The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Crichton Conundrum

Until his death in the early part of this century, Michael Crichton (1942 - 2008) was a pre-eminent novelist and screen writer who focused on stories with a scientific plot line. Crichton accurately predicted a wide variety of scientific advances, and more importantly, the dangers of unintended consequences associated with them. He wrote about topics as varied as genetic engineering, climate change, artificial intelligence, robotics, among many others, making each a topic of broad discussion while he cranked out best sellers and blockbuster movies. Crichton was a futurist and a clear thinker whose writing and movies (e.g., Jurassic Park, Westworld, Sphere, Prey, State of Fear) still have relevance today.

In his later years, Crichton became very concerned that science was being bastardized in a way that allowed advocates of a specific ideology to use it inappropriately to make their arguments. Andy Kessler describes "The Crichton Conundrum" this way:
Crichton observed: “Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible.” That includes children at the United Nations yelling, “How dare you.” It’s knee-jerk analysis. I call it the Crichton Conundrum: “I’m against it, so these theories must be right—even though the science is most likely bunk.” Shallow, but sadly a reality.

The conundrum is everywhere. Take the $15 minimum wage, a so-called living wage—who could be against that? The problem is that the alternative isn’t necessarily $8 or $10 an hour; often it’s no job and $0 an hour. Lo and behold, restaurants are closing in San Francisco.

Or take net neutrality. No one wants an un-neutral internet, even though that enables innovative pricing to help fund fiber-optic and wireless buildouts. Similarly, we all feel good about “natural” forest management, and now California burns.

These arguments are often vague, even Orwellian—the expressions “net neutrality” and “climate change” conceal their shallow concepts. But they’re also Crichtonesque in the way they foreclose any argument from the other side. If you’re against food stamps or children’s health spending, you’re heartless, even though they are inefficient, ineffective and rife with fraud. And friendly sounding No Child Left Behind and Common Core? Sorry, math scores went down.

Free college, day care and medical care? Didn’t Cuba try that? Free or price-controlled goods always end up like subsidized bread in the Soviet Union. You get less of it and empty shelves. The same is true of rent control, as California will soon learn.
The Crichton Conundrum has been a staple of those on the Left for many decades. The game plan works like this:
(1) package a Leftist policy or program inside an "big idea" that everyone favors (e.g., better education, less gun violence, cleaner water and air); (2) using snippets of scientific studies that neither prove or disprove a point or worse, data that has been manipulated to "prove" the point, argue that science unequivocally supports the Leftist policy or program; (3) when others question the accuracy or relevance of the "scientific data" accuse them of being against the "big idea" that the policy or program falsely claims to solve, (4) shut down further investigation and debate by making the statement that "the science is settled." (science is NEVER settled)
The problem today is that there is no referee. The mainstream media used to take on that role, but since they've become the trained hamsters of the Left, any countervailing scientific arguments, data, studies, or the like that show flaws in a Leftist policy or program never see the light of day. The result—ruinous, authoritarian decisions, wasted billions, and most important, not helping the very people or entities that those policies or programs were purported to serve.