Peak Oil? Blame It On the Software

The primary development since then in studies of "peak oil" has been the new availability of graphics software that enables unsophisticated analysts -- knowledgeable of geology, perhaps, but not statistics -- to make and misinterpret graphs.

Published: 13-Jun-2005

rst, Mass. — Since the early Greeks speculated that the Trojan War was started by the gods to reduce overpopulation, many have feared resource scarcity. The obvious finite nature of non-renewable resources such as minerals combined with occasional shortages and an inability to be certain of future supplies has made this a recurring theme in political economy.

The most obvious modern analogy has been the work two centuries ago by Thomas Malthus, who made a simplistic (and incorrect) calculation of growth trends in population and food supply, and continued by Paul Ehrlich, who continually foresees imminent mass starvation.

His counterparts in the oil business are no less in error for mistakenly analyzing production and discovery data as representing geological processes without political or economic components, and can thus be as safely extrapolated as the orbits of the planets. This is a part of the long debate that began with Plato and Aristotle over whether numbers hold an inherent truth, independent of physical reality, or if the meaning of the numbers cannot stand alone from what they represent.

As Globe and Mail reporter Barrie McKenna wrote in his cover story on oil last Saturday, M. King Hubbert looked at the numbers and correctly predicted the peak in U.S. oil production.


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Matthew Simmons introduces Harvard University audience to the reality of peak oil. Photo Credit:Maggie Mastricola/Harvard News Office


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