Sunday, September 03, 2006

Unbelievable fiction

In telling us “how to read a novel”, John Sutherland in the Guardian Review (2 September 2006) shows an admirable willingness to avoid the usual literary snobbery about science fiction, suggesting that among other things it can have a pedagogical value. That’s certainly true of the brand of sci-fi pioneered by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, which took pride in the accuracy of its science. Often, however, sci-fi writers might appropriate just enough real science to make that aspect of the plot vaguely plausible – which is entirely proper for a work of fiction, but not always the most reliable way to learn about science. Even that, however, can encourage the reader to find out more, as Sutherland says.

Sadly, however, he chooses to use the books of Michael Crichton to illustrate his point. Now, Crichton likes to let it be known that he does his homework, and certainly his use of genetic engineering in Jurassic Park is perfectly reasonable for a sci-fi thriller: that’s to say, he stretches the facts, but not unduly, and one has to be a bit of a pedant to object to his reconstituted T. rexes. But Crichton has now seemingly succumbed to the malaise that threatens many pretty smart and successful people, in that they forget the limitations of that smartness. In Prey, Crichton made entertaining use of the eccentric vision of nanotechnology presented by Eric Drexler (self-replicating rogue nanobots), supplemented with some ideas from swarm intelligence, but one’s heart sank when it became clear at the end of the book that in fact Crichton believed this was what nanotech was really all about. (I admit that I’m being generous about the definition of ‘entertaining’ here – I read the book for professional purposes, you understand, and was naively shocked by what passes for characterisation and dialogue in this airport genre. But that’s just a bit of literary snobbishness of my own.)

The situation is far worse, however, in Crichton’s climate-change thriller State of Fear, which portrays anthropogenic climate change as a massive scam. Crichton wants us to buy into this as a serious point of view – one, you understand, that he has come to himself after examining the scientific literature on the subject.

I’ve written about this elsewhere. But Sutherland’s comments present a new perspective. He seems to accept a worrying degree of ignorance on the part of the reader, such that we are assumed to be totally in the dark about whether Crichton or his ‘critics’ (the entire scientific community, aside from the predictable likes of Bjorn Lomborg, Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen and, er, about two or three others) are correct. “No one knows the accuracy of what Crichton knows, or thinks he knows”, says Sutherland. Well, we could do worse than consult the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of the world’s top climate scientists, which flatly contradicts Crichton’s claims. Perhaps in the literary world one person’s opinion is as good as another’s, but thankfully science doesn’t work that way. Sutherland’s suggestion that readers of State of Fear will end up knowing more about the subject is wishful thinking: misinformation is the precise opposite of information.

It isn’t clear whether or not he thinks we should be impressed by the fact that Crichton testified in 2005 before a US senate committee on climate change, but in fact this showed in truly chilling fashion how hard some US politicians find it to distinguish fact from fiction. (That State of Fear was given an award for ‘journalism’ by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists earlier this year was more nakedly cynical.)

Yes, fiction can teach us facts, but not when it is written by authors who have forgotten they are telling a story and have started to believe this makes them experts on their subject. That’s the point at which fiction starts to become dangerous.

3 comments:

tideliar said...

Dear Mr. Ball, a brilliant and well constructed precis of a serious and disturbing problem. I don't really have the patience to explain this issue to some of my non-scientist friends (I hate to admit it, but I get exasperated too quickly). I shall refer them here, so you can do it!

uhfdf said...

歐美a免費線上看,熊貓貼圖區,ec成人,聊天室080,aaa片免費看短片,dodo豆豆聊天室,一對一電話視訊聊天,自拍圖片集,走光露點,123456免費電影,本土自拍,美女裸體寫真,影片轉檔程式,成人視訊聊天,貼圖俱樂部,辣妹自拍影片,自拍電影免費下載,電話辣妹視訊,情色自拍貼圖,卡通做愛影片下載,日本辣妹自拍全裸,美女裸體模特兒,showlive影音聊天網,日本美女寫真,色情網,台灣自拍貼圖,情色貼圖貼片,百分百成人圖片 ,情色網站,a片網站,ukiss聊天室,卡通成人網,3級女星寫真,080 苗栗人聊天室,成人情色小說,免費成人片觀賞,

傑克論壇,維納斯成人用品,免費漫畫,內衣廣告美女,免費成人影城,a漫,國中女孩寫真自拍照片,ut男同志聊天室,女優,網友自拍,aa片免費看影片,玩美女人短片試看片,草莓論壇,kiss911貼圖片區,免費電影,免費成人,歐美 性感 美女 桌布,視訊交友高雄網,工藤靜香寫真集,金瓶梅免費影片,成人圖片 ,女明星裸體寫真,台灣處女貼圖貼片區,成人小遊戲,布蘭妮貼圖片區,美女視訊聊天,免費情色卡通短片,免費av18禁影片,小高聊天室,小老鼠論壇,免費a長片線上看,真愛love777聊天室,聊天ukiss,情色自拍貼圖,寵物女孩自拍網,免費a片下載,日本情色寫真,美女內衣秀,色情網,

liwo said...

av自拍,臺灣18歲成人免費,avon,正妹強力牆,免費線上成人影片,免費遊戲,a片貼圖,正妹圖片,3d美女圖,杜蕾斯免費a片,蓬萊仙山寫真集,a片網站,哈拉網路成人區,sex女優王國,性感美女,自拍密錄館,18禁卡通,爽翻天成人網,go2av,網拍模特兒應徵,台灣18成人,制服美女,小老鼠成人,成人光碟,金瓶影片交流區,85cc免費影城,成人交友,蓬萊仙山寫真集,無碼,正妹強力牆,嘟嘟情色網,影片轉檔程式,免費成人片觀賞,拓網交友,松島楓免費影片,色美眉部落格,18成人avooo,美腿論壇,辣媽辣妹,露點寫真,哈雷聊天室,18禁影片,看a片,美女工廠,影音城論壇,美女影片,免費遊戲,免費算,小魔女貼影片,a片貼圖,美腿褲襪高跟鞋,av女優王國,觀月雛乃影片,性感美女,

女優王國,免費無碼a片,0800a片區,免費線上遊戲,無名正妹牆,成人圖片,寫真美女,av1688影音娛樂網,dodo豆豆聊天室,網拍模特兒,成人文學,免費試看a片,a片免費看,成人情色小說,美腿絲襪,影片下載,美女a片,人體寫真模特兒,熊貓成人貼,kiss情色,美女遊戲區,104 貼圖區,線上看,aaa片免費看影片,天堂情色,躺伯虎聊天室,洪爺情色網,kiss情色網,貼影區,雄貓貼圖,080苗栗人聊天室,都都成人站,尋夢園聊天室,a片線上觀看,無碼影片,情慾自拍,免費成人片,影音城論壇,情色成人,最新免費線上遊戲,a383影音城,美腿,色情寫真,xxx383成人視訊,視訊交友90739,av女優影片,