Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Defense of Climate Skepticism

In my first post on Global Warming I said that I basically agree with a speech that Michael Crichton gave in Washington DC.

I got a comment from Fris, who doesn't interact with the arguments that Crichton makes in the speech I cited. Rather, Fris brings up Crichton's fictional novel, State of Fear. Admitting that he has not yet read it, Fris says that he has
read several reviews of the book and deconstructions of [its] thesis.
Fris cites one review of the book, found here. After an introduction, the review proceeds thusly:
As he intones in his epigraph, ''Footnotes are real.''

But are they? Certainly Crichton's numerous citations refer to actual scientific publications. But in many cases, they also reference the work of scientists who accept the mainstream scientific view that human greenhouse gas emissions fuel global climate change.

(emphases mine)
I don't get it. If Crichton's citations refer to actual scientific publications, how are they not "real" footnotes?

As for the fact that many of the works cited are written by scientists who disagree with Crichton's conclusions, this is something he readily admits in the book. But think about it...

The fact that Crichton uses facts provided by legitimate scientists, many of whom happen to disagree with his conclusions, validates his citations, not undermines them!

And as for Crichton's conclusions, you should evaluate his arguments on your own. Don't doubt yourself and make a blunder out of fear.

The rest of the article is mediocre. If you want an even better criticism of Crichton's novel, try this one.

After, Fris cites the "Literary significance and criticism" section of the Wikipedia entry on the novel and calls it
pretty compelling.
This section simply says that the novel
received strong criticism from climate scientists,[1][2][3][4][5] science journalists[6][7] and environmental groups[8][9]...

The novel received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) 2006 Journalism Award.

State of Fear: Literary significance and criticism. (2007, October 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:49, October 24, 2007, Available online.
What are we to be compelled to believe? It is a fact that the novel received those criticisms and that journalism award.

Then Fris cites his
Physicist friends
who are
not climatologists
but, he assures us,
their minds have... a scientific bent and a genuine interest in the global climate change phenomenon.
Fris testifies that they are
all of the opinion that evidence for the current global warming trend being inexorably linked to the activities of mankind is conclusive.
Now, I appreciate the information that Fris' friends hold such an opinion, but I can only give so much weight to it when I calculate the net evidence on either side of the issue.

What would be more persuasive is if I could actually see the conclusive evidence that persuaded them in the first place, since I would then have the opportunity to evaluate it for myself.

It's just that with testimonies on either side of the issue I am simply forced to do my best to examine and evaluate the evidence and make up my own mind, even though I respect and weight the positions of others.

Fris concludes
My feeling is that State of Fear, like The Da Vinci Code has people taking fiction for fact. The difference being Dan Brown clearly states that his book is made up whereas Michael Crichton claims his is grounded in fact.
Well, Crichton's fictional novel is just that, and he never denies it. But even his critics consent to the only factual claim he makes: that his footnotes reference genuine scientific articles.

Not that it's relevant to Global Warming, but I refer you to Wikipedia regarding Dan Brown's claims that his book is grounded in fact:
The book opens with the claim by Dan Brown that "The Priory of Sion- A European secret society founded in 1099- is a real organization" and that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents [...] and secret rituals in this novel are accurate"; but this claim is disputed by almost all academic scholars in the fields the book discusses [10]. The Priory of Sion itself was not a real secret society established in 1099 but actually a hoax created in 1956 by a Mr. Pierre Plantard.

As widely noted in the media, there has been substantial confusion among readers about whether the book is factual. Numerous works have been published that explain in detail why any claim to accuracy is difficult to substantiate, while two lawsuits have been brought alleging plagiarism in The Da Vinci Code. The second, by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail claiming textual infringement of copyright, was found in Dan Brown's favor.

Dan Brown himself dilutes the suggestion of some of the more controversial aspects being fact on his web site: "The "FACT" page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader." [11]. However, it also says that "these real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters", "it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit." and "the secret behind The Da Vinci Code was too well documented and significant for me to dismiss." It is therefore entirely understandable why there would continue to be confusion as to what is the factual content of the book.

Brown's earlier statements about the accuracy of the historical information in his book, however, were far more strident. In 2003, while promoting his novel, he was asked in interviews what parts of the history in his novel actually happened. He replied "Absolutely all of it." In a 2003 interview with CNN's Martin Savidge he was again asked how much of the historical background was true. He replied, "99 percent is true ... the background is all true". Asked by Elizabeth Vargas in an ABC News special if the book would have been different if he had written it as non-fiction he replied, "I don't think it would have." [12] More recently Brown has avoided interviews and has been rather more circumspect about the accuracy of his claims in his few public statements. He has also, however, never retracted any of his earlier assertions that the history in the novel is accurate, despite substantial academic criticism of his claims.

The Da Vinci Code. (2007, October 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:40, October 24, 2007. Available online.


  1. Fris spoke to Crichton's book The State of Fear as opposed to the transcription of his speech as Fris' understanding is that Crichton's speech's position, his personal position is the same as that of the hero's in the book and is based on the same information presented both explicitly and by reference therein.

    The review I refer to is not a review of the book as a novel, but an examination of the information the author based his fiction on. The point of the review is that Crichton has cherry picked facts that support his thesis and presented them out of context. This is what the article's author Chris Mooney's question "but are they?", in response to The State of Fear's epigraph saying it's footnotes are real, was in reference to. It was a turn of phrase. But then I'm fairly certain you knew that. Just as I know that when you say you're a "climate skeptic" you don't mean that you doubt the existence of a climate.

    That Crichton uses facts provided by legitimate scientists out of context validates only his facility for spin.

    Fris did not cite nor call compelling the "Literary significance and criticism" section of the Wikipedia entry on the novel. Fris cited and called compelling the REFERENCES in the "Literary significance and criticism" section of the Wikipedia entry on the novel. References like the review of the book you linked above. Fris felt citing said references seemed more efficient than doing this:

    Fris mentioned his discussions with his science minded friends conversationally as one reason he is not himself a climate skeptic. He did not realize his anecdote would be treated as sworn testimony and cross examined. As Fris sipped his coffee and hunt and pecked his keyboard, he knew neither that he was trying to persuade or that hearsay wouldn't be accepted to that end. This probably why he began his closing paragraph with, "My feeling is that...", and not "One must conclude that...".

    As for direct testimony from Fris' fysicist friends Mike, Al and Phillip, Mike doesn't blog and Al has only really blogged on space exploration and the aerospace industry (did I mention Al's a rocket scientist? Al's a rocket scientist). Phillip on the other hand (though not specifically a rocket scientist, he has designed experiments that have flown on shuttles past) blogs a lot.

    Here's Phillip's blog. By all means, go through the data he offers and his reasoning and decide for yourself.

    In regards to Dan Brown, like the man in orthopedic shoes, Fris stands corrected. He had never paid much attention to Dan Brown but was under the impression that Mr. Brown was always clear that his book was a fiction inspired by unproven conspiracy theories and speculation.

    -Fris out.


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