Michael Crichton is a high-tech, science-savvy Renaissance man in the 21st century. He has sold more than a hundred million books, which have been translated into 30 languages. Twelve became high-grossing movies. Children everywhere have “Jurassic Park” nightmares.
His books are so popular in China that when the calcified remains of a species of dinosaur was discovered there, the Chinese named it Bienosaurus crichtoni in his honor. In 1992, People magazine named him one of the “Fifty Most Beautiful People.” Now a new kind of fame brings Mr. Crichton to Washington to speak to policy wonks. He’s promoting his new book, “State of Fear,” which zoomed to the top of the bestseller lists, but he doesn’t come to Washington to talk about the novel.
Not long ago his speech, “Science Policy in the 21st Century,” was sponsored by two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, and it’s about what he thinks about environmentalists in general, and climate change in particular. He has a lot of thoughts about the way science influences public policy.
He minces no words. What passes for science by so-called experts in the debate over “global warming,” he says, influences policy that is based on faulty data and ideological considerations. This does considerably more damage than good.
Ideology drives the scientists who get the grants to conduct research; the government agency that gives grants is driven by politics. In the novel, a page-turning action thriller, major characters, including a scientist, a lawyer, a philanthropist and two gorgeous women are superheroes who foil the devices of environmental extremists, evil missionaries with messianic drives, pushing policies born of their own egos.
In a novel twist on the novel, the author appends footnotes and a bibliography to document scientific reports, and two hard-hitting essays explaining how and why politicized science is dangerous.
He compares the science of the environmentalists as similar to that of the study of eugenics a century ago. The study of eugenics, the idea that the human race could be “improved” by selective breeding, was at first supported by presidents, Nobel laureates, major universities and the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, and together they molded public opinion. The science was insidious, pseudo-, and wrong.
Eugenics, recognized nearly everywhere now as both morally and criminally wrong, led directly to the Holocaust, with the Nazis killing first the feeble-minded, and ultimately extended to include Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. Those who opposed eugenics were reactionary, ignorant or both. Research motivated by racism, fear of immigrants and “keeping the wrong people out of the neighborhood,” drew few protests.
Mr. Crichton argues that many environmental studies today are similarly flawed, directed by scientists who shape their research to fit the cause, and read by an ill-informed public duped to believe that scientific papers are “objective.” He cites an editorial in The Washington Post, which suggests adopting a policy change in climate control as “a sign of goodwill” to Europe. He notes, with irony and dismay, that the editorial appeared on the day that a dispatch from Auschwitz detailed the observance of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous death camp. Auschwitz, he says, was a direct descendent of politicized science.
Environmental grants, he argues, should go to several scientists working on a project with opposing points of view. Their work should be subjected to mutual criticism. “We need face to face dissent.” The results should be made public: “The people paid for it, the people own it.” Only ruthless arguments can get to verifiable facts. Congressional hearings on scientific matters, he observes, are mostly dog and pony shows where questions are either “soft balls or hand grenades.” Congressmen are eager to show off what their staffs have found for them, and ideologues want to persuade. This is a dangerous way to make policy.
He cites the story of the pesticide DDT, effective against many disease-carrying insects, as an example of environmentalism gone awry. DDT, he argues, was falsely accused of causing cancer, and because it was banned millions, mostly children, have died of disease and their deaths “are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and irrevocably harmed the third world.” Environmentalism, he says, is “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” Such heresy won’t be as popular as his novels and movies, but in the long run, may have the impact of DDT on a mosquito.