Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wallace E. Pratt On Denial

"Experience has invalidated other firm beliefs of those days. We thought that the sedimentary section in Kansas was profoundly thick. We would probably have guessed that the vertical distance to the crystalline floor under central Kansas was nearly equal to the horizontal distance to the crystalline core of the Rocky Mountains. When in 1915, the driller of a "wild-cat" well reported granite at a depth of 1100 feet, or so, right in the middle of the state, we were not only skeptical; we were indignant. We denied that the well had granite; and when the driller under our own supervision, bailed out of the well fragments of beautiful pink granite, we charged that he had planted the granite in there himself!"-- Wallace E. Pratt, Vice President of Standard Oil, Oil In The Earth, 1942, on being confronted with empirical data which annihilates biogenic origin.
We see the same type of denial, extreme irrationality, and human misjudgement from so-called "scientists" who claim that the abiomarkers in oil, namely molecular diamondoids, have a biogenic origin, even though diamonds can only be formed in the mantle. It's similar to Mothers who are told their soldier sons have died in Iraq but still believe they are alive.

This is what Munger calls bias from consistency and commitment tendency. See: 24 Standard Causes of Human Misjudgement.

"It doesn't just catch ordinary mortals. It catches the Deans of Physics. According to Max Planck the really innovative important new physics was never really accepted by the old guard. Instead a new guard came along that was less brainwashed by it's previous conclusions. And if Max Planck's crowd had this consistency and commitment tendency that kept their old conclusions in tact in spite of disconfirming evidence you can imagine what the crowd that you and I are part of behaves like."
"Natural petroleum has no connection with biological matter." -- Kenney, Krayushkin, Plotnikova


Anaconda said...


Gas Resources Corporation,
Political and Sociological Essays,
Cognitive Processes and the Suppression of Sound Scientific Ideas,
J. Sacherman, 1997.
(available on direct link at left-hand column under Indroduction To The Science of Abiotic Petroleum)

The reaction to Galileo's proof that the Earth rotated around the Sun is the most famous of these type situations.

Everybody knows about Galileo, but think to themselves: "It could never happen, again."

Don't be so sure about that.

Many responsible people denied that the Wright Brothers had flown an airplane, years after the fact, no kidding.

Review the above referenced article and you might be surprised just have many times it does happen.

Sad, but true.

OilIsMastery said...

Thanks for the heads up again Anaconda. The Sacherman paper is great...=)

Anaconda said...


The abiotic oil debate is much like Plato's famous metaphor of the cave. Ignorant man is in a cave of half-truths and outright falsehoods, with only flickering shadows on the wall to see the truth by.

Strain and struggle as man might, to find the truth, with only shadows to be guided by, truth is elusive. And, to reach the sunlight, is objected to, by those, who have gained power in the world of shadows, and are loath to relinquish that power.

And, for those who manage to slip away into the sunlight, a return to the cave to spread the truth gained while in the sunlight is even more dangerous than the struggle to get out. For those with power in the cave know that simply restraining others from the light is too late at that point to maintain their grip on power.

The power holders must suppress the truth that threatens their power -- silence those who could lead others into the sunlight and who could expose how the power holders have willfully or ignorantly mislead their fellows in the cave.

It is far easier to prevent someone from gaining the truth than to suppress the truth once already gained.

In the the cave, "dead men tell no tales," is the easy solution to hold your grip on power.

Oil geologists are in this cave where their "fossil" theory is the coin of the realm, it gives them power and position, but they only see shadows. Step out of line, and your wealth and position is threatened.

Manage to break away to the mouth of the cave to see the truth as illuminated by the sunlight, and dare to return and spread the truth, and professional banishment awaits you with the harshest of condemnations.

For the truth threatens the very coin of the realm, not just for the leaders, but for all their followers as well. This is doublely intolerable in the cave. Because all are united against the truth you bring.

Begin to reason and explain, in good faith to show them the truth, and they will tell you there is no need, "our truth" is so manifest.
In reality, the leaders know to respond and reason would expose the fallacy.

Continue on in earnest and they will cover their ears in protest. Continue on, and leaders will drive you from the cave, so that those weaker than the leaders may not drop their hands and begin to listen.

Such is the condition in the oil gelogists' professional cave.

But now there is a power mightier than the leaders and followers in the cave, others who furnish the coin.

Investors furnishing the coin can demand the truth and they have no reason to blind their own eyes.

Investors demand to "know the product."

Carioca oil field off Brazil's coast and the wealth it represents will not be denied and it's physically observable truth will tell the tale.

Its truth is incompatible with the collective belief in the cave of a "oil window" inseperable from their professional bible, "fossil" theory -- ask an oil geologist whether they subscribe to the "oil window" and they will screach, "abiotic oil is impossible" and place their hands over their ears.

Think this is fanciful?

Alan von Altendorf, a geologist, reacted just this way, when, after he dismissed Carioca as only a gas play, and Petrobas as a reckless company not concerned with profit, responded to the question: "Do you subscribe to the "oil window?" Altendorf responded with "abiotic oil is impossible."

von Altendorf knows that should Carioca 'pan out' fossil theory is blown out of the water.

Soon, the force of events may scatter the cave dwellers into the sunlight, but under such harsh conditions of riducule, the sunlight will burn them and their services will be worthless.

Surely, it doesn't have to come to that kind of cataclysm for geologists.

But maybe it does.