“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.” — Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) wrote 26 novels, many of which were made into movies such as Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, WestWorld and The Great Train Robbery. More people may know him as the creator and producer of the highly acclaimed TV series ER. He graduated Harvard Medical school in 1969 but never practiced medicine. Instead he used his medical and biology knowledge to create stories related to much of his training.
Crichton showed an early writing talent having published an article in the New York Times at age 14, so it was not surprising to his family that he chose to pursue this career. During it all he was a true advocate of REAL science untarnished by the politics that tends to guide it today. He exhibited this passion in a series of lectures from 2003 to 2005 and in his book “State of Fear” published in 2004 challenging the global warming fraud in a gripping fictional presentation.
This series of articles at CFACT is drawn from the following three lectures: Aliens Cause Global Warming presented at California Institute of Technology on January 17, 2003, Environmentalism Is A Religion, presented to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on September 15, 2003 and The Case For Skepticism on Global Warming presented on January 25, 2005 to the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
His title at Cal Tech sounded humorous but it paved the way to describing questions with no physical evidence. He believed that there was an emerging crisis between science and politics which distorted the science he grew up with. That science extended life spans, fed the hungry, cured diseases and shrunk the world with jet planes and cell phones . He had expected “science to banish the evils of human thought, prejudice and superstition”. In this lecture he made the case for how science has been “seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity”.
He chose to focus on the many ways science wasted its resources investigating things with no physical data to support it. He first attacked the delusion involved in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, known as the SETI project. A sound was heard at the National Radio Observatory in West Virginia in 1960. While it proved to have been incorrectly interpreted, it led people to make equations relating to the number of stars in the Milky Way and how statistically they could point to intelligent life sending us messages. None of the terms in the equations could be known or tested, so it was an adventure in guesses. SETI was never science but did become a religion for many. The comparison to everything that followed in the global warming delusion is amazing. Yet it has been long forgotten by most of you reading this article remembering the intellect of Michael Crichton.
What Crichton recognized then was how SETI being accepted among so many scientists in unrelated fields was opening 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”.
He then jumped a decade into the 1970s and took on the false fear mongering government reports on the so-called “nuclear winter” that could result from a nuclear war. Reports written with no data, only speculation. Ultimately groups of scientists showed up with equations once again having terms that could only be guessed at. Sadly the well known astronomer Carl Sagan signed on with doom and gloom predictions in a field he new nothing about. Dozens of appearances on the Johnny Carson show appeared to swell his knowledge of EVERYTHING. This lead to Sagan co-chairing a conference with that most famous charlatan Paul Ehrlich in Washington,DC on the long term consequences of nuclear war.
As destruction of all agriculture was considered a given, a questioner pointed out that while scientists thought nothing would grow at Hiroshima and Nagasaki for 75 years after the1945 Atomic Bomb explosions, a large melon crop grew the next year. Ehrlich brushed the question aside and said “what we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group of scientists.”
It was here in Crichton’s lecture that he made a statement that everyone in the world today should read and learn.
He said, “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.” Sound familiar.
He went on to say “ 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 the results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. In fact the greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with consensus”.
This has occurred all through the search for medical cures and in physics as well. Einstein responded to the book 100 German Scientists Who Disagree with Einsteins Theory of Relativity by saying “It should only have taken one to prove me wrong”.
A major point Crichton made in this speech was that as the 20th century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. The rise of specialized advocacy groups was now effective at shaping policy without scientific data. Contributing to this has been the complacency among the scientific profession and the lack of good science education among the public. Additionally he said the decline of the media as an independent assessors of facts has been unfortunate. Newspapers now mix editorial opinion and factual content on their front pages.
Crichton questioned when the term “skeptic” became a dirty word requiring quotation marks around it. He spoke of the growing obsession with computer models back in 2003 which we all saw fail in the projections of the pandemic virus in the past year. Where models were supposed to process data they now create data to process. He said in this speech that “the arrogance of model makers is breathtaking” and who could disagree.
He warned that thinking back to the SETI project, the Nuclear Winter and on to global warming there comes one clear message; we can expect more and more serious problems of public policy dealing with issues where people care passionately on all sides.
Crichton pointed to the disgraceful manner that Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg was met with the publication of THE SKEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST. It conjured up thoughts of Galileo’s arrest for claiming the Earth revolved around the sun instead of the churches belief in the opposite.
He closed this first of three prescient lectures concerned about what science has become. He quoted the late Philip Handler former president of the National Academy of Science, who said “scientists best serve the public 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.”