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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The influence of Bias & Media on Peak Oil believability

With the growth of online media in the last fifteen years, newspapers are becoming obsolete, with their demise comes a larger problem; misinformation. This problem is not new, however most authors have been rather ambiguous in their conclusions. A closer look on how unconscious human behavior impacts this issue should be given, especially with the news regarding Peak Oil--Spectators caused the oil price spike of 2008 vs. demand of oil was higher then supply rings a bell. Unfortunately, no large government agency has confirmed or denied these claims in midst of smaller entities giving alternative stories. The reason for this unequilibrium is explained here.

Confirmation Bias is a human condition that causes a person to seek out only information that matches their preconceived notions. It also can be in the form of interpreting data to reaffirm a given truth a person holds. This was the subject of an experiment held by Charles Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark Lepper. They gave subjects two studies on the death penalty—one for each side of the argument, Regardless of being pro or anti death penalty, the subjects chose the study most reliable to be the one that shared their viewpoint, even though the latter was more detailed. This illustrates two key things; the human conscience does not like contradictions, humans are irrational.

Another bias is looped with Confirmation Bias called Blind-Spot Bias. This often rears its ugly head during debate on the very subject of being bias. Dr. Emily Prolin discovered that when asked to rate ones level of bias compared to their fellow peers, humans will certainly assume the position they are less susceptible to bias and stereotyping. Blind-Spot Bias would ultimately prevent a person from realizing their confirmation bias. The question then becomes, how do I really know what heck is going on?

Thanks to the trusty—insofar—Internet, a simple Google News search shows a real life example of contradictions in the reporting of Peak Oil. The first story in the results claims “Peak Oil Period” to Be Attained By 2014, Alarm Scientists.” The fifth exclaims “there never was such a thing as "Peak Oil" or "Peak Hydrocarbons".. Economic success is balanced on how...” One gives you a feeling of panic, the other of ease. The contradictions in media today are of course in all subjects. The size of the Internet also allows an endless number of fictitious realities created simultaneously. As our perceptions become more divided, the effect has yet to be determined—depending on the severity of division will ultimately conclude the answer.

Many may be asking themselves if print media has any reliability? My answer is undecided. Every writer is prone to bias because they must create a voice in which to report the news. Also newspapers are littered with stories promoting new products and businesses while advertisements’ scatter in between. (The words conflict of interest comes to mind) However historically journalists were affriended with the common folk. I would like to think the historical significance of journalism should weigh on a few authors’ consciences.

As gas prices scamper to three dollars a gallon, I expect peak oil to finally gain some traction. Although because of theNormalcy Bias—the refusal to plan for an event because it has not happened before—should do us in regardless, or perhaps the argument that technology will save us all will come to suffice.

- Kristen Mcgreagor; Chanhassen, MN

1 comment:

John D said...

Kristen, your analysis sure is correct. Let me tell you of my experience. I recently printed out Richard Heinberg's End of Growth and Tariel Morrigan's Peak Oil ... and the Collapse of Civilization and mailed them to our city newpaper's editor in chief. I also enclosed a check to the paper's Christmas Charity with the note that the contribution was in appreciation of his taking the time to read the information. I never got a response from him, nor was the check cashed.