Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton Passes Away

Sad news, and a shock to those of us who hadn't known he had been battling cancer. The Associated Press's obituary quotes John Wells, the executive producer of the long-running TV drama Crichton created, ER, on the breadth of Crichton's interests:

"No lunch with Michael lasted less than three hours and no subject was too prosaic or obscure to attract his interest. Sexual politics, medical and scientific ethics, anthropology, archaeology, economics, astronomy, astrology, quantum physics, and molecular biology were all regular topics of conversation."

Michael Crichton's website is down now, but here is a link to the Michelin Lecture he gave at Cal Tech in 2003, reproduced on a Harvard website, "Aliens Cause Global Warming". Below are two brief excerpts from the lecture, but it's worth reading in full.

On Science and Consensus:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

On Predictions:

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport.


Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it's even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future.

They're bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment's thought knows it.

The photo of Michael Crichton above is from the Notable Biographies website.


Rudy G said...

Chrichton was a true genius and a great writer.

JK said...

I had just bought his book "Travels" today per your reccomendation Dave. As soon as I got home I saw he had passed. Sad.

DaveinHackensack said...

Sad indeed.

Let me know what you think of Travels after you read it.

DaveinHackensack said...

The Wall Street Journal excerpted Crichton's Caltech lecture today, "Aliens Cause Global Warming".