Before publishing State of Fear in 2004, Michael Crichton spent three years researching the novel. He pored over numerous texts dealing with the environment, pollution, global warming, and environmental policy. Though Crichton's novel is a work of fiction, it relies heavily on scientific data and research. He employs dozens of footnotes and graphs throughout the novel that go hand in hand with the fiction. In the novel's preface, he writes that "this is a work of fiction…. However, references to real people, institutions, and organizations that are documented in footnotes are accurate. Footnotes are real."
State of Fear couples Crichton's scientific research and data with a fast-paced plot in which a small group of individuals attempt to thwart the actions of an eco-terrorist group. The eco-terrorists are attempting to create a series of apparently natural disasters and fool the public into believing that the events are the result of the adverse effects of global warming. The terrorists plan a series of five disasters, including breaking off a huge chunk of Antarctica, causing a flash flood in Arizona, creating a large hurricane, and finally using explosives to cause a large tsunami.
Aside from the entertaining action in State of Fear, Crichton also introduces important social issues especially relevant to the twenty-first century, including the influence and role of both corporations and media outlets in scientific research and public opinion. The novel contains an "Author's Message," in which Crichton shares his point of view on the various issues addressed in the book. This includes an appendix entitled "Why Politicized Science is Dangerous," a short essay in which Crichton suggests fundamental changes in the way that environmental research and environmental policy is undertaken and understood, warning against the dangers of "politicized science."