[extropy-chat] Peak Oil news

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Wed Mar 8 19:11:04 UTC 2006

Lee Corbin writes:
> Like others who demur a bit, I too subscribe to some beliefs
> about this that may conflict a little with the market. I've
> read---along with my book group, which is composed of folks
> I respect a good deal---Thomas Gold's "The Deep Hot Biosphere".
> We were convinced! Concretely: at the end of the evening we
> discussed the book, most of us thought that the odds were
> eighty percent that he was right about the abiotic theory
> (we also thought that he had about a fifty percent chance
> of being right about life itself first arising deep within
> the earth.

First, I should point out that I don't think there is much relevant
"market" information on this question.  Some people say that if it were
true then oil should be cheaper, but that's not necessarily correct
because this hypothetical deep oil is probably uneconomical today.
You could also look at whether profit-driven oil companies are using
the theory, and the answer seems to be "no" in the West, but possibly
there is some usage in Russia, although accounts conflict.

The more relevant information is the refusal of the scientific
establishment to credit the theory.  Why do you suppose that if Gold's
book is so convincing, expert geologists did not have their minds changed?
Why are "his" theories (Russians see him as a plagiarist according to that
site I mentioned yesterday, gasresources.net) still considered fringe?
Even without delving into the issues, isn't that evidence that there
are good counter-arguments, and that not everything Gold advances to
support his cause is as strong as he makes it sound?

The meta question is, how to resolve the issue?  Is it necessary to become
an expert geologist, to learn the ins and outs of petroleum chemistry
and thermodynamics and plate tectonics and models of the formation of the
earth and all the other information that people spend years learning in
grad school?  And even if you did that, what grounds would you have for
assuming that you would get the answer more right than the thousands of
others who have gone through the same process?

Why isn't it reasonable to say that statistically, the great majority
of people who have studied the issues closely think that Gold is wrong,
and therefore the chances are that if I learned as much as they know
and studied the issues myself, I would come to the same conclusion?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum has a throw-away line: "A larger
fraction of geologists believe in Creation Science than in abiogenic oil."
I don't know if it is true or not, but it is a reminder that these same
issues arise with regard to Creationism.  There are plenty of books
out there that advance Creationist theories.  I think it is perfectly
plausible that reading those books would increase the credibility of the
theory for the average person; perhaps even for me, if it weren't for the
fact that I am trying not to judge these issues in terms of how persuasive
I personally find the arguments.  Those books probably reveal problems
in the conventional scientific dogma that most of us are unaware of.

The same is true of ESP, cold fusion and many other fringe theories.
I suspect that reading a one-sided presentation from advocates of these
beliefs might well raise significant doubts about our initial position
of skepticism.  It's like Robin said, it's irrational to both have
an open mind that can be pursuaded by this kind of information, and
at the same time to believe that such persuasive information exists.
My solution is not to be open-minded about it, for the reasons that I
have elaborated in my recent messages.  I think most people's solution
is to assume that the information is just not credible.  But that's a
dangerous assumption!

Ask Lee about abiotic oil.  Ask Damien Broderick about ESP.  Ask Samantha
about Peak Oil.  I don't know any Cold Fusion advocates but I did find
an old posting in the archives by an ExI VP lamenting the refusal of
the scientific establishment to research an "undeniably interesting
and mysterious" phenomenon.  The point is that assuming that there is
no good case for crackpot or fringe theories is dangerous because the
truth is that there is in fact good evidence for many of them.  How
are you going to deal with that?


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