Several years ago, I read Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear. This novel got a lot of attention when it was published because Crichton took on environmentalists and challenged the validity of global warming using scientific data.
The story is pretty far-fetched, as most techno-thrillers are, and I don't believe that global warming is a fraud, but Crichton struck a real chord with me with one of the themes of this book, which I submit is his real motivation for writing the novel.
One of the main characters, John Kenner, has a monologue in which he lays out a very compelling argument that elected officials, certain scientists and the media actively cultivate crises, and magnify minor issues to become major crises, in order to keep the public in a constant state of fear. This mass manipulation helps those in power to further consolidate that power and to maintain the existing social order and status quo. It's a win-win-win because the politicians set the policy agenda and can be seen as defending us, the scientists can get funding for research to solve the issues, and the media can sell us the stories to keep us informed. Crichton argues that his is a paradigm change from the old military-industrial complex that shaped public policy from the 1950's -1970's, but this cabal is no less insidious.
Ridiculous conspiracy theory? I find evidence of the State of Fear all over the place. Today's headline in the Star Tribune references President Obama's recent statements urging the Senate to pass the economic stimulus bill before "crisis turns into catastrophe". This statement clearly seeks to build support for his stimulus package through fear. Obama's just the last in a long line to use the State of Fear to advance policy (Bush was a master at it). Before today's headline, we had bird flu, SARS, TSA's alert level system, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the war on drugs, Iran-Contra, acid rain, africanized killer bees and the domino theory of communism.
I am not suggesting here that any of these problems were not real or don't exist. Rather, I submit that many, if not all of these, have been hyped well beyond their level of significance by the media, to the benefit of the politicians and scientists.
What can we do? Wake up to the possibility that we are being manipulated and weigh the evidence for ourselves. Get informed and then evaluate your true risk. Remember, risk is the probability of something happening multiplied by the consequence of that event happening, so high consequence but low probability stills means relatively low risk, and vice versa. And above all, reach your our own conclusions, don't just adopt someone else's position.
And for those who dismissed State of Fear was an anti-environmentalist diatribe, I think the title says more about the message of the book than the plot does, and it's more subversive than most people seem to have caught on to.