Bad Science Is Good For Us (Not)
By ColmSmyth on Dec 18, 2004
Seth Godin has started a list of 1000 things everyone should know; item 26 is "How to read the media for spin and for insight"; after reading his other blog, I think Seth needs to read Michael Crichton's Caltech Michelin lecture again with this in mind.
In this lecture, Crichton critically attacks concepts such as the Drake Equation (a series of (mostly) unknowns which compute the likelihood of alien life) and Nuclear Winter (where a suspension of material in the atmosphere blocks light reaching the Earth's surface) as part of a litany of scientific "errors". But the punchline comes when Crichton finally talks about Global Warming, leaving the reader in no doubt that it will similarly be revealed as pseudo-science. However Crichton does not discuss any specific counter-evidence; he simply alludes to similarities in the growth of belief in global warming to that in the nuclear winter scenario. And when you view this part in the context of the lecture's title "Aliens Cause Global Warming", the whole thing comes across as a sponsored frame, and quite a good one at that.
Crichton ends the talk with a suggestion that scientists attempt to disprove scientific experiments or theories, in a manner which is similar to the practice of quality assurance in software development where engineers look for faults or flaws in software before it is released. This thought is so common-sensible (but so meaningless since for the most part this is already how scientists work) that I have to wonder why this kind of talk was permitted at Caltech. It's actually a shame that the practice of quality assurance does not apply to lectures by high profile authors of pseudo-scientific novels. Disclosure? Nope, zero cool.