Saturday, November 15, 2008

Michael Crichton, RIP

Michael Crichton (1942-2008)  is well known as an author of fiction. It is less well-known that he was a highly educated thinker:  he "graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, researching public policy with Jacob Bronowski. He taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT," according to his bio.  In 2003, he lectured on the nature of science and its misuse in public policy debates.  He observed, for example:
I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. . . .
and reaches the conclusion:
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.

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