Sunday, January 29, 2006

State of Fear

I finally finished the last 70 pages of Michael Crighton's latest book over the weekend (I read the rest over break - the fact I put it down for a month should tell you something). It's a really bad novel. Boring characters, ridiculous plot (they tease the death of the female protagonist about 8 times, and after about 2 it's the boy who cried wolf), overt propaganda disguised as storytelling. But what bothered me the most about it was the fact it was a prime example of the very problem he wrote the book to criticize.

Crighton's basic thesis is that people form opinions about subjects they know little to nothing about. This information then gets passed along through people, and it creates entire networks of false thinking that become common knowledge. Essentially, he is saying, science should be science and it shouldn't be politicized. He uses this to take to task environmentalists generally and global warming as a concept specifically. I'll completely bypass the political motives of that move, and that specific debate. The problem is, if his point was that people should get information and not just repeat what they hear, his book does an awful job of applying that. He has these artificial dialogues between the Super Genius that represents his points and knows all of the facts, and these ignorant archetype characters that don't know a damn thing about the subject or even possess basic common sense. He then cites a bunch of one-sided footnotes and makes his own scientific argument under the guise of fiction. If the goal is for people to read information for themselves, and not just be motivated by politics, this book doesn't have the effect at all. It is so one-sided that it will serve as ammunition for ignorance, just for the side that Crighton is on. It passes along the message that there is a correct, enlightened view and a stupid, poorly-thought out and formed view. The people who already believe in the former won't look for additional information to research. The latter group will just dismiss it as silly, false propaganda. And thus his whole point, about integrity in science, is completely undermined. The better book would have been one where he makes you think that one side is right, and then he flips you over to the other side, and then flips you back again. I thought this is where he was going with the book for about 250 pages, and when I realized I was wrong, I quickly lost interest. Nobody likes art to beat you over the head with a ham-fisted message, even if you agree with the basic point. State of Fear is quite the failure in that and many other regards.


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