State of Fear
First edition cover
|December 7, 2004|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||641 (798 in special paperback ed.)|
State of Fear is a 2004 techno-thriller novel by Michael Crichton in which eco-terrorists plot mass murder to publicize the danger of global warming. Despite being a work of fiction, the book contains many graphs and footnotes, two appendices, and a twenty-page bibliography in support of Crichton's beliefs about global warming. Climate scientists, science journalists, environmental groups and science advocacy organisations dispute Crichton's views on the science as being error-filled and distorted. 
The novel had an initial print run of 1.5 million copies and reached the #1 bestseller position at Amazon.com and #2 on the New York Times Best Seller list for one week in January 2005. The novel itself has garnered mixed reviews, with some literary reviewers stating that the book's presentation of facts and stance on the global warming debate detracted from the book's plot.
State of Fear is, like many of Crichton's books, a fictional work that uses a mix of speculation and real world data, plus technological innovations as fundamental storyline devices. The debate over global warming serves as the backdrop for the book. Crichton supplies a personal afterword and two appendices that link the fictional part of the book with real examples of his thesis.
The main villains in the plot are environmental extremists. Crichton does place blame on "industry" in both the plot line and the appendices. Various assertions appear in the book, for example:
- The science behind global warming is speculative and incomplete, meaning no concrete conclusions can be drawn regarding human involvement in climate change.
- Elites in various fields use either real or artificial crises to maintain the existing social order, misusing the "science" behind global warming.
- As a result of potential conflicts of interest, the scientists conducting research on topics related to global warming may subtly change their findings to bring them in line with their funding sources. Since climatology can not incorporate double-blind studies, as are routine in other sciences, and climate scientists set experiment parameters, perform experiments within the parameters they have set, and analyze the resulting data, a phenomenon known as "bias" is offered as the most benign reason for climate science being so inaccurate.
- A key concept, delivered from the eccentric Professor Hoffman, suggests, in Hoffman's words, the existence of a "politico-legal-media" complex, comparable to the "military industrial complex," of the Cold War era. Hoffman insists climate science began using more extreme, fear-inducing terms such as "crisis," "catastrophe," and, "disaster," shortly after the fall of The Berlin Wall, in order to maintain a level of fear in citizens, for the purpose of social control, since the specter of Soviet Communism was gone. This "state of fear" gives the book its title.
Numerous charts and quotations from real world data, including footnoted charts which strongly suggest mean global temperature is, in this era, lowering. Where local temperatures show a general rise in mean temperature, mostly in major world cities, Crichton's characters infer it is due to urban sprawl and deforestation, not carbon emissions.
Crichton argues for removing politics from science and uses global warming and real-life historical examples in the appendices to make this argument. In a 2003 speech at the California Institute of Technology he expressed his concern about what he considered the "emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science—namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy."
Peter Evans is a lawyer for a millionaire philanthropist, George Morton. Evans' main duties are managing the legal affairs surrounding Morton's contributions to an environmentalist organization, the National Environmental Resource Fund (NERF) (modeled after the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC]).
Morton becomes suspicious of NERF's director, Nicholas Drake, after he discovers that Drake has misused some of the funds Morton had donated to the group. Soon after, Morton is visited by two men, John Kenner and Sanjong Thapa, who appear on the surface to be researchers at MIT, but, in fact, are international law enforcement agents on the trail of an eco-terrorist group, the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) (modeled on the Earth Liberation Front). The ELF is attempting to create "natural" disasters to convince the public of the dangers of global warming. All these events are timed to happen during a NERF-sponsored climate conference that will highlight the "catastrophe" of global warming. The eco-terrorists have no qualms about how many people are killed in their manufactured "natural" disasters and ruthlessly assassinate anyone who gets in their way (their preferred methods being ones few would recognize as murder; the venom of a rare Australian blue-ringed octopus which causes paralysis, and "lightning attractors" which cause their victims to get electrocuted in electrical storms). Kenner and Thapa suspect Drake of involvement with the ELF to further his own ends (garnering more donations to NERF from the environmentally-minded public).
Evans joins Kenner, Thapa, and Morton's assistant, Sarah Jones on a globe-spanning series of adventures to thwart various ELF-manufactured disasters before these disasters kill thousands of people. Kenner's niece, Jennifer Haynes, joins the group for the final leg as they travel to a remote island in the Solomons to stop the ELF's "piece de resistance", a tsunami that will inundate the coastline of California just as Drake is winding up the international conference on the "catastrophe" of global warming. Along the way they battle man-eating crocodiles and cannibalistic tribesmen (who feast on Ted Bradley, an environmentalist TV actor whom Drake had sent to spy on Kenner and his team). The rest of the group are rescued in the nick of time by Morton who had previously faked his own death to throw Drake off the trail so that he could keep watch on the ELF's activities on the island while he waited for Kenner and his team to arrive. The group has a final confrontation with the elite ELF team on the island during which Haynes is almost killed and Evans kills one of the terrorists who had previously tried to kill both him and Jones in Antarctica. The rest of the ELF team is killed by the backwash from their own tsunami, which Kenner and his team have sabotaged just enough to prevent it from becoming a full-size tsunami and reaching California. Morton, Evans and Jones return to Los Angeles. Evans quits the firm to work for Morton's new (unnamed) organization, which will practice environmental activism as a business, free from potential conflicts of interest. He hopes Evans and Jones will take his place in the new organization after his death.
Several critics have suggested that Crichton uses the major characters as proxies for differing viewpoints on the topic of global warming in order to allow the reader to clearly follow the various positions portrayed in the book.
- Joseph Romm suggests that Kenner is a stand-in for Crichton himself.
- David Roberts suggests that Evans is the stand-in for the reader (who Crichton presumes accepts most of the tenets of global warming without any detailed study of it, but not unquestioningly) and also that Ted Bradley is a stand-in for people who accept the "environmentalist" party line without question.
- Ronald Bailey suggests that Drake is a stand-in for the environmental movement "professional" activist.
- Bruce Barcott suggests that Sarah, and Michael B. McElroy and Daniel P. Schrag suggest that Jennifer are stand-ins for the academic community (intelligent enough to follow the debate but undecided until the evidence is presented) with Sarah being the portion of the community likely to believe in global warming on less than undeniable evidence (they will accept "Likely, but not proven" as sufficient proof) and Jennifer representing the part of the community that accepts undeniable evidence only.
- Michael B. McElroy and Daniel P. Schrag also suggest that Jennifer is simultaneously a stand-in for conflicts of interest created by how the research is funded (i.e. her "official" story changes based on who is paying the bills but in private she makes her true feelings known).
- Gregory Mone suggests that Sanjong is a stand-in for the local university library/reputable Internet source verification, etc.
Crichton included a statement of his views on global climate change as an afterword. In the "Author's message", Crichton states that the cause, extent, and threat of climate change is largely unknown and unknowable. He finishes by endorsing the management of wilderness and the continuation of research into all aspects of the Earth's environment.
In Appendix I, Crichton warns both sides of the global warming debate against the politicization of science. Here he provides two examples of the disastrous combination of pseudo-science and politics: the early 20th-century ideas of eugenics (which he directly cites as one of the theories that allowed for the Holocaust) and Lysenkoism.
This appendix is followed by a bibliography of 172 books and journal articles that Crichton presents "...to assist those readers who would like to review my thinking and arrive at their own conclusions." (State of Fear, pp, 583).
The novel has received mixed reviews from professional literary reviewers.
The Wall Street Journal's Ronald Bailey gave a favorable review, calling it "a lightning-paced technopolitical thriller" and the "novelization of a speech that Mr. Crichton delivered in September 2003 at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club." Entertainment Weekly's Gregory Kirschling gave a favorable A- review and said it was "one of Crichton's best because it's as hard to pigeonhole as greenhouse gas but certainly heats up the room."
In The New Republic, Sacha Zimmerman gave a mixed review. Zimmerman criticized Crichton's presentation of data as condescending to the reader but concluded that the book was a "globe-trotting thriller that pits man against nature in brutal spectacles while serving up just the right amount of international conspiracy and taking digs at fair-weather environmentalists."
Much criticism was given to Crichton's presentation of global warming data and the book's portrayal of the global warming debate as a whole. In the Sydney Morning Herald, John Birmingham criticized the book's usage of real world research and said it was "boring after the first lecture, but mostly in the plotting... It's bad writing and it lets the reader ignore the larger point Crichton is trying to make." In The Guardian, Peter Guttridge wrote that the charts and research in the book got "in the way of the thriller elements" and stated the bibliography was more interesting than the plot. In The New York Times, Bruce Barcott criticized the novel's portrayal of the global warming debate heavily, stating that it only presented one side of the argument.
In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Allan Walton gave a mostly favorable review and offered some praise for Crichton's work. Walton wrote that Crichton's books, "as meticulously researched as they are, have an amusement park feel. It's as if the author channels one of his own creations, "Jurassic Park's" John Hammond, and spares no expense when it comes to adventure, suspense and, ultimately, satisfaction."
Criticism from scientific community
This novel received criticism from climate scientists, science journalists and environmental groups for inaccuracies and misleading information. Sixteen of 18 U.S. climate scientists interviewed by Knight Ridder said the author was bending scientific data and distorting research.
Several scientists whose research had been referenced in the novel stated that Crichton had distorted it in the novel. Peter Doran, leading author of the Nature paper, wrote in the New York Times stating that
- "... our results have been misused as 'evidence' against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel 'State of Fear'"
Myles Allen, Head of the Climate Dynamics Group, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, wrote in Nature in 2005, "Michael Crichton’s latest blockbuster, State of Fear, is also on the theme of global warming and is,...likely to mislead the unwary....Although this is a work of fiction, Crichton's use of footnotes and appendices is clearly intended to give an impression of scientific authority."
The American Geophysical Union, consisting of over 50,000 members from over 135 countries, states in their newspaper Eos in 2006, "We have seen from encounters with the public how the political use of State of Fear has changed public perception of scientists, especially researchers in global warming, toward suspicion and hostility."
James E. Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the time, wrote "He (Michael Crichton) doesn’t seem to have the foggiest notion about the science that he writes about." Jeffrey Masters, Chief meteorologist for Weather Underground, writes: "Crichton presents an error-filled and distorted version of the Global Warming science, favoring views of the handful of contrarians that attack the consensus science of the IPCC."
Despite being a work of fiction, the book has found use by global warming skeptics. For example, US Senator Jim Inhofe, who once pronounced global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people", made State of Fear "required reading" for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which he chaired from 2003 to 2007, and before which he called Crichton to testify in September 2005.
Al Gore said on March 21, 2007 before a US House committee: "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor [...] if your doctor tells you you need to intervene here, you don't say 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem'". Several commentators interpreted this as a reference to State of Fear.
AAPG 2006 Journalism Award
The novel received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) 2006 Journalism Award. AAPG Communications director Larry Nation told the New York Times, "It is fiction, but it has the absolute ring of truth". The presentation of this award has been criticized as a promotion of the politics of the oil industry and for blurring the lines between fiction and journalism. After some controversy within the organization, AAPG has since renamed the award the "Geosciences in the Media" Award.
Daniel P. Schrag, Director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University, called the award "a total embarrassment" that he said "reflects the politics of the oil industry and a lack of professionalism" on the association's part. As for the book, he added "I think it is unfortunate when somebody who has the audience that Crichton has shows such profound ignorance".
- Myles Allen (2005-01-20). "A novel view of global warming — Book Reviewed: State of Fear" (PDF). Nature. 433 (7023): 198. Bibcode:2005Natur.433..198A. doi:10.1038/433198a. PDF version from climateprediction.net site
- Review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear : Weather Underground
- Doran, Peter (July 27, 2006). "Cold, Hard Facts". Opinion. New York Times.
- Michael Crichton's "Scientific Method" James E. Hansen
- Union of Concerned Scientists Crichton's Thriller State of Fear: Separating Fact from Fiction
- Borenstein, Seth (2005-02-10). "Novel on global warming gets some scientists burned up". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Aliens Cause Global Warming a speech give at the California Institute of Technology January 17, 2003
- Bruce Barcott (2005-01-30). "'State of Fear': Not So Hot". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
- Romm, Joseph (May 2005). "Greenhouse Gas
Michael Crichton's new novel fingers the wrong villains in global warming". Technology Review.
- Wall Street Journal Review
- Barcott, Bruce (January 30, 2005). "'State of Fear': Not So Hot". Sunday Book Review. New York Times.
- McElroy MB, Schrag DP (March–April 2005). "Overheated Rhetoric
A new novel misrepresents global warming and distorts science". Harvard Magazine.
- Popular Science's Review
- "State of Fear. What the Critics Said". Metacritic.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Ronald Bailey (2004-12-10). "A Chilling Tale. Michael Crichton's "State of Fear"". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
- Gregory Kirschling (2004-12-13). "Book Review State of Fear (2004)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Sacha Zimmerman (2005-01-20). "Review-A-Day: State of Fear. Weather Man". The New Republic. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- John Birminghamn (2005-01-15). "Books: State of Fear". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Peter Guttridge (2005-01-16). "Well, the bibliography sings". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Bruce Barcott (2005-01-30). "'State of Fear': Not So Hot". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Allan Walton (2004-12-24). "'State of Fear': 'State of Fear' by Michael Crichton". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
- Peter Doran (2006-07-27). "Cold, Hard Facts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Mooney, Chris (2005-01-18). "Bad Science, Bad Fiction". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
- Evans, Harold (2005-10-07). "Crichton's conspiracy theory". BBC NEWS. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- "Michael Crichton's State of Fear: They Don't Call It Science Fiction for Nothing". Natural Resources Defense Council. 2004-12-16. Archived from the original on 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- "Crichton's Thriller State of Fear". Union of Concerned Scientists. 2005-06-27. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
- Doran PT, Priscu JC, Lyons WB, et al. (2002-01-13). "Antarctic climate cooling and terrestrial ecosystem response". Nature. 415 (6871): 517–520. doi:10.1038/nature710. PMID 11793010. as PDF
- <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (5 September 2006). "American Geophysical Union, Petroleum Geologists' Award to Novelist Crichton Is Inappropriate" (PDF). Eos. 87 (36).
- Mooney, Chris (2005-01-11). "Warmed Over — American Prospect: Sen. James Inhofe's Science Abuse". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
- Coile, Zachary (2006-10-11). "Senator says warming by humans just a hoax". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
- Janofsky, Michael (2005-09-29). "Michael Crichton, Novelist, Becomes Senate Witness". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
- Glenn, Joshua (1 April 2007). "Climate of fear". The Boston Globe.
- "More from 'Inconvenient Gore'". Alaska Report. 22 March 2007.
- "What Al Gore Really Wants". FOX News. 25 March 2007.
- Ansible 237, April 2007
- Dean, Cornelia (2006-02-09). "Truth? Fiction? Journalism? Award Goes to …". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
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