X-Message-Number: 27564
Subject: Re: [CN] CryoNet State of fear
From: "Fred C. Moulton" <>
References: <>
Date: Thu, 02 Feb 2006 21:14:18 -0800

On Mon, 2006-01-30 at 17:10 +0000, Chrissie de Rivaz wrote:
> Isn't it good that we are all different and entitled to different opinions?

I did not mean to be offensive.  Perhaps I should have made my comments
in a less hard edged manner.

I realize that not everyone on Cyronet is a libertarian however there
might be some persons (libertarian or not) who would be interested in a
review of the book which I wrote and was published in Prometheus, the
newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society www.lfs.org.

Review of Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear

This novel fails to live up to the advance hype. It fails as a thriller
and as a work with much of anything to offer specifically for
libertarians. It also fails as a reasonable exploration of environmental
issues, global warming, media manipulation or scientific integrity.

Looking first at State of Fear as a novel we find a plot that is
intended to excite, but instead generates only mild amusement at the
contrived and weak actions of the characters. A novel might survive
paper-thin characters if it has other features such as a plot but State
of Fear does not have strong plot to rescue it. The gratuitously shallow
portrayal of a Hollywood actor is a perfect example of how reliance on
stereotypes can suck any interest out of a work. It is hard not to
imagine the characters as merely the anchor points for the cut and paste
of search engine results. The novel does not even have consistently good
dialog as a fall back. What passes for dialog too often appears to be
more like the rantings of a radio talk show host who had just a wee bit
too much coffee.

Now let us consider what appears in addition to global warming to be
other possible themes of the book. Supposedly these are media
manipulation and lack of scientific integrity within the environmental
arena as a whole and global warming in particular. The novel portrays
the media manipulation leading to a "state of fear" in the public. But
despite the title it is not the issue of fear that seems to be the main
focus of the work. But as we have already noted it is global warming
that gets the graphs and seems to be most argued topic in the novel.

Yet even if they are the secondary aspects of the novel, let us examine
media manipulation and the accuracy of media reporting, possible bias,
and lack of scientific integrity in grants and peer review. The accuracy
of reporting and scientific integrity is not uniquely libertarian issues
since other political traditions can also be in favor of media accuracy
and scientific integrity. I have found that libertarians typically
embrace honesty and thus would be in favor of honest reporting and
science. If media manipulation and inaccurate reporting are libertarian
issues then libertarians should be equally concerned about an entire
range of issues in which media reporting may not be entirely accurate.

This raises the question whether media reporting ever is, or can be,
fully accurate. These are interesting questions, but Crichton's work
does not appear to be a useful source of insight. There are a few pages
devoted to the topics of media and science but they are weak and lost
between the tales of death by octopus and cannibals. Because it
structured as a thriller there are deaths and near deaths and crisis
upon crisis but they are not compelling and do not provide a useful
backdrop for any of the issues in the novel. There is no reason in
principle that a thriller cannot be the vehicle for examining some of
these issues but State of Fear does not deliver.

Does Michael Crichton intend State of Fear to be more than just a
thriller? It is not clear to what extent Crichton really is interested
in global warming and other issues. Are they merely the backdrop for a
thriller or is this work supposed to have a "message?" At the end of the
work is an "Author's Message," which contains the author's opinions on a
number of topics from global warming to changes in the methods of
funding scientific research. Following this is one appendix
on the dangers of politicized science and another listing the data
sources used for graphs in the body of the novel. The work concludes
with a bibliography. This illustrates one of the many problems with the
work: the intent is unclear. It is not clear how seriously we are to
take his "Author's Message" since it is filled with gems like "Everybody
has an agenda. Except me." Does he really believe that or is this a veer
into a poor attempt at humor?  This does not mean that Crichton is a
fool or a hypocrite; it may be that he was just too close to the work
and too famous for an editor to manage.  It is quite possible that
Crichton could not step back to look at the work and improve it.  The
topics covered in the novel are all certainly ripe for a good thriller
treatment. The range of topics may be one of the problems of the work.
Attempting to cover global warming, media manipulation, scientific
integrity and all of the rest may be too much to cover in a thriller

What of the heavy focus on global warming in the novel? Is a novel that
focuses so heavily on global warming of libertarian interest? Not
particularly. Global warming is not a libertarian issue, is a matter
that falls within the realms of climatology, atmospheric physics, and
other fields. The validity of claims about global warming and the extent
of human involvement are scientific questions about which there is much
current interest. A reasonable level of interest would be expected since
the earth is our home; at least for the next few years until migration
to space become a possibility. But let us be very clear that the
validity of claims about global warming is not within the realm of
libertarian philosophy any more than are the various interpretations of
quantum mechanics.

It is too bad that this is not a better novel both in its structure as
well as its content.  Issues of media manipulation, academic dishonesty,
and global warming are interesting and important issues, but this novel
does not improve the debate. At best it will drop unnoticed into the
remainder bins; at worst it will only reinforce the most strident voices
on all sides. There might be strident voices that lump radical
environmentalists with serious ecologists and thus will likely trumpet
State of Fear as a novel based on reality. And there might be a strident
chorus which will claim that it is just one more piece of evidence that
those who do not embrace all aspects of some radical environmental
agenda are corporate stooges out to destroy the earth. Let us hope not.

The issue which does have a libertarian aspect is the following: If the
global warming is demonstrated as a actual phenomena and if human
activity is shown to be a significant component in the growth of global
warming, then how would responsible libertarians respond? On this point
the book has virtually nothing to offer since it does not have a
libertarian viewpoint. There is no theoretical development of how to
handle the issue. There is not even a coherent practical set of
heuristics. The novel definitely gives us a government secret agent out
to fight some really bad people.  It may be trying to give us more but
if so it is not clear what that may be.

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=27564