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A Great Science Fiction Writer Passes - Goodbye Dr. Crichton

Posted on 7 November 2008 by John Cross

The world lost one of its best (in my opinion) science fiction writers on November 4.  Dr. Michael Crichton passed away after making huge impact on literature, arts, film and culture over the last 40 years (come on now, who really ever heard of a velociraptor before Jurassic Park).  I remember watching the original Andromeda Strain movie back in 1971 and while I was only in high school - I was fascinated by the story and the science.  My heart and sympathies go out to his family and I wish them well as I reflect on his excellent works.

Unfortunately the one area where I strongly disagreed with Dr. Crichton was in his interpretation of climate science.  Throughout his career he gave several talks and wrote one book that tend to confuse the issue of climate change.  His book "State of Fear" was a good thriller, but unfortunately the science it presents is very flawed and based on misinterpretations and cherry picking.  A review of it can be found over at RealClimate however suffice it to say that several of the extensive references he includes actually contradict the points he makes.  There is actually nothing wrong with this since it is a work of fiction - but that is the extent of it. "State of Fear" is not a reference or a scientific paper on the topic.

His speech "Aliens Cause Global Warming" was a much more direct assault on the science of global warming - essentially arguing that public policy should not be based on the current state of knowledge about global warming because the science is wrong.  The ironic thing is that he actually ignores the science and physics of global warming and instead bases his argument on a number of not terribly appropriate analogies.  He continues to throw in a number of other problems (e.g. confusing climate with weather or claiming that future technology will fix everything) which - all in all - makes for a poor scientific treatment of the subject (but - I would assume - an entertaining talk).

The world has lost a great writer and entertainer.  I think we owe him the favour of not remembering him for his least notable work.

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Comments 1 to 18:

  1. Yes that's a pretty fair appraisal. Michael Crichton should be remembered for his excellent early science fiction and the outstanding films that flowed naturally from several of his best books. The ideas and solid writing completely lended themselves to top quality and thought-provoking films. The Andromeda Strain was an awesome film (I hadn't realised that it was a Michael Crichton based-piece). So kudos to Crichton. And not only would I echo your sentiment that he should be remembered for this body of work, I'm pretty sure that he will be. I also agree that we shouldn't forget the travesty of his "State of Fear", and more specifically the political mileage that was made of that dreary and scientifically-illiterate polemic, and the manner in which dismal vested interests elevated Crichton the novelist to the status of some sort of an "expert" on climate-related matters! In my opinion the manner in which Crichton's fantasy was puffed up to assume the guise of reality, ultimately did Crichton a disservice. That was part of a nasty little period in US history, the worst of which has happily passed; Michael Crichton's legacy will be the books and especially the films that resulted, and quite right too!
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  2. Fair enough. I'm not so much a fan of Crichton when it comes to Science Fiction writing. I think that Asimov, Heinlein, Ted Sturgeon, John Brunner, Van Vogt, Philipp K Dick, and others have works that are more interesting. Like Norman Spinrad short stories too. My all time SF favorite remains T.J. Bass' "Godwhale," which I warmly recommend to anyone who is into the genre. Crichton's Jurassic Park pieces were a lot of fun to watch on film.
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  3. Chris: That was part of a nasty little period in US history, the worst of which has happily passed; I suspect (and hope) that you are correct. It will be interesting to see what the US does about climate change under Obama. I suspect that the current economic problems will lead to an automatic GHG reduction - but not in a way desirable. However I suspect that our good host would call that off topic and I would not want to see this thread devolve into a political thread. Philippe: Good authors all. I will also note that T.J. Bass is a medical doctor like Michael Crichton. One of the things that I found impressive about Crichton is that he was able to use technology in works that you wouldn't normally think of as science fiction. For example Disclosure (which I did not really like) and Rising Sun (which I did). Regards, John
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  4. John, I wasn't really meaning the political situation as such (e.g. Reps/Dems!), but was referring more to the period in which widespread misrepresentation of the science by propagandising from many quarters had such a dismal (and anti-democratic) effect on public understanding of this issue. Sadly Michael Crichton got caught up in all of that. I think we're well over the worst of it and it's increasingly difficult for "skeptics" (!) to misrepresent the science with any conviction nowadays. But it seems appropriate to consider Michael Crichton's role as a misrepresenter of the science on global warming in the context of this web site, which has a theme of addressing "skeptical" misrepresentation. I wonder whether Michael Crichton would consider that he made a worthy contribution to the public's understanding of climate science and especially to the relationship between science and policy. It would be interesting to know why he chose the role he chose. In the end Crichton's role in this will probably be forgotten, and it's the films that he will be remembered for...a more worthy memorial.
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  5. I'll put "Rising Sun" on my list, John, thx for the tip.
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  6. The 13th Warrior (Eaters of the Dead) was my favorite movie but I had some trouble getting into the book. Jurrasic Park my favorite book by him (the movie was good but not as). Then there was Prey and State of Fear, both excellent but somewhat alarmist.
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  7. Quietman: I also liked the 13th Warrior - although it got a little over the top at the end. I did not like Prey at all. It is possible that since I am involved in a field close to fluid mechanics I am more critical of some of the fluid parts than others would be. Anyway, I did not find it his best work. I have not read State of Fear - but I have read enough excerpts to get an idea. I am sure that if one keeps in mind that it clearly is a work of fiction then it would appeal to some people. Regards, John
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  8. This is what "State of Fear" is about and like all of Michaels works is based on his investigations and conclusions drawn from same and then voiced in the form of a novel. It was one of, if not his best, works. The following is a paragraph from environmentalism as a religion in a speech at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, CA, September 15, 2003 How will we manage to get environmentalism out of the clutches of religion, and back to a scientific discipline? There's a simple answer: we must institute far more stringent requirements for what constitutes knowledge in the environmental realm. I am thoroughly sick of politicized so-called facts that simply aren't true. It isn't that these "facts" are exaggerations of an underlying truth. Nor is it that certain organizations are spinning their case to present it in the strongest way. Not at all---what more and more groups are doing is putting out is lies, pure and simple. Falsehoods that they know to be false. Thank you Michael. R.I.P.
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  9. I really did not like State of Fear,to me in seemed paranoid. I have trouble believing characters who are knowingly and deliberately evil. Yes I know that some people have just the types of motives he presented but I have trouble believing stories that involve big conspiracies and secret government organizations. I read a lot of sci fi but this one I did not like. Stupid doesn't need a conspiracy it does fine working free lance. None the less he did many good things and I'm sorry he is gone.
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  10. WA That is what I meant by "somewhat alarmist" in my earlier comment. Many of his books were alarmist in nature but that is what fiction is all about. "Prey", the fear of nanotech; "Andromeda Strain" fear of the government; "Jurassic Park", fear of genetic engineering. "Eaters of the Dead" was a departure from alarmism for him but just as enjoyable.
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  11. Good point. I did like those books, I wonder why State of Fear rubbed me so wrong.
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  12. An interesting piece with a little insight: Scion of Frankenstein Michael Crichton, novelist and policy provocateur Ronald Bailey | February 2009
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  13. I did read state of fear and decided it was not great fiction but its commentary on environmentnal extremism and the global warming alarm scam was right on. I think many are attempting to diminish the man as a clear thinker just because he using science fiction as a venue. Many who work in science and are trained in core disciplines use fiction as a venue for their commentary Here is what got from the book and have had confirmed to my own satisfaction in a number of ways: 1) The environmental movement is not a movement of idealism but instead one of elitism. This is why the extremely wealthy global warming profiteers and hollywood and government elitists who push this nonsense will condemn joe 6-packs SUV but never their own use of private jets. The size of ones car is the issue but certainly not how many mansions one owns or the carbon footprint of each of them. The research grant con-artists equally jealously protect their budgets to consume fossil fuels and their world travel priveleges. No one holds tele-conferences, prefering resort venues and 5 star hotels and wining and dining on the taxpayer dime to hold "meetings" to discuss and condemn the rest of the world for attemping to improve their own lives. Invariably these meetings are held during the coldest winter months at places with low latitudes and a nearby beach. Their own world travel junkets are necerssary to condemn the thermostat setting of those who say home during our terribly frigid winters. 2) Global warming is not global. This an odd contradiction. If we "average" all of the surface temperatures we see a "warming signal" over the past 100 years or so. Individual monitoring stations do indeed simulataneously show cooling trends so that the US "warming" trend doesnt "bath" us in warmth but rather "spatters" us with it. New York City registers an alarming "global" warming signal while Albany a few short miles away simutaneously cools. Thats really odd and the only conclusion I can draw is that the data has been biased buy something other than planetery trace gases distributions in the atmosphere.
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  14. Actually all the novels I've read by Crichton are heavily founded on either misunderstood or misrepresented 'science', so much so that I'd be tempted to not class them as 'science fiction' any more than Star Wars is science fiction. Even worse, there is a strong undercurrent of distrust and even denigration of a perceived scientific elite, plus a fair amount of ignorance of the scientific method. Yes, his books are great page turners, but they are less useful to learn about science, than the Da Vinci Code is to learn about history.
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  15. ginckgo Dr. Crichton (M.D.) did base his novels on well research and use the worst scenarios of scientific forecasts. That is why it is called Science Fiction and not one of the other types like horror or fantasy. The alarmists are depicted as also in the worst cases but from real cases, some people are that sick enough to do something like that portrayed in "State of Fear". All of his novels are way to depict his personal fears as a message while still enjoying in a novel. To instill a reader the possibilities of what can happen if we ignore the world around us.
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  16. ps "Eater of the dead" is different from most his books and IMO it's one of his best (but I like the movie better).
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  17. CORRECTION: "Eaters of the Dead" (dropped the "s") a.k.a. The 16th Warrior.
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  18. When is the movie of 'State of Fear' coming out?. The references at the end are a useful guide also.
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