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Beware of Geologists

 

By Brent Cook   Printer Friendly Version

December 20, 2004
www.paulvaneeden.com

   

First, a bit on my own background, to provide you a frame of reference from which to assess my comments (this is the only formal warning you will receive). I am a geologist turned exploration analyst and investor. I have logged over 25 years in the mining and exploration business with experience covering generative exploration to mine feasibility work in over 50 countries. Most of this time has been as an independent geologic consultant and, more recently, as a mining and exploration analyst. I currently spend over half my time on the road visiting and reviewing exploration projects. This is usually the only way to check the accuracy and legitimacy of a company's exploration claims.

So let's be honest about people of my ilk, and look into Minerals Exploration Fallacy #17: The Exploration Geologist is a professional scientist whose theses are backed by hard scientific fact and careful research.

True, exploration geologists completed at least four years of intense scientific training at prestigious universities. They struggled through upper level courses in calculus, physics, chemistry, and, of course, advanced igneous petrography, geomorphology and electron microscopy. They use big words like porphyrogranulitic, xenolith and tristetrahedron, often punctuated with mega this and mega that. Because they are professionally trained scientists, their revelations as to where to find gold or copper must be founded in carefully researched scientific fact and data, right?

Well, not quite. Geology, especially exploration geology, is as much an art as a science. As most of what is of interest to explorationists is hidden under dirt, rocks and water, they are usually dealing with only a small sampling of the data needed to "know" what really lies below the surface. Interpreting this limited, and often contradictory data, then becomes an exercise in "seeing the unknown" through the crystal ball of one's own experience. In other words, making an educated, or as is all too often the case, an uneducated guess. In essence, the explorationist attempts to reconstruct the geologic past in order to predict where a volcano may have simmered away, or how metalliferous fluids could have oozed across a spreading sea floor over a billion years ago. All too often, I'm afraid, the end result is claiming the existence of something they desperately want to exist but for which there is no evidence.

So who is this scientist whom you folks are speculating on? Many of you may know one. He's the guy who always has rocks rolling around the back of his car and is able to move continents with no more than a pencil and bar napkin. By and large, this social outcast tends to be more comfortable drinking in some malaria infested dive bar in Zambezi and sleeping with snakes (real ones, not the ones most of you know) than enjoying the good life in air-conditioned comfort and a warm bed. Geologists are eternally optimistic that their "pseudo science" or, if you prefer, their "art", will lead them to buried treasures and keep them from the nine-to-five hellhole regimen they fear more than God.

The odds of pulling off this treasure hunt are, quite honestly, not good. Most geologists (say 90%) never find an economic ore deposit. So let's assume the average geologist works on one hundred properties in his life and further, that there are five thousand geologists out there beating the virgin bush right now, chasing their dream. Statistically, the one property our forlorn geo is looking at right now has about a 0.09% chance of turning into an economic discovery. Despite the obvious long odds, nearly every one of these geologists is quite convinced that his property is the 0.09% real deal, the one that will bring him fame and fortune. I guess the point is that these fellows take optimism to the extreme, and are blissfully unaware of the statistical odds. They have to be.

The aim of this rather disparaging characterization is not to malign the geologist, or his "science", but to provide some insight that may better equip you in your minerals exploration speculations. The reality is, your expectations should be tempered somewhat by recognizing that we are not dealing with an exact science here, and "facts" will be subject to change as more data comes in. You should also recognize that the geologist's eternal optimism may be some deeply ingrained genetic flaw. But, without it, nothing would ever be discovered.

Brent Cook

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