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Hubbert's Hacks: The Peak and Decline of a "Doomer"

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The BBC has a wonderful video, "How Science Changed Our World," in which Professor Robert Winston reviews his "top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past 50 years." What's remarkable is how often the Professor admits that he never anticipated, and even outright downplayed the significance of, these developments as they occurred.

About MRI scans, Winston says, "And I didn't have the sense to realize that this was going to be quite revolutionary in its time." On the Internet: "I thought, 'This will never take off.'" On his own area of expertise, in vitro fertilization: "And although I was involved in this research, I have to confess that at the time I didn't appreciate its significance."

Professor Winston is no intellectual slouch. His admission of his shortcomings in anticipating the future should be a lesson in humility to us all.

Would that the peak oil hacks had such humility.


It had been an eventful week for me. I published an OpEdNews article the Monday before called "The End of the End: How the Peak Oil Movement Failed," in which I explained how I have come to alter my view of peak oil, from doomer to agnostic, and how I believe the public relations campaign has been an utter disaster. I satirized some of the most prominent "voices" in the movement, citing their involvements in such questionable activities as astrology, climate denial, and 9-11 conspiracy-mongering. I expected it to end there.

But the piece was picked up by The Oil Drum, a peak oil website rife with everyone from petroleum scientists to human billboards of doom, and the comments section became a lively and educational place for me for about a week, especially as the announcement of possibly yet another new record high in oil production had just been posted. At first, I was just pleased that my article was being discussed; most of the comments acknowledged that I at least had a point; but eventually I got to witness firsthand the ingrained dogmatism of "The Doom." It's a view I have entertained for some time.

It's time to let go of it.

***

The reporter says, "Will there be war with Russia, Mahatma? Will Communism destroy the civilized world? Is the soul immortal? Does God exist?"

The Mahatma opens his eyes and compresses his lips and spits two long, red streams of betel nut juice out through his nose holes. It runs down over his mouth and he licks it back in with a long, coated tongue and says "How the f*ck should I know?" From Queer by William Burroughs.


To become critical thinkers, we must continually labor to counter our biases, to pay attention to the tendency to confirm rather than to disconfirm, and to imagine what information we might be ignoring. One way to do this is to submit assumptions to questioning. Shockingly, we often find that we must settle for the answer, "I don't know."

Unless you're a hack, of course.

Hacks Know Things, and they voice their views in stentorian rhetoric, and they don't care that they break every rule of critical thinking in the book. They are subject to The Bold Statement (which doesn't make a claim true), The Bald Contradiction (which they don't care about), and The Blatant Inanity. All that matters is the sound, and the fury, of their pronouncements.

Right in the midst of the week dropped three fresh examples of the very Peak Doom hackery that I'd written about, like Moses' manna from heaven. Two examples issued from a video linked to The Oil Drum site, "Peak Oil and a Changing Climate," from The Nation magazine. The other was a comment and a link to a podcast called "Two Beers With Steve." They fit perfectly into the conversation about the bungled manner in which certain purveyors of the peak oil apocalypse make pronouncements and predictions.

I was eager to view the Nation video, for it features Noam Chomsky, and his statements in the film are simply awe-inspiring in their breadth (as usual). Sometime after Chomsky, though, James Kunstler, peak oil's Jeremiah-in-residence, suddenly gets all beady-eyed and becomes a rap star:

"History doesn't care if we're incompetent!

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Mike Bendzela lives in Maine where he teaches and is partner in a small Community Supported Agriculture farm.
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The article was kicked back to me because of profa... by Mike Bendzela on Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 2:45:11 AM
I love people who enjoy posting op-eds who try to ... by Dave Winfield on Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 9:44:11 AM