I strongly recommend reading this speech, given by the late Michael Crichton at the California Institute of Technology on 17 January 2003. It is an insightful analysis of important trends in our society, revealing much about the dynamics of several important public policy controversies of our time.
Update: the comments were so interesting that I wrote a new post, A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming.
“Aliens cause global warming” — Full copy here. Here is the opening:
My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.
Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.
I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.
It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be a very good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.
But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.
But let’s look at how it came to pass. …
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
- about the Science, Nature, and Geopolitics
Posts on the FM site about climate change:
- A look at the science and politics of global warming, 12 June 2008
- Global warming means more earthquakes!, 19 June 2008
- An article giving strong evidence of global warming, 30 June 2008
- Worrying about the Sun and climate change: cycle 24 is late, 10 July 2008
- More forecasts of a global cooling cycle, 15 July 2008
- Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?, 15 july 2008
- Two valuable perspectives on global warming, 4 August 2008
- President Kennedy speaks to us about global warming and Climate Science, 7 August 2008
- Solar Cycle 24 is still late, perhaps signalling cool weather ahead, 2 September 2008
- Update on solar cycle 24 – and a possible period of global cooling, 1 October 2008
- Good news about global warming!, 21 October 2008
- One of the most interesting sources of news about science and nature!, 27 October 2008