I was asked to provide this month's Executive Message on fairly short notice. The result is less of a Message and more of a Ramble. Given the time constraint I immediately reviewed the same feature in some past issues of the RECORDER hoping at least to borrow a format. If fortune smiled on me, perhaps I could find an older piece of some quality, and borrow it word for word. Fortune frowned on me - perhaps on the readership as well. Here we go.
Upon review of past Recorders the role of Communications in the current CSEG executive is immediately observed to be unusual. Those of you who know me personally have already reached that conclusion. Those of you that don't, consider this : The Communications portfolio is currently filled by two bearded oil company geophysicists, both in office by acclamation, both married to Caribbean women. What are the odds? (It is left as an exercise for the reader to calculate them.)
Considering long odds, maximum improbability if you will, I notice that Bill Goodway's Executive Message mentions that he befriended Douglas Adams while at school in Brentwood. To my knowledge this is the second time that Douglas Adams or his works ("Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" series, and "Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective Agency", etc.) have been mentioned publicly by CSEG Presidents. The other occasion was Rob Stewart, who mentioned the Dirk Gently novel in a Leading Edge article about his Distinguished Educator assignment. The Dirk Gently book includes an apparently insoluble problem: Dirk's sofa stuck fast in a stairwell. The Hitchhiker's Guide series features the cult favorite Maximum Improbability Drive spacecraft.
We exist in a strange industry. On the one hand, maximum likelihood (probability /statistics) is apparently dominant. We find examples in deconvolution, prospect evaluation, geo-statistics, and in one of the most common tools -fold, for example. On the other hand , maximum improbability may be the real driver. (Should the CSEG consider Douglas Adams for posthumous membership? If Bill, Rob and I sign the application .. .)
For argument's sake let us substitute 'possibility' for 'maximum improbability'. It is the "what could be there" type of possibility that keeps the producers drilling high risk plays. It is the same kind of possibility that keeps software developers developing new tools, acquisition companies new methods. It might just be what keeps us coming to work when industry cycle is low. A Maximum Improbability 'possibility' drive may lurk unseen behind our orderly applied science.
Lee Hunt wrote an interesting piece in last month's Recorder called Scientific Anathema: the Black Box. Reflecting on his comments leads to speculation that it may be the seductive nature of possibility, the "what might we learn", that keeps the black box with us. I recall a conspiracy theory-type book that asserted the Vatican Bank, through a numbered Bahamian company, had a controlling interest in an airborne oil sniffer black box. According to its promotional material, the book alleged, the device was 'successfully' deployed over Hassi Massoud in Algeria . While it may mean that the age of miracles is not over, anyone of us might achieve the same 'results' with a couple of soup cans, some bits from Radio Shack, and a window seat. Aside from his recent experience, well documented in last month's issue, Lee is well qualified to comment on black box technology in one unusual respect. While Chair of the 2001CSEGConvention Technical Committee, he introduced a new menu item to the committee's lunch meetings: KFC. With its 'secret blend' of herbs and spices the chain may have set the standard for black box fast food. (Disclaimer: KFC makes a fine fast food product, but their ingredients ARE secret. Remember George Bush Sr. and his broccoli comments.)
Probability would suggest that the typical CSEG member is something like late 40's, white, and male. This is a savage simplification. A sage geologist I recently worked with had this to say about statistics. Statistics are like a bikini -appearing to reveal but in fact hiding some important things. (Disclaimer: as a happily married father of four daughters, it should be stated that, were I ever to make such a statement with misogynist intent I would probably live the rest of my days in abject misery. No such intention is made.)
What I have learned, with little surprise, in the years I have worked as a CSEG volunteer, is that the simplification does the society a disservice. What the statistics hide in our membership is an impressive array of interests, held by people with impressive brains and high energy, who engage themselves actively in their surroundings. Experience it - volunteer for something.
Bill Goodway's Message concluded with some very good words: "bring the spontaneity and enthusiasm for the science back to applied geophysics". I'd add a sense of wonder to that as well. The wonder is that what we collectively do is amazing: discriminate, at depth, regions of different rock types using (typically) the same kind of energy we use to call the dog and tell the kids to turn off the TV. The 'untrained' might have trouble identifying the same regions were they presented in outcrop. This could well be described as a maximum improbability activity, but it routinely works. And that is really pretty cool.