Junkfood Science: A loss for all

November 09, 2008

A loss for all

Dr. Michael Crichton (1942 – 2008)

[I]n the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better. That's not a good future for the human race. — September 15, 2003

Science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid—and merits universal acceptance—only if it can be independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method means it is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It's verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don't.

Thus, when adhered to, the scientific method can transcend politics. And the converse may also be true: when politics takes precedent over content, it is often because the primacy of independent verification has been overwhelmed by competing interests. Verification may take several forms. I come from medicine, where the gold standard is the randomized double-blind study, which has been the paradigm of medical research since the 1940s. — September 28, 2005

There has been a great decline in civility in this country. We have lost the perception that reasonable persons of good will may hold opposing views. Simultaneously, we have lost the ability to address reasoned arguments - to forsake ad hominem characterization, and instead address another person's arguments. Which is a tragedy, because debate is interesting. It's a form of exploration. But personal attack is merely unpleasant and intimidating. Paradoxically, this decline in civility and good humor, which the press appear to believe is necessary to "get the story," reduces the intensity of our national discourse. Watching British parliamentary debates, I notice that the tradition of say "the right honorable gentleman" or "my distinguished friend" before hurling an insult does something interesting to the entire process. A civil tone permits more bluntness. — April 7, 1993

And let's talk about quality. The media are an industry and their product is information. And along with many other American industries, the American media produce a product of very poor quality. Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it's sold without warranty. It's flashy but it's basically junk. So people have begun to stop buying it. … So, my distinguished friends, I hope that this era of polarized junk food journalism will soon come to an end. For too long th media has accepted the immortal advice of Yogi Berra, who said" when you come to a fork in the road, take it. But business as usual doesn't serve the audience any more. And although technology will soon precipitate enormous changes in the media, we face a more immediate problem: a period of major social change. We are going to need a sensitive, informed, and responsive media to accomplish those changes. And that's the way it is. — April 7, 1993

The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance. We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears. — State of Fear, 2005

Goodbye Michael Crichton

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