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State of Fear ()

Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear.

They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see — germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that the environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft, it's an extraordinary delusion — a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages."
-Michael Crichton, State of Fear

Michael Crichton is hardly the first to note that the press, environmentalists, the Left and politicized science have combined to make modern humans--who live in unprecedented comfort and safety--absurdly fearful, but he's certainly the first to turn that argument into a best-selling novel. The thriller that overlays what is essentially a political/philosophcal polemic is a bit mechanical and formulaic, but it serves well enough to propel the reader through a set of facts and figures -- complete with charts, graphs, and footnotes -- that they might not otherwise ever encounter nevermind be forced to come to terms with.

One of the arguments that Mr. Crichton makes perhaps goes further than he intended and makes the novel entirely worthwhile, especially in light of how we can see its truth playing out in the reaction to the book. Having shredded much of the specific "evidence" for man-made global warming and the supposed dire effects of same, he moves on to the broader point that:
Every scientist has some idea of how his experiment is going to turn out. Otherwise he wouldn't do the experiment in the first place. He has an expectation. But expectation works in mysterious ways--and totally unconsciously.
Here too he cites studies to prove his point. And consider how deeply that point undermines the entire claim of sciencism. the dream of the Age of Reason and the central claim of those who place their faith in science is that they represent forms of knowledge that can be arrived at dispassionately, rendering truths that are untainted by human emotions, superstitions, religious influences and the like. That we arrive instead at the recognition that science too is just a product of the prejudices of scientists is quite devastating.

What makes this all so delicious though is that the reviews of the book then precisely followed the pattern this thesis would have predicted. Conservative publications, generally pro-business, welcomed it as at least a breath of fresh air if not a profound addition to the literary canon, while liberal reviewers denounced it as dangerous demagougery. The writing, plot and all the rest of the book were entirely superfluous, these experimenters picked it up already knowing what they expected to find and unsurprisingly they all found exactly that. You and I too find here confirmation of our own beliefs, one way or another.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Michael Crichton (3 books reviewed)
Michael Crichton Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Michael Crichton
    -AUTHOR SITE: The Official Michael Crichton Website
    -CARICATURE: Michael Crichton (David Levine, NY Review of Books)
    -The New York Times > Movies > People > Michael Crichton
    -AUTHOR/BOOK SITE: - State of Fear
    -BOOK SITE: State of Fear (Harper Collins)
    -State of Fear (Wikipedia)
    -SPEECH: Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century (Michael Crichton, November 6, 2005, at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.)
    -LECTURE: "Aliens Cause Global Warming" (A lecture by Michael Crichton, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, January 17, 2003)
    -SPEECH: Remarks to the Commonwealth Club (Michael Crichton, San Francisco, September 15, 2003)
    -REVIEW: of Slaughterhouse Five (Michael Crichton, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: Michael Crichton Takes on Global Warming in Latest Work: Author Says Environmentalists Are 'Fomenting False Fears' (JOHN STOSSEL, Dec. 10, 2004, 20/20)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Global warming? Now that really is fiction (Jasper Gerard, 1/02/05, Sunday Times of London)
    -PROFILE: Jurassic Park author pours cold water on global warming: Michael Crichton's new techno thriller fantasises a world free of the pall of greenhouse gases (Patrick Barkham, December 11, 2004, The Guardian)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear' (NPR Science Friday, January 7, 2005)
    -ESSAY: Fear of reason (Gregory Benford and Martin Hoffert, San Diego Union Tribune)
    -ESSAY: Global Warming? Hot Air (George F. Will, December 23, 2004, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: Answers to Key Questions Raised by M. Crichton in State of Fear (Pew Center on Global Climate Change)
    -ESSAY: Fear Factoids: Michael Crichton debunks global warming in his latest thriller. Bill McKibben says the book's bunk. (Bill McKibben, March 2005, Outside Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear': Fact and Fiction on Global Warming (Alan Caruba Monday, January 17, 2005, Chron Watch)
    -ESSAY: Toro! Toro! Michael Crichton (Donald W. Miller, Jr., MD,
    -ESSAY: Some Like It Hot: Forty public policy groups have this in common: They seek to undermine the scientific consensus that humans are causing the earth to overheat. And they all get money from ExxonMobil (Chris Mooney, May/June 2005, Mother Jones)
    -REVIEW: of Sphere by Michael Crichton (Robin McKinley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Travels by Michael Crichton (Patricia Bosworth, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Rising Sun by Michael Crichton (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Disclosure by Michael Crichton (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Lost World by Michael Crichton (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Lost World by Michael Crichton (MIM UDOVITCH, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Airframe by Michael Crichton (Tom Shone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Airframe (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Timeline by Michael Crichton (DANIEL MENDELSOHN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Timeline (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Prey by Michael Crichton (Jim Holt, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Prey (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Prey (Freeman J. Dyson, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Prey (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: State Of Fear by Michael Crichton (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: State of Fear (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (BRUCE BARCOTT, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (S.T. Karnick, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Sam Leith, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Blake Hurst, American Enterprise)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear(Read Mercer Schuchardt, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (RONALD BAILEY, Opinion Journal)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Ronald Bailey, Reason)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Richard Dyer, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Carol Memmott, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Sacha Zimmerman, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (James Wilson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Chris Mooney, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Charley Reese,
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Jennie Bristow, Spiked)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (David Kipen, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Allan Walton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Myron Ebell, Human Events)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters, Chief Meteorologist, The Weather Underground, Inc.)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (David Roberts, Grist)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (NRDC)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Kenneth Green, Tech Central Station)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Amy Ridenour, National Policy Analysis)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (S. Fred Singer,
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Iain Murray, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Robert Zirkelbach, Townhall)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (Jeff Glorfeld, The Age)
    -REVIEW: of State of Fear (gavin, Real Climate)
    -ARTICLE: Experiment probes climate riddle (Richard Black, 1/19/06, BBC News)

Book-related and General Links: