Well, I threatened to post my thoughts about Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. I finally got to start the book last night, and it’s immediately apparent it’s going to annoy me as I read it. This book has 170+ references in a bibliography, so he’s trying to assert some sort of psuedo-scientific credibility. I have a choice now, just read the book, and give an overall opinion, or try and do a piece by piece critique. The former has been done, so I’ll attempt the latter, although I doubt that I will have the time or patience to be very complete …

OK: a disclaimer. My speciality is atmospheric dynamics, although i am becoming more and more informed on clouds. I suspect, with a high degree of probability, that I am better informed across the issues than Michael Crichton. So I’ll bring my own misconceptions to bare. Please email me if you disagree (on scientific grounds) with anything I opine on this topic.

What baggage do I bring to this? As a doctoral student I was quite anti-climate-change. Where is the evidence I used to say … well fifteen years on, there’s plenty. So, yes, I start from being a believer. But I’m a physicist. I’m evidence driven, and yes I am UK government funded, but I run a data centre, there is no impetus for me to be on any side of the debate apart from the evidence.

So far I’ve made it to page 58, so this is going to be a piecemeal critique, that way I may actually do it …(The version I am reading is the “Special Overseas Edition”, so apologies if the pagenumbering differs from yours).

The first time my sensibilities were offended occurred when he referred to
Chylek, et.al., 2004 (Global Warming and the Greenland Ice Sheet). I haven’t read the paper, but I have read the abstract (we don’t get Climate Change, the topic of financial limits to academic journal access is something for another day). The abstract makes the point that there is a high natural variability in the regional climate, and links the results to a couple of well known oscillations, but reports

Since 1940, however, the Greenland coastal stations data have undergone predominantly a cooling trend. At the summit of the Greenland ice sheet the summer average temperature has decreased at the rate of 2.2 ?C per decade since the beginning of the measurements in 1987. This suggests that the Greenland ice sheet and coastal regions are not following the current global warming trend

Crichton used this in a context where he clearly wants to imply that there is some evidence of a conspiracy by scientists to hide evidence of global cooling that contradicts received wisdom.

Well, firstly, the paper clearly discussed the regional context. Secondly, I’m not glaciologist, but glacial advance and retreat are governed by the balance between accumulation (snow and ice etc falling at the top) and ablation (melting, calving etc). If there is general warming, we expect more precipitation. In some places this will lead to more accumulation than is balanced by ablation due to higher temperatures. In such regions, glaciers will advance (and the regions near the glaciers will cool). I’ve no idea about the details of this paper, but the way Crichton has used it is duplicitous. What this means is that glacial advance (or retreat) in any region of itself is not evidence of general warming or cooling locally, let alone globally.

From now on, I intend to mark this book by a little score card. At this point we have

Appropriate Use of Facts 0, MisUse 1

(NB: The link above to Chylek et al to the reference uses a doi published at this link. It should resolve properly to the abstract directly, but today it goes somewhere dead at www.springerlink.com where it returns “Bad Request”. Shame on you springerlink! Meanwhile, you should be able to get it at the first link in this note.)