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Stands to Reason: Let Data Speak For Itself

Whether it is the economy, taxes, global climate, health care, spying, hydraulic fracturing or oil and gas energy in general, the media is saturated with opposing intellectual, political and philosophical positions.

Opposite opinions are usually highlighted to the public and seldom, if ever, is there a rational discussion of the issues that could result in middle ground or a compromise position.

We expect this from the political extremes, but unfortunately, we also are seeing it in the sciences as well.

Too often in the sciences, well-educated people take extreme, absolute stands, pro and con, when they (we) know that the data is constantly evolving and that new information, ideas and concepts are on the horizon.

As energy scientists, or as a professional science organization, how can we take a position that is well-reasoned, meaningful and effective?

Many of the major global environmental issues are associated with energy – therefore the DEG is anxious, and should be expected, to take a leadership role on behalf of the industry and the AAPG.

Even so, what do we say, how do we say it and to whom do we direct it?

These questions are being discussed, and we welcome all input, but it is worth giving even more thought to the concept of “taking a position” in a world of ever-changing discovery and science.

This is true for energy-environmental issues on a global scale as well as the well-pad scale.

Do we (AAPG, DEG, each of us individually?) drive our own personal golden spike into the rock of whatever truth we want to discuss and defend our position against all who threaten it? Maybe.

Do we cast a sea anchor and drift with the strongest current and point our position in that direction? Maybe.

Do we target a specific group of people who are sympathetic with our position? Again, maybe.

There are positives and negatives associated with each of these options, and there are even more available options to consider beyond these. As a reasoning body of scientists, we all understand this conundrum.

I have given much thought to this, and my personal conclusion is that we should clearly, succinctly, and humbly present the data that our science and the earth reveals to us, with our conclusions rationally and simply explained, while being mindful of the range of data resolution and current understanding.

This may seem obvious, but it goes back to we “take our position.” Too often, even distinguished scientific and technical venues present an op/ed cable news version of a position where anomalies or only specific information that supports a specific belief are used. I must admit that I have done this in the past but now hope that I am smarter and wiser than before.

Heraclitus, one of my favorite Greek philosophers, once said, “Nothing endures but change.” I don’t believe that driving a golden spike or flowing with the dominant current to support a position is wise, because change in information and knowledge is, hopefully, inevitable.

Heraclitus, who would have been a great geologist, also said, “Much learning does not teach understanding,” again suggesting that just overwhelming the masses with select data to support a position does not provide a rational understanding.

So what do we do in “taking a position” on whatever energy-environmentally related topic we choose? I will give my thoughts.

First, we should concentrate on what we know as earth scientists and not venture in to other scientific disciplines. I fully understand that earth science is a very broad topic and that many disciplines support our studies, but feel we must stay within our common expertise.

Second, all data should be used, presented and interpreted to remove as much bias as possible. Most extreme positions on any topic only use a narrow range of supporting data with singular biased interpretation.

And finally, we should let the data speak without human emotion.

This is hard to do, but a rational-though-opinionated person will generally accept a preponderance of quality, well-reasoned data interpreted with accepted logical approaches – as long as human emotion does not interfere.

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Division Column-DEG Doug Wyatt

Doug Wyatt, of Aiken, S.C., is director of science research for the URS Corporation Research and Engineering Services contract to the USDOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. He also is a member of the DEG Advisory Board for the AAPG Eastern Section.

Division Column DEG

The Division of Environmental Geosciences (DEG), a division of AAPG, is concerned with increasing awareness of the environment and the petroleum industry and providing AAPG with a scientific voice in the public arena. Among its objectives are educating members about important environmental issues, supporting and encouraging research on the effects of exploration and production on the environment, and communicating scientific information to concerned governmental agencies.

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