"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 83
-- George Orwell
Oh, of all the epigraphs to choose . . . The above is so generic that it needs the attribution to Orwell to pack a halfway decent punch--which it doesn't deliver anyway.
By the way, did anyone else try looking it up for the context? I did, and found Wikitalk's quote page for George Orwell suggesting that there is no source for it apart from State of Fear! Why do you suppose that is? Hmmmmm . . .
Pages 1 to 100
So far, our reading plan in the sand is working! =) It turns out that halfway through "Akamai" is the perfect place for a pit stop, if only because it's the most logical point for us to compare the assumptions we probably didn't know we had when we started. Peter Evans has just been asked what he thinks global warming is . . . and he is unable to define it correctly. Despite his insistence that "everybody knows" about it and how serious it is, he himself has to be set straight . . .
[Balder said:] "Believe me, I wish it were otherwise. But in fact, global warming is the theory that increased levels of carbon dioxide and certain other gases are causing an increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere because of the so-called 'greenhouse effect.'"
"Well, okay," Evans said, "that's a more exact definition, but . . ."
"Mr. Evans, you yourself believe in global warming, I take it? . . . Believe in it strongly?"
"Sure. Everybody does."
"When you have a strongly held belief, don't you believe it's important to express that belief accurately?"
And the litigator John "Bald Eagle" Balder wins the first State of Fear readalong post for sounding like he was educated by Dominicans!
So how would you have done if he had been grilling you? Would you--could you--have come close to that definition? If so, then you have my admiration; but I'm willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of Crichton readers had the same experience Evans (and I) did. We've been talking about "global warming" for years without being able to define it properly and without knowing that we didn't know. How embarrassing . . .
What other things that we're so sure of do you think we don't know we really don't know about?
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Another great part is the heated argument between the environmental activist Nick Drake and the geologist Per Einarsson. I found it quite easy to take a side--which is more than a little ironic, given that the issue at hand is scientific impartiality. But I do think that Drake's suggestion that Einarsson word his latest paper in a certain way is flat out shady--and I can't help admiring Einarsson's decision to state his findings as accurately as possible even if it means he will lose millions in funding.
But then Drake gets to explain where he's coming from and it's worth some cognitive dissonance on my part . . .
"Scientists can't adopt that lofty attitude anymore. They can't say, 'I do the research, and I don't care how it's used.' That's out of date. It's irresponsible. Even in a seemingly obscure field like glacier geology. Because, like it or not, we're in the middle of a war--a global war of information versus misinformation. The war is fought on many battlegrounds. Newspaper op-eds. Television reports. Scientific journals. Websites, conferences, classrooms--and courtrooms, too, if it comes to that . . . We have truth on our side, but we're outnumbered and out-funded. Today, the environmental movement is David battling Goliath. And Goliath is Aventis and Alcatel, Humana and GE, BP and Bayer, Shell and Glaxo-Wellcome--huge, global, corporate. These people are the implacable enemies of our planet, and Per Einarsson, out there on his glacier, is irresponsible to pretend it isn't happening."
Now, I agree with Evans that Drake is exaggerating, but I would like to consider the latter's general point. When there are parties who can and will use your impartial research to further causes which may hurt millions of innocent people, should you care about that? More to the point, should you take concrete steps to prevent it?
War imagery having been invoked, can a parallel be drawn between "irresponsible" scientists and factory owners who don't care that middlemen are selling their products to hostile forces? Or how about comparisons to artists: remember those musicians who were horrified to learn that their recordings were used to torture prisoners of war? Of course, it would be totally unreasonable for the latter to stop making music just because a tiny minority might use it in inhumane ways: this Atlas isn't shrugging. =P
I can't think of a single good reason for a scientist to hurt the quality of his "product," which is accurate research--not even the possibility that it may be used in destructive ways. But does this just mean that I have not learned the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
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Finally, how are you handling the technical details? State of Fear is my first Science-Fiction Thriller, and I've been worried that half the stuff would fly over my head because I'm not a graduate student at MIT. So far, however, the only chapter I've reread twice and still not been able to figure out is the one about IDEC and Akamai.
I think that the organisation is planting data online in order to track the kind of people who'd be looking for it and to create profiles of them based on their other searches . . . but I'm really not sure! Any help from those who know better would be greatly appreciated. =)
1) When was the last time you learned how little you actually know? How was this a valuable lesson to you?
2) How responsible should scientists be for the findings they publish?