The Intersection

My copy of Rebel-in-Chief just arrived, and I can now quote you exactly what the book says about Bush’s views on global warming, and his meeting with Michael Crichton. From p. 22-23:

The president later provoked worldwide protests when he formally withdrew the United States from the Kyoto global warming treaty. The environmental lobby in this country fumed, but Bush didn’t flinch. The treaty had never been ratified and stood little chance of winning Senate approval. Though he didn’t say so publicly, Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming. To the extent it’s a problem, Bush believes it can be solved by technology. He avidly read Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel State of Fear, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming. Crichton himself has studied the issue extensively and concluded that global warming is an unproven theory and that the threat is vastly overstated. Early in 2005, political adviser Karl Rove arranged for Crichton to meet with Bush at the White House. They talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement. The visit was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalists all the more.

It’s hard to decide what’s the bigger outrage here: 1) That Bush didn’t tell the public his real “dissenter” view on global warming; or 2) that Karl Rove set up a secret science advisory session for the president with a novelist. In any case, in this story we see several strong tendencies of this administration going hand in hand: A penchant for secrecy, an unwillingness to level with the public, and a disdain for science.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    February 16, 2006

    Chris – You forgot The Big One: Repeated failure of Bush and his administration to admit they are, have been, or might be wrong.

  2. #2 Robb Heier
    February 16, 2006

    You are leaving out one of the other hallmarks of this administration: seeking out “expert” advice or information which supports their predetermined position.

  3. #3 Fred Bortz
    February 16, 2006

    You’ve got to wonder what Bush and his cohorts really believe. According to Andrew Revkin in today’s NY Times, they apparently decided to stifle NASA’s reporting on climate and air pollution data until after the ’04 election.

    They know the truth, but it is inconvenient politically to admit it. So what else is new?

    I’m surprised I blogged about today’s Revkin piece (http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/blog/fred_bortz) before you did!

  4. #4 Dylan Otto Krider
    February 16, 2006

    Well, if you’re looking for someone to debunk global warming, you aren’t going to find a scientist to advise the President. Chrichton’s about as close as Marburger could get.

  5. #5 Bradley
    February 16, 2006

    I wonder if Crichton and Bush performed some spoon-bending:

    http://www.crichton-official.com/travels/index.html

  6. #6 VKW
    February 16, 2006

    Didn’t Bush say that he was going to endorse the Kyoto treaty when he was running for President in 2000? I mean, I don’t think anyone believed it, but still…

  7. #7 Jon Nickles
    February 16, 2006

    He avidly read Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel State of Fear…

    I have a hard time picturing Bush reading anything avidly, even if it’s something that supports his worldview. It’s easier for me to picture him sitting on Rove’s lap while having it read to him.

    Bush’s continual reliance on non-experts in every area regardng policy is making me sick.

  8. #8 P.M.Bryant
    February 16, 2006

    It’s hard to decide what’s the bigger outrage here: 1) That Bush didn’t tell the public his real “dissenter” view on global warming; or 2) that Karl Rove set up a secret science advisory session for the president with a novelist.

    On (1), would you prefer that Bush stump for the global warming dissenters?

    And on (2), it hardly seems like a “science advisory session” (I doubt Bush ever has any such thing). More like a talk-to-someone-who-will-make-Bush-feel-good-by-telling-him-things-he-wants-to-hear session. Bush probably has dozens of those every day.

  9. #9 Stefan Jones
    February 16, 2006

    It’s easier for me to picture him sitting on Rove’s lap while having it read to him.

    Thanks, Jon. Thanks a lot.

    It’s going to take a while to get that image out of my head.

    * * *

    The other facet of the administration’s “expert advice from non-experts” numskullery:

    Keep the minutes of the meetings, or even who attended them, secret so that in the future folks won’t be afraid of giving the president “unvarnished advice.”

    Sheeesh.

  10. #10 Buffalo Gal
    February 16, 2006

    Crichton’s a novelist who’s researched topics to inform his fiction; he’s not a scientist. I mean, I’ve researched things for college papers, that doesn’t mean I’ve actually done research. Doesn’t this administration know the difference, or do they just not care?

  11. #11 fyreflye
    February 16, 2006

    He avidly read Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel State of Fear…

    I have a hard time picturing Bush reading anything avidly, even if it’s something that supports his worldview. It’s easier for me to picture him sitting on Rove’s lap while having it read to him.

    I have it on the highest authority that Bush was listening to it on tape while clearing brush for a photo op at his ranch the day the levees collapsed in New Orleans.

  12. #12 Harris Contos
    February 16, 2006

    Of course Barnes’ book is a laugher right out of the starting gate, one that properly belongs on the fiction shelf. Diane Rehm did a neat, to-the-point takedown of him recently on the claim of his subject matter’s willingness to serve in Viet Nam, which alone speaks to the worth of the book. Just as Mr. Mooney has demonstrated in “RWOS,” I wish someone would do an expose’ on the genesis, financing, writing, and marketing of such “creative writing” exercises as “Rebel-in-Chief.” Since Barnes’ book is published by Crown Forum, an avowedly conservative imprint, and since Barnes is, or was, an editor at “The Weekly Standard,” which depends upon money either from Rupert Murdoch or the Heritage Foundation to stay afloat, my quick connecting of the more obvious dots is that some behind-the-scenes Wizards of Oz, most likely public relations flacks, cooked up the idea for the book, including its deliberately provocative but preposterous title and thesis, and then laundered money to Barnes to be the front man on the bookselling circuit. It’s all an example of the Right-wingnut effort to shape and control the public discourse, and as much as it’s important to see direct refutation of its untenable assertions blandishments such as here, I would love to see the whole sordid world of conservative “publishing” revealed for what it is.

  13. #13 NelC
    February 16, 2006

    Now do you see the dangers inherent in encouraging book-reading, PZ?

  14. #14 NelC
    February 16, 2006

    Ak, no, wrong forum, I take it back.

    (Sorry, the Scienceblogs standard format confused me.)

  15. #15 Keith
    February 16, 2006

    Crichton’s a novelist who’s researched topics to inform his fiction; he’s not a scientist.

    Actually, Crichton is a medical doctor, earning his MD from Harvard Medical School, and taught physical anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He very definitely has a background as a scientist and is competent to evaluate the research.

    That being said, it doesn’t surprise me that Bush’s idea of doing his homework is to call in the author of his favorite novels, which incidentally are his favorites because they agree with what he thinks. (Note: Bush very definitely ISN’T a scientist nor is competent to evaluate scientific research. Nor, I suspect, is anyone else in the White House….)

  16. #16 Mark Christal
    February 16, 2006

    Good science fiction writers do extensive science research to give their speculations a ring of truth. But in the end it is always FICTION!

    Beam me up, Scotty.

  17. #17 Aaron
    February 16, 2006

    Thanks for posting this, Chris. I’m appalled but I’m not surprised. Btw, you might want to add this information to Crichton’s wikipedia entry.

  18. #18 Ike Hall
    February 16, 2006

    Just from the information presented here, I don’t get the impression that the meeting was anything close to an ‘advisory meeting’, but most likely an exchange of views by two men who shared some kind of mutual admiration. its hard to believe that a single 1 hour meeting would be the driving force behind any major policy. But then again, stranger things have happened. It’s hard to draw any kind of conclusion about anything just from the fact that they had a meeting though, much less that it was a science advisory meeting.

  19. #19 AJ
    February 17, 2006

    You can find the gist of Crichton’s argument in the transcript of a talk he had given in DC {http://www.michaelcrichton.com/speeches/complexity/complexity.html}..
    any scientist worth his salt can find a dozen gaping holes in his thinking (which basically goes like — all this climate stuff is too complex for us to understand/ all environmentalists think in simplistic ways/ ergo, what they say is all wrong). It is also an argument from negativity, with some ridiculous unrelated examples to support his ideas (Y2K anybody?). It is very unfortunate that he is the one getting all the politician’s ears….

  20. #20 outeast
    February 17, 2006

    Crichton may be a qualified medical doctor, Keith; however, he’s a bit off-the-wall in some of his ‘scientific’ opinions. I actually read his dreadful 1999 novel ‘Timeline’, wherein he asserts – and I quote pretty much verbatim, since the phrase has etched itself in my memory indelibly – ‘the theory that germs cause disease is not as proven as most people believe it to be.’ (I won’t even touch on the inaccuracies in his historical ‘research’ for that book…)

  21. #21 Anonymous
    February 17, 2006

    See, it’s actually an example of the administration’s efforts to make sure they are guided by good science. Because global warming is such a contentious issue, you can’t trust climate scientists, who have a vested interest in the issue to give you advice. You need to bring in an outsider. Someone who is impartial. Someone unencumbered by all that pesky ‘knowledge.’ And if he can write the report in an entertaining fashion, or, even better, maybe write a screenplay in an entertaining fashion, then so much the better.

  22. #22 slpage
    February 17, 2006

    Crichton ‘researched’ this, did he? He was trained as a medical doctor (and never practiced medicine), correct?

    Hmmm…

  23. #23 alec
    February 17, 2006

    From the administration that brought you Harriet Miers and ‘Heck-ova Job’ Brown.

    PS I heard they’re hiring out the Scooby Doo department of Halliburton to find WMD’s. This is when Saddam turns into a ghost and chases after Dafney for a couple of years.

  24. #24 Barry
    February 17, 2006

    “Actually, Crichton is a medical doctor, earning his MD from Harvard Medical School, and taught physical anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He very definitely has a background as a scientist and is competent to evaluate the research.”

    Posted by: Keith

    I didn’t think that medical school or anthropology taught much in the way of climatology; goes to show how little I know.

  25. #25 Carlie
    February 17, 2006

    “Actually, Crichton is a medical doctor, earning his MD from Harvard Medical School, and taught physical anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He very definitely has a background as a scientist and is competent to evaluate the research.”

    No, he isn’t. One doesn’t get a “science” degree that confers superior knowledge in every scientific subject. Global warming involves ecology, climate studies, paleontology, computer modeling, and a host of other related topics, none of which is present in a general “pre-med” type of degree. At most he probably had one undergrad class that mentioned climate zones. I’m a paleontologist, so does my science degree make me qualified to evaluate a debate on the finer points of the etiology of a particular type of cancer? I certainly hope not. That’s the same false conflation that allows an economic “scientist” to chime in and claim some superior expertise on ID. Chrichton can talk about global warming all he wants, but I’d like for the leader of the country to go to actual experts when he wants some information on it.

  26. #26 Vercingetrorix
    February 17, 2006

    So Bushie thinks we might actually have a problem here, but the Technology Fairy will make it all better. The really sad irony is, global warming might actually be alleviated by technology, if we, like, you know, actually invested in research and development of clean energy alternatives, instead of starving them of funds while allwing Exxon to gorge on record profits.

  27. #27 Nick Hodges
    February 17, 2006

    I’ll weigh in here:

    I just read _State of Fear_. All those footnotes were real.

    ‘Nuff said.

  28. #28 Jon Koppenhoefer
    February 17, 2006

    This meeting between Bush the Idiot and Crichton the Harvard MD-turned-novelist (author of such works as ‘The Berkeley to Boston $40 Brick Bag Blues’ and other popular ‘science’ fictions?) reminds me of the epiphanic meeting of Ronald Reagan (‘an amiable dunce’, said Helmut Kohl) and Edward Teller, which resulted in the wonderfully overbudgeted and underperforming Star Wars missile defense ‘program’.

    It’s glorious when a politician of limited intellect and less education shores up his half-assed ‘ideas’ with a one-sided presentation by a single ‘expert’ person chosen precisely because he agrees with the politician, and who stands against all, or most, of his equals (or betters).

    This is no way to make science policy, but it seems to suffice in BushWorld. Aren’t there any reputable scientists in the Republican Party? Why aren’t they speaking out?

  29. #29 Kevin D. Korenthal
    February 17, 2006

    I just want to say that I thought it has always been fairly obvious that Bush thought that Global Warming is much less a threat than the environazis, who make their bread and butter from doomsday predictions of the deplation of the atmosphere etc. would have us believe. I think this post is yet another case of making something of nothing, a practice liberals have perfected since being out of power the better half of the last 30 years.

  30. #30 laurence Jewett
    February 17, 2006

    Carlie said: “Chrichton can talk about global warming all he wants, but I’d like for the leader of the country to go to actual experts when he wants some information on it.”

    You can say that again (and again) repetitively (mulitiple times).

    But, unfortunately, there is more than ample evidence (under every bush) that Bush does not seek out “advice” so much as “confirmation” that he is ALREADY correct.

    Chrichton is clearly not a climate scientist (last time I checked, there was no MD for “Ear, Nose and Climate” specialist), but worse still, Bush seems to have a penchant for seeking “advice” from those who already share his world view (and not JUST on scientific issues).

    One can only guess at what goes on at such sessions, but I would venture to say that, whatever it is, it is probably MUCH closer to scientific “re-vising” than scientific “ad-vising”.

  31. #31 laurence jewett
    February 17, 2006

    Nick Hodges posted that

    “I just read _State of Fear_. All those footnotes were real.

    ‘Nuff said.”

    I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree. Footnotes, even if accurate, do not mean a whole heck of a lot in and of themselves, EVEN when they are part of a scientific work (which State of Fear is not).

    What matters MOST is whether or not the arguments given are supported by the facts.

    I would suggest that anyone interested in whether this is indeed the case check out the following on the “Real Climate” site, in which Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies addresses Chrichton’s arguments:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=74

  32. #32 Jon Winsor
    February 17, 2006

    “I just read _State of Fear_. All those footnotes were real.

    ‘Nuff said.”

    What would fake footnotes look like? Would they be in the wrong font? Or fake charts and graphs? They would have some of the squiggleys in the wrong place? Maybe not quite ready for USA Today? Would their color scheme be off?

    I’m using humor here, but also making a point. You really need someone who knows the science in order to know whether an argument is substantial or not. And famously, Michael Crichton did not consult with anyone like that when he wrote State of Fear. You can’t rely on the “truthiness” of a footnote, chart or graph. You have to know whether it represents the best, peer-reviewed science we have–not simply whether it was well-presented.

  33. #33 Frankly, my dear, ...
    February 17, 2006

    It’s a pity that Bush didn’t call in Tom Clancy, say in August of 2001, to explain to him how people could fly airplanes into buildings like, say, the Capitol Building.

  34. #34 John Hartz
    February 17, 2006

    I finally figured our why Exxon Mobil wants to keep the lid on Global Warming. If the Bush-Cheney Administration (or subsequent Administrations) were to declare that Global Warming is a real and present danger to life on the planet, the American public would quickly demand that the US launch a “War on Global Warming.” Such a war would trump the “War on Terror” and the funding for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere would be slashed dramatically. The end result would be that Exxon Mobil would no longer have its access to the Iraqi oil fields guaranteed by the presence of American troops.

  35. #35 Unstable Isotope
    February 17, 2006

    Perhaps I’m a scientist snob, but I don’t consider a M.D. a “scientist.” They are people who use science, but most don’t perform research (there are exceptions of course). Most M.D.s I know probably don’t know much more than any other undergrad about how to perform and evaluate scientific research.

  36. #36 Kevin D. Korenthal
    April 18, 2006

    No one here seems to mind that the Kyoto Protocols have been rejected by a vast swatch of the Scientific community because the data used to predict its impact is highly flawed. The planet may or may not be warming but one thing is sure and that is that forces way beyond polution are responsible for it.

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