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Checking Crichton's footnotes

Page 2 of 2 -- Again, Crichton supplies references. But UMass-Amherst climatologist Douglas Hardy, a coauthor of the 2004 paper on Kilimanjaro cited, says Crichton is distorting his work. Crichton is doing ''what I perceive the denialists always to do,'' says Hardy. ''And that is to take things out of context, or take elements of reality and twist them a little bit, or combine them with other elements of reality to support their desired outcome.''

For example, while the case of Kilimanjaro does seem more complicated (with factors like drier conditions and less cloud cover also implicated in its glacial retreat), Hardy notes that for other glaciers, especially in tropical latitudes, ''the link is very clear between changes in tropospheric temperature and [glacial retreats].'' And even in the case of Kilimanjaro, Hardy adds, climate change may be playing a role.

As for the notion that replanting the forest at Kilimanjaro's base will help the glacier to grow again, Hardy says: ''The forests need replanting for many reasons, but I think that [Crichton's] idea is preposterous, without some larger-scale changes.''

Atmospheric CO2 Levels. Here, at least, Crichton seems aware that he's building his case on the backs of scientists who don't agree with him. In a cross-examination scene early in the novel, one character who has been raising doubts about human-caused climate change observes that the data she's citing have all been ''generated by researchers who believe firmly in global warming.'' Crichton then cites a paper by David Etheridge and his colleagues at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which concerns changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the last 1,000 years.

But Etheridge says he objects to this characterization of his so-called beliefs. ''There is little indication for Crichton of what beliefs I may or may not have,'' he said via email. ''My work as a professional scientist allows me only to produce and deal with evidence, not beliefs.''

The Big Picture. In Crichton's defense, those seeking to counter consensus scientific conclusions on climate change--and to use published evidence to support their own views--face an uphill battle. Naomi Oreskes, a science studies scholar at the University of California, San Diego, recently analyzed more than 900 scientific articles listed with the keywords ''global climate change,'' and failed to find a single study that explicitly disagreed with the consensus view that humans are contributing to global warming. While such literature may exist, it appears minimal.

That hasn't stopped Crichton from expounding his views in recent speeches, including a talk on ''Science Policy in the 21st Century'' held late last month at the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution's Joint Center for Regulatory Studies in Washington, D.C. In an appendix to ''State of Fear,'' Crichton frets about ''Why Politicized Science is Dangerous.'' But he may himself have provided a case study.

Chris Mooney, a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., is writing a book about the politicization of science. 

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