Crichton on Environmentalism
December 11, 2003 5:41 AM   Subscribe

Michael Crichton on Environmentalism: "Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better."
via A&L Daily
posted by leotrotsky (62 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
first FPP. Crucify as necessary. This just seemed an article that compelled conversation. It reminded me of Carl Sagan in the Demon-Haunted World.

How do we separate the science from the politics, and the both from religion? Is it naive to think that we can? Does Crichton have blinders on?
posted by leotrotsky at 5:50 AM on December 11, 2003


leotrotsky- next fpp, include more links, but this is neat stuff.

BTW: Crichton is right, global warming, among other things, is a scientific reality that cannot be politicized for it will be the end of all of us.
posted by crazy finger at 5:52 AM on December 11, 2003


If Michael Crichton says it, it must be true. After all, this is the man who invented the "killer amusement park" genre and I think that he may have saved the airport bookstore.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:55 AM on December 11, 2003


It's not about science, its about whose God is the biggest.

Science is way too exact for propaganda purposes. Politics trumps science today. Thanks for caring Crichton.

Good post leotrotsky. Hope these links help.
posted by nofundy at 5:56 AM on December 11, 2003


Hmm. My faith tells me Crichton may be talking bollocks.

I'd really like to read a proper rebuttal, or an article supporting this that wasn't written by the man who wrote Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.
posted by bwerdmuller at 5:57 AM on December 11, 2003


... although now I'm feeling guilty for saying that. For one thing, I thought Airframe was great. For another, just because he occasionally writes bad fiction, it doesn't mean he's wrong.
posted by bwerdmuller at 6:02 AM on December 11, 2003


Science recently has become political through the entertainment media, something Michael Crichton should know about. The new Science Channel on cable TV is one example. Look at all the goofy studies posted on Fark about how beer is good for you (sponsored by beer companies), how the more sex you have the better (sponsored by the condom industry) etc.. follow those studies drink and have sex all night long and you'll live to be 100.
posted by stbalbach at 6:08 AM on December 11, 2003


That's about 50% classic straw man, 30% debatable interpretation and 20% fairly sensible.. In my opinion.

Seems like he hit on the similarity between religion and a certain type of hippy environmentalism, and from that point on just tried to find anecdotes to support his initial premise.

Sure, if there were actually a significant number of people who held the views he describes then he might be right. But I don't think they do. None of the people I know who could be described as environmentalists long for some sort of Eden, they realise that nature is not perfect harmony.

It just seems pretty damn obvious that if we fill the oceans with toxic shit, cut down all the trees and massively change the composition of the air we breathe then bad stuff will happen. It takes a pretty big agenda to be able to claim otherwise.
posted by cell at 6:24 AM on December 11, 2003


I enjoyed reading the article. It's nice to see someone well-known pointing out that things aren't quite as doom and gloom as some environmentalists make them out to be. That's not to say that *everything* is getting better, or that there isn't a lot wrong with the world and health and environment, but Crichton makes the important point that many pessimistic predictions about the future, believed by lots of people, have never actually happened.

If you liked the article, it's worth checking out Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. It's generated a lot of controversy but the book and the surrounding debate is well worth checking out.
posted by adrianhon at 6:25 AM on December 11, 2003


Crichton ignores, however, that many pessimistic predictions about the future haven't actually happened because people did something about them. The reduction in projected population numbers, for example, are largely the result of some fairly stringent measures in parts of the world. It's not that the initial predictions were wrong. Also, it's easy to find incorrect predictions if you're willing to rely on anecdotal evidence. A survey of predictions by credible scientists and how accurate they were would be more convincing.
posted by anapestic at 6:38 AM on December 11, 2003


Anapestic: I disagree with the example. The demographic shift in Europe (the graying of the continent) has nothing to do with restrictions on # of little nuggets of joy the government allows. The causes are significantly more subtle (ie. thinking the future will be better or worse, gender equality, etc) Further, when governments do put such restrictions in place, the outcomes are anything but straight-forward. Laws rarely do what you intend them to, and inevitably do some things that you don't (e.g. The drowning of infant girls in China).

To quote Coolidge, "Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you."
posted by leotrotsky at 6:55 AM on December 11, 2003


"We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better."

And you can see more about entering the Dark Ages in Timeline IN THEATRES NOW!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:11 AM on December 11, 2003


adrianhon - I really don't like to be this harsh, but sometimes I think it's appropriate.

It's boring and tedious to have to spend time refuting Lomborg's sort of pseudoscience. Lomborg doesn't actually do peer reviewed science. He can't subject his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist" to the peer review process. Scientists would laugh at it, for it's not actually a work of science per se. The book is a work of propaganda. Those are harsh words, but leading scientists have words far more harsh than that for Lomborg's oeuvre. He serves as a convenient hero for those on the right who don't understand the process by which scientists gauge the validity of scientific research (peer-review).
Here's E.O.Wilson on Lomborg (Wilson is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner who has singleghandedly pioneered the creation of several new branches of scientific research): "My greatest regret about the Lomborg scam is the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat it in the media. We will always have contrarians like Lomborg whose sallies are characterized by willful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists. They are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval. The question is: How much load should be tolerated before a response is necessary? Lomborg is evidently over the threshold."
Or, check out Stephen Schneider, one of the world's top experts on climate: "It would take several pages to document how Lomborg lines up his citations to diminish the seriousness of climate effects while ignoring most literature that would stress the seriousness. (For that kind of documentation, see a review by my colleagues and me in the forthcoming January 2002 issue of Scientific American or Stuart Pimm and Jeff Harvey's review in the Nov. 8, 2001 issue of Nature"

On a more general note:
The Physicist A. A. Bartlett has been, for years, giving a now famous lecture called "The New Flat Earth Society"which trashes the "infinite economic growth" paradigm: "There was a time, long ago, when people thought that the Earth was flat, but now for several centuries people have believed that the Earth is round . . . like a sphere. But there are problems with a spherical earth, and a now a new paradigm is emerging which seems to be a return to the wisdom of the ancients.....A sphere is bounded and hence is finite, which implies that there are limits, and in particular, there are limits to growth of things that consume the Earth and that live on it."



In The Massive Movement to Marginalize the Modern Malthusian Message Bartlett observes: "Some non-believers assert that the predictions of Malthus have not come to pass, that the world population in 1998 is much larger than Malthus could have ever imagined, therefore the world population can continue to grow essentially forever. This is an example of the "flying leap syndrome" in which a person leaps from the top of a very high building. The free-fall is exhilarating. After each of the first few seconds of free-fall, the person concludes that all is well, and soon reaches the ( logical ? ) conclusion that free-fall forever is a viable option. The end comes when the person strikes the ground. The ground is a boundary condition, a limit that was built into the falling person's total environment"

posted by troutfishing at 7:45 AM on December 11, 2003 [1 favorite]


Good First FPP (FFPP?)

but DAMN I hate when people set margins like that.
posted by KnitWit at 7:54 AM on December 11, 2003


Chrichton forgets to mention another type of religion that, coincidentally, seems to defend the same ideas he supports in his article: the religion of perpetual growth, that is at the core of classic economic theory.

Also, he seems to forget that religion, specially all three "Religions of the Book" (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) agree that "Man is the sole master of the Earth and God will provide", that humanity should "go forth and multiply", "subdue the Earth", etc, etc, so an environmentalist can also use the religion argument to explain why we don't take doomsayers seriously.

Of all the problems mankind faces, probably the worst is that less and less energy will be available, even if oil never runs out, and this is because we'll have less and less high intensity energy available from the "one time only subsidy" that is the solar energy trapped during millions of years that we call "oil & gas".

As always, go check what Campbell et al say about it
posted by samelborp at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2003


Also - leotrotsky, I'm dubious about crichton as a spokesperson for this issue - his quote "Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics...." is absurd, in my opnion - but the actual subject needs far more attention than it is currently getting.

You might want to read C.P. Snow's classic lecture on the subject, from '58 or '59, called The Two Cultures. It's become a touchstone for many in this discussion.
posted by troutfishing at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2003


So when did Michael Chricton become an expert on everything? From an article in today's NY Times:

A small but growing body of research suggests that secondhand cigarette smoke, which has been shown to harm humans, may harm pets, too.

Lung cancer is rare in dogs: only about 1 dog of 25,000 gets it each year, according to one study. But a 1992 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology of 51 dogs with lung cancer and 83 dogs with other cancers found that dogs in smoking households had a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer.

The risk was even higher for dogs with short or medium-sized noses: "everything from pugs to poodles," said the chief author, Dr. John S. Reif, a professor of environmental health at Colorado State University.

A 1998 study, published in the same journal, of 481 dogs with cancer showed that long-nosed dogs like collies and wolfhounds were twice as likely to get nasal cancer if they lived with smokers. Dr. Reif, who also led this study, speculated that carcinogens became trapped in their nasal passages.

posted by raysmj at 7:57 AM on December 11, 2003


The reduction in projected population numbers, for example, are largely the result of some fairly stringent measures in parts of the world

- Well I for one cannot condone sterilisation, limiting of family sizes or infanticide.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2003


So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper,
because newspapers literally don't report them.


Well, Fox News did, so at least we know it's not about the politics.

Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway,

Who is this "we" that knew better? Was he in some sort of advocate group in the 1970's? Do a search and have a look for yourself at the science behind the initial banning of DDT. It is good science, although perhaps Mr. Crichton would prefer to run his own study and then publish some results. The only results supporting DDT are done on pheasants, which are herbivorous, not any sort of top level carnivorous birds. I'm obviously no expert, but it seems that there might be a bit of difference in the physiology of the two.

Anyway, I guess the new meme is anti-enviromentalism, what with eco-terrorists being public enemy number one, and all their crazy talk of extinctions and carcinogens. I guess it was starting to bum people out and make them think too much, which we just can't have if the economy is going to recover. So, get out and buy some cheap plastic crap to throw out to help the economy and fight terrorism.
posted by milovoo at 8:22 AM on December 11, 2003


This makes me think of the people I work with at my job.

There's a weird sort of schizophrenia in the envirnomental sciences. Scientists have to be objective, not biased or political. Sacrifice your objectivity and your work becomes worthless, scientifically speaking.

But for the most past, people go into this field because they are, at heart, environmentalists - they care about the planet and want to study it, usually with the goal of saving it in mind. I know I and all my grad school friends and professors did. You can't study this stuff without a steadily mounting sense of outrage and a determination to fight.

So what do you do when your motives are completely subjective, but your professional reputation depends on being objective? Can anyone trust your methods and results not to be swayed by preconceived notions and subconscious desires of what the "best" results would be? Can you?

Good question, and one that environmental scientists struggle with daily, especially as science becomes more and more politicized lately.

The E-word is a dirty word in these halls. Some politicians know this, and use it to paint scientists they disagree with enviro-green. My editor wrings her hands as our monthly columnists, in a scientific journal, veer toward tree-hugging. But as the bad news mounts, it's harder and harder to stay on the fence.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:35 AM on December 11, 2003


  • DDT as carcinogen [PDF] from the political radicals over at the NIH: "Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals (IARC 1974, 1987, 1991)."
    DDT chemical backgrounder by the religious nuts at the national safety council

  • Global warming assessment by the environmental militants in the US National Academy of Science and the eco-terrorists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • The "increasing Antarctic ice" seems to be a red herring as it confuses ice on the shelves with overall ice on the continent. This article f.e. states that indeed the overall ice volume in Antarctica under various warming scenarios might actually increase.

  • Me, I worry much more about the negative effect on scientific procedure that industry lobby groups have. On the one side you have a few environmentalists with placards and the occasional demonstration. On the other you have billion dollar vested interests. Which one do you think is more of a threat to "scientific objectivity"?
    posted by talos at 8:47 AM on December 11, 2003


    But, but, Michael Crichton is a hack sci fi author!

    I just wanted to add one more ad hominem attack on Michael Crichton, because I don't think there have been enough in this thread.
    posted by moonbiter at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2003


    Thanks for the Snow link, troutfishing. I'm definitely going to dig a little more into that.
    posted by Ufez Jones at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2003


    I don't care who wrote this article, what it says is dead right. I had a long, difficult process of coming to terms with the fact the everything I was taught about environmentalism in the 70s turned out to be dead wrong. The environmentalist movement flat-out refused to provide any explanation of why all their population, pollution, and climate predictions didn't happen. The fact is that the outcome of the Simon-Ehrlich bet, which shocked me at first, completely invalidated the core theses of environmentalism.

    I actually believed in global warming for a while, figuring that environmentalism had learned its lesson from the outrageously wrong "accepted scientific fact" of a New Ice Age. But when I saw the ad-hominem way that Lomborg was run out of town rather than refuted on his core argument that there was an insufficient statistical basis to draw the supposed conclusions, I changed my mind. I've been working a lot with research scientists the last few years, and have been surprised to find that they are just as controlled by the need for funding as businessmen are controlled by the need for profit. Today, scientists cannot say "we don't know what the climate will be like in 50 years", and still have a job.

    Global warming is not a scientific hypothesis, because it cannot be disproved. Advocates simply adjust the hypotheses (for example, from "global warming" to "climate change") to fit any contradictory evidence. troutfishing's completely fallacious argument on Malthus, which has now been used for hundreds of years to keep the faith in the face of continuous evidence to the contrary, is a perfect example. Advocates of Malthus and the Book of Revelations use exactly the same arguments to explain why Armageddon never happens as predicted.

    Meanwhile, environmentalists blithely ignore real environmental disasters that are happening now, not in 50 years, such as the disappearance of the Caspian Sea, the Three Gorges dam, or the poisonous soils throughout the former Communist countries. Speculative doomsday scenarios prevent environmentalists from actually focusing on the environment.
    posted by fuzz at 8:57 AM on December 11, 2003


    Of course science is politicized. Much scientific research is government-funded. Much scientific research is government regulated. "What research do we fund" and "how do we regulate research" are political questions.
    posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:22 AM on December 11, 2003


    Trout: I acknowledge that many scientists disagree with Lomborg's book, but I think it's wrong to call it pseudoscience and propaganda. There are plenty of other eminent scientists who have defended Lomborg, including Richard Lindzen (Professor of Meteorology at MIT), Lewis Wolpert and Matt Ridly. We could go back and forth on this one, but as you say, it would be tedious and boring. If we are going to say, "X thinks Lomborg is wrong because..." and "Y thinks X is wrong because..." we will get nowhere - but my point is that is not not resolved by far that the book is entirely worthless and that there are a significant number of scientists and others who feel that the book is accurate and informative.
    posted by adrianhon at 9:28 AM on December 11, 2003


    Global warming is not a scientific hypothesis, because it cannot be disproved.

    Correct: it is a fact, because it has been observed. Climate change is not something that will happen fifty years in the future: it is happening right now.

    Meanwhile, environmentalists blithely ignore real environmental disasters that are happening now, not in 50 years, such as the disappearance of the Caspian Sea, the Three Gorges dam, or the poisonous soils throughout the former Communist countries.

    What are you talking about? Who is ignoring these problems? If "environmentalists" are blithely ignoring these problems, who has been writing all the articles talking about them and calling for action?

    Of course people have to focus their attention; some people work on climate change, others work on decreasing population growth, some focus on local issues. You can't solve everything at once, so effective activists learn to try to solve one thing at a time, and that means paying less attention to a planetfull of other problems.
    posted by Mars Saxman at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2003


    Meanwhile, environmentalists blithely ignore real environmental disasters that are happening now, not in 50 years, such as the disappearance of the Caspian Sea, the Three Gorges dam, or the poisonous soils throughout the former Communist countries. Speculative doomsday scenarios prevent environmentalists from actually focusing on the environment.

    Except of course that environmentalists aren't ignoring them, they've been campaigning to try and do something about them, if they hadn't then you probably wouldn't even have heard of them. But this thread is actually about politicisation of environmental science, which is at odds with the idea of scientists actually going out and campaigning for environmental causes. (They can leave that to us social scientists.)
    posted by biffa at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2003


    fuzz: Paul Ehrlich's opinion is hardly comparable to NASA's, NAS's and NOAA's. And if Ehrlich was a fool, so is anyone that supports that anything infinite actually exists...
    In the 1970s climatology was at its infancy; it is only recently, with the advent of massive computer information processing, that climatic modelling is even attemptable. So, current climatological models are much more dependable than earlier studies, though still probably not completely adequate for such huge systems.
    If scientists are motivated chiefly by a need for funding then they are fools to take a government / university paycheck, when the fossil fuel industry is handsomely rewarding the (minority) dissenting tenured scientists on global warming.
    Finally, let me just point out that if it weren't for the Malthusian alarmists, putting the issue of population growth on the international agenda, it is rather uncertain that the measures that have been taken to decrease world-wide population growth would have been implemented. Call it a self-defeating prophecy.
    posted by talos at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2003


    Sorry adrianhon, troutfishing is right. Lomborg wrote a pseudoscience book that is not peer reviewed and not accepted by an overwhelming majority of scientists in the fields he commented on.

    You mention Richard Lindzen as a defender of Lomborg. I've met Lindzen and work with one of his previous grad students. He does not represent the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that climate change is a real issue.

    Of the ~2000 climate scientists actively working in the field, Lindzen is among a tiny number (less than 0.01%) of who think climate change is not a problem. They number 10 or less. Most receive funding from fossil fuel companies and are viewed like the cigarette company scientists who said smoking isn't addictive or carcinogenic.
    posted by humbe at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2003


    troutfishing mentioned Edward O. Wilson and his book, The Future of Life, addresses what you all are talking about. I have not read it yet, but he sets up what it's going to be about in the last chapter of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.

    Here's a Think Tank interview.
    Here's the first chapter of The Future of Life.

    Lomborg is not the only one to write a crappy book to serve politics. Greg Easterbrook wrote, A Moment on the Earth, which has it's critics.
    posted by john at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2003


    Here's a quote from my reading.


    Local climates will turn more variable, as heat waves increase in frequency. Even a small rise in average temperature results in many more instances of extremely high temperatures. The reason is purely statistical effect. A small shift in a normal statistical distribution in one direction lifts the former extreme in that direction from near zero to a proportionately far higher number. (Thus, to take another example, if the average mathematical ability of the human species were raised ten percent, the difference in the mass of people might not be noticeable, but Einsteins would be commonplace.)

    -Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (page 312-3)
    posted by john at 10:40 AM on December 11, 2003


    Today, scientists cannot say "we don't know what the climate will be like in 50 years", and still have a job.

    While most of the faulty logic and baseless supposition in fuzz's post has been pointed out already, I couldn't let this one hang. Every climatologist I've ever spoken to - and I've spoken to quite a few at many different institutions covering climate change for assorted magazines the past few years - let me repeat, every climatologist I've ever spoken to has been unguardedly vocal about the fact that there's no possible way (yet, if ever) to predict the climate with 100 percent accuracy for next year, let alone 50 years from now.

    The science of climate change, for the record, is built on incredibly elaborate computer modelling. The models get more elaborate with each passing year, and have continued with each passing year to confirm the initial fears of scientists in the early 1980s that greenhouse gases were fundamentally reformulating the world's climate.

    But even the best of these models is, in the end, just an extremely educated guess. Glaciers, for example, are extraordinarily important in affecting sea level and ocean temperature, which in turn affect the whole system, and the scientific study of glaciers is still quite new. Why and how they move, melt, and grow is not yet completely understood scientifically. Thus the models of climatologists - marvels of modern science that they are, good as they are becoming at predicting general trends - cannot provide a full picture, and maybe never will. (A 100-percent accurate climate model strikes me as being on the same order of complexity as creating fully functional artificial intelligence.)

    And because these models aren't 100-percent accurate, the alleged debunkers call the fundamental science into question. It's hair-splitting of the worst kind to treat such an incredibly important subject so glibly.

    So then: Michael Crichton is not a climatologist, and neither is Bjorn Lomborg, and neither is fuzz. And virtually no one doing serious peer-reviewed climatology disputes the fact that climate change is happening, and almost all of them believe it will produce huge fundamental changes in life on earth.
    posted by gompa at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2003


    Anybody care to debate the statement, "science offers us the only way out of politics"? I personally think we have more than enough science. This is gonna sound hippy-dippy to some, but what about art? How 'bout religion? What we are lacking is spirit. Scientific data doesn't inspire. The scientists themselves complain about how depressed it make's them feel. I'm tired of enviromentalists who use science to tell me I'm cancer on the planet. I'm tired of an enviromentalism that has only doomsday scenarios and no 'win conditions'. I'm tired of an enviromentalism that has as it's goal the separation of man from nature, where wilderness is a place where man is a short term visitor only.

    I'm not advocating people bury their heads in the sand, and I don't blame the scientists for being the bearer of bad news. I just don't think that any more scientific data is gonna motivate people to take the kinds of action necessary to keep us out of the 'dark ages'.
    posted by spudsilo at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2003


    Well the thing is that politics is crippled without science. It's what Consilience is about, a link of the natural sciences to the social sciences and the arts.

    Raw data might not inspire, but I find the understanding science brings very inspiring.

    All enviromentalism is not about doomsday. The good kind suggests that the current course will make life more difficult, but can be changed if we decide to do something about it.

    I don't understand the "short term vistor only" comment. If enough people settle in the wilderness, then it no longer becomes wilderness. The wilderness tends to not be a very safe place for people and making it "safe" destroys it.
    posted by john at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2003


    I don't believe in the concept of 'wilderness' (or 'safety' for that matter), and I suspect Crichton doesn't either.

    For insight into the "short term visitor only" comment, may I suggest: The Puritan Origins of the American Wilderness Movement. It important to remember this ideal is embedded into law, via the Wilderness Act of 1964. Google the phrase, "man himself is a visitor who does not remain", to see how it permeates environmental literature.

    I, like Crichton, don't think religion is going away anytime soon. Why fight it? I think we need a new religion, and I don't think science is going to get us there.
    posted by spudsilo at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2003


    Spudsilo's idea that scientists are bearers of bad news demonstrates the flaw of Crichton's whole argument. He goes to great length to explain how environmentalism has become a religion to it's followers, and in the process condemns both environmentalism and religion. On top of that, he explains how religion is an inevitable feature of human society, then he puts forth his solution: we're never going to get anywhere unless we ignore religion (or religion-like societal movements).

    The problem here is that (and I think it would be hard to disagree) he is right about religion being an irrevocable feature of society, so how on earth are we supposed to ignore it? It's the job of scientists to discover/observe the objective facts of nature, but there's just one problem: they are all human beings. How is the nature of scientist-human beings any different from regular human beings? It's not.

    I don't think scientists are bearers of bad news, it's all in how you interpret it, but also it's how these human beings present it (or the media that reports it).

    Politics, religion, fanaticism, illogical behavior, etc. will forever be a part of human society, and guess what? We just have to deal with it as best we can. Arguably the best way is to treat the quest for scientific knowledge as a religion (i.e., complete devotion to objective discovery).
    posted by BloodyWallet at 12:40 PM on December 11, 2003


    ...as some already do, I might add.
    posted by BloodyWallet at 12:42 PM on December 11, 2003


    follow those studies drink and have sex all night long and you'll live to be 100.

    Maybe not, but you'll certanly enjoy your life!
    posted by delmoi at 12:42 PM on December 11, 2003


    Adrionhon - Outside of his specialty, Richard Lindzen's opinions seem to be so ideologically driven that he comes off as a bit of a bit of a crank - He's on record saying (among other - umm interesting things) that the earth could get by with far fewer species than it now currently has - in response to predictions that Global Warming will reduce biodiversity. He said this on "The Connection", a WBUR Public radio talk show sometime in early 2001 (I can get the exact date and episode for you if you wish). Last I knew, Lindzen was an atmospheric researcher and not a biologist of any sort.

    Lindzen, in fact, acknowledges Global Warming and does highly respected research in his specialty. He has invested a great deal of energy in researching his hypothesis that the Global Warming effect from greenhouse gasses will be counteracted by a Pacific ocean "heat vent" dynamic involving cloud cover. Who knows, he could prove to be correct in the end. But I don't think he's especially qualified as an authority on biodiversity, pollution, or much outside his professional purview.

    By the same token, Matt Ridley is a science writer, not a scientist. He has made his career as a writer focussing on Genomics - he's done well at that, but I wouldn't consider him much of an authority on environmental issues.

    As far as Lewis Wolport goes - well, he is an eminent microbiologist and developmental anatomist. As with Lindzen, I would trust what he would say as long as it is relatively close to his professional domain. Meaning - I would be rather suspicious of his claims if he were making broadsides against research by relevant scientific specialists concerning species loss, deforestation, etc.

    Here is Norman Meyers responding to Lomborg's criticism of Myer's 1979 estimate of 40,000 species lost per year : "Why doesn't he refer to the 80-plus papers I have published on biodiversity and mass extinction during the 20-year interim?"
    (since 1979)

    Also, here are the responses of Danish scientists to Lomborg's claims

    For more Lomborgism, here's Ronald Bailey, editor of the (questionable name) "Reason magazine" (with which I do not always disagree, by the way) demonstrating, to his satisfaction, that things are getting better and better

    Here is a rather hardheaded refutation by the physicist A.A.Bartlett, of the "Everything is getting better and better" claims.

    IN short - given the fact that the subsystems which make human life possible - forests and other oxygen producers, nitrogen cyclers, CO2 cyclers, and so on - are almost universally in steady or rapid retreat (check the blizzard of peer researched scientific papers published each year by specialists - you'll find vanishingly few researching Lomborg's claims, and this is not due to a vast conspiracy of some sort) - the argument of Lomborg and his tribe -that claims of the earth's environmental decline are overblown- is at best gassy or confused and, at worst, intentionally deceptive.

    One can propose, I guess, a vast and pervasive conspiracy involving tens or hundreds of thousands of researchers, each somehow ideologically brainwashed by a vast, secret, Greenpeace conspiracy which would dwarf Stalin's legions of secret police to insignificance. Perhaps, as Dick Cheney observed, "Absence of Evidence is not evidence of absence". In the the same line of analysis, it would be also reasonable to assume that Greenpeace was being assisted by aliens (but for reasons which would differ should they prove to be "Greys", or "Reptilians", or Nordics"......).

    But - isn't veering off into that solipsistic conspiracy realm tantamount to saying that one has lost faith in science itself?
    posted by troutfishing at 1:48 PM on December 11, 2003


    I actually spent a lot of today doing my own research on the Tasaday people mentioned as a hoax in the article and it may not be so cut and dried as Crichton presents it. They are from a war-torn part of the Philippines and the apparent hoax may have been political in nature, and they may have actually existed.

    Reading through the first 20 or so google entries for tasaday is a decent way to start,
    except ignore the italian punk band of the same name.

    I wish we could just get some facts - his baseless arguments just added to the confusion,
    while claiming to clear things up. It seems to me that even if we are not at the full crisis point,
    it might be worth trying to improve things while we still can, but many people will use his kind
    of thinking to move environmental issues even further back on the burner.

    also, troutfishing ++ (Useful links!)
    posted by milovoo at 2:14 PM on December 11, 2003




    "...The fact is that the outcome of the Simon-Ehrlich bet, which shocked me at first, completely invalidated the core theses of environmentalism.

    I actually believed in global warming for a while, figuring that environmentalism had learned its lesson from the outrageously wrong "accepted scientific fact" of a New Ice Age."

    Fuzz, As far as I'm aware the theory of the immanent arrival of a new Ice Age never became widely accepted by the scientific mainstream during the 70's - though it was touted at the time in various pop-culture books which are now languishing on "Alternative" and "Occult" used-bookstore shelves. But it is now widely accepted that we are living in an interglacial period (the Holocene) which will be coming to a close in a few thousand years or even much sooner. Then, the glaciers will return.

    However, Julian Simon was not wrong (in a narrow sense of the word "wrong"), although you made a vast leap of faith (rather than logic) when you claimed that Simon's bet with Ehrlich "completely invalidated the core theses of environmentalism". Simon's arguments were powerful, sure. But they also ignored a larger context, the fact that the resources Simon examined as they were being exhausted and then replaced by superior substitutes represented - at the same time - the implacable destruction of a natural world which - at it's most basic - is the bedrock of human existence. I'm afraid Erhlich might be proven right in the long run, if we do not heed his warning. That's the danger of being a Cassandra - it's far safer, really, to be a "debunker", although Julian Simon himself was no coward.

    What Simon never admitted to or recognized was that - even though the free market might be very efficient at generating substitutes (when resources become scarce, their prices increase and this spurs development/discovery of new technologies and substitute materials) - the dynamic he so accurately described and wielded to great effect against Ehrlich's claims (as a temporary refutation, I think) will require, in the long run, that we replace most of the biological life on earth and most of it's ecosystems with machines to do the jobs they once did - such as oxygen production, nitrogen and CO2 cycling, and so on.

    It might be possible, I just consider the project insane. And yet - I doubt that the final implications ever occurred to Simon because he was so busy with his "debunking".

    It all comes down to values, really. Do we want to live on a plasticized and mechanized planet or - at least - one that's fundamentally transformed beyond our current comprehension?

    It doesn't sound like an attractive future to me.

    I guess I need to start re-posting the sort of rather bleak reports coming in from scientific researchers around the globe - on the state of ecosystems, forests, ocean, coral reefs, threatened species, etc. - but I find it depressing and tedious. That's a feeble gripe on my part though, since it seems - at this late stage - more necessary than ever.
    posted by troutfishing at 2:23 PM on December 11, 2003


    >> "I guess I need to start re-posting the sort of rather bleak reports coming in from scientific researchers around the globe..."

    This is the heart of the matter. Is this going to change any minds, or is it just going to depress people? We have all the evidence we need. We lack the will to change. This is a moral and spiritual problem.
    posted by spudsilo at 3:07 PM on December 11, 2003


    Troutfishing,

    The A A Bartlett link points to the Ronald Bailey article on Reason. Could you repost the correct link?

    Thx!
    posted by piedrasyluz at 3:24 PM on December 11, 2003


    Trout, one of the scientists, Crutzen, who got the nobel prize for figuring out ozone hole chemistry thinks we're out of the Holocene and has coined a term for where he thinks we are now, the Anthropocene. Crutzen argues, and rightly so, that humans now control the chemistry of the atmosphere in addition to biological processes, which are now fundamentally different due to human impacts than they've been throughout the 10,000 year Holocene.
    posted by humbe at 3:42 PM on December 11, 2003


    piedrasyluz - sure. Sorry, here it is again The Massive Movement to marginal the Modern Malthusian Message (by Albert A. Bartlett) and his signature piece on this was The New Flat Earth Society "....There was a time, long ago, when people thought that the Earth was flat, but now for several centuries people have believed that the Earth is round . . . like a sphere. But there are problems with a spherical earth, and a now a new paradigm is emerging which seems to be a return to the wisdom of the ancients.

    A sphere is bounded and hence is finite, which implies that there are limits, and in particular, there are limits to growth of things that consume the Earth and that live on it. Today, many people believe that the resources of the Earth and of the human intellect are so enormous that population growth can continue and that there is no danger that we will ever run out of anything...A spherical earth is finite and hence is forever unappealing to the devotees of perpetual growth. In contrast, a flat earth can accommodate growth forever, because a flat earth can be infinite in the two horizontal dimensions and also in the vertical downward direction. The infinite horizontal dimensions forever remove any fear of crowding as population grows, and the infinite downward dimension assures humans of an unlimited supply of all of the mineral raw materials that will be needed by a human population that continues to grow forever. The flat earth removes all the need for worry about limits.

    So, let us think of the "We're going to grow the limits!" people as the "New Flat Earth Society." "

    He had a wicked sense of humor, Bartlett - although I've heard that Simon was a very interesting character too and - even if I disagree with him in the end - I've found his ideas educational. In fact I think they compliment Ehrlich's in a weird fashion.

    I haven't read anything of Bartlett's (this was a hobby for him, he was a physicist by trade) which acknowledges my observation that Simon's approach could work perfectly well provided we are capable of replacing the whole natural world....
    posted by troutfishing at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2003


    Troutfishing> Have you considered the idea that rather than rely upon machines per se to provide the basic necessities of life in a post-environmental-breakdown future, that genetically engineered organisms might fill that role, while simultaneously filling the niches in the ecology left open by mass-extinctions?
    posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2003


    Also, he seems to forget that religion, specially all three "Religions of the Book" (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) agree that "Man is the sole master of the Earth and God will provide", that humanity should "go forth and multiply", "subdue the Earth", etc, etc, so an environmentalist can also use the religion argument to explain why we don't take doomsayers seriously.

    I think it's worth noting that there are strong stewardship motifs in the sacred texts included for at least Christianity and Judaism -- which means of course that, no, dominion does not mean indiscriminate appropriation of natural resources for capricious (or evil) motives is just fine.

    Of course, what you take away from any text depends in large part on what you bring to it, so it's not suprising it gets missed.
    posted by weston at 4:53 PM on December 11, 2003


    Anybody care to debate the statement, "science offers us the only way out of politics"? I personally think we have more than enough science. This is gonna sound hippy-dippy to some, but what about art? How 'bout religion? What we are lacking is spirit. Scientific data doesn't inspire.

    Consilience is indeed about this; however, it's also worth checking out Wendell Berry's Life is a Miracle for a response. Berry is wary of the consilience Wilson suggests... if it means that epistemiologically speaking that everything else is subject to science.
    posted by weston at 5:00 PM on December 11, 2003


    Just one more thing, I swear.

    "The modern, specialist mind makes things badly, by the measures of stewardship, of artistry, and often of utility. It is a mind so amazingly narrow that, because it knows some things, thinks it know or will know everything. It is a mind addicted to predictions and projections. It is fundamentally a gambler's mind, always acting with perfect optimism and self-assurance, always surprised by the adverse consequences of its actions. It is a mind too narrow, and its artistry is incomplete and destructive. " (again, Wendell Berry)

    I tend to read things like this, and then Sagan's Demon Haunted World and think they both might be right.

    I think there's a parallel between this and some thoughts I once had while listening to some class notes about what defines "creativity." One of the points was whether or not you can see an object as something other than what it is -- one classic example is seeing a pair of pantyhose as a potential temporary replacement for a fan belt. This is clearly a useful (if highly intuitive) skill. If you can't do it, you miss out on a wide variety of creative solutions (or amusements!) that can make life easier adn richer. But I also thought that if you had too much of that ability -- say, perhaps, as a one might in the middle of the night, when seeing the knots in door as eyes, or a sheet over a chair as a ghost -- you have a problem with sanity, responding to a misperception.
    posted by weston at 5:22 PM on December 11, 2003


    we are virus. with shoes.
    posted by quonsar at 5:30 PM on December 11, 2003


    quonsar - yes that's true, but we are also talking meat

    pseudo - " genetically engineered organisms might fill that role, while simultaneously filling the niches in the ecology left open by mass-extinctions" - I think I may have thought along those lines but blotted it out. But I'll happily support your authorship rights to the concept. Eek. Gene-mod organisms would surely do the job more effectively than machines. BTW - did you ever read "The Godwhale"?
    posted by troutfishing at 5:58 PM on December 11, 2003


    quonsar - Loren Eiseley also compared us to a slime mold.
    posted by troutfishing at 5:59 PM on December 11, 2003


    humbe - yeah, I suspect he's right.
    posted by troutfishing at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2003


    Anybody care to debate the statement, "science offers us the only way out of politics"?

    Some might say that science is inherently political, though it does its best to give the appearance of the contrary.

    Sandra Harding writes quite a bit about the myth of scientific objectivity and the successes of Western science. The essential claim is that our science isn't neutral, since it has historically been driven forward by money interests with very particular goals and ideals. Science might claim neutrality, but, in the end, if an American scientist is researching nuclear armaments to better explode the Russians, he is in no way neutral. It gets back to the idea that if science were really neutral, we wouldn't have any useful scientific theories. Since it's not neutral, we have a lot of useful stuff, but along the way, that stuff has often gone to serve all of the wrong people. Group Theory in mathematics developed out of the problem of how to better aim a cannon. High seas navigation came from a Western European drive to get resources from (erm, uh, "explore") other parts of the world, leading eventually to the many horrors of colonization. Most of our science these days is done by either military or corporate interests, who aren't at all neutral about what is getting developed or what it's being used for. Meanwhile, the myth of scientific neutrality is being used to hamstring those in academia with different views of the world.

    Our science may consist of a lot of nice, pristine formulas sitting on dusty bookshelves, but it cannot be separate from our highly politicized world, contrary to the Cartesian fallacy. We scientists live in the world, and our science ultimately must reflect that. "Scientific Neutrality" serves only the least neutral, those who are most interested in making sure that THEIR science is accepted as THE science, as the anti-global warming people make quite clear. What we need to do is admit that science IS culturally situated, to make these sorts of ridiculous claims less teneble. While it will greatly reduce the authority of our benevolent scientists, it will (with a few other restructurings) wholly remove the authority of invading influences. Global Warming science should come down to people saying, "Look. My land is turning into a desert, and last week I was almost killed by a giant ball of ice that fell from the sky. What can we do to fix that?"

    But I'm in the process of spinning horribly off-topic.

    The claim is that we should be extremely catious of those who present you with "The Facts," and claim that they were reached by scientifically neutral methods. We need a new approach, not to take the politics out of science, but to make those politics less obfuscated.
    posted by kaibutsu at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2003


    kaibutsu - many are now paid to work as professional obfuscators (I am quite serious - take a look at this). Perhaps we need more public education about how science works? If the public had a better sense of how scientific theories are generated and also how relatively rigorous the process of validating or rejecting new theories is (peer-review) they might be less susceptible to manipulation by those political interest groups which are uninterested in questions of (relative) scientific truth because they have been designed to disseminate propaganda.
    posted by troutfishing at 7:59 PM on December 11, 2003


    pseudo - " genetically engineered organisms might fill that role, while simultaneously filling the niches in the ecology left open by mass-extinctions" - I think I may have thought along those lines but blotted it out. But I'll happily support your authorship rights to the concept. Eek. Gene-mod organisms would surely do the job more effectively than machines. BTW - did you ever read "The Godwhale"?

    And Skyrealms of Jorune RPG was great in this aspect,
    also Bruce Sterlings Schismatrix
    and Futurama, sort of.
    posted by milovoo at 9:22 PM on December 11, 2003


    "Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better."

    Cretaceous Park anyone? The internet will degrade science, but if it's Hollywood putting money in my pocket, then it's not politics and everything is swell. Right? RIGHT? Pretty please right?

    /Laughable from beginning to end.
    posted by magullo at 6:47 AM on December 12, 2003


    What We Need More Of Is Science
    posted by bbrown at 6:57 AM on December 12, 2003


    magullo - did you hear about the new sci-fi coming out? - It concerns a project - to extract the DNA of huge, fossilized pickles and use it to rebuild a population of the huge vegetables (which have not lived on earth for over 20 million years). The project, of course, goes horribly amok during an inaugural visit by a small group who are being given a personal tour by the scientific genius behind the project. In the end, everyone dies except for a nubile starlet and Harrison Ford. It's called Vlassic Park.
    posted by troutfishing at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2003


    include more links

    I couldn't disagree more.
    posted by nthdegx at 9:22 AM on December 12, 2003


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