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Sunday, July 25, 2004

About Skepticism and Reality

Conspiracists and the people that inhabit books such as Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things" make for interesting reads. As you digest the claims made, the temptation exists to stake the high ground and say "I would never believe in such things, how stupid can people be?". For me, the issue of Peak Oil puts me and other alternative energy advocates on the potential "stupid" side of the fence.

And when reasoned articles supporting Peak Oil start showing up on progressive/lefty sites like Znet (article by Marshall Auerback, an international portfolio strategist), the time is ripe to gather evidence to defend against not only the politically-neutral skeptical front but also against the right-wing attack dogs.

The sociological sanity check (note that I don't say scientific or technical here) is to search for the healthy skeptics out there. If for example, arguments against Peak Oil started to become common in The Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer, I would start to second guess my commitment. I always thought that societies of skeptics are filled with Mensa members and academics, looking to pick intellectual fights and sharpen their rhetorical skills.

Being lazy, the typical way to do the sociological study on the Internet is to tabulate Google hits and calibrate against known quantities. I tried "skeptical inquirer" and "blah", where "blah" is some arguable skeptical controversy.
Crop Circles743
Global Warming855
Remote Viewing701
Extra Sensory Perception475
Area 51437
Alien Abductions1670
Inorganic Oil45
Peak Oil10

Although inorganic oil (or abiotic oil) is a very arcane topic, it registers many more search hits than the topic of peak oil. This makes me feel a bit better, in a very unscientific way of course.

Unfortunately, the counter-claims, by what I call the peak oil nay-sayers, continue to inhabit and perpetuate in the non-skeptical world. A somewhat popular how-to and practical advice website called About.com has an entry entitled "We Will Never Run Out Of Oil". It falls under the Macroeconomics advice section of the website, written by a budding economics PhD student named Mike Moffet.

Choice quote:
Predictions that we will run out of oil after a certain period of time are based on an ignorance of the economic way of thinking.

I find it will be interesting how this plays out. My healthy skeptical mind suggests that the theories of conventional economics will themselves come under attack by the skeptics of the world. Certain free-market economists will then join the ranks of the perpetual motion advocates and start to compare notes.

This post powered by Britain's Science Museum


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