Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Michael Crichton: Why Speculate? (2005) (larvatus.com)
114 points by ColinWright 50 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments



10 years ago, I was a religious Techcrunch reader. I read every article. Eventually, I noticed something peculiar: I'd have an idea for a startup, and six months or so later (about the time it would've taken me to do it) someone would come out with that idea! It happened enough times that it pushed me to stop reading the same tech news as everyone else, because I didn't want to succumb to group think.

I've since extended that policy to most of my news...especially social platforms like Facebook and Twitter long before fake news became a thing. The irony is that I've been oft criticized by friends and family for being ill-informed by not reading CNN.

I do wonder how much speculation, opinion and general exposure to ways of thinking shape our thoughts in subtle ways. I'm generally afraid of a future where this phenomenon becomes better understood and weaponized.


I was once hounded by reporters and criticized for not being up-to-date on the news. At the time, I lived down a small, back-alley road. There were only a couple houses along it. Apparently, several weeks prior, there was a major hit-and-run collision a mile down the main road where a man in a truck struck a motorcycle. The rider and passenger of the motorcycle were father and son. Neither survived. It was a sad story.

I didn't know about this event until news reporters came flocking down our small gravel street. For several days they were asking for interviews of anyone who lived down the road. Every single one of them was perplexed by my not knowing anything about the story, which was apparently "all over the news". Furthermore, they couldn't understand why I wouldn't give a statement after finding out the truck driver was one of my neighbors. A man I had never met before, or even seen. I informed them I had never met him, wasn't aware of the situation so I couldn't speak to it, and would go on assuming any other neighbor of mine is innocent and minding their own business. They could go about thinking every one of their neighbors is responsible for every recent murder and see how it goes for them.

I know that kind of constant reporting has been commonplace for a long time, but I wish there was a better way to show others that you don't need to read every news article or event to understand what is happening around you. I don't need fear to drive my instinct of what can kill me. I'm a rider as well and chose to join the community ride for the father and son. That seemed like a much better way to show support with other people that lived around me.


Almost 10 years ago, I conducted an experiment.

I watched an hour of CNN's every night but it was never that night's coverage. It was from exactly two weeks ago.

It was amazing how much "breaking news!" was irrelevant or just outright wrong, how many large trend predictions were wrong, and how many "[person] will do X" were wrong. While the predictions could have been portrayed as opinions, they were presented as facts and the obvious next steps or conclusions.

I realized pretty quickly that avoiding CNN kept out the blatantly wrong information so even if I didn't replace it with anything, I was net ahead.

A few years ago, I discovered this and realized that some portion of it was probably on purpose:

https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-internet-flips-elections-and-...


That's the news cycle for you, it's just another time sink to monetize your nonworking hours. There are maybe only a handful of truly significant stories a year, the rest is niche interest stories and stuff that's not very relevant or practical at all in your personal life. Therefore, to keep the lights on, CNN has to keep you on the edge of your seat. They know very well no one will remember yesterdays gaffe.

Personally, I skim the nyt newsletter over cereal and basically only thoroughly read local news articles from the paper of record here and some decent local magazines. Reading local stories gets you out of the little cultural bubble you've formed around your lifestyle. I've learned my city is an onion, a thousand cities at once. National news, on the other hand, is designed to polarize and monetize.


All of us have a baked in Negativity bias - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias

And in the current environment of negative info overload, things are going to feel much worse than they really are.

We don't live in a static world. Things are always changing and the environment of negative info overload will change too. Even though most people can't imagine how that is going to happen, it will happen. Why? Because the number of people sick of this unnatural state of opinion overload is increasing everyday.


< I didn't want to succumb to group think. >

It's unavoidable, but compartmentalization of Information and focus can help. You don't always have to mix fragments of known things (Do you think you know everything or almost anything you know?) with possibly new ways of providing products functionality or a completely new product consciously, but many times you are putting an "additional" cognitive effort when you try to predict if someone else would do it the same way you do it, or will go through the same thought process, and get the same results. Of course, that "additional" can overload you.

< I do wonder how much speculation, opinion and general exposure to ways of thinking shape our thoughts in subtle ways. I'm generally afraid of a future where this phenomenon becomes better understood and weaponized. >

Those phenomenons are being exploited from centuries ago but they have different causes and taxonomies according to the discipline you look at them.


It's put me in the habit of being intensely suspicious of anything that makes me feel too good about myself or too outraged towards someone else.


> I'm generally afraid of a future where this phenomenon becomes better understood and weaponized.

This phenomena was weaponized over a century ago. The Spanish-American war was largely instigated by propaganda so that William Randolph Hearst could sell more papers ("You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war"). Mass communications and mass advertising was critical to developing the mass markets of the early 20th century. Propaganda played a huge part in both World Wars, and was critical to Hitler's rise to head of the Nazi Germany. Orwell's 1984 wasn't speculation about a hypothetical future 35 years off; it was a thinly-veiled allegory of his actual experience writing cultural broadcasts for the BBC during WW2.

The history of modernity is literally the history of getting large bodies of people to think alike, to buy into particular models of reality, and to subsume their individual, family, or tribal interests under broader national interests. That's how we distinguish the "modern" world from "pre-modern" civilizations that we have largely enslaved or exterminated.

On a broader level propaganda and weaponized information dates back to the ancient Romans and Greeks, but the invention of movable type, radio, and TV dramatically accelerated it. Arguably the Internet is reversing that trend by giving a large plurality of voices an audience, but those of us who grew up in the modern era have brains so conditioned to a monopoly of worldviews that we have trouble making sense of it all.


> For example, here is The New York Times for March 6, the day Dick Farson told me I was giving this talk. The column one story for that day concerns Bush’s tariffs on imported steel. Now we read: Mr. Bush’s action “is likely to send the price of steel up sharply, perhaps as much as ten percent…” American consumers “will ultimately bear” higher prices. America’s allies “would almost certainly challenge” the decision. Their legal case “could take years to litigate in Geneva, is likely to hinge” on thus and such.

> You may read this tariff story and think, what’s the big deal? The story’s not bad. Isn’t it reasonable to talk about effects of current events in this way? I answer, absolutely not. Such speculation is a complete waste of time. It’s useless. It’s bullshit on the front page of the Times.

His argument is that the media should only discuss whatever has happened already, and should absolutely never mention any expert opinion on how today's events will impact the near future? Saying that steel tariffs will likely to send the price of steel up sharply, perhaps as much as ten percent, is now "bullshit on the front page of the Times"?

I've read almost every one of his books and loved them. But this is a great example of how expertise in one field seldom translates to other fields.


We might be living in a very different country and world if the New York Times had refrained from speculating on topics like Whitewater, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Benghazi...


Should NYTimes also refrain from speculating on topics like climate change? Ie, until climate change actually happens, all mention of climate change should be omitted entirely from all newspapers?


Back in the old days, there was a clearly-defined place in a newspaper for speculation: the op-ed page. Got no problem with it there. The problem comes when you play shell games with news and speculation on the front page.


I agree with Crichton here, and I'm someone who gets all my news from print. Interestingly enough, you don't see experts speculate like this in their respective fields. When postulations are made in the sciences, they are highly cautious and filled with disclaimers, just short of saying 'we are probably completely wrong until someone physically proves what we are spouting about here in the second to last paragraph of the manuscript.'

But in the nyt, you don't get these disclaimer sentences surrounding the speculation. You get "Tarrifs feared to raise steel prices as high as 10%" boldface in the headline, and that's all most people really see. If you have a communications degree, don't give me your theories on macroeconomics. Stay in your lane, and keep the analysis in the macroeconomics journals. The job of the reporter is to report, not read tea leaves.

My theory why nyt and other papers do this baseless speculation that they aren't qualified to make: game retail traders.


We could settle this if the media and pundits documented their predictions and tracked how often they were correct.

Imagine knowing a particular pundit was right 99% of the time! When he/she spoke, I'd listen and invest accordingly.


You could settle it right now with a clever script. Every article has an author. Start crawling.


Yes, it's "bullshit on the front page of the Times".

Now, I happen to agree that tariffs may cause prices to increase. I've been educated in economics and study it as a hobby; I can explain my point-of-view from the concrete facts to the high level theory. The most definitive statement I would ever be willing to say on the subject is that tariffs always harm the economic, moral, and political interests of the citizens of the country imposing them.

If someone tells you, without further qualification (as is nearly always the case for TV and newspaper pundits), that a tariff of x% will cause a price change of y%, they are either incompetent or they are lying to your face in order to advance a hidden agenda. It is a vastly complicated question that requires detailed analysis of financial flows, specific industries, interacting policies of many nations, and geography.

And it matters a whole helluva lot.

The improper speculation about the consequences of current tariffs are precisely what give Trump and his cabinet the intellectual cover to make outlandish claims like "our tariffs are being paid for by China."


>If someone tells you, without further qualification (as is nearly always the case for TV and newspaper pundits), that a tariff of x% will cause a price change of y%, they are either incompetent or they are lying to your face in order to advance a hidden agenda.

That's unfair. First of all, their interviewer probably demanded that they give a quotable figure, because the readers want some quick concrete takeaways and not a lesson in economics and uncertainty. And just because they didn't give further qualification (or it didn't make it into the quote) doesn't mean they didn't consider all of those things. I think you risk being guilty of making disingenuous assumptions about them in the same way that you're accusing them of making disingenuous assumptions about economics.

>The improper speculation about the consequences of current tariffs are precisely what give Trump and his cabinet the intellectual cover to make outlandish claims like "our tariffs are being paid for by China."

They certainly are being paid (in part) by China, and appear to be having the desired effect of shifting US supply chains away from China.

If they only hurt American businesses and consumers and didn't affect China at all, then China wouldn't be responding with retaliatory tariffs on American goods. And I presume you don't think that China's retaliatory tariffs only hurt the Chinese.


I am a little irked about how print often has no citations and therefore little further reading if something is really interesting. Sure there are backlinks, but if I wrote an essay like some of these journalists write an article, I'd fail the class. How hard is it to add a footnote here or there? Surely graduates of the school of journalism are familiar with Turabian.


I'd be curious if everyone is also experiencing the so called "the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect" in the same way Crichton describes.

In my own areas of expertise -- data analysis and economics -- the answer is "Yes, very much so". Certainly there are pockets of high quality writing, but that mostly comes from experts writing on their own blogs in their own areas of expertise, or from periodic guest articles by the same experts. Mainstream economics writing is, as a rule, terrible. Statistical literacy is arguably even worse.

What's it like for everyone else? What's your area of expertise and is this endemic to your field?


IMO the “Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect” maybe should be titled the “Gell-Mann Amnesia Affect” in many cases since the people complaining about it are often in the position to fix, but don’t. Instead they complain about it.

To be more specific, if you think reporters are getting things wrong, you can call them and tell them what the real scoop is; most reporters are very easy to get ahold of, and would to get the real scoop.

The reality is that most people who really know what they are talking about, don’t like talking to the press. They either consider it a waste of their time, or have an agenda and are only interested in talking to reporters to advance that agenda.

In fact I think a lot of the times people think reporters are “getting it wrong,” it is at least partially because the reporting doesn’t comport with their view on things. Economics would be a classic example of a discipline full of differing theories and schools about how to interpret the basic measurable facts (or even how facts should be measured).


I experience it all the time when reading / watching / listening to news reports about technology, often rather visibly rolling my eyes at their nonsensical depictions of how things work.

I don't, however, feel like that automatically invalidates the articles on other subjects. It's possible (probable, even) that different news outlets will have different specializations - different strong and weak categories - and that tech might be a weak spot while, say, local events might be a strong spot. After all, I certainly ain't an expert on, say, politics or medicine or economics, so why should I expect journalists to be experts in technology?

The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is that it's the job of a news publication to hire people who can competently report on the topics they cover, or else to not attempt to cover those topics. But that still doesn't invalidate the other articles automatically; it just means I should get a second opinion :)


my goodness, yes. My background is aerospace engineering, software engineering, and finance. Here on hacker news, the software discussion is good, aerospace is terrible, and finance/investing is teeth-gnashingly, garment-rendingly hopeless. Despite this I do read lots of the health and wellness discussions - and have no idea whether they are really any good.


As a physician, I can tell you that the health and wellness discussions in the media, Internet, and HN are horrendous.


As an AE major, what aerospace discussion do you think is terrible?


The "as a pilot..." posts baffle me. It's like asking a car driver for his thoughts on automotive engineering, or asking a random computer user about which programming language is best for whatever. This of course is fine if the topic is piloting, but there's a vast gulf of understanding between aircraft pilots and aeronautical engineers.


Maybe, but as a pilot you are tested in depth in systems to a degree not found in automobiles.

Aeronautical engineers also miss a lot of the skin in the game that a pilot would have.


AE myself. Reading the discussion on the 737Max incident generally is extremely painful.

Also anything involving electric airplanes


It would be a lot quicker for you to have posted your own interpretation of the incident, so that everyone could compare their own views with it at once. But, I'll post the version of events I gathered anyway:

* Boeing wants to make a new plane, by pretending it's a "small" modification of their existing plane. (don't have to get certified; the old plane designs wouldn't get certified today; costs a lot to certify and re-train; take your pick)

* One of the regulations they have to stay within is that the plane shouldn't pitch its nose up without any pilot input in that direction. (Maybe it was more specific than that; something about requiring more force to pitch higher up?)

* Some airplanes comply with this requirement because they comply with the laws of physics. (Including presumably the original 737; otherwise this system wouldn't be new, right?) Not so the 737Max.

* The system that caused the crash was meant to comply with the above. If the aircraft was pitched up, it applied a force on the controls down. (every 10 seconds or so?)

* One of the problems was that there were only 2 sensors feeding into this system. If you have 3 sensors, a single failure can be outvoted; if you have only 2 that disagree, no matter what you try, you'll get it wrong in some cases

* Something something software. We've already established we're working with too few sensors to be safe, and the system applies force intermittently every 10 seconds, so it's hard to even tell that it's a problem. Who cares how the software works?

* Because of the original desire to pass through this new plane under the same certification, there was no new pilot training that mentioned this system. There was some sort of optional indicator, I think, too? The output of the broken system was also intermittent, so it was hard for pilots to quickly realize what was happening.


I've only been in the newspaper once regarding a finance company collapse (I was a customer) and I remember two problems. First, I was motivated by the questioning to couch my story as one of hardship (it wasn't really, but clearly that is what they wanted) and I complied. Second, when it was in print they quoted me almost correctly but framed the quote entirely wrongly giving it a different meaning. I suspect that the reporter understood at the time what I had meant, but when reading her notes later on didn't remember the context and recreated a wrong context to save the quote.


It's impossible to avoid the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect across all possible topics - at some point we will defer to a perceived expert, since we simply don't have the time or energy to vet everything ourselves, and that's totally ok and normal.

However, when we open our mouths about something to other people, we better have put in that due diligence, or we'll propagate that misinformation.

I've been working in tech for a long time, and have several areas of expertise; distributed systems, realtime systems, visual simulation, etc, and I've also been studying economics for a long time. My bullshit detector goes off frequently, but much more so when reading things about "soft sciences", like economics, where there is much more room for opinion. In areas where you can run repeatable experiments, you prove your statements that way, but when no proof is possible, and all evidence is observational, the BS spews much more freely.


Yes I had this exact experience. Since the news can't report correctly the things I do understand I have to assume they are misreporting the things I don't understand. Generally this means if I want to learn about a new subject I need to find the experts in the fields blog or read a book.


I'm in biology, and articles routinely overstate findings or misunderstand the significance. I get it though. A lot of people are enthusiastic about biology, but it takes years of study to get a handle on the foundational knowledge make sense of the field, longer still to actually gauge significance of things. If you don't have that background, you are going to whiff on your summary story.

I don't mind that so much (aside from the anti-vax anti-gmo etc. etc. loony articles, those I detest of course), because that sort of ignorant enthusiasm is what got me into the field in the first place.


Yes, starting with my youth in computing and video games. Following my hobbies in aviation and skydiving.

It's routine to find accidents that are 100% inaccurate when reporting the cause.


I feel like I have noticed this for years and never realized it had a name. I honestly think it happens in almost every field.


Fake news is not new. It is at least as old as the oldest written texts. The religions of the world are the largest fake news outlets out there, and those are going along just fine. I mean they kind of have to be - even if you do believe in one of them the rest must be concluded as millenia old fake news.

"Our times are different" thrown around without care is a very widespread cognitive error.


>"Our times are different" thrown around without care is a very widespread cognitive error.

Absolutely right. The Book of Ecclesiastes talks about this at great length. History repeats, no-one will remember those of us alive today, and the people who follow us will also be forgotten by those who follow them.

>even if you do believe in one of them the rest must be concluded as millenia old fake news

A religion would not last thousands of years if there were nothing to it, and there's far more commonality between religions than meets the eye. Read the things that Jesus Christ said, and then read the Tao Te Ching. It's astounding how closely they agree on quite a few things. The "Test of Time" works subtly but powerfully over thousands of years. The old religions that still exist today contended, in their time, with hundreds or even thousands of competitors. Those competitors all faded away.

"Sons are seldom as good men as their fathers; they are generally worse, not better." ~Homer, The Odyssey

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away." ~Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew


If we were on the decline since Homer we would already be living in caves grunting at each other. Perhaps what is being lamented is that the successful found their offspring lesser not just because the properties that made themselves notable weren't heritable that they ultimately arose from circumstances they naturally strove to prevent.

If adversity results in 70% dead or broken, 20% damaged, and 10% triumphant what survivor of adversity gambles with his loved ones. The weaker children of better men then aren't an example of universal decline but rather the result of softer situations.


Caves would be a step up from tent cities, and we grunt at each other these days in 140 characters or less--even our kings!

People follow their GPS systems off of bridges into lakes, our ancestors could navigate by the stars. Our bards earn their fame via marketing, and sing their songs using autotune, the bards of old memorized huge corpuses and sang them live. Our ancestors built the Great Wall of China, the U.S. struggles to build the Great Chain-Link Fence. Our academics hack p-values and they publish their work behind for-profit paywalls. When Archimedes discovered how to measure volumes of irregular objects, he ran naked through the streets shouting "Eureka!" When was the last time anyone at the Large Hadron Collider did that?

Our self-help books are generally not worth the paper they're written on. They're written by charlatans and marketed by professional marketers. None of them will be remembered fifty years from now. Ancient self-help books like the Gospels, the Tao Te Ching, the Proverbs of Solomon, these stand the test of time and help countless people every day. They are timeless and evergreen. They'll continue helping people a thousand years from now.

"So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: 'I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.'" ~Saint Matthew, quoting a Psalm which was already ancient in Jesus's time


You are wrong on nearly every point.

- Most of us aren't living in tent cities.

- We are conversing in this thread in more than 140 characters per response

- Trump isn't our king.

- I a poor person have more really good music on my hard drive then the average person would have been privileged to hear in their lifetime. Most of everything has always been crap but digital copying and cheap gear makes it possible to filter more gems from the dross than you can probably listen to. It has always been fashionable to compare whatever some consider the best of the last several decades to the last several months, ignore the nature of the comparison and bemoan modern music.

- We struggle to build a great wall of America because its a stupid measure to appease racists who think the brown people are coming for their country.

- To create and distribute the written word has never been cheaper. Imagine if you and I had to write hundreds of letters to all of the readers who have chanced across this thread!? To compare your preferred edition of the Christian bible solely to crappy self help books and ignore all the really good works out there is either ignorant or deceptive.

- Academia has never been pure. It's never been free of ignorance, bias, pride, liars, asshats of all stripes, outright stupidity. Science is the merely a method to gradually build upon existing human knowledge despite human foibles.

You believe your religion and its wisdom eternal only because you lack perspective. If the human race lasts thousands of years it will likely little resemble we poorer cousins as ill equipped as a 3 year old is to predict adulthood.

Open your eyes!

        I met a traveller from an antique land,
        Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
        Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
        Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
        And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
        Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
        Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
        The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
        And on the pedestal, these words appear:
        My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
        Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
        Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
        Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
        The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Nice quote. I love the double-meaning in that poem. "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair", intended by Ozymandias to mean "despair because you are so much weaker", but the double-meaning is "despair because my fall reveals how all human things decay". Look upon my great scientific works, my great technological strides, my space stations and satellites, ye Mighty, and despair!

We could keep talking past each other. Instead, let me short-circuit that and hand you the victory. All you need to reveal what a child and a fool I am is to recite my own Bible back at me:

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is unwise of you to ask about this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10)


Engineers and scientists predict the future all day, and if our physical world is any indication, it’s working. You can’t so easily say “you can’t predict the future”

Such an attitude makes us incapable of acting in the face of negative trends. For example, over a million species face risk of extinction right now. Do we have to wait until they are gone before we report on it and act?

https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/442359-nearly...


Coincidentally I just finished State of Fear last night, a Crichton novel about Eco terrorism. To be honest parts of it made me uncomfortable but with an open mind it can be a very interesting read. His idea of the PLM complex is a pretty interesting take on our current state of affairs.


I enjoyed the book immensely, but I think its overall tone is destructive of goodwill towards activism in AGW, and it was hugely selective in its use of statistics. Crichton, had he lived, might well have come to regret this book more than others, although I guess he too might have been subject to confirmation bias on things.


Worth reading this response by James Hansen:

https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200604/viewpoint.cf...


Yeah, I feel weird about the book. The devil's advocate stuff about climate science is NOT helpful or intellectually honest...but I find the broader argument about the media living from crises to crises very compelling.

(Also, the actual plot of the book was super annoying haha)


That’s from 2006 and extrapolates to 2020. Has anyone updated it?



I read this book shortly after its publication...I haven't thought much about it since I read it, but I'm curious how well its aged, given what I remember about the contents. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what parts made you uncomfortable, though.


This veers far too heavily into cranky-old-man territory.

It tries to take a purely boolean result of knowing the future, when the real power comes from increasing ones prediction odds ever so slightly. And all it takes is very small increases in ones own odds over the average to benefit heavily relative to blindly marching into the future.


I don't think so... if he was really cranky he wouldn't have called it speculation, which is an extremely generous word for what can easily be interpreted as intentionally manipulative narrative.


It seems like a pretty broadly defeatist attitude towards current actions having agency over the future:

> We need to start remembering that everybody who said that Y2K wasn’t a real problem was either shouted down, or kept off the air.

> But my point is, for pending legislation as with everything else, nobody knows the future.

> What will be the effect of electing a certain president, or a supreme court justice? Nobody knows.

If his focus was purely towards the charlatans who make predictions and keep getting it wrong with no accountability, I would agree. But he takes it a step further by seemingly emphasizing the futility of the very act of trying to foresee and head off potentially bad situations be it technical, legislative or political.


This raises my hackles every time I see it (enough to create an account and post): Y2K was ABSOLUTELY a real problem.

There was an enormous amount of money spent prepping for it years before 2000. In 1995, a few years after I graduated from college I got a moonlighting job cleaning databases for a UK phone company, manually editing 2 digit dates to 4 digit dates (I didn't know PERL existed at the time). Yeah, nothing major happened Jan 31 1999, but that's because there was a real, concerted effort to address it that wasn't trumpeted across the news media.

Not directed at you, I just needed to yell at a cloud.


> This veers far too heavily into cranky-old-man territory

This was 100% Chricton's persona for about the last 20 years of his life. Perhaps the most amazing thing was how deeply he was also into some really crazy new age stuff, too.

Dictionary definition of don't keep your mind so open that your brains fall out.


Guy who literally made his career on fear mongering in fiction and speculation gets mad if other fields do it. No self reflected irony at all there. I have a hard time reading this as anything other than a continuation. He has a habit of not seeing the forest through the trees. Instead of focusing on the fact that human caused extinctions have created a literal new age of extinction, he focuses on a specific point because his goal is to discredit science. It's why so many of his books focus on scientists being arrogant egotists. In fairness he wrote this before it became a political taking point, but his type of rhetoric directly lead to the political environment we have now. He's an example of everything he claims is wrong. He demonizes sources with proven track records and he doesn't understand. Why should we take his opinion seriously?


>his type of rhetoric directly lead to the political environment we have now

Indeed, his examples are comically telling: CNN and MSNBC but not Fox which had equivalent and bigger audiences.

But for our present time, I presume the point of resurrecting a 17 year old speech from a fiction writer is to further reduce confidence in a press that dare criticize the ruling party.


You said it yourself: He wrote fiction. Everything he is writing here is about things that claim to be something else.


> Guy who literally made his career on fear mongering in fiction ...

Can you expand on that? I presume you're talking about his book, "State of Fear". I guess "Andromeda Strain" could be in that category. I found most of his books interesting, educational and often insightful.


Isn't the premise of every one of his books "scientists fuck it up, leading to exciting circumstances"?

Even if he has written books that don't follow this pattern, Jurassic Park surely does; I'm not sure why you didn't mention it yourself


> Isn't the premise of every one of his books "scientists fuck it up, leading to exciting circumstances"?

Some of his books have the premise that some scientists are short sighted and myopic, while others aren't. We can briefly talk about Jurassic Park the book, which I assume you have read. The movie shares only the most broad story arcs with the book.

....and I started typing a synopsis... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic_Park_(novel)#Plot_sum... is pretty good.

To your point: yes, there's a group of scientists that fucked up, and there's another group of scientists that are trying to honestly work things out.

I'd say the biggest antagonists in Jurassic Park are big corporate interests.

Upon reflection, aside from his first couple of books, that seems to be a common theme.


I used the word "scientists" and that's probably my fault. I don't think it substantially changes the argument that Jusrassic Park is "fear mongering", though, especially in the context of the original article.

The the corporation and its scientists are tied together in that they try to predict the future, which as Crichton kindly explains, is completely impossible. The corporation believes that investing money will lead to profits later, and the scientists it employs believe that their safety measures and female-only population will prevent things from going wrong.

The "good" scientists only react to events in the past and the present; observing the dinosaurs as they are, taking action against immediate threats, and reconstructing the series of events that led to the catastrophe. The chaos mathematician may as well be a self-insert in the context of this article; he spends half his time explaining to people that nothing can ever be predicted, with mathematical "proof".


Yes, there are antagonists in the novel Jurassic Park who are scientists, just as there are in State of Fear.

It hardly generalizes to everything Michael Crichton has written though.


Again, the original topic was "fear-mongering", and I accidentally made a statement specific to "scientists". Not all fear-mongering is related to science, and not all scientists in his books are fear-mongered about. It was a mistake.


> Isn't the premise of every one of his books "scientists fuck it up, leading to exciting circumstances"?

No, that's an inaccurate and uncharitable summarization of his literary career. Scientists fucking up covers some of his more popular works accurately, Jurassic Park more than the rest, but other stories have the scientists/doctors working hard to save lives, or otherwise behaving admirably. Sphere has the scientists accidentally acquire godlike powers, only to willingly relinquish those powers for the greater good.

In fact, in several of his novels, including Jurassic Park, I think there is stronger anti-corporate sentiment than there is anti-science sentiment. The book makes clear that the problems at Jurassic Park are caused by a corporation cutting corners to turn a profit on a complex system before pausing to understand what they were dealing with. In the novel, the park owner John Hammond is consumed by dinosaurs. For whatever reason the movie let him live, and otherwise tuned down the anti-corporate angle. In the book his idiocy and greed made him a villain, but the movie makes him seem like a cuddly victim. In the book the two heroes are paleontologists (scientists) who were not to blame for the disaster but nevertheless behaved heroically in their attempts to mitigate harm.

A similar theme is found in Airframe though, which covers the interactions between a crash site investigator trying to find a truth that's inconvienent to the airline (that the pilot was to blame.) It could have been about aircraft engineers or aerospace scientists fucking up... but it wasn't. Disclosure and Rising Sun are controversial for their own reasons, but both have prominent anti-corporate themes.

Then there are the novels that seem unrelated to the discussion at all, like Eaters of the Dead which was a retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of an Arab traveler from Baghdad.


Great roundup, I agree with all of this.

> Scientists fucking up covers some of his more popular works accurately, Jurassic Park more than the rest

To this I would add: one group of scientists are fucking up, but another group are trying to do the right thing.


He’s complaining about the news. I’d say the news has gotten even worse. Now the President of the United States also does it. There must always be an enemy. It’s currently the Squad? Socialism?

“We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It’s not sensible to listen to it.»


Wow, ad hominem much?


Re: Y2K, wasn't it not a (major) problem specifically because the world panicked over it and fixed all those two-digit year fields in their databases?


Some of the panic and mainstream speculation was ridiculous (airplanes falling out of the sky, etc.), but yes, a ton of work went into fixing the various y2k bugs in a large percentage of the world's software, which is why the event passed so smoothly. We can only hope that a similar mobilization results in people of the future opining on how climate change wasn't such a big deal after all, but given the current trends* I'm not betting on it.

*Despite Crichton's assertions, we do know some things about the future. The sun will come up tomorrow; soon it will be autumn and then winter (at least here in the northern hemisphere), and given the current atmospheric level of greenhouse gasses and the amounts being emitted, the earth will continue to warm beyond the current level. We can in fact very accurately model the amount of warming over the long term, although of course we can not precisely predict the day to day or even year to year changes, as there are a number of other factors that add randomness to the result over the short and medium term. To use an analogy, if I plug my bathtub drains and turn on the faucet, I can predict that absent some intervention there will be mopping in my future.


Correct. See acid rain and ozone depletion.

Those were problems that had economically viable solutions, and (relatively) short term impacts.

The same can unfortunately not be said of climate change.


As a programmer, I've noticed that while the media is often wrong about technical details, they are also often ahead of me in terms of the social impacts of technology. I thought since they didn't know how FB and Twitter work under the hood they would also be wrong about the social devastation it would cause. Turns out I know more computers. They know more about people.


those platforms were vehicles for the media to spread misinformation and fear - yet you blame the platforms more than you blame the authors for the devistation?


> He was wrong about diminishing resources, he was wrong about the population explosion, and he was wrong that we would lose 50% of all species by the year 2000. He devoted his life to intensely felt issues, yet he has been spectacularly wrong.

Spectacularly wrong... by about 20 years.


Why does anyone feel a need to go further than “speculation is entertaining” or “speculation sells”?


Wait a sec, didn't the steel prices increase (and didn't the tarrifs cause lots of other issues)? Was that coincidence?

Here's an analysis : https://www.tradepartnership.com/pdf_files/2002jobstudy.pdf , written in Feb 2003 (Tariffs were imposed in 2002, which was when NY times article was written https://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/06/us/bush-puts-tariffs-of-a...)

Their summary:

"We found that:

• 200,000 Americans lost their jobs to higher steel prices during 2002. These lost jobs represent approximately $4 billion in lost wages from February to November 2002.3

• One out of four (50,000) of these job losses occurred in the metal manufacturing, machinery and equipment and transportation equipment and parts sectors.

• Job losses escalated steadily over 2002, peaking in November (at 202,000 jobs), and slightly declining to 197,000 jobs in December.4

• More American workers lost their jobs in 2002 to higher steel prices than the total number employed by the U.S. steel industry itself (187,500 Americans were employed by U.S. steel producers in December 2002).

• Every U.S. state experienced employment losses from higher steel costs, with the highest losses occurring in California (19,392 jobs lost), Texas (15,826 jobs lost), Ohio (10,553 jobs lost), Michigan (9,829 jobs lost), Illinois (9,621 jobs lost), Pennsylvania (8,400 jobs lost), New York (8,901 jobs lost) and Florida (8,370 jobs lost). Sixteen states lost at least 4,500 steel consuming jobs each over the course of 2002 from higher steel prices.

• While insufficient data exist at this time to measure the precise role steel tariffs played in causing such significant price increases, relative to the other factors, it is clear that the Section 201 tariffs played a leading role in pushing prices up. Steel tariffs caused shortages of imported product and put U.S. manufacturers of steel-containing products at a disadvantage relative to their foreign competitors. In the absence of the tariffs, the damage to steel consuming employment would have been significantly less than it was in 2002.

• The analysis shows that American steel consumers have borne heavy costs from higher steel prices caused by shortages, tariffs and trade remedy duties, among other factors. Some customers of steel consumers have moved sourcing offshore as U.S. producers of steel-containing products became less reliable and more expensive. Other customers refused to accept higher prices from their suppliers and forced them to absorb the higher steel costs, which put many in a precarious (or worse) financial condition. The impact on steel-consuming industries has been significant. In making policy for the revitalization of manufacturing, including the steel industry, our conclusions suggest that the effects across the full industrial spectrum should be considered. The lessons of the impact of higher steel costs should counsel a good deal of caution when import barriers are considered."

Oh and the chart they publish of prices from 2002 shows the following:

HR Sheet metal: went from about $220 to $300 ($ per ton) an increase of 36% HD Galvanized metal: went from $330 to $460 an increase of 39% CR Sheet metal: went from $305 to $405 an increase of 32%


Because news media is not in the business of facts as such, they are in the business of a story. The buzzword today is "narrative". They will fit their reporting into a compelling or provocative narrative to move more newspapers and magazines. Hence, news about Bush's tariffs must not be reported alone, but must be contextualized in terms of a narrative about what a dangerous man he is and how he undermines his own goals when it comes to preventing terrorism. This will sell more copies of the Times both to people who agree with the narrative and people who are looking to challenge it.

You can see this unfolding right now. The New York Times Magazine, for instance, is currently running stories about slavery and plantations, and tying those into modern stories about race, justice, and capitalism, as part of its "Project 1619" which is explicitly about selling the narrative that USA culture is a slaver culture. This "hot takey" interpretation of American history is being promoted because it will sell more magazines than a more nuanced view of history.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: