, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 411–431 | Cite as

Alternative Facts and States of Fear: Reality and STS in an Age of Climate Fictions

  • Joanna RadinEmail author


In the decades since the Science Wars of the 1990s, climate science has become a crucible for the negotiation of claims about reality and expertise. This negotiation, which has drawn explicitly on the ideas and techniques of science and technology studies (STS), has taken place in genres of fiction as well as non-fiction, which intersect in surprising ways. In this case study, I focus on two interwoven strands of this history. One follows Michael Crichton’s best-selling 2004 novel, State of Fear and its reception by neo-conservatives as a commentary on the mis-uses of facts to stoke fear about anthropogenic climate change. The other considers Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2010 publishing success Merchants of Doubt as the inverse, a demonstration of the forms of disinformation that have been used to undermine scientific consensus around climate change. I show that both Crichton’s as well as Oreskes and Conway’s approaches were critiqued by academic STS even as their accounts constituted the most high-profile performances of its stakes and the politics of knowledge since the Science Wars. In highlighting the STS practices deployed by each, as well as how those practices were differently linked to accusations of fear-mongering and a perversion of the purity of STS, I demonstrate the need for a reflexive history of STS. Such an approach, I argue, can better consider the social life of STS ideas and practices amidst calls for more politically-engaged approaches to knowledge production.


Alternative facts Post-truth Symmetry Climate fiction Climate change Politics Fear STS History of STS 



Thank you to Susan Gaines and David Kirby for the invitation to first speak on this topic at the 2017 Narrating Science Conference in Toronto, Canada organized by the Fiction Meets Science groups at the University of Bremen and the University of Guelph. David, along with Peter Weingart, Doug Bruce, and anonymous reviewers provided valuable advice in developing the argument into the present paper. I could not have finished it without Deanna Day’s expertise and encouragement. Henry Cowles and members of the STS community at the University of Michigan provided a gracious and stimulating forum for feedback at a critical moment. Elizabeth Karron and Beans Velocci performed exemplary research and editorial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of the History of MedicineYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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