Are We Running Out of Oil?

by George Crispin by George Crispin

Bill Baird, who is eminently more qualified than myself to comment on things scientific, saw fit to condescend to Thomas Gold (yes, he is an astronomer, not a geologist) whose writings provided some of what Bill called the "irresponsible fairy tales" of my column on the increasing availability of petroleum. I thought to defend my position by identifying Gold and quoting comments others have made about him and his book The Deep Hot Biosphere.

Thomas Gold is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and an Emeritus Professor of Physics at Cornell University. Regarded as one of the most creative and wide-ranging scientists of his generation, he has taught at Cambridge University and Harvard, and for 20 years was the Director of the Cornell Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

His book sets forth some truly wild and far out theories. First, it proposes that Earth supports a subterranean organic domain of natural gas and petroleum that is larger than the biosphere that we occupy on the surface, then it suggests that this domain is full of heat loving bacteria that live on the natural gas and petroleum. And thirdly and most importantly for us it puts forth the idea the idea that most hydrocarbons on Earth are not "fossil fuels" but part of the primordial "stuff" from which Earth itself was formed some 4.5 billion years ago. The Deep Hot Biosphere may seem far out and hard to accept when first read, but a growing body of evidence based on the indisputable stature and seriousness of Thomas Gold as a scientist supports its theories. In this book he comes across as a brilliant and boldly original thinker, increasingly a rarity in modern science, as he develops revolutionary conclusions about the fundamental workings of our planet, the origins of life on Earth, the nature of earthquakes, and even the likelihood of life on other planets.

The Times of London called him one of the world’s most original minds. Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate, said, "You have given many very good arguments, and I am convinced." USA Today suggested that Gold might have grown tired of tilting at windmills long ago had he not destroyed so many. Nature magazine said "You have to appreciate his fresh and comprehensive approach. . . . [This book] demonstrates that scientific debate is alive and well." Stephen Jay Gould referred to him as one of America’s most iconoclastic scientists.

Stephen Howlett says this [book] puts the oil shortage scam on short notice. Jerald R Lovell adds "This book is more than a mere milestone. If approached with an open mind, it will revolutionize much traditional thinking in the areas of energy, seismology, and the life sciences. Professor Gold is an astrophysicist of high repute, who applies his excellent, freethinking mind and impeccable logic to disciplines outside his chosen field with astonishing success." This disturbs traditionalists and adherents of scientific orthodoxy no end, especially when Dr. Gold, more often than not, has been proven correct. Gold has always taken the position that a critical attitude is clearly required of every seeker of truth, and that one must criticize both old ideas and new ones.

In seeking to understand Bill’s disagreements with my positions, I wonder if, like many in the scientific world, he may be trapped in what Thomas Kuhn refers to as the current paradigm, where contrary to taking a critical attitude, which is what scientists should do, they develop a tendency to discard whatever does not fit currently accepted theory, especially politically correct currently accepted theory.