PARADIGMS AND GOLD MODELS: HOW DO THEY HELP US ACHIEVE SUCCESS IN EXPLORATION?

Science is dramatic

Science is dramatic! It always has been, and continues to be nowadays. In 1962, Thomas Kuhn in "The Structure of Scientific Revolution" introduced us to the concept of paradigm shift. He explains that scientific progress is given by continually alternating phases of normal science and revolutionary science, known as “paradigm shift”. Normal science is about refining understanding and progressive development. Kuhn does not deny progress in normal science, but proposes that the major shifts and momentum of scientific progress are great conceptual breakthroughs (phases of revolution or shifts), which lead to new paradigms.  A paradigm defines where progress should be made, what questions can be asked, what answers are expected, and the way we describe problems. In other words, it places operating boundaries around a particular scientific discipline. The paradigm observes, predicts phenomena of interest, and adapts by applying necessary (minor) changes in order to answer questions. When a point is reached where it is not possible to provide an explanation of differences between what is observed and what is predicted by the paradigm, a paradigm crisis occurs, which is usually "resolved" by replacing the old paradigm with a new one. This is a paradigm shift.

Within the scientific community, clustered around certain paradigm and intellectual frameworks, we think, negotiate ideas (and we are doing that more or less diplomatically, and more or less successfully), and relate with other participants of the group.  Original, out of the box thinking and original ideas are usually less common and come after political interests and power-relations.

Pursuit of a silver bullet: do structural paradigms help us to find more gold?

We are all familiar with paradigm, and paradigm shift concept in geology. The most well-known examples are related to pre- and post- plate tectonics time.  Furthermore, the paradigm concept is very often a modus operandi in the mineral exploration industry. Since 1950 structural and mineral exploration paradigms have been a route for gaining research funding, building a public front, enabling publications, creating communication between government and academia, and building interaction within and between research groups and our industry.   

Some of the paradigm lobby groups in gold exploration are (many names not official, but descriptive): syngenetic (1950s to 1980s), late compression (1980s to 1990s), brittle strike-slip (1980s), complexity (mid-1980s to present), stress mapping (1990s), earthquake analogy (1990s to 2000s), detail and micro-detail in texturally chronological sequence (2000s), conglomerate-related (1990s to 2000s), and rapid energy transfer - lightening analogy (recent). Each paradigm has a leading and key geological proxy. For example, late compression is based on a reverse shear zone, brittle-strike slip is associated with Riedel shear zone geometries, the earthquake analogy paradigm on a series of jogs, and conglomerate-related paradigm is based on unconformity surfaces.

Being honest, some of the "paradigms" can be placed between models and paradigms, but most of them are, or have been acted as paradigms during the specific period in the history of exploration for mineral deposits. 

What is common to the structural paradigms? Firstly, they are more explanatory than predictive, and most importantly, few if any have genuinely found gold! In other words, most gold deposits are not discovered using instructions and set of techniques provided by a structural paradigm, and structures and structural analysis remains a poor cousin compared to geophysics, spectroscopy and geochemistry.

Structural paradigms help geologists (in particular junior staff) to describe and understand complex geometry and processes, and in most cases, encourage collection and analysis of good-quality structural data. In a nutshell, the paradigms usually produced a high-quality science, but rarely new discoveries!

So, how should we operate?

As said previously, paradigms are not a silver bullet. The main and starting instructions for successful gold exploration are: A) carefully observe, B) collect good-quality, critical data, and C) analyse data and transform all this information (almost immediately) into a picture (start by building a hypothesis that can be tested iteratively).

An interpreted 3D/4D image (not necessarily computer - generated), based on high-quality data remains the critical tool for exploration and mining of gold. 


Mario Zelic and Julian Vearncombe, SJS Resource Management 07-Apr-2014
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