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By Robert Rapier on Mar 24, 2007 with no responses

Peak Oil and the Lunatic Fringe

I have been posting at The Oil Drum as a contributor for about a year now. Yesterday, I announced that I would be taking a break for a while. (I will continue to post at least one new essay a week here). As I am getting quite a few e-mails about this, I wanted to document what has precipitated this for those who may not know the history.

The Oil Drum receives a great many visitors each day (currently over 12,000 a day). While the vast majority are interested in intelligent discourse on energy issues, there is a very vocal lunatic fringe who accept Peak Oil RIGHT NOW with a religious fervor. They lash out at any viewpoints that challenge this notion. To be clear, not all who believe Peak Oil is now fall into the lunatic fringe category. In fact, most don’t. There are many very serious posters who argue that peak is now, and they use data and logic to argue their point. However, the lunatic fringe will tend to associate themselves with posters espousing these views, and legitimate challenges of the data are sometimes met with bitter ad hominem attacks. Add to that the fringe who think that because I work for an oil company, they are entitled to pile on with ad hominem attacks, and I have found myself increasingly on the receiving end of some very nasty comments and e-mails.

I have recently written two articles examining a technique that is claimed to be able to predict a peak in a country’s oil production. I reproduced the first one (Predicting the Past) here on my blog, but the second one had far too many graphics. Here are the links to both essays, as well as to an essay I wrote in which I made my argument that Saudi Arabian oil production has not yet peaked:

Does the Hubbert Linearization Ever Work?

Predicting the Past: The Hubbert Linearization

A Debate on the Substance and Timing of the Peak of Oil Production and Consumption, Part II

My conclusions, supported by a number of other modelers, is that the Hubbert Linearization (HL) technique does not in fact work well enough for one to call a peak in oil production with any sort of precision. The error range can span decades, as I documented in those posts. In fact, it is a very good example of an ad hoc model. And while I certainly believe that we should be preparing right now for Peak Oil (this is a position that my opponents consistently misrepresent), I also want to understand more about when Peak Oil will occur. If we “cry wolf” this year, and oil production rises next year because we didn’t do a good enough job forecasting, I believe this will diminish our ability to influence policy-makers that we must take action.

In response to my latest essay, in which I compared some of the arguments in favor of the HL as “faith-based”, many posters bitterly lashed out. As I documented at TOD, here is a sampling of the comments (without corrections for spelling errors) I received in response to my essay. Again, this is a minority, but a very vocal one:

“basically garbage”, “dangerous”, “keep being unreasonable or start thinking”, “not that interesting”, “not even close to being the right way to critique HL”, “assumption you childischly refuse to mention”, “sad, silly, egotistical”, “pissing contest”, “disingenuous”, “arrogance, pigheadedness and perhaps even childishness”, “waste of time”, “absurd”, “clumsy and actually self-defeating”, “gross”, “way off base”, “contrived examples”, “get off your high horse”, “re-inventing the wheel”, “junk”, “deceitful”, “unrealistic scenarios”, “let me hand you a clue”, “over the top”, “not very useful”, “cheating”, “vindictive, and spiteful”, “constructed cases where it does not work”, “diatribe”, “obnoxious attempt”, “a guy with an aganda and a axe to grind”, and “quite revealing in an unflatering way”

It was after reading some of those comments (and the posters attempted justifications of them) that I finally decided to take a break. However, in response to my note about taking a break, one poster provided a shining example of – in addition to the sort of insulting comments above – the kind of misrepresentation I have to deal with on a daily basis. It is absolutely comical, except for all of the slander.

But I think you have to see this for yourself, if you are unfamiliar with the sort of lunatic fringe I am talking about. Following my note, a poster decided to waste everyone’s time with this gem:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2398#comment-172203

I read through it, and I couldn’t make anything of that gibberish. I had to study it, and go back to the comments following my essay to even figure out what he was talking about. Here were some of the things this poster attributed to me (along with a very long personal attack):

“because you did post these words yesterday didn’t you Robert. paraphrased: I can make 2+2=5 if I want to also.

I am sure you can Robert, for a while, so if you make such a statement why should we believe that you haven’t found a way to fudge the numbers and data in your post yesterday.”

Of course I had written no such thing, but it got worse:

“With your time off Robert why don’t you examine Mary’s paper. I am sure she would love for you to tell her why she is incorrectly interpreting the statistical data. You have nothing to do now since your not posting here. I might even send Mary your post that said she was intentionally manipulating the data to fit the outcome. Pretty strong words Robert, and in the scientific community that is a real no no. Are you saying Mary is a charlatan with the credentials she has to back up her abilities. You must be pretty smart to take her on. Whoops, wait, you just made a statement, but didn’t back it up. You will not do it though will you Robert. As Mary asks, why why why, is this showing up in the data.”

I couldn’t make heads or tails of what this person was saying. So, I went back to the comments following my essay, and I found that he had posted a link to some mystical gibberish in which a scientist had claimed to have found a relationship between the alignment of the stars and NASA missions. So this person was accusing me of saying things about this scientist, when I had never even acknowledged his post. Furthermore, he demanded that I show that she is incorrectly interpreting statistical data. Now, to cut to the chase, I clicked on the link to see what it is this person was yammering on about. You know what was displayed at the top of the page in which the scientist had laid out this mystical “relationship”?

http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/citystars/

“AUTHOR’S NOTE THERE ARE ERRORS IN THIS STATISTICS PAPER THAT I HAVE NOT HAD THE CHANCE TO CORRECT. They do undermine the conclusions of this paper. In order to determine how seriously my math errors affect the results, it would be necessary to redo the paper. Since I do not currently have time for that, I am posting this addendum.

On March 24, 2003, I entered into a debate regarding the merits of this statistics paper I wrote in 1999. It is at this time in 2003 that I reviewed my paper again, only much more thoroughly for the purposes of debating with my paper’s detractors — and I then decided that the errors I made in the paper definitely do undermine at least some of its conclusions.”

Anyway, sorry for the long story but I thought it provided an exclamation point on my decision to take a break. This person had just provided a clear example of why I end up wasting a good portion of my time. I am being slandered, and this person is attributing to me things that I did not say, while demanding that I address a paper that the author has already acknowledged to be in error. And while I am completely sympathetic to the need for anonymity in many cases, this clearly drives some people to behave in these sorts of inappropriate ways. Therefore, to lower my stress level a bit, I have decided to remove the bulls eye from my chest. As I mentioned in the opening, I will continue to post at least 1 essay a week here.