early 21st century. It almost reads as a reflective comment from a 22nd century historian! I am a physics graduate and I find it incredible how politically correct the whole process of scientific research has become.

Gary Hladik
July 9, 2010 10:36 am

“…but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.”
That takes me back. As a kid I enjoyed the Lucky Starr series of sci fi novels by Isaac Asimov (writing as “Paul French”) in which the solar system was governed by a “Council of Science”: dispassionate scientists who ruled unselfishly with logic, wisdom, and justice. Yes, yes, but I was a kid, OK?
“Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter.”
I remember this one, too. Any illusions I might have retained about “dispassionate scientists” were utterly dispelled after this. I also recall that every time the (ugh) models were improved and refined, the scenarios became less and less scary, finally becoming the politically less useful “nuclear autumn”. Now, having survived every doomsday prediction so far, I tend to take ’em in stride.
BTW, this is the third time I’ve read this lecture, and it still gives me goose bumps. It should be required reading in our schools.

DCC
July 9, 2010 10:36 am

But was it peer-reviewed?

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 10:38 am

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
What do you disagree with in his Caltech lecture?

Tommy
July 9, 2010 10:39 am

Good points. I’ll take this a step further and say that even hard science is limited to consensual reality, because of the need to verify tests/observations. The lack of verification does not prove that individual unique observations are false, however extraordinary they are. Even the direct witness of the extraordinary has trouble believing the experience, hence the “doubletake” response.

DavidS
July 9, 2010 10:40 am

What a fantastic piece, Anthony thanks for posting.
The following is an excerpt from a novel called ‘Ghostwritten’ by David Mitchell. I thought it was apt given the critique of models above:
“We create models to explain nature, but the models wind up gatecrashing nature and driving away the original inhabitants.”

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 10:41 am

Jokes apart:
Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them.
Or…individual ingenuity and research, which made possible almost everything we have around us. From the airplane to the copier.
We must recognize that we are afraid of what “consensus” may say about anything we could find or say, because consensual “scientists” behave very agressively, as kids when someone menaces to take away their favorite toys: We have seen it right here in WUWT.
The new paradigms in science are strongly rejected and its proponents are anathemized (*) and perhaps even their PC’s IP traced and followed as they could represent a socio-political danger. …”I know you, I know where you live..”
To be a respected individual you must be “robustly”respectful of consensus.
(*)Threaten with divine punishment

Griz
July 9, 2010 10:42 am

Thanks for posting this great essay.
The church of Big Science seems to be focused on pleasing its benefactors instead of searching for Truth.

Larry Geiger
July 9, 2010 10:43 am

“Where are today’s Feynmans, Handlers and Crichtons?”
You are reading one of their blogs right now.

J.Hansford
July 9, 2010 10:51 am

Says it all doesn’t it. Marvelous writer. Wonderful thinker.

AC
July 9, 2010 10:52 am

Wow. I want to give Crichton a standing ovation from my office chair, seven years after the fact.

Dr. Dave
July 9, 2010 10:52 am

I’m reminded of this article at American Thinker last year:
http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/04/ufos_and_agw.html

July 9, 2010 10:53 am

GeoFlynx says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am:
“Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors.”
Name the errors. Name the ‘climate scientists.’
And Prof Freeman Dyson wrote science fiction novels; quite a few of them. Is his skeptical view of CAGW also ‘riddled with errors’?

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 10:58 am

There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.
If scientists didn’t demand data and tried to replicate Ponns and Flieschman’s ‘experiment‘ we would today be ‘using‘ cold fusion. And the list goes on……. :o)
This lecture deserves an internal link on the right-hand column called “Why be sceptical?” I have bookmarked this page for quick reference and excellent quotes.

rberteig
July 9, 2010 11:02 am

Two minor nits: First, “Caltech” as it appears in the headline is correct. There is no hyphen (as it is spelled in your intro) or capitalized T (as appears in some comments) in the nickname for the school. Second, Caltech is a private college, and not a publicly funded institution, although they do accept the usual number of research grants.

Nuke
July 9, 2010 11:02 am

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.
But that is because a lay debate, or a lecture, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.
It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent as Crichton, who produced some good work in his lifetime, ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful book, State of Fear.

Would this be more acceptable as a scientific lecture if Crichton had included an equation for determining how to recognize junk science?
Can you offer some specific criticisms?

July 9, 2010 11:11 am

Fun, I recently quoted this lecture in about 5 different contexts… It’s too bad he’s gone.

Karl Maki
July 9, 2010 11:13 am

A long time ago I was a regular listener of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday on NPR. I generally enjoyed the show, which features in-depth discussions and interviews on various scientific topics, but I found myself increasingly irritated with the tendency for global warming — and the horrors thereof — to make an appearance on every single broadcast.
Then Michael Crichton was on.
He was on, I believe, to discuss his then new book State of Fear and the science of climate change. (The book, though not his best in my opinion, does a great job of describing the science and what should be understood as both its uncertainties and limitations.) The host, Ira Flatow, was incredibly dismissive of and disrespectful to Dr. Crichton during the course of the interview, owing to Crichton’s willingness to actually question AGW orthodoxy. Flatow ended the interview by sneeringly asking Crichton if his next book would be about creationism and how the theory of evolution is all wrong.
That was the very last time I ever tuned into Science Friday.

Rhys Jaggar
July 9, 2010 11:17 am

1. Today’s faith/religion might just become science in future centuries/millennia. Or it might not be.
2. Scientists are not calm, rational, cool people in my experience. Some are extremely political, spiteful, greedy, hate-filled and jealous. To presume science does not enjoy some aspects of politics is to presume a black and white world, when the reality is shades of grey.
3. Most scientists are not paradigm shifters for the simple reason that to understand when paradigm shifting is timely requires a great deal of insight, luck or both. Which means you are either a world-leading professor or a young arrogant know-it-all. Usually. So I wouldn’t trash all those who aspire honestly but won’t be Einsteins, Cricks or Krotos.
4. If scientists are funded by politicians, then usually when the chips are down, the politicians win in the short term. It’s only if scientists are funded by independent wealth/foundations that true independence is possible. And those organisations too are not free of ego, agendas and power battles…..
5. It’s possible to use scientific thought in politics. But only if you play the long game and are extremly astute in measuring the public mood. And if you are prepared to forgo personal power to remain true to science if the mood changes……
6. When science is clearly applicable in society, business comes in in the way it should.
7. But when the science is too early and may be for a whole generation, it is tempting to ‘find a way to the end of the rainbow’. Particularly if the ICT and life sciences guys are now multimillionaires……
8. Science sometimes goes down blind alleys. And if the powers that be did that, then as a young scientist you’d be courageous not to follow them if you want that postdoctoral fellowship.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the scientific method is imperfect and imperfections can last a generation or more sometimes.
But usually, in the end, science wins.
Unless totalitarian states return.

Dave H
July 9, 2010 11:18 am

Jimbo says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am
Hmm, well its a long speech and its been analysed thoroughly elsewhere over the years – I imagine anything I say here will be lost in the noise so I’ll keep it brief. Personally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.
> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.
Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.
> If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?
What he says is easy rhetoric that sounds nice, and plays to the Galileo complex, but has little to do with the real world. Adding “period” at the end of the sentance gives his words the sense of utter concreteness that is anathema to the scientific viewpoint.
Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted. This is *exactly* what has happend with AGW, a fringe theory that has become more and more accepted over the last century or two. Citing a couple of instances where consensuses have been wrong in the past does not logically invalidate all consensuses forevermore – indeed it is *the very existence* of new consensus that lets us see how the old ones were inaccurate.
> Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.
Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc. Its an illogical argument that’s easy to say and sounds nice to those inclined to believe it, but one that I find simplistic and political rather than logical and scientific.
And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.

CodeTech
July 9, 2010 11:20 am

I was unable to locate this article on the official Crichton site, however I did locate a pdf version here:
http://www.tsaugust.org/images/Lecture_by_Crichton_at_Caltech.pdf
This makes it a lot easier to print, it’s 11 pages including a cover sheet.
This lecture was brilliant, and I wish more people had seen it, or read it. I also bought into the whole “nuclear winter” thing, for the exact same reasons. It seemed that anyone in a scientific position who would stand up and express these kinds of concerns MUST know what they’re talking about, right? It’s inconceivable that they would be lying, or stretching the facts, or even using it for political objectives.
Freeman Dyson’s question: “who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?” sums it up perfectly. Who wants to be accused of being in favor of destroying the planet, via overpopulation, CO2 emission, environmental destruction, or nuclear war??? Unfortunately, that is how the whole issue is framed.
So here’s a story. Some years ago someone came to my house looking for donations to some kind of kid’s program… I don’t remember exactly what it was. I informed him that I don’t give money to people who come to my door, and closed the door. He stuck his foot in my door and said “What? Don’t you care about kids?”
Now, this is an absurd thing to say. My nephew spent years in the Children’s Hospital undergoing painful procedures. I have been involved in campaigns to raise money for that hospital and for kids in general. At one point someone calculated that our family’s fundraising and events have raised over $20M for that hospital. But some guy with his foot in my door claims that I don’t care about kids. That’s the way he framed my refusal to give money to a stranger at my door.
Its the same. My realization that the whole cAGW movement is bunk can be framed as “what, so you’re FOR the destruction of the planet?”
Anyway, I’m glad this was posted, it’s a good read for people who might be sitting on the fence.

gcb
July 9, 2010 11:20 am

Frank Lee MeiDere says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:50 am
I wish he were still in the game. He was a powerful ally and a good writer. (I did, however, think his use of chaos theory in Jurassic Park was misapplied — to say the least.)

That was always my issue – as his Jurassic Park was one of my first introductions to his work, it always left me feeling a bit skeptical about his fiction writing. This speech, however, does not fall into either of those categories (fiction or writing)… 🙂

Keith Battye
July 9, 2010 11:22 am

From “Dealing” to the day he died, and beyond, Michael Crichton has made good sense.
Thank you Mr Watts for publishing this again. I have successfully convinced my children and those who love me to read this.
Consensus in science is just snake oil.

micky c
July 9, 2010 11:27 am

A very eloquent speech.
It brought up another point though: proper science and scientists really miss Richard Feynman.

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 11:32 am

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Crichton gave us the warning signs of the past and here we are today like Galileo against religious consensus.
WUWT once posted “Historic parallels in our time: the killing of cattle -vs- carbon”. This was seen as a sign by many of where we might be heading and was almost as instructive as Michael Crichton’s lecture.
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/20/historic-parallels-in-our-time-the-killing-of-of-cattle-vs-carbon/

Dave H
July 9, 2010 11:40 am

Jimbo says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am
Hmm, well its a long speech and its been taken to pieces thoroughly elsewhere over the years. PErsonally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.
> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.
Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.
> If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?
What he says is easy rhetoric that sounds nice, and plays to the Galileo complex, but has little to do with the real world. Adding “period” at the end of the sentance gives his words the sense of utter concreteness that is anathema to the scientific viewpoint.
Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted. This is *exactly* what has happend with AGW, a fringe theory that has become more and more accepted over the last century or two. Citing a couple of instances where consensuses have been wrong in the past does not logically invalidate all consensuses forevermore – indeed it is *the very existence* of new consensus that lets us see how the old ones were inaccurate.
> Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.
Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”.
And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.
Jimbo says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:58 am
> There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.
That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.

afraid4me
July 9, 2010 11:42 am

As an “amateur” scientist, I’m speechless. What a wonderful read. Thanks, Anthony, I’ll be sharing this.

Ed Caryl
July 9, 2010 11:45 am

I keep thinking of two laws of Economics:
You get more of what you pay for, and less of what you tax. These apply across the board to what is happening in the world today.
Scientists are just following the money. The poor honest scientist laboring in his (or her) garret, living off alms, is an almost extinct species. The survivors contribute to this blog and others like it.
Most of the current crop of “CAGW climate scientists” are bought and paid for. This also applies to the journalists that report on them. They have joined the “world’s oldest profession”. They are no longer scientists.

Karl Maki
July 9, 2010 11:48 am

Dave H might have said:
July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
Gore was a charismatic and knowledgable (sic) public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.
But that is because a lecture, or a popular movie, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. (sic) basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Gore was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His selective use of poorly derived statistics is disgracefully biased, and his Photoshopped scenes of impacts not forecast by any model shocking and arrogant. Presenting a movie like this as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Gore’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.
It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent famous as Gore, who produced some good work in his lifetime(?), ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

I would have loved to have seen Dr. Crichton and Mr. Gore debate.

jason
July 9, 2010 11:55 am

A great essay. No wonder the guy makes a fortune on his books.
By Steve Fitzpatrick on July 9, 2010 at 9:46 am
Made….

P.F.
July 9, 2010 11:58 am

Crichton makes a superb argument regarding the nature of the science of the subject. But I came to the realization a couple of years ago that it is not at all about the science, but rather a political ideology. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was with the skeptics who drew attention to the huge body of evidence of climate change in the past and, in particular, the Medieval Warm Period. As was revealed in the CRU emails, the ideologues endeavored to “revise” the good science of the past and replace it with their computer models designed specifically to forward an agenda. As I read and discover more about Maurice Strong, “environmental justice,” and cap and trade, I am further convinced it is not a reasonable fight centered in knowledge, but a committed effort by a faction driven by a political ideology. These people will not listen to reason; follow Alinsky’s rules like a bible; and exploit those “useful idiots.”

John from CA
July 9, 2010 11:59 am

OT:
UN chief sends SOS on poverty, climate, Haiti
http://broadband.msnbc.com/id/37975453/ns/37602713
“Specifically, he called on rich nations to make “concrete progress” in grappling with rising temperatures from greenhouse gases. He said they must honor their commitments at the Copenhagen climate summit last December to provide $30 billion by 2012 in “fast-start” aid for developing nations to deal with climate change.”
Germany setting up $500 million climate fund
http://www.napoli.msnbc.com/id/37991680/ns/business
“BERLIN — Germany says it is setting up a $500 million fund to provide micro-finance loans to developing countries for projects such as new supermarket freezers and biomass heating to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

1DandyTroll
July 9, 2010 12:03 pm

So essentially snake oil hawkers will have the upper hand in believing in their own snake oil until 50-150 years has passed and even they’ve had time to tire of their own insanity.
Heh but look now, for that’s just what’s taking off, the insanity part amongst the infamous climatic nutties. Jones, Mann, et al, now feel liberated enough to peddle any kind of snake oil they choose. Funniest thing probably is that they themselves don’t truly believe in their own snake oil or their snaky reasoning, however, they’re now so firmly in the land of belief of cry wolf again and again to get government funding that they can’t do nothing but.

Doug in Seattle
July 9, 2010 12:03 pm

Thanks again Anthony for reminding us what the debate is really about. Still, its a shame to have lost such a valiant defender of science.

michaeljgardner
July 9, 2010 12:18 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am
>> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.
>Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a >variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.
I think you’re applying too broad of a definition to the word “consensus”. What I took from Chrichton’s essay was that “consensus” meant agreed upon notions without the benefit of factual support through the repeatibility of an experimental method. Which is my perception of the state of the AGW science.
Where you claim concensus exists in science, it is not “concensus” but the agreed upon results from a repeatible expiremental method.
The difference as I see is that one is based solely on agreement, the other on fact.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 12:22 pm

Disinformation about Michel Crichton in Spanish Wikipedia:
(Google translated)
Message from author:
Page 643: “The carbon dioxide present in the Earth rises and human activity is the probable cause. ”
Page 644: “Nobody knows to what extent the current warming trend could be due to human activity. ”
Page 644: “I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributed to human activity .
I suspect that the principal human effect resulting from the use of the Earth, and that the atmospheric component will be less. ”
P. 644: ` We can not assess the future , nor can we predict. These are euphemisms. We can only make assumptions . A well-founded assumption is still just a guess. ”

latitude
July 9, 2010 12:24 pm

“a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted.”
Yes Dave, and Crichton most excellently points out, through examples, how the process going from a universally accepted false consensus works.
And most excellently points out how those same examples are paralleling what we are witnessing now.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 12:25 pm

1DandyTroll says:
July 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm
If things change, THEY will change accordingly….and swiftly. Remember this.

J Midgley
July 9, 2010 12:27 pm

I didn’t realise that Mann, Jones et al were Aliens!
Am I missing the point here?
JM

Dave H
July 9, 2010 12:27 pm

Karl Maki might have said:
July 9, 2010 at 11:48 am
> Hey, look over there!

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 12:28 pm

An example of borderline, blasphemous science:
http://www.holoscience.com/news.php?article=ah63dzac

Pamela Gray
July 9, 2010 12:32 pm

Aliens and smelly cows. Someone will soon say these are isolated examples and not to worry.
As silly as aliens being the cause of global warming sounds, it has not been unusual in the past for wars to start just so public coffers can be added to. The believed reason (my country can whip your country) is not the ultimate reason. Nothing like getting people ready to fight the cause by getting an economy perking so that taxes can be collected so that the powers that be can be sustained once again. That’s the ultimate reason. And there are many that believe this is a good way to start an economy perking. If you can get the people to believe, anything goes. No sacrifice is too small. Especially if the sacrifice is forced upon people you don’t like. Trouble is, in a war against a slow economy (whether by enacting green jobs or actual war and with green taxes or war bonds), friendly fire and collateral damage is the rule of the day if the true goal is to rebuild an economic base to uphold the rulers in power. Under those circumstances, every casualty, friend or foe, of a green economy or a war is due to friendly fire and collateral damage. And after the people you don’t like are done away with, the ruling power will come after you too.
So you say that forcing a green economy on us will be good and that these extreme examples are jot not reality? Sounds absurd you say? Too silly? Never will happen? Hardly. The company that made vanilla wafers in Portland were fined because of pollution. Apparently the smell of cooking vanilla wafers added particulate air pollution to the city of Portland. So they had to put air scrubbers in place to remove all vanilla wafer odor from the air. If you can be fined for baking cookies, farmers and ranchers don’t have a chance in hell. In fact none of us do.

Chuck L
July 9, 2010 12:37 pm

As the AGW crowd increases its shrillness and doomsday scenarios daily – “it’s worse than we thought,” the loss of Michael Crichton with his rationality and intellectual clarity is felt even more dearly.
Dave H, atmospheric CO2 levels were 10 times or more higher than today’s levels in the past according to ice core samples, please explain to me why runaway global warming did not occur then, but is now “certain” to occur in the 21st century according to climate models .

cal
July 9, 2010 12:42 pm

Dave H
I suggest you read the lecture again. He is saying that science is about testable hypotheses and that consensus without proof is not science. By quoting examples of cases where there is consensus based on exaustive experimentation you are not contradicting him. He does oversimplify the point he is making with his “science is not consensus etc” but he doing this for effect. I suspect you know this but are just trying to create a smoke screen.

Kay
July 9, 2010 12:46 pm

GeoFlynx says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am
Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors. Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!”
Crichton was a medical doctor with scientific training. And you?

bubbagyro
July 9, 2010 12:46 pm

John Whitman says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:16 am
Half a century before, another wise man, marginalized for his anti-establishment prophecies, was President Eisenhower. Perhaps Crichton had read and been inspired by Ike?
Here is an excerpt of his Farewell Speech at Dartmouth College in 1953. His final warning:
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present,
• and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Brad
July 9, 2010 12:49 pm

Micahel Crichton was true believer in his own deluded ideas, on all sides. He also thought the patents on genes were kiling innovation in medicine (the opposite is actually true). LEts not get too excited about any position Crichton took, for or against us.

micky c
July 9, 2010 12:50 pm

Dave H
I’m an experimental physicist and I have felt the urge to respond to what I think is your confusion on an issue you brought up

Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?

To be frank: no there isn’t a consensus on Newtonian mechanics and relativity, because one replaces the other. There is still doubt about relativity from some quarters, even how it was first formulated but because a lot of people have verified by TEST that the theory gives some results..it will do for now. And people are still testing it. That isn’t consensus on the theory its consensus on that it will do for now but we will keep testing the fundamentals of it.
The periodic table was an idea based on chemistry – some parts were a guess, an extrapolation, a lot was tested and re-tested. But still it has been modified: atomic weights changed. It was only after quantum mechanics could the idea be really investigated. And you know what, people are still adding to it..but no one really minds because it will do for now.
Plate tectonics – there are two competing theories that even I know about – one is the idea of solid plates, the other is of a superviscous liquid – the physics looks similar but long term effects are different – people are still testing it but you know what…it will do for now.
You really want to do natural selection? Darwin’s theory was very vague. It talked about the fittest species surviving which made some sense. Yet it does not explain any reason at all why we still have junk genes or why some species never seemed to evolve but are still here. It was only in recent years with the ideas, yes of evolutionary biology, that a theory like The Red Queen came up..but it is still decisive. Still you know what it will do for now.
BTW ‘it will do for now’ does not mean consensus – it means we are only as good as what we know and have tested. Or in layman’s terms: you are only the sum of your experiences up until now. Tomorrow, if it exists for you, is always a guess.
The only people who think that science deals in consensus are lazy people who don’t actually go and ask a real scientist what the state of affairs is. And then ask a lot more.
Oh wait, doesn’t Anthony kind of do that already?
Go. Figure.

Doug in Dunedin
July 9, 2010 12:54 pm

Dave H says: July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
Dave H It seems to me by your comment that you prove the thrust of one limb of Crichton’s argument.
Doug

Jud
July 9, 2010 12:56 pm

I remember picking up a copy of ‘State of Fear’ in an airport when it came out (in paperback I suppose) and reading over the course of my trip.
I can pinpoint that as the time I awoke to the reality of this nonsense, as until then I was a confirmed ‘believer’.
I seem to remember a preface or addendum with very similar content to this speech – can anyone confirm if it was this actual speech at Caltech?
RIP Michael – thank you for setting me on the right path.

Peter Plail
July 9, 2010 1:00 pm

There is some criticism of the use of the word consensus and I think this may be as a result of confusion between two definitions of consensus (Merriam-Webster).
In one case it means general agreement, unanimity, and in science there are innumerable instances of consensus over what is accepted generally as scientific fact.
Its alternative meaning is group solidarity in belief or sentiment. To me, it is clear that it is this mode of consensus that Crichton was referring to.

Dave H
July 9, 2010 1:04 pm

michaeljgardner says:
July 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm
> I think you’re applying too broad of a definition to the word “consensus”. What I took from Chrichton’s essay was that “consensus” meant agreed upon notions without the benefit of factual support through the repeatibility of an experimental method. Which is my perception of the state of the AGW science.
In my opinion, you just responded by defining the terms “consensus” and “AGW science” yourself, in a specific way that allowed you to dismiss my argument.
I believe that is known as “begging the question”.
> The difference as I see is that one is based solely on agreement, the other on fact.
There is this false framing going on, where some science is “fact” and other science that you happen not to agree with is “based solely on agreement”, thus putting it on an unsound basis you can dismiss.
I don’t see any useful way we can have a reasonable discussion on those terms. I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations, and simulations. However, unless you also accept the validity of this foundation, I *cannot* make a point that you cannot counter by dismissing AGW as “not fact” on your terms. Unless you accept that there is a sound, testable, physical scientific basis to work from, I can’t make any further contribution on the “consensus” issue.
What I would say is that:
> Where you claim concensus exists in science, it is not “concensus” but the agreed upon results from a repeatible expiremental method.
The consensus exists around the explanation of those results and observations. We observe perturbations in Mercury’s orbit – do we attribute those to epicycles or relativistic effects? We cannot account for rotational speed of distant galaxies – do we need to revise relativity, or attribute it to dark matter? We carry out an experiment demonstrating what appears to be speciation on a small scale – do we attribute that to evolutionary processes, or the unseen hand of a divine creator? The consensus forms – with a lot of kicking and screaming in the journals – around what is the best explanation for observations, and what has the best predictive power for future events.
The only reason you hear about a “consensus” on AGW more than any other science is that it is a subject that has become very publicly steeped in political controversy, and because the implications are far reaching and serious. Evolution suffered the same controvery, and “consensus” was mentioned there frequently. There was a consensus on CFCs and the Ozone layer, and acid rain, and many of these anti-consensus arguments were trotted out then as well by those that sought to preserve the status quo. Likewise relativity – you don’t hear “consensus” bandied about much, unless you encounter the anti-relativity fringe.

Kate
July 9, 2010 1:08 pm

This is what James Lovelock thinks of modern science.
On Climategate:
“I was utterly disgusted. My second thought was that it was inevitable. It was bound to happen. Science, not so very long ago, pre-1960s, was largely vocational. Back when I was young, I didn’t want to do anything else other than be a scientist. They’re not like that nowadays. They don’t give a damn. They go to these massive, mass-produced universities and churn them out. They say: “Science is a good career. You can get a job for life doing government work.” That’s no way to do science.
I have seen this happen before, of course. We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”
plus
“If we had some really good scientists it wouldn’t be a problem, but we’ve got so many dumbos who just can’t say anything, or who are afraid to say anything. They’re not free agents.”
and
“We haven’t got the physics worked out yet. One of the chiefs once said to me that he agreed that they should include the biology in their models, but he said they hadn’t got the physics right yet and it would be five years before they do. So why on earth are the politicians spending a fortune of our money when we can least afford it on doing things to prevent events 50 years from now? They’ve employed scientists to tell them what they want to hear.”
From “James Lovelock on the value of sceptics and why Copenhagen was doomed”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock

Alberta Slim
July 9, 2010 1:11 pm

That, to me, is the best I have ever read.
I had all but given up on my politicians, but this just has to be sent to my
Member of Parliament; my Environment Minister; my Member of the Legislative Assembly; my Mayor; and The Alberta Premier.
Every time I send them something they send me back the same stock letter that goes to the media, or anyone else.
“We are committed to …. blah blah blah… Carbon Capture and Storage .. blah blah blah, and $2billion dollars of taxpayers funds to climate change strategy to reduce emissions”
They, being politicians, believe the avowed consensus. [the recent poll shows 55% do NOT believe in CAGW vs 45% who do].
I am totally disgusted that they will not even say that the CCS program should be put on hold because of Climatgate. AND they are supposedly Conservatives.

Alvin
July 9, 2010 1:12 pm

Replace the alien with Al Gore.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 1:15 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm
If kids are to play they need a consensus among them, those not sharing the same toys/games are the “bad kids”.

Vincent
July 9, 2010 1:16 pm

Dave H says,
“Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted.”
How is Crichton undermining his own point? Those erroneous hypotheses are not refined into “new” correct ideas as you seem to be implying in your post: whether we are talking about the bad air theory of disease, germ theory of pelagra, eugenics, piltdown man, rejection of continental drift, stress causation of stomach ulcers, nuclear winter. They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong. And the point he was trying to make most strongly, is that the consensus views that persists the longest in the face of contradictory evidence, are those embellished in some political or social narratives. Eugenics, nuclear winter and AGW are the most notable examples and AGW is the most extreme of them all. So AGW, will eventually join eugenics and all the others in that metaphorical garbage can.
“Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc. Its an illogical argument that’s easy to say and sounds nice to those inclined to believe it, but one that I find simplistic and political rather than logical and scientific.”
It is a straw man argument to counter that the rejection of an old hypothesis is also a consenus – and must therefore invalidate itself. Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false. What seems to be clear to everyone on this blog but you, is the idea that a consensus adds nothing to the value of a scientific postulate and it does not make that postulate more likely to be true. Thats it. No need to tie yourself up in knots with “all Cretans are liars,” type fallacies.
“And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.”
So reject the Bjorn Lomberg incident as “biased misrepresentation”. Biased how? Show us some facts instead of just arm waving.

Paddy
July 9, 2010 1:19 pm

You can find a collection of Michael Crichton’s speeches and essays at:
http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-Speeches
http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-essays

michaeljgardner
July 9, 2010 1:20 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm
I don’t see any useful way we can have a reasonable discussion on those terms. I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations, and simulations. However, unless you also accept the validity of this foundation, I *cannot* make a point that you cannot counter by dismissing AGW as “not fact” on your terms. Unless you accept that there is a sound, testable, physical scientific basis to work from, I can’t make any further contribution on the “consensus” issue.
Thanks for the reply.
In short, I’ve yet to see any sound science that proves AGW, but I have heard a lot about the consensus. I’m open to having a reasonable discussion with you though. Maybe you can help me with the “sound, testable, physical scientific basis” part.
Cheers,
Michael

Mike G
July 9, 2010 1:22 pm

@ Dave H
You so represent exactly what he was talking about in the lecture.

Jeff L
July 9, 2010 1:22 pm

MC was clearly one of the cleanest thinkers of our time.
If the general public can’t tell the difference between science & politics, then real science has little chance of adding real value to society and that is a net negative to everyone, regardless of your politics.
All scientists need to be aware of their duty to provide objective analysis to society. Period. If they feel inclined to make political statements, they need to get out of science for the benefit of science. Period.
Unfortunately, I only see the problem getting worse.
Everything has become politicized.
“AGW” = politicized weather.
“Organic” food = politicized eating.
“Naturopathic” = politicized medicine.
” Hybrid cars” or “SUV’s” = politicized driving.
“Green” , “Sustainable” = politicized living.
I could go on & on (please add your own examples).
The common theme with all of these is you can find “scientific” research to support these subjects, but the reality is that it is just politics , policy & personal bias parading as science. And because of examples from the past, such as those listed by MC, it is now accepted practice to represent politics as “science”. And because scientists are allowing this to happen, science as a whole is failing society.
Universities should be teaching students about their moral obligation to give objective analysis to society. Yet I do not see this happening. In fact, I have an example from my own alma mater doing just the opposite – encouraging students to cast their science in a non-objective framework to the community. It is a sad state of affairs & I think this period of time will be judged harshly by the future.

Max Hugoson
July 9, 2010 1:24 pm

May I remind everyone of the hazard of playing catch as catch can with snout nosed ungluates in slurried soil or clay!
(Do you understand this? The ungluate has great joy, and YOU end up in need of sanitary renovation…)

Paddy
July 9, 2010 1:24 pm

You can find a collection of Michael Crichton’s speeches and essays at:
http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-Speeches
http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-essays
This is a link to his official biography and CV:
http://www.crichton-official.com/aboutmichaelcrichton-biography.html

Dave H
July 9, 2010 1:24 pm

micky c says:
July 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm
> I’m an experimental physicist and I have felt the urge to respond to what I think is your confusion on an issue you brought up
No confusion, I was actually hoping to lead into some of the issues you raised.
> To be frank: no there isn’t a consensus on Newtonian mechanics and relativity, because one replaces the other.
Yes – hence the past tense when referring to Newton in my original comment. There *was* a consensus that Newton best explained the movement of celestial bodies. That’s not really the case any more.
> There is still doubt about relativity from some quarters, even how it was first formulated but because a lot of people have verified by TEST that the theory gives some results..it will do for now. And people are still testing it. That isn’t consensus on the theory its consensus on that it will do for now but we will keep testing the fundamentals of it.
This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works. We can use relativity because it has predictive power – but there is still room to argue about details within that larger framework.
> The periodic table was an idea based on chemistry – some parts were a guess, an extrapolation, a lot was tested and re-tested. But still it has been modified: atomic weights changed. It was only after quantum mechanics could the idea be really investigated. And you know what, people are still adding to it..but no one really minds because it will do for now.
Exactly – its the progress from less knowledge to more. It had predictive power because it had *gaps* that allowed us to guess the properties of the elements we were yet to discover – yet we could still argue about details within a broader consensus that it was describing a useful chemical model.
> You really want to do natural selection? Darwin’s theory was very vague. It talked about the fittest species surviving which made some sense. Yet it does not explain any reason at all why we still have junk genes or why some species never seemed to evolve but are still here. It was only in recent years with the ideas, yes of evolutionary biology, that a theory like The Red Queen came up..but it is still decisive. Still you know what it will do for now.
I’d go further than that. Darwin’s theory is in no way some sacrosanct thing that has remained unchanged – it has grown and adapted (dare I say, evolved?). There is huge argument over some of the detail, and things like cross-gene transfer really shake up our understanding of what’s possible and how things work. But where there *is* a consensus is that speciation can be explained by natural processes like selection, and that the existence of evolution is not in any doubt. So, we came along, carried on Darwin’s work, fixed it where it was wrong, developed new, more detailed theories to explain new observations – do we ever refer to his work as “discredited”? No, we accept it as a foundation upon which we build better knowledge.
This is precisely the same terms as the consensus for AGW. There is broad agreement that observational data shows the earth is warming, and that the principle cause is human emissions of CO2. The rest of the detail? massively debated. What’s the precise climate sensitivity? How best can we reconstruct the paleoclimate? How unprecedented is the warming? What’s the precise contribution of Solar and ENSO cycles to the 20th century trend? These are all issues with greater or lesser degrees of agreement around them.
So I would say – representing the notion of a scientific consensus as complete agreement in all details across the entirety of a scientific field is an unrealistic strawman.

Nuke
July 9, 2010 1:28 pm

@Dave H:
Consensus is a political term, not a scientific term.
Consensus is not how science is done. Scientists don’t get together and vote on the facts. The chemical formula for water is not determined by consensus.

H.R.
July 9, 2010 1:35 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
[…]
“In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period […]”
Dave H, I’d be interested in reading the dissection of this lecture showing the unsound rhetoric. Would you please point me to the source(s) you’re referring to so I can do some further reading? Thanks in advance.
H.R.

July 9, 2010 1:38 pm

Wow. Absolutely WOW.
And to think he said it 7 years ago…
Thanks Anthony for posting this.
I am going to circulate it to as many people as I can.

rbateman
July 9, 2010 1:42 pm

Are we alone?
I cannot know the numbers of any certainty as to how many planets are in this Galaxy having life as we know it.
I can tell you that with our fastest rocket presently, it will take roughly 60,000 years to get to Beta Centauri.
Unless there is intelligent life hiding on another planet in our Solar System, we are alone in Space & Time.

Pascvaks
July 9, 2010 1:43 pm

There is the bright, shiny, beautiful, wondrous side of the force of science and every other field of human endeavor; and there is the dull, scheming, treacherous, political, ugly, dark side of the force of science, and every other field of human endeavor.
The majority of ‘adults’ -shall we say- were bright eyed children who wanted to achieve great things for the benefit of all mankind. The vast majority of them lost their dream along the way in the ‘real‘ world. They became pragmatists. They learned that if you want to get along, you gotta’ go along.
Oh, for the return of the Jedi…

Dave H
July 9, 2010 1:45 pm

Vincent says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm
> They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong.
And a *new* consensus formed around the better explanation – so why should we distrust consensus again?
> And the point he was trying to make most strongly, is that the consensus views that persists the longest in the face of contradictory evidence, are those embellished in some political or social narratives. Eugenics, nuclear winter and AGW are the most notable examples and AGW is the most extreme of them all. So AGW, will eventually join eugenics and all the others in that metaphorical garbage can.
Or alternatively, the *social and political resistence* to the increasing scientific evidence for AGW will be consigned to the garbage can.
> Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false.
No, in fact what he said was:
> If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer? Do you disagree that much of the health legislation surrounding smoking emerged precisely because there was a broad consensus on this issue, despite disagreement and uncertainty about specific details and risks? Should climate scientists pretend that there *isn’t* a consensus about the basics of AGW? Would that make the science more sound?
The existence of a consensus is not a sound basis for rejecting science.
> So reject the Bjorn Lomberg incident as “biased misrepresentation”. Biased how? Show us some facts instead of just arm waving.
Its hard enough sticking to just the consensus issue on this thread. In my view, Crichton’s interpretation leaves absolutely no room for Lomberg to be in the wrong. He describes the reaction as “disgusting” and presupposes much based on his acceptance of Lomberg’s opinion. He describes Lomberg solely as someone who dared to challenge an orthodoxy and was attacked for it – whereas based on the evidence you could equally describe him as someone who thoroughly misrepresented the available science for political and financial capital, and received precisely the reaction one would expect from the scientists he had misrepresented. Crichton does not supply any real evidence to weight the argument to his side, just asserts it in emotive language really – and if you’re predisposed to believe him you will, but that doesn’t necessarily make him *right*. And his complaint that the published critique *only* mentioned 9 errors – well, could it not equally have been listing 9 example errors? Crichton doesn’t make this clear, just slants his reportage of the incident to what he wants you to believe.
But the substance of Bjorn Lomberg is a different issue – that’s just my opinion of the biased way Crichton described the events. And actually referencing Galileo in this context is offensive.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 1:45 pm

It is a consensual truth that wherever there is consensus, nature behaves in an unexpected by the consensus way. What a pity!
One major example: THE SUN

latitude
July 9, 2010 1:49 pm

There is at least one thing we can all have consensus on and state of fear is a good enough way to describe it.
There are certain personalities that seem to need fear. Fear about something.
and there are people that are aware of that fact and use it
Once you convince that type of personality to be fearful of something, it’s almost impossible to change their minds. No matter how irrational it may look to a rational person, to the person convinced that they should fear this thing, anything, it is real.
Crichton was well aware of that and did an excellent job of portraying it in his writings.

Dave Wendt
July 9, 2010 1:59 pm

GeoFlynx says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am
“Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!”
The very significant difference is that no one came around to put a gun to your head to make you go see the movie. And if you find that comparison over the top, I can pretty much guarantee that, if these “climate management” policies are fully enacted and anyone decides to take a stand in defiance of them and persists in that stand, there will be men with guns showing up on their doorstep. There is no question of if on this , only how long.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 2:00 pm

latitude says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:49 pm
One the the most dreadful things for a kid is somebody taking away their favorite toys.

Ted
July 9, 2010 2:02 pm

OT, no need to publish this comment
have you read this?
one for wattsupwiththat to sort the truth from untruth.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dk-matai/gulf-of-mexico-danger-of_b_619095.html
it’s going viral with uncritical exaggerations like this
http://www.helium.com/users/529618

July 9, 2010 2:09 pm

Dave Wendt said:
” I can pretty much guarantee that, if these “climate management” policies are fully enacted and anyone decides to take a stand in defiance of them and persists in that stand, there will be men with guns showing up on their doorstep.”
I don’t know where you live, but here in Canada our version of Al Gore (David Suzuki) is already promoting jail time for any politician who doesn’t follow the party line on global warming.

Joseph Murphy
July 9, 2010 2:10 pm

Now that was a good read.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 2:12 pm

Anything that cannot be replicated/tested in a lab is…pure magic, twilight zone, metaphysics (and metaphysics doesn’t exist because it is “beyond the physical realm”).
Hey, Hey baby!, don’t cry baby, don’t cry!…wanna pee?

July 9, 2010 2:14 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 11:40 am
Jimbo says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am
> There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.
That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.

The first succesfull cloning of a multicellular organisms took place in 1952 when Robert Briggs and Thomas King cloned tadpoles. There is still controversy about the results and what actually happend during the experiments, but it sure shows that people where working on cloning more than 60 years ago, well before Dolly was born in 1996.

July 9, 2010 2:14 pm

You do have to be careful with Crichton – will never forget how I burst out laughing when on some psi-farm where he went to learn to see auras, he kneeled on the ground and offered his apologies to a cactus plant for having had bad thoughts about him.
Which is not saying he’s all bad. Just be careful.

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 2:17 pm

Frank Lee MeiDere says:
July 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm
Just tell him: Torah, Torah! ☺

Karl Maki
July 9, 2010 2:17 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm
Karl Maki might have said:
July 9, 2010 at 11:48 am
> Hey, look over there!

My point — I apologize if it was too oblique — is that your 9:15a post was little more than an ad hominem attack on Dr. Crichton, as evidenced by the fact it was easy to substitute one name for another and make it, with minor cosmetic changes, an attack on Mr. Gore. One concludes that you believe Crichton to be either a shill or prone to fuzzy thinking, which leads me to a question:
Why?
Crichton was a polymath who spent his entire life gathering knowledge, learning new things, and thinking in novel ways, so to speak. He was not a politician or a corporate head or an activist or anyone who stood to gain or lose from whatever direction the debate on climate change might go. He was just a man who thought much of and a lot about technology, science and the scientific method. (One might note that the heroes in his books are almost always scientists.) Why would Crichton, already wealthy in the extreme when State of Fear was published, go out of his way to misrepresent climate science?

July 9, 2010 2:20 pm

Dave H
Hi
Your eloquence, succinct to the point mastery and articulation of a scientific matter and a short and snappy rebuttal of opposition makes me think we met on these pages before.
Do I need to translate?

ShrNfr
July 9, 2010 2:31 pm

Must resist temptation to photoshop Al Gorge into cartoon instead of alien. Must resist urge, must.

Doug in Dunedin
July 9, 2010 2:43 pm

Jeff L says: July 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm
MC was clearly one of the cleanest thinkers of our time. If the general public can’t tell the difference between science & politics, then real science has little chance of adding real value to society and that is a net negative to everyone, regardless of your politics.
I agree with Jeff L but the trouble is that science and politics have been hijacked by commercial interests. If you need to see the power behind the ‘Climate Science’ follow the money as they say. It is important to have a flock of sheep to ensure the politicians under control and in your pocket – hence the scare tactics for the sheep. The ‘climate scientists provide the scare tactics. The politicians provide the shears for the sheep and – voila!

u.k.(us)
July 9, 2010 2:59 pm

I must have read his book “The Andromeda Strain (1969)”, at least 5 times in my youth. Now I know why.

DirkH
July 9, 2010 2:59 pm

John from CA says:
July 9, 2010 at 11:59 am
“BERLIN — Germany says it is setting up a $500 million fund to provide micro-finance loans to developing countries for projects such as new supermarket freezers and biomass heating to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.”
You can bet your ass that there is right now a glut of German-made supermarket freezers in some warehouse waiting to be shipped…

Steve in SC
July 9, 2010 3:00 pm

Excellent speech! Thanks for publishing it Anthony.
It is my observation that there are way more folks that have phds than should have them.
And the trolls come out of the woodwork.

DirkH
July 9, 2010 3:00 pm

ShrNfr says:
July 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm
“Must resist temptation to photoshop Al Gorge into cartoon instead of alien. Must resist urge, must.”
Oh come on. Just do it and post the pic.

David44
July 9, 2010 3:06 pm

Thanks for posting this. It has been a long time since I first read it, and It’s hard to believe (chilling actually) that it was written over seven years ago. The late and prescient Dr. Chichton is responsible for opening my eyes and, I assume, those of many others to the lack of real science behind global warming advocacy. Like any good liberal, I simply assumed global warming was real, that man was responsible, that the consequences would be catastrophic for future generations, and that anyone who said otherwise was a conservative reactionary or in the pocket of fossil fuel interests.
Had I not been trained as a medical scientist and not been a Chrichton fan since publication of the Andromeda Strain, I would probably still think that way. Most people who have adopted AGW beliefs simply dismissed Chrichton as a science fiction writer not a scientist. Many of these dismissers don’t know (or care) that he was a Harvard educated M.D. who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute and – to their loss – do not appreciate that he was a keen observer of both postmodern politics and cutting edge science. As we see here, he was also a keen defender of the scientific method. I mourn his passing every time I see his name or re-read one of his brilliant essays.

DirkH
July 9, 2010 3:09 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm
“[…]
This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works.
[…]”
No, i can falsify that. Consensus has formed around the forecasts of GCM’s, and they don’t work. So we can deduce: The formation of a consensus does not allow a conclusion about whether something works or not. Consensus can form in the absence of workability. QED.

LarryOldtimer
July 9, 2010 3:09 pm

Crichton would not have had to go all the way back to 1900. Most of what he said could have been applied to 1950. Our knowledge of science has grown by leaps and bounds since then. (I was a 14 year old Sophomore in high school in 1950, and have been a science “buff” as long as I have memory of.)
And I wouldn’t agree in his “belief in aliens is the cause” either. Belief in aliens began about when humans began being humans (but terms other than “aliens” were used . . . lots of them).
One thing I do find rather amazing, however. Individuals or small groups who are really guilty or culpable of doing wrong in the eyes of society will most often deny their guilt or culpability, however guilty or culpable they might be, no matter the evidence against them, to their dying breaths. Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.

Eric Naegle
July 9, 2010 3:27 pm

I love this lecture. I read it when it first came out and still do from time to time. It helps my morale to know that there are still honest people out there. That is why I come to this site as well.

Dave McK
July 9, 2010 3:36 pm

Why does this conjure the leering face of Mr. Ravetz, Mr. Post Normal Science himself, right now? n/m – rhetorical…

intrepid_wanders
July 9, 2010 3:36 pm

I have a “consensus” (aka political) proposal.
Whenever someone throws out the “oil card” or the “tobacco card”, we shall throw “nic-fit” into the first line of the reply. It would make reading and parsing so much easier. My intuition says that a lot of these ‘enthusiastic types’ are ‘ex-smokers’ 😉
Just a thought…

Jim Clarke
July 9, 2010 3:37 pm

MC was the best communicator on the current state of science: clear, concise and irrefutable.

Larry
July 9, 2010 3:44 pm

Anthony… Why does the source[Source: http://www.crichton-official.com] you link to not have this article available. Was it taken down? Do you have a better link to the source?
Otherwise, I very much enjoyed it.
REPLY: refresh the article to see the links

Gary Hladik
July 9, 2010 3:51 pm

LarryOldtimer says (July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm): ‘Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.’
I broke the dam!”

Larry Fields
July 9, 2010 3:56 pm

Here’s one more consensus ‘science’ item that Michael Crichton could have mentioned if he’d had the time.
LOBOTOMIZED SCIENCE
In the early part of the 20th Century, there was not a whole lot that physicians could do to treat schizophrenia. It is estimated that about 1% of the world’s population suffers from this debilitating psychiatric illness.
Warehousing–often under horrific conditions–was often the only option for some schizophrenics, who could not function in society. And this was a big drain on scarce health care resources, which could be used with greater cost-effectiveness in prenatal and pediatric care, for example. And it was probably a proportionately larger drain in the reconstruction years after World War II.
Enter Dr. Moniz, a physician from Portugal. He performed the first lobotomy in 1936. The medical profession was impressed with the increased manageability of lobotomized psychiatric patients. In 1949, Dr. Moniz shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on lobotomies, which greatly popularized the procedure. Here is a link to some biographical info about Dr. Moniz:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egas_Moniz
The mid 1950’s saw the introductions of new, somewhat effective psychiatric medications, like Thorazine. Then people began to question the morality of lobotomies: Hey, aren’t lobotomies a major human rights violation? This is a good question, especially considering the difficulty of getting genuine informed consent from schizophrenics, who are often not living in the same reality that we know. For obvious reasons, lobotomies are considerably less fashionable now than they were in the early 1950s.
Sometimes art can help us get a better perspective on complex ethical issues. In addition to having outstanding performances by Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came to grips the lobotomy issue, in a very poignant way.
So, in light of what we know today, did the Nobel Committee get it right in 1949? Did the lobotomy research even qualify as legitimate science?
By the way, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights came out in 1948, the year *before* the lobotomy Nobel.
http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
Lobotomized science has been around for a lot longer than CAGW.

July 9, 2010 3:57 pm

Some points to ponder:
What about radon? I have yet to see the name of an individual who contracted cancer as a result of exposure to radon. The same is true of second-hand smoke. Where are the names? I know about first-hand smoke: my mother was one.
Galileo: it is unfortunate that he did not have a means of demonstrating his assertion which was observable with human senses. The demonstration (the Focault pendulum) was a serendipitous discovery made a couple of centuries later. This is a fascinating story in itself. Chromatic aberration was an unavoidable defect in single-lens refracting telescopes. Making two lenses, one of flint glass and one of crown glass, greatly decreased the aberration. To make the glass, various salts had to be uniformly mixed with the molten silica. This required a stirring rod, and only carbon would do. So Focault had an “oops” moment while smoothing a carbon rod in a lathe.
All he really wanted to do was make a bigger lens.
The earlier discovery of the aberration of light is dispositive, but requires rather sophisticated instruments. [This is the shift of stellar positions due to the orbital movement of the Earth during the year.]
The story of science is, indeed, the story of resistant paradigms. Chrichton recites some of them; paradigms are remarkably resistant to change.
Have you heard? The proton may be smaller than we thought. If so, the whole theory of quantum electrodynamics may need to be rethought.
It has been 80 years since the receding of the galaxies was discovered. Do we know that the universal law of gravitation applies in the galactic realm? I have yet to see a verifiable experiment. And all of the theories of dark matter presume inverse square attraction at all scales. And dark matter has, thus far, not been detected.
The difficulty with paradigm science is that only politically correct science gets funded. Should you wish to investigate a theory which is not politically correct, you are very likely to be turned down. Where is the Cavendish who can do his/her own work, using his/her own money?
I am reminded of the saying about religion and politics being joined together. Such a joining always ends up badly.
I believe that the same is true about science and politics.
Lysenko, anyone?

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 4:07 pm

ShrNfr says:
July 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm
Please! Allow yourself such a pleasure!

July 9, 2010 4:12 pm

I’ve read all of Michael Crichton’s fiction, much of his non-fiction, and many of his lectures. Not only was this man a brilliant visionary, he became one of my heroes because of his willingness to speak truth, no matter what the consequences. I’ve passed his books to friends and family members of mine; most thought the books entertaining, but lacking in scientific merit. I made a habit, however, of looking up the papers and web links that he cites at the end of his novels, and find that he took a balanced approach to many of his topics so that the reader could make an informed decision. Too many people refuse to follow up on various topics and ideas, and will go along with the crowd so as not to “stir the waters.” It seems, to me, that most people have lost the ability to think for themselves, or are at least too willing to let others think for them.
Peace.

latitude
July 9, 2010 4:16 pm

“”DirkH says:
July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm
No, i can falsify that. Consensus has formed around the forecasts of GCM’s, and they don’t work. So we can deduce: The formation of a consensus does not allow a conclusion about whether something works or not. Consensus can form in the absence of workability. QED.””
thanks

Enneagram
July 9, 2010 4:24 pm

Intelligent and rational people can discuss and agree on many issues, the problem began when some said: They are dumb, let´s invent some scary tale and then we´ll make them swallow all our Agenda 21 or whatever.
This is true:
“We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination…So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts.. .Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”
– Prof. Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology,
lead author of many IPCC reports
That was a big mistake!. If their purpose was to establish a better order for humanity and if it was supported by intelligent reasons we could have agreed on many things, but not through lies and scam.
Now it seems clear that their purposes couldn´t have been openly stated because their motives and goals, they knew it, nobody in his sane reason was going to accept them.

David44
July 9, 2010 4:39 pm

Dave H says @ July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am”
‘If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc.’
While it is true that consensus does not invalidate science, neither does consensus validate science. Of course there is always a working consensus in any scientific field, but it is the work of every scientist in that field to find the things that are not explained by the consensus view, postulate possible alternative explanations, and perform real-world experiments or observations (models, computer or otherwise, are only an aid to discovery and understanding) to confirm or refute them, e.g., Newtonian physics vs. Einsteinian relativity.)
When the working consensus becomes constrained by politics or belief, the consensus is no longer scientific. This is exactly what has happened to climate science. Free inquiry and expression have been constrained by AGW politics and belief.

Karl Maki
July 9, 2010 4:40 pm

mathman says:
July 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm
I am reminded of the saying about religion and politics being joined together. Such a joining always ends up badly.
I believe that the same is true about science and politics.

Not to mention science and religion…
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/religion.htm
(Michael Crichton is referenced in the above link FWIW — it is an excellent expansion of one of Crichton’s key insights.)

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 4:44 pm

Robert says:
July 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm
Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 11:40 am
Jimbo says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am
> There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.
That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.
The first succesfull cloning of a multicellular organisms took place in 1952 when Robert Briggs and Thomas King cloned tadpoles. There is still controversy about the results and what actually happend during the experiments, but it sure shows that people where working on cloning more than 60 years ago, well before Dolly was born in 1996.

—–
What I should have said was Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned from cells of any adult animal. (I was typing from memory and remember that when Dolly was announced there were those who flat out dismissed it and it was reported that most scientists in the field did not think this possible).
First Cloned Mammals
A breakthrough came in 1986. Two teams, working independently but using nearly the same method, each on opposites side of the Atlantic, announced that they had cloned a mammal. One team was led by Steen Willadsen in England, which cloned a sheep’s embryo. The other team was led by Neal First in America, which cloned a cow’s embryo. Many advances were made during the course of these experiments, including progress in keeping tissue alive in lab conditions. However, neither team believed that it was possible to clone from an adult’s differentiated cells. With no progress in sight, the prospect of cloning fell by the wayside, and little research was done on the matter.
http://library.thinkquest.org/20830/Frameless/Manipulating/Experimentation/Cloning/longdoc.htm

Jimbo
July 9, 2010 5:05 pm

Further to my last comment I hope this clears up the “impossible” world I used to describel cloning in general instead of using differentiated adult cells. You might give me examples of where this is not the case but my main point is there was a consensus that this type of cloning was “impossible”.

“On July 5, 1996, Roslin Institute in Scotland and PPL Therapeutics created the first ever organism to be cloned from adult cells, Dolly. This ordinary-looking lamb has extraordinary origins, being not only a cloned lamb with no father, but also the world’s first clone from differentiated adult cells, a feat that was considered scientifically impossible.” source
——————-
“Scientists thought that this differentiation was irreversible and that once a cell had differentiated to become, say, a skin cell, it could not change into anything else. It was thought that somehow the DNA inside any particular cell had been chemically ‘programmed’ to produce only the range of proteins required for it to perform its specific tasks, and that ‘reprogramming’ was impossible. ” source

July 9, 2010 5:14 pm

To Dave H:
I understand exactly at what are you are saying. State of Fear was factually inaccurate for many points. I verified one chapter, half were accurately represented in the book, half were taken out of context. I verified the citations after I read the book, not while I was reading it. So by then I knew what Michael Crichton was trying to get at. The point I took away from State of Fear is that modern science starts with the answer, and then asks the question that will get the answer. Example: “Man-made global warming is real. How do we prove it?” Science should start with the question and look for the answer without bias. Example: “Is man-made global warming real? The facts say …” All in all, I didn’t like the book too much (Prey was much better), but I did like the point it was making.
You are right, consensus is not always a bad thing. It is only a bad thing when debate is silenced because of the consensus. That is when you need to reach for your wallet or beg forgiveness for your sins, when you are not allowed to question. The whole AGW debate has really become just like the Catholic church’s former practice of selling of indulgences.

Liam
July 9, 2010 5:23 pm

“The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”
I was disgusted with Sci-Am running that issue, in just about every area of which I had personal knowledge Lomborg was right and his critics were wrong. Climate of Fear also attracts pro AGW attacks, but as a work of popular fiction it summarises the known science very well.

Liam
July 9, 2010 5:25 pm

Should have been State of Fear – late and tired.

John from CA
July 9, 2010 5:32 pm

OT:
Senate set for energy, environmental bill debate
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38173704/ns/politics
posted about 3:30 PT
WASHINGTON — Democrats in the U.S. Senate aim to debate in late July a bill clamping down on offshore oil drilling practices and fostering more alternative energy use, but no decision has been made on whether to include controversial climate change provisions, aides said on Friday.
Manley would not comment on whether the bill will include steps to put a price on carbon dioxide pollution as a way of tackling global warming.

Doug in Dunedin
July 9, 2010 5:40 pm

Dave H says @ July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am”
‘If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc.’
Consensus does not produce validity. It makes no sense to say consensus either validates or invalidates anything.
Doug

Brendan H
July 9, 2010 5:58 pm

“If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
The absolutist nature of this statement raises my sceptical antenna. I think there are several reasons why consensus, understood as general agreement, is an important feature of the practice of science.
1. Teachers of science need to be able to pass along an agreed body of knowledge to the next generation of scientists, so that students can gain a grounding in the subject and be able to communicate intelligibly with their fellows when they begin work as scientists. Some of those new scientists may rebel against their teaching and eventually produce a new consensus.
2. Some scientific advances occur though wholly original eureka! moments, but most scientific progress is incremental, building on previous work. This incremental progress constitutes the development of a consensus.
3. Resources are limited and need to be focused on the areas that are showing the most promise. Consensus is a means to identify those areas of promise.
4. Crichton’s notion of an independent reasearch institute sounds plausible, but in practice such research cannot be entirely open-ended. Various criteria would have to be applied as to which independent research shows promise, which is marginal, and which is out of contention. That will in turn require its own consensus to delimit the boundaries of acceptable independent research.
As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.

Jimmy Haigh
July 9, 2010 6:10 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
“Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.”
Well, he certainly wiped the floor with Gavin Schmidt. Not because he was tall – but because he was right.

tommy
July 9, 2010 6:22 pm

Great read indeed.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

chemman
July 9, 2010 6:30 pm

DavidS says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:40 am
Well said. It was the hardest part of teaching to get my science students to understand that the models weren’t reality.

Theo Goodwin
July 9, 2010 6:39 pm

Thanks so much for this wonderful article by Crichton. I knew the history that he covers. Like Crichton, I was conscious of all the history after 1960. I have taught much of this history, especially the Semmelweiss material, mining it for examples of scientific reasoning, good or bad. Unfortunately, today, presenting this article to a class of students would bring down the PC Inquisition. The remarks about smoking would be viewed as, well, criminal. So, in writing this comment, I feel that I am participating in a samizdat. Thanks for the thrill.

latitude
July 9, 2010 6:40 pm

“Brendan H says:
July 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm
As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.”
Brendan, I agree with you 100% on that statement and you list of reasons is also well thought out.
Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.

David L
July 9, 2010 6:41 pm

As a scientist i feel anyone that doesn’t agree with this excellent lecture will have a tough time being a true scientist such as Feynman and many other greats.

Gail Combs
July 9, 2010 6:44 pm

Peter Plail says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:30 am
Thank you, Anthony, for drawing this to our attention. Here is one predictive model (of human behaviour) that has subsequently proved only too correct.
I defy any warmist to read it and not feel shame.
_____________________________________
Actually they few here who read it seem threatened and immediately attack the essay to my surprise.
I though we all at least agreed on what science is, but I guess not. Looks like science is in even deeper kimchi than I first thought. We cant even agree on the definition of science.

pat
July 9, 2010 6:45 pm

how bizarre is this website, allegedly the official michael crichton website, but “State of Fear” topic is the only one locked plus further down there is:
The Science Forum
Discuss the science behind Michael Crichton’s books and films OTHER THAN THE SCIENCE DISCUSSED IN STATE OF FEAR.
http://crichton-official.com/phpBB3/index.php

Mooloo
July 9, 2010 6:46 pm

but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.
I’m not politically aligned to Crichton. I don’t find his words comforting.
It is a cheap shot to assume all that disagree with you on AGW do so because of their inherent political leanings. I am solidly left-wing and not socially conservative. I’m not religious and am very pro-science. I should be a candidate for belief in AGW.
However, I do have a post-graduate qualifications in Chemistry and I don’t believe the evidence for AGW so far presented to me. My political leanings are irrelevant.

Gail Combs
July 9, 2010 6:48 pm

DCC says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:36 am
But was it peer-reviewed?
____________________________
Given the number of scientists who visit this site, it is not only yes it is HELL YES.

Theo Goodwin
July 9, 2010 6:56 pm

Dave H, GeoFlynx, and no doubt others,
Would you please stop it with the ad hominems, please. If you have a critical comment about something Crichton says in the lecture, and you are willing to seriously explain your criticism rather than taking cheap shots, then make them. If not, stop acting like teenagers who resent coming to class.

West
July 9, 2010 6:58 pm

It was MC’s brilliant work in “State of Fear” that first alerted me to the fallacies of the AGW movement. I am an Geoscientist of long experiences and I had not examined their claims until then. Once I looked around a bit, I found a house of cards ready to drop. I work with computer models frequently and I’m here to tell you that models are interpretive, not predictive.

July 9, 2010 7:18 pm

Dave H says:
“I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations…”
Please post your ‘evidence’, your ‘experimental results’, and your ’empirical observations’ [eg, raw data], showing that AGW is a testable hypothesis.
By doing so you will have instantly solved the problem of the climate sensitivity number in a single post, by quantifying the effect of CO2 on temperature [if any], and you will be on the short list for the [now worthless] Nobel prize.
Ball’s in your court. Stay on point. And don’t keep us in suspense. Thanx.

Theo Goodwin
July 9, 2010 7:36 pm

Dave H writes:
“Hmm, well its a long speech and its been analysed thoroughly elsewhere over the years – I imagine anything I say here will be lost in the noise so I’ll keep it brief. Personally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.”
“> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. ”
“Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”
Galileo is the father of scientific method. Because experimental science cannot be understood except against the background of scientific method, Galileo is also the father of experimental science. If you haven’t studied Galileo’s original works then you have not experienced the birth of scientific method and experimental science. By the way, though they are highly rewarding, Galileo’s works are not for the faint of heart.
As a philosopher, I revere Galileo because he introduced critical method to science and introduced science to critical method. All non-specialized logic courses contain an introduction to scientific method. They must if they cover the fundamentals of critical reasoning. Science is a critical enterpise. Anyone who tells you differently is not a scientist but a salesman of “things scientific.”
Galileo made science critical. Before Galileo, science had proceeded within a framework of “consensus.” The scientists in the Inquisition were asserting their belief in scientific consensus against Galileo’s critical method. Copernicus had avoided the Inquisition by claiming that his work was “mere mathematics.” Kepler served a Protestant prince and thumbed his nose at consensus. So did Newton. There is no overriding authority in science and, for that reason, no consensus. We owe Galileo for that revelation. Einstein saluted when he said that one experimenter could prove him wrong. Today we understand that the idea of consensus belongs to politicians and other controlling bodies, not to science. Scientists answer only to the critical method of experiment.

Neo
July 9, 2010 7:40 pm

I kind of get the feeling that Michael Crichton would consider the phrase “scientific consensus” an oxymoron, or at least consider that with any given “scientific consensus” and five bucks, you could get a cup of coffee at StarBucks.

Karl Maki
July 9, 2010 8:12 pm

pat says:
July 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm
how bizarre is this website, allegedly the official michael crichton website, but “State of Fear” topic is the only one locked plus further down there is:
The Science Forum
Discuss the science behind Michael Crichton’s books and films OTHER THAN THE SCIENCE DISCUSSED IN STATE OF FEAR.

I suspect this only demonstrates, and sadly so, that the issue is so politicized — and even tinged with a religious fervor on the pro-AGW side — that it is impossible to maintain any semblance of reasoned discussion or debate on that topic. If that is the case it only proves, ironically, Dr. Crichton’s point that the current climate change debate is more cultural than scientific.

dkkraft
July 9, 2010 9:41 pm

Dave H – brave of you to comment here and credit to Anthony and moderators for having a site that supports open dialogue.
Great set of comments on the role of consensus and more eloquent than I can provide, so I will just add this. Consensus is a by-product of other processes, some scientific, some political and financial, all psychological. Fundamentally consensus is just not very important (to the validity of the science anyway).
Dave H you would do yourself a favour if you didn’t try to use consensus to defend the science. Try to use science to defend the science. From my observations, you will get a fair hearing here but your “physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations…” better be good, because what we have seen from others so far just adds to the uncertainty.

April E. Coggins
July 9, 2010 9:46 pm

Karl Maki: No, sorry, it is not hopeless. I don’t surrender my house because some whack job moved next door.

899
July 9, 2010 10:23 pm

Paul Daniel Ash says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:00 am
I think the independent research institute is a great idea. If there was research, done with open access to data sets and methods, that both ‘warmists” and “skeptics” could agree was rigorous and free from bias… well, we might actually get somewhere.
REPLY: No argument there, but keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world. -A
Government requires accountability for the taxes it allots for something, or at least it should, and other influences would also require such accountability, and justly so.
As I see things, the only time a piece of research should be taken as completely credible, is:
[A] when it has been independently researched, and the findings have been successfully repeated using both the same as well as different methods to arrive at the same conclusion(s).
OR
[B] The same research has been conducted elsewhere by other entities, not connected in any way with those of the original source(s) of funding.
AND
[C] No political connections of whatever sort may be seen as the driving force for the research and the results.

July 9, 2010 10:37 pm

LarryOldtimer said — July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm
One thing I do find rather amazing, however. Individuals or small groups who are really guilty or culpable of doing wrong in the eyes of society will most often deny their guilt or culpability, however guilty or culpable they might be, no matter the evidence against them, to their dying breaths. Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.
I have never thought of it, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can’t help but see how true this observation is. I feel sure that there is something of real, psychological significance here. Of course, we hate being wrong and will do almost anything to avoid looking wrong, regardless of the evidence — so that part’s not too puzzling. But it doesn’t explain why so many people who’ve done nothing wrong are yet so willing to take the blame.
I wonder if there can be a kind of “survivor’s guilt” mechanism at work here. Generally speaking, these mea culpa types are fairly well off, live comfortable life styles, and enjoy a great deal of personal freedom. As communications have become more global, and more immediate, it is almost impossible to remain unaware of all those millions of people who do not have the same standard of living. In fact, we are bombarded with this knowledge on a daily basis. The response might be to feel guilt at our fortune and to try assuaging this guilt by breast-beating and insisting that everyone should “live more simply.”
Don’t know, but you got me thinking, Larry.

Kate
July 9, 2010 11:45 pm

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm
“…There is broad agreement that observational data shows the earth is warming, and that the principle cause is human emissions of CO2…”
Actually, the complete opposite is true. Carbon dioxide has no effect whatsoever on climate, besides which at least 95% is produced naturally. In ancient times, when carbon dioxide levels were 10 times greater than today, there were ice sheets spreading down to the equator.

Ben
July 10, 2010 12:34 am

“The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer? Do you disagree that much of the health legislation surrounding smoking emerged precisely because there was a broad consensus on this issue, despite disagreement and uncertainty about specific details and risks? Should climate scientists pretend that there *isn’t* a consensus about the basics of AGW? Would that make the science more sound?
The existence of a consensus is not a sound basis for rejecting science.”
Troll feeding time…
Dave H, go read up on your statistical studies before you start to claim climate science today is sound. Until you understand stastistics, how can you understand how the computer models work which is entirely based on statistics? You are taking it on belief that climate scientists are correct. If they told you they proved the existance of eternal damnation, you would believe them on that too simply because it was printed in a “peer-reviewed” journal. You are just one of those following of the religion…the true believers…
But rejoice, there is still hope!
First step in over-coming your ill-formed beliefs is repeating after me…
“correlation does not equal causation.”
do that five times.
Now to be honest, I do disagree with you, smoking does not cause cancer. Smoking increases your chances of developing cancer. In statistics, this is the first crucial step to understanding the math and science that goes into this over-abused field.
You are right, a consensus is not a good reason to reject a scientific theory. A good reason is that the people who made the terrible computer models are immoral idiots just doing what their bosses wanted them to without thinking of the consequences. You do realize that people were convicted of war crimes for just “Following orders.” Should we put the same litmus test to the orders given to these scientists? Those who follow immoral laws should be held to the same standard as those who issued them?
Remember, some of us here study history and remember what happened in the aftermath of WW2.
My question for all the trolls today:
What do you hope to accomplish with your agenda?
1) posting on this site, whats your goals for this?
2) your overall commitment to GW. What is your goal for this agenda?
Troll feeding is done for the day, thank you for your time.

Smoking Frog
July 10, 2010 1:06 am

Dave H. –
There are two kinds of consensus: consensus about what should be done (or not done) about something, and consensus about the answer to a question (including “don’t know” and “not sure.”) Scientific consensus is of the 2nd kind. When we say that science does not work by consensus, we mean that it plays no role in finding the answer. Rather, it is an effect of having found the answer. If someone who has not investigated the question agrees with the answer, this is of no significance for whether the answer is correct. Even if, after an answer (right or wrong) has been found, he investigates the question, his agreement is unimportant, because there is no effective way to strongly distinguish him from other agreeing persons, whose agreement would be far less valuable. Indeed, there is not even any scientific way of knowing whether he has adequately investigated the question; agreement does not consist of anything that could be tested.
On the other hand, if he disagrees, this could be important, because his complaint with the answer, or his alternative answer, can be investigated or tested, and this does not depend on any a priori distinguishing of his opinion as valuable, except in the practical sense that we can’t check all complaints or alternative answers. In principle, disagreement is valuable for reaching the right answer, and agreement is not.
You may object to this by saying that science requires replication, and if several scientists replicate a result, this is important. That’s true, but their agreement with it is not what is important. What’s important is the fact that they replicated it. Any of them could recant, but this would not change the fact that he had replicated the result, unless his recanting consisted of showing that he had not.

Smoking Frog
July 10, 2010 1:17 am

me: we mean that it plays no role in finding the answer.
I meant to write, “we mean that consensus plays no role in finding the answer.”

toyotawhizguy
July 10, 2010 1:20 am

In a previous post I made a few month’s ago at WUWT, I pointed out that the percentage of the population that believes that UFO’s are extraterrestrial in origin is approximately the same as the percentage that believes that global warming is anthropogenic in nature. It has been my hypothesis that there is a large overlap in the membership of the two groups. At that time, I was completely unaware of Michael Crichton’s 2003 lecture.
A similar type of delusional thinking is also displayed by many persons in the “conspiracy corners”, you know the types, individuals which will accept every conspiracy theory in the solar system: “911 was an inside job”, “The government is covering up contact with extraterrestrials”, and the latest “The BP oil spill was done intentionally”.
BTW, the Drake equation has it’s detractors, myself included. A more appropriate statement of the Drake equation is as follows:
N = R x wild guess #1 x wild guess #2 x wild guess #3 x wild guess #4 x wild guess #5 x wild guess #6

Vincent
July 10, 2010 3:25 am

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm
Vincent says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm
> They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong.
And you replied:
“And a *new* consensus formed around the better explanation – so why should we distrust consensus again?”
But surely you have just proved my point, by agreeing that the old consensus was wrong. Ah wait. Are you actually saying that the old consensus was only “refined” into the new consensus, still sharing many features? If this is what you are in fact saying, then I must disagree. Many old consensus’ were not incorporated into the new consensus’ that replaced them. All those rejected consensus’ that have been previously mentioned on this blog have been rejected as 100% baloney. So Crichton and others are quite right to warn us about the dangers of embracing a hypothesis simply because there is a consensus. The hypothesis may be right, but the existence of the consensus does not add to the weight of the science in any way. Indeed, consensus itself acts as a form of positive feedback, further reinforcing believe in the hypothesis, as it circulates throughout society. Rather like the celebrity who is famous for being famous, the AGW hypothesis is pronounced true for no other reason than everyone says it is true. You yourself continue to offer consensus as your argument to the truth of AGW, so this rather proves Crichton’s point.
I said: > Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false.
You replied:
“No, in fact what he said was:
> If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
I think you’re agreeing with me then – he isn’t saying that every consensus must be false, only that it isn’t science. I assume you have a problem with that statement. Maybe you think consensus is science? Crichton is quite right to draw this distinction, and it is shocking that it needs saying. Science is based on a methodolgy of hypothesis, evidence gathering, testing and falsification – or not. Consensus shouldn’t come into the scientific method at all. Although we recognise that a consensus exists, it tells us very little, although, as someone pointed out on this blog, it does serve as a model for putting science into text books for children.
Regarding Bjorn Lomberg, I am not well up on the details, so I can’t form an opinion.

Bruce Cobb
July 10, 2010 3:56 am

Brendan H says:
July 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm
As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that. They don’t need to, as the evidence is indeed overwhelming, and quite obvious.
The Warmists however, do proclaim a scientific consensus that significant manmade warming has occurred due to his emissions of C02, and that the warming will continue and become catastrophic if those emissions are not decreased. Their use of the claim of scientific consensus has one purpose only: to shut down, and shout down debate. That is the point Crichton was so eloquently making.
So yes, consensus, as with the idea that the earth is a sphere is useful, but “In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.”
Unfortunately for the Warmists, that is not the case.

AW
July 10, 2010 4:06 am

An inspiring read – as others have commented, I wish I had read this in 2003! It is a comprehensive indictment of the depths to which science has fallen. Please, can we recover the inspirational heights at which non-scientists such as I had always perceived the scientist? Thanks also for the clarification of the copyright situation – I intend to distribute this widely!!

Bruce Cobb
July 10, 2010 4:30 am

Mooloo says:
July 9, 2010 at 6:46 pm
(Dave H) “…but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.”
I’m not politically aligned to Crichton. I don’t find his words comforting.
It is a cheap shot to assume all that disagree with you on AGW do so because of their inherent political leanings. I am solidly left-wing and not socially conservative. I’m not religious and am very pro-science. I should be a candidate for belief in AGW.

Not just a cheap shot but a logical fallacy, and only one of many in their bag o’ tricks they use, which includes of course, the argument by consensus. The trolls know, on some level, that the science behind CAGW/CC is extremely weak which is why they need to resort to logical fallacies. They don’t have much else.

Björn
July 10, 2010 4:43 am

This and the equally thought provoking essay about consensus in science published as an epilogue at the end of Crichton’s State of Fear novel that uses the “science” of eugenics as an example of how things can go wrong when such Lysenkoisms are used as a basis for public policy should be an obligatory read for everyone involved in the policy making process everywhere.

July 10, 2010 5:41 am

Simply brilliant.
As a physicist the only serious fault I must speak out about is his conclusion.
“Science” is not failing us, it is “scientists” who have departed from using real science.
Do Bill Clinton’s or Richard Nixon’s actions lead us to conclude that Democracy or our Constitution are wrong? Hardly. Their failings are only indicative of their individual shortcomings.
Such it is with science.
AGW and other technical matters MUST be subjected to the Scientific Method. That is applying real science.
They have not been, so real science has yet to be applied.
Our choice is simple: sound scientific solutions or palliative political pablum.
So far (due to intensive lobbyist influence) it has been entirely the latter.
See EnergyPresentation.Info.

Mike Edwards
July 10, 2010 5:51 am

Dave H says:
July 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm
The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer?

The most important aspect of science is not whether there is a consensus or not, but the nature of the scientific theories, models and data. There may be a consensus that smoking causes cancer – but the important things are the numerous studies that show this to be the case – the “consensus” is neither here nor there. As a counter example, there is the case of homeopathy, widely believed to be an effective form of medicine. In this case, there are very few convincing scientific studies that support the notion – and plenty of studies that show that homeopathy is no better a treatment than a placebo.
Switching to anthropogenic global warming. There may be a “consensus” amongst climate scientists that increasing levels of CO2 are the cause of the recent increases in global temperatures – but the reality is that the amount of hard evidence to back this up is actually paper thin and is largely based on computer modelling whose relationship to reality is highly questionable. Forget “social and political” resistance to the AGW hypothesis – there are plenty of scientific reasons to be highly skeptical of AGW.
Crichton is right to question the idea of “consensus” being used to bolster any particular aspect of science. To me, any consensus argument causes me to think of a familar catch-phrase: “Where’s the beef?” – i.e. pony up the data and the studies that back up the scientific claims.

Die Zauberflotist
July 10, 2010 6:31 am

Sg = Cn Md $Bo Sb Lc – Rc^2
Sg, the level of “Skeptic” gullibility = Crichton novels read x Monckton debates viewed x Big oil ties x # of Skeptic blog bookmarks on your computer x number of times you’ve cited LC09 minus Realclimate exposure squared

Richard M
July 10, 2010 6:44 am

I see another cAGW priest has attacked Crichton using the usual inane arguments. David H ignores the obvious message from the speech and attempts to support his belief system by taking one or two sentences out of context and then defining it in a way that he can attack. Woefully unscientific.
All David does is demonstrate yet again the lengths to which some people will stoop to support their belief system.

PNeilson
July 10, 2010 7:04 am

Am I missing something? Dave H referred to “thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies” as though Crichton’s talk was rife with them, but did not specify them. I searched through his later comments to see if he told us exactly what he was seeing as a problem, but did not find anything. (I think he did say they were all hashed out elsewhere, but I guess I overlooked exactly /where/ that “elsewhere” is.)
Dave H, could you please reiterate the specific misrepresentations and logical fallacies that Crichton used?
I’m sorry to be so fussy about this matter, but I very much enjoyed reading the talk, and felt that Crichton raised a valid distinction between genuine, reality-based science and enshrined but fantasy-based wishful thinking. If there are specific things wrong with what he said, I would like to know what they are, so that I can, after independent verification, cleanse my meager brain of beliefs masquerading as facts.

Karl Maki
July 10, 2010 7:07 am

April E. Coggins says:
July 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm
Karl Maki: No, sorry, it is not hopeless. I don’t surrender my house because some whack job moved next door.

Apologies — I should have made it clearer I was referring specifically to the difficulty of maintaining a civil discussion on Dr. Crichton’s website itself that probably led to comment boards on State of Fear being closed there. I was responding to Pat’s post, which observed that there was no access allowed to that part of Crichton’s site and that discussion of the science behind the book was discouraged. My intention was definitely not to suggest that we shouldn’t pursue reasoned discourse wherever possible, or that such pursuit is hopeless; quite the contrary, the conversation must be pursued in a sense of hope that real science will reassert itself and triumph in the end.

BBk
July 10, 2010 8:06 am

Dave H:
“Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”
Nonsense. As scientists do their work they may eventually ARRIVE at a consensus. The existance or non-existance of consensus has absolutely nothing to do with the actual reality. Crichton merely says that anyone that invokes “consensus” to prove something, is basically proving that the science isn’t so solid as to be considered fact.
“Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?”
And how did a collection of scientsts agreeing on certain atoms having certain number of protons, neutrons, etc, have anything to do with them actually having them?
Consensus may be a RESULT, and that result is a socialogical construct. The consensus isn’t science.
“Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”.”
And that’s not what Crichton said. You’ve either misunderstood or are deliberately misrepresenting him.

July 10, 2010 8:20 am

A couple notes:
I added this to my list (under development, suggestions welcome) of top WUWT pages at http://home.comcast.net/~ewerme/wuwt/ . Sometimes you make it so easy!
——————-
The Drake equation presented in the text:

Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL
[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

appears to continue typos or errors going back to the original transcript. The photo later on has it right.
http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=336 has what I’m familiar with:

The equation is usually written:
N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L
Where,
N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Wikipedia has concurs and answers the “obvious” question about R* being the rate of star formation (it ties into L), see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation

Northern Exposure
July 10, 2010 8:54 am

An oft comforting thought for myself these days is the belief that one day all of our current “skeptical/heretical” scientists will be vindicated via real-life observations of climatic chaos and the utter obvious ridiculousness of computer models.
In a nutshell, there will eventually come a time when alarmist scientists/politicians/media et al will no longer be able to utilize AGW as the causation du jour.
Computer model prediction will inevitably be the death of AGW.
The arctic ice is melting.
Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
The arctic ice will disappear.
Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
The arctic ice is melting at an unprecidented rate.
Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
The arctic ice will disapppear in the summer.
Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
We can predict how much the arctic ice will melt.
Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.

Robert Kral
July 10, 2010 9:20 am

Dave H says: “This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works.”
In his lecture Crichton provided several concrete examples of situations where the consensus was wrong, and severely so. Quite clearly this negates your argument. It’s specious to claim that because correct theories are generally accepted, that means science operates by consensus. Such theories (gravitation, the atomic theory of matter) are exhaustively supported by hard data and it’s not necessary to keep running the same experiments. That’s a completely different matter than claiming an idea is correct because a certain group of people agrees, despite the fact that their agreement is based on conjecture and is not well supported by the available hard data. Note that Crichton emphasizes, correctly, that the output of computer models does not constitute data.
Your entire argument so far has been semantic rather than factual. I find that revealing.

John Cooper
July 10, 2010 9:35 am

I can’t find it on the Internet, but I have a .pdf of Bjørn Lombard’s “Perspective on Climate Change” on my hard drive. In his introduction, he states his position as:

1. Global warming is real and man-made. This point has been made in many places, but perhaps most strongly and convincingly by the IPCC (2007a).
2. Statements about the strong, ominous and immediate consequences of global warming are often wildly exaggerated, as I will show below.
3. We need a stronger focus on smart solutions rather than excessive if well-intentioned efforts.
4. We need – as this hearing asks for – to put global warming in perspective. Climate change is not the only issue on the global agenda, and actually one of the issues where we can do the least good first.

Theo Goodwin
July 10, 2010 11:16 am

The best that can be said for the concept of “consensus” in science is that each and every consensus will become an artifact. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and many other scientists have pushed beyond consensus. The cases of Galileo and Newton are especially important because each created (CREATED) something that did not exist at all in the earlier consensus. For Galileo, it was the hypotheses governing the motion of projectiles near the surface of Earth, though Galileo’s concepts were crude because he lacked the math, and for Newton it was the calculus and the synthesis of Kepler’s laws and Galileo’s laws that the calculus enabled him to state precisely. Therefore, the concept of “consensus” might be important in the history of science and in the teaching of undergraduate science, but it is not important to the process and progress of scientists doing scientific work. When they go into lab they might design their experiments in ways that are approved in scientific journals, but after that initial design all that matters is the scientist’s creativity and what she discovers. Each discovery is written up in way that the relevant experiments can be reproduced by other scientists. If the results are reproducible, there is initial success. If the results are not reproducible, as in the notorious case of “cold fusion,” the work is discarded because it is of no interest to anyone. “Consensus” contributes nothing to the work of mature scientists or to the evaluation of their work. Science is the creation of hypotheses and the exploration and testing of hypotheses through experiment. In a phrase, science is creativity and criticism.

John
July 10, 2010 11:29 am

Robert Kral says (about Dave H):

Your entire argument so far has been semantic rather than factual. I find that revealing.

Indeed, playing ducks and drakes with the word “consensus” was exactly Crichton’s point:

“In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results…If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

Yes, Dave H, there may well be a consensus inscience about any number of things, but Crichton makes the point that where there is such a consensus, you come across as more than a little odd pointing it out. What he is emphasising is that consensus does not equal science, and is thus irrelevant either way.
Robert also makes the point:

Note that Crichton emphasizes, correctly, that the output of computer models does not constitute data.

Indeed. If anything, computer models constitute mere anecdote, not data.

Richard
July 10, 2010 11:31 am

Michael Crichton’s discussion of the futility of attempting to forecast the future is right on. Gore and his sycophants would have us bankrupt the developed world to solve world problems that exist only in their fertile imaginations. Just as people in 1900 could not foresee an oil and internet based economy people today cannot foresee the economy of 2100 (or 2050 for that matter). Thirty years ago I graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the nation yet the state of the art computing capability of this leading edge university consisted of several IBM mainframes programmed using paper punch cards. Today, students at this same university do their programming on notebook computers that far surpass the capabilities of the multimillion dollar mainframes of thirty years ago.
Global warming alarmists would bankrupt the West and vastly undermine the quality of life of all Americans by attempting to reduce Carbon emissions without evidence that these emissions will have an appreciable impact on global climate. Similar purveyors of pseudo-science want us to all die in unsafe micro Obamamobiles, ride Tokyo style packed like sardines into mass transit, and move out of our nice four bedroom split level ranch houses into “earth friendly” Soviet style apartments so that we can “save the world” from running out of oil; that despite the fact that the world has adequate oil, coal, and natural gas to meet our needs for the next thousand years.
The problem with each of the above groups of alarmists is that they project current experience into the future. Global warming fanatics assume that random variation in climate statistics will continue to increase and they assume that this random variation is caused by carbon dioxide. The earth is running out of oil alarmists lack a fundamental understanding of how the amount of oil in the world is forecast. True, the earth is running out of oil that can be profitably extracted for $20 per barrel. However, there are almost infinite quantities of oil that can be extracted from deep sea oil wells, oil shale, tar sands, coal liquefaction, the Bakken formation in Wyoming/Montana, and thousands of undiscovered locations for $60 or $70 per barrel. In the past, $50 per barrel to extract oil deposits were worthless and ignored since the price of oil was less than $50. This means that when the world runs out of oil as the alarmists predict the impact will not be that we won’t have oil to heat our houses or drive our cars but that we’ll have to start paying $3 or $4 per gallon for our gas (hmm, sounds familiar).
Of course, none of this will actually come to pass since within 30 years our oil economy will go the way of 1900’s hay based economy as commercial fusion reactors come on line and the availability of extremely inexpensive, nonpolluting, and limitless fusion power makes “expensive” oil consuming electrical power plants and cars obsolete overnight.
In other words, it makes no difference if Gore is right or wrong about Global Warming and it doesn’t matter if we run out of oil or not. Unless some better technology comes along between now and 2040 Fusion power will transform our economy in ways we cannot currently imagine and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. Either way, the greatest threat is that the alarmist will prevail and destroy our economy in order to protect us from threats that do not exist.

Jaye Bass
July 10, 2010 12:40 pm

Regarding “consensus”…a scientific theory is never, ever fact just something that has so far not been falsified. All it takes is one counter example and the theory is kaput. Consensus as proof is nonsense especially considering the number of experiments that it takes to destroy the consensus…one.

maelstrom
July 10, 2010 12:49 pm

Anthony Watts,
Your reposting this has created waves. Well done.

Karl Maki
July 10, 2010 1:03 pm

Jaye Bass says:
July 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm
Regarding “consensus”…a scientific theory is never, ever fact just something that has so far not been falsified.

One of my favorite scientific concepts is commonly referred to as Hawkin’s Theory of Progress:
Progress does not consist of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.

pressed rat
July 10, 2010 2:12 pm

He was a believer and lover of science. He hated its corruption by those with political agendas. But corrupt it is. The National Academy of Sciences is rotten with political corruption. It has become the New Orthodoxy. Easily equal in vile intellectual sickness and guile with the decadent Medieval Church. It makes me want to vomit.

Theo Goodwin
July 10, 2010 2:21 pm

Climategaters are totally averse to criticism. They do not criticize one another, unless for a momentary lapse from the party line. The groups that have recently issued reports on Climategate are equally averse to criticism. They criticize nothing in the behvior of Climategaters and nothing in the so-called science itself. This aversion to criticism should be recognized for the huge red flag that it is. Anyone who has worked with scientists in the lab will testify that they constantly criticize one another, but they are mature scientists who have no aversion to criticism. Climategaters are not scientists. They are advocates for statism and they have hijacked a science in its infancy, climate science, as a vehicle for their statism.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 2:41 pm

latitude: “Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.”
AGW dissenters should be free to express their views. However, not all views are of equal value, in which case it becomes a matter of opinion and judgement as to which views should be given serious attention, and which should be dismised.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 2:44 pm

Bruce Cobb: “There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that.”
That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted. In climate science there is strong resistance to the consensus, hence the need to communicate the consensus view.
“…and that the warming will continue and become catastrophic if those emissions are not decreased.”
There is a range of scientific views on the future effects of warming, and not all of them could be called “catastrophic”.
“In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.”
For the reasons I gave above, I think consensus is very relevant to the practice of science, which is not a disembodied process but is carried out by human beings in a social context. For example, the judgement of what constitutes a replication in any particular case is a judgement made by human beings.

July 10, 2010 2:55 pm

Brendan H says: July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm
That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted. In climate science there is strong resistance to the consensus, hence the need to communicate the consensus view.
Actually, no. I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it. They argue on the evidence that has been the foundation for this consensus, such as the fact that the bottom part of a ship disappears over the horizon before the mast. “Arguing” by means of stating a supposed consensus (especially when the argument concerns whether or not there is such a consensus) is not, as Crichton was trying to point out, not an actual argument.
Look at it this way. You’re teaching a class of grade schoolers about geography and some kid who’s read a book by flat earthers starts arguing. Does the teacher shut him up by saying, “Everybody agrees it’s round, so forget it”? If so, that’s a very, very bad teacher. What any teacher with an ounce of integrity does is provide the evidence.
Provide the evidence — that’s the way to convince people you’re right. If there is valid consensus, it’s because there is valid and ample evidence. So provide the evidence.
It’s really not a bloody difficult idea to grasp.

July 10, 2010 3:12 pm

Thanks Anthony,
State of Fear opened my eyes and provided Web links to open my mind.
Thanks Michael Crichton!
Good discusion too.

DirkH
July 10, 2010 3:23 pm

Theo Goodwin says:
July 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm
“Climategaters are totally averse to criticism. They do not criticize one another, unless for a momentary lapse from the party line. The groups that have recently […]”
Yeah yeah go ahead. Your side’s been proven wrong – last 10 years, no warming – and the sea ice trend doesn’t look good for the warmist side. NOAA predicts a massive cooling. Try to find a cultist deprogramming expert before it’s too late for you to abandon your boneheaded beliefs.

Roger Knights
July 10, 2010 4:00 pm

@DirkH:
By “climategaters,” Theo meant The Team.

DirkH
July 10, 2010 4:18 pm

Roger Knights says:
July 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm
“@DirkH:
By “climategaters,” Theo meant The Team.”
Dangit. People, can’t you just call them Hockey team… my bad.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 5:07 pm

PNeilson: “Dave H, could you please reiterate the specific misrepresentations and logical fallacies that Crichton used?”
I cannot speak for others, and I make no claims about logical fallacies, but Crichton’s argument depends on at least a couple of crucial points.
First, he links the search for alien intelligence to AGW. His argument is that the SETI project opened the way to a degradation in science, as in this claim:
“The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage…meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.”
Phrenology had many adherents over a long period of time. Why did SETI bring about “a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure”, but not phrenology? The latter was all about measurement, and enjoyed a long vogue.
Further, Crichton makes this comment: “…Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.”
But these are not “consensus” errors. If they are errors, they are scientific errors, and the consensus reflects that science.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 5:09 pm

Frank Lee Mei Dere: “I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it.”
I am not making that argument. Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.

Richard M
July 10, 2010 6:04 pm

Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm
For the reasons I gave above, I think consensus is very relevant to the practice of science, which is not a disembodied process but is carried out by human beings in a social context. For example, the judgement of what constitutes a replication in any particular case is a judgement made by human beings.
A very sad view indeed. And I think an example of why many in science should not be in science.

Dr. John M. Ware
July 10, 2010 6:13 pm

I got through maybe a third of the comments, and several times I found the word “consensus” misused, especially in statements that much of science is, indeed, based on consensus. Let us be clear about what consensus means: It is a predominance of opinion, informed or not, correct or not, verifiable or not. A scientific fact is assented to, not by consensus, but by acceptance of reliable proof. To say that there is a consensus that water at sea level boils at 212 degrees F is nonsense: we accept it, not because x per cent of authorities say they think it is so, but because it has been proven, measured, shown beyond doubt. Consensus is what the administrator or department head tries to achieve among his staff or colleagues concerning some possible upcoming action. He does not talk about consensus when he says, “Your annual reports are due next Tuesday.” That’s a fact; consensus is irrelevant.
The whole issue of consensus among scientists concerning AGW is a monstrous red herring, having nothing to do with truth, accuracy, or science. Scientific facts are not decided by majority vote, but by proof.

899
July 10, 2010 6:24 pm

John says:
July 10, 2010 at 11:29 am
[–snip for brevity–]
Indeed. If anything, computer models constitute mere anecdote, not data.

I would take that even further and remark that the output from whatever ‘climate’ computer program is nought but a contrived result from a set of propositions, themselves not related to anything but the entirely abstract.
Climate programs will continue to produce garbage results, if only that they do not take into consideration the entirety of every geophysical aspect of the natural world.
Nothing much happens in a vacuum.

Robert Kral
July 10, 2010 6:32 pm

Brendan H, it strikes me that you are deliberately missing the point. Crichton’s examples are examples of when a “consensus”, widely shared but inadequately supported by hard evidence, turned out to be severely wrong. By extension, the argument is that the “consensus” about AGW is inadequately supported by hard evidence. I find it telling that you don’t want to face this argument. I also find it telling that the AGW proponents are so unwilling to share their data, and in many cases seem to be completely unable to produce the original, unmanipulated weather records that are supposedly the basis of their models.
It’s really not that complicated unless you’re trying to squirt ink in the water and make your escape.

Theo Goodwin
July 10, 2010 6:54 pm

Brendan H. asks:
“Phrenology had many adherents over a long period of time. Why did SETI bring about “a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure”, but not phrenology? The latter was all about measurement, and enjoyed a long vogue.”
In emphasizing SETI, I think Crichton was thinking about one of the first to achieve “Al Gore” status, namely, Carl Sagan. Sagan shared the “Al Gore” weakness of emphasizing theatre at the expense of thought.

899
July 10, 2010 7:09 pm

Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm
latitude: “Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.”
AGW dissenters should be free to express their views. However, not all views are of equal value, in which case it becomes a matter of opinion and judgement as to which views should be given serious attention, and which should be dismised (sic).
But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?
THINK: They dismiss us with the most effete of casualness, if only because they think we’re not deserving of any consideration, i.e., we’re dismissed.

899
July 10, 2010 7:27 pm

Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm
Frank Lee Mei Dere: “I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it.”
I am not making that argument. Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but from the American Heritage English Dictionary, we find this definition:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
con·sen·sus
n.
1. An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole: “Among political women . . . there is a clear consensus about the problems women candidates have traditionally faced” Wendy Kaminer. See Usage Note at redundancy.
2. General agreement or accord: government by consensus.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.
And as we know –or should know– opinion is NOT science in any way, manner, fashion, shape, or form.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 7:40 pm

Robert Kral: “…you are deliberately missing the point…unless you’re trying to squirt ink in the water and make your escape.”
Richard, I’m happy to have a conversation, but not at this level. Raise your game and we can proceed.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 7:43 pm

Theo Goodwin: “In emphasizing SETI, I think Crichton was thinking about one of the first to achieve “Al Gore” status, namely, Carl Sagan. Sagan shared the “Al Gore” weakness of emphasizing theatre at the expense of thought.”
In his time, TH Huxley was a superstar of science. His famous put-down of Wilberforce was theatrical and scarcely scientific. Should Huxley’s celebrity status and theatricality invalidate evolution? And theatricality is not unknown in climate scepticism.
Whether the theatricality is at the expense of thought will depend on the evidence and one’s views on the subject.
The fact that a scientific subject attracts celebrity, or becomes a celebrity in its own right, says nothing about the validity of the science.

Theo Goodwin
July 10, 2010 7:49 pm

Brendan H. writes:
“Whether the theatricality is at the expense of thought will depend on the evidence and one’s views on the subject.”
You are a troll. You are here to make noise. If you were serious about your questions, you would read the posts above and find all your questions answered.

Robert Kral
July 10, 2010 8:23 pm

Brendan H, you refuse to answer any of the substantive points raised in my posts and then you pretend that I need to “raise the level” before you condescend to anwer me. You can’t even get my name right, although I use my full name and you don’t.
Don’t bother to respond unless you have something substantial to say that doesn’t involve obfuscation about the meaning of “consensus”. We’ve already dealt with that point.

Brendan H
July 10, 2010 8:56 pm

899: “But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?”
I’m not sure who is claiming that the science is settled, or which parts of it, but in the case of scientific judgement, somebody has to decide that x is worthwhile, y is a dead-end. The people who are qualified to do that are, in my view, the scientists who have experience in the subject.
“Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.”
The definition also notes: “general agreement”. This is the basis for the AGW consensus, and it is based on the scientific evidence. In other words, the convergence of evidence from climate and related sciences has convinced a sufficient proportion of scientists that the atmosphere is warming.
This totality of scientific evidence and judgement comprises what we refer to as the “consensus” around AGW.
Some people might cavil at the fact that human judgement is brought to bear on scientific evidence. Human beings are certainly fallible, but until we can find a way to cut out the middleman, for the foreseeable future science will be carried out by human beings in their role as scientists.

July 10, 2010 9:38 pm

There is “Three Speeches by Michael Crichton”, at http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/commentaries_essays/crichton_three_speeches.html (Michael Crichton, December 11, 2009)

July 10, 2010 10:04 pm

I found just “The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming”, at http://michaelsantomauro.blogspot.com/2009/11/michael-crichton-case-for-skepticism-on.html (Michael Crichton, National Press Club, January 25, 2005)

899
July 10, 2010 11:17 pm

Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
899: “But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?”
I’m not sure who is claiming that the science is settled, or which parts of it, but in the case of scientific judgement, somebody has to decide that x is worthwhile, y is a dead-end. The people who are qualified to do that are, in my view, the scientists who have experience in the subject.
That’s dissemblance. You would declare that because a mere majority of whatever group happens to believe a certain way, why the rest of must be hijacked into virtual slavery as a result!
Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
“Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.”
The definition also notes: “general agreement”. This is the basis for the AGW consensus, and it is based on the scientific evidence. In other words, the convergence of evidence from climate and related sciences has convinced a sufficient proportion of scientists that the atmosphere is warming.
This totality of scientific evidence and judgement comprises what we refer to as the “consensus” around AGW.

THAT is the essence of rank epistemological reductionism!
Surely you have something better than that to offer …
Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
Some people might cavil at the fact that human judgement is brought to bear on scientific evidence. Human beings are certainly fallible, but until we can find a way to cut out the middleman, for the foreseeable future science will be carried out by human beings in their role as scientists.
Ah! So you’re for the questionable ‘middlemen’ doing the science, then?
Do you really understand the essence of the term ‘credibility?’

Brendan H
July 11, 2010 3:46 am

Robert Kral: “Don’t bother to respond unless you have something substantial to say that doesn’t involve obfuscation about the meaning of “consensus”. We’ve already dealt with that point.”
Sorry about the name. However, if you want a conversation, throwing an insult is a bad start. And now you compound the insult by accusing me of “obfuscation”. You seem to be having some difficulty grasping this conversation thing.

Brendan H
July 11, 2010 3:48 am

899: “You would declare that because a mere majority of whatever group happens to believe a certain way, why the rest of must be hijacked into virtual slavery as a result!”
No, I wouldn’t declare that, 899.
“THAT is the essence of rank epistemological reductionism!”
Que?
“Ah! So you’re for the questionable ‘middlemen’ doing the science, then?”
I wouldn’t say “questionable”, 899. Didn’t Sir Muir Russell describe climate scientists as men (and some women) of honour and integrity? Which is just as well, given the enormous responsibility that these men (and some women) are shouldering on our behalf, and on behalf of the 6bn people who inhabit this planet.
“Do you really understand the essence of the term ‘credibility?’”
Que?

July 11, 2010 4:17 am

Brendan H:
“The fact that a scientific subject attracts celebrity, or becomes a celebrity in its own right, says nothing about the validity of the science.”
That is not the problem. The problem is that the alarmist crowd lies about the ‘science’.

Bruce Cobb
July 11, 2010 4:58 am

Brendan H says:
July 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm
Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.
Yes! Finally, we are getting somewhere.
A claimed “consensus” is not scientific evidence. It is, as has been pointed out, nothing more than a red herring. In the case of AGW/CC, the reason the claim of consensus is made is because, in fact, the scientific evidence is extremely weak.
The consensus claim is simply used to try to hide that, to persuade the unwary, and to shut down debate.

Larry
July 11, 2010 5:14 am

Andres Valencia says:
July 10, 2010 at 10:04 pm
I found just “The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming”, at http://michaelsantomauro.blogspot.com/2009/11/michael-crichton-case-for-skepticism-on.html (Michael Crichton, National Press Club, January 25, 2005)
****
Thanks for this link. There must be another story here. Your link connects back to http://www.michaelcrichton.net BUT that site has been scrub clean of any link or reference to these speeches. What’s up with that?
The other link you provided to SSPI could also be said to be a biased website. Where is the evidence that Michael Crichton actually made these speeches? When did his website lose these speeches?

July 11, 2010 6:08 am

Re Michael Crichton’s idea of an independent scientific Institute,

Paul Daniel Ash says:
July 9, 2010 at 10:19 am
keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world.
It would seem like the pooled funds would make influence like pushing a rope. I’d say transparency, transparency, transparency should be the mandate of this institute. . .

The biggest problem would be to keep the Institute from adopting political agendas and causes and becoming an even more mammoth version of the IPCC. You’d have to find a way to build in safeguards against the Institute’s directors having any interests beyond the rigorous application of the scientific method. That’s a tough row to hoe, considering that they would be making decisions at every point about who gets grants and who doesn’t.
We need a way of encouraging truly independent scientific research, uncontaminated
by funds from governments or other entities interested in seeing the results go in a particular direction.
/Mr Lynn

DirkH
July 11, 2010 6:23 am

Larry says:
July 11, 2010 at 5:14 am
“[…] Where is the evidence that Michael Crichton actually made these speeches? […]”
Yeah, and where is the evidence that he actually wrote State Of Fear. Let’s spread some more FUD, Larry, shall we?
Even the warmist bully central Wikipedia allows to mention these speeches.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#cite_note-28

July 11, 2010 6:46 am

Larry,
You wrote: “There must be another story here. Your link connects back to http://www.michaelcrichton.net BUT that site has been scrub clean of any link or reference to these speeches. What’s up with that?”
I don’t know why the “Official” website eliminated all contents showing MC was not a believer, but they did.
You also wrote: “SSPI could also be said to be a biased website”, this could be said, but not without proof.

Karl Maki
July 11, 2010 7:35 am

Larry says:
July 11, 2010 at 5:14 am
Where is the evidence that Michael Crichton actually made these speeches? When did his website lose these speeches?

Dr. Crichton’s website links to several videos of him discussing the subject:
http://www.crichton-official.com/videos.html

Larry
July 11, 2010 7:48 am

Dirk H.>
Yeah, and where is the evidence that he actually wrote State Of Fear.
***
Well, the ‘official website’ has this link http://www.michaelcrichton.com/books-stateoffear-plot.html
So why is his website being scrubbed of these essays? There must be another story behind that.

Robert Kral
July 11, 2010 8:08 am

Thanks for proving my point, Brendan. Once again you fail to respond in a substantive way and persist in being snotty. That’s the trademark of someone who knows the facts are not on his side.
[reply] Steady now. I’ve approved this post but I’m keeping an eye open. RT-mod