I ended last week's submission on the topic of Confirmation Bias* with these questions:
After all, who among us wants to be wrong about important matters on which we've staked no small amount of credibility?
But what if being wrong about those important matters winds up being the least of our problems?
The future availability and adequate supply of fossil fuels-oil in particular--is certainly one of those more noteworthy subjects. I'm of the clear opinion that our future energy needs are not going to be based on an endless, forever abundant, affordable, easily accessible fossil-fuel supply. Conventional crude-oil production reached a peak a decade ago, and for all the talk of our recent production increases [current glut and low-price considerations duly noted], there are some serious challenges looming if maintaining that affordable, readily-available, adequate supply is the issue.
I'm not alone, of course. There is an equally vocal, and more prominent contingent on the other side of this debate, claiming we peak-oil proponents are nothing more than doom-and-gloom messengers who've been consistently wrong in predictions.
The conflicts arise in part because of what one relies upon to support his or her position. In some instances, there are actual facts in dispute [some shaded to suit one's inclinations, of course]. But in too many other instances--peak oil and climate change among them--one side has a clear tendency to not just restrict the facts relied upon to a select and duly-massaged few; they also completely ignore a more substantial and substantive body of evidence.
Offering statements with an assortment of qualifiers ["if"; "possible"; "could"; "potential", etc] may offer those proponents some assurances that they are essentially correct. But to ignore an entire body of evidence contradicting--or least casting some reasonable doubt--on their staked positions calls into question motivations for disseminating partial truths.
Someone benefits when there's a deliberate failure to present both sides of the issues in dispute. Rarely is it the public seeking information from their preferred sources.
Close behind in the tactics of choice is to either attempt to distract with irrelevancies [past predictions made based on evidence then available does not then make future predictions invalid, especially when considering how often both sides have demonstrated less-than-stellar prediction skills], or intentionally confuse the public with phony straw-man arguments. Relying on an assertion by a fringe spokesperson as then being the foundational point for all positions offered by the opposing side is clever, but who benefits and who does not?
Credible peak-oil proponents regularly acknowledge the boon offered by tight oil/fracking production in recent years, while also pointing out the many evidentiary considerations casting considerable doubt on how much longer we can count on that option [not very is the answer]. Those opposed to the concept of peak oil will offer their phony "running out of oil" argument as the final say in whether or not to believe peak-oil advocates, while managing to address almost none of the facts raised that support our concerns for the future supply.
It is a characteristic trait of the conservative personality that they are generally averse to ambiguity, seeking closure on issues as soon as possible. They have much less interest in debating the fine points--not always such a bad thing! But on matters of great importance, simplistic debate strategies carry a host of risks when too many critical facts and considerations (such as those I just listed), are ignored in favor of focusing on one's primary belief.
As Robert Altemeyer observed with more than a bit of sarcasm, in his study on the conservative/authoritarian personality