National Oil & Lube News

February 2017

Digital issues of National Oil & Lube News, the trade magazine for the preventive maintenance industry

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Page 59 of 67

60 NOLN | VIEWPOINT Synthetic Solutions Lessons from a Duck-Billed Platypus by Ed Newman No question about it, the duck-billed platypus is one strange creature. About the size of a pet cat, this weird furry mam- mal lays eggs like a reptile, has a snout like a duck's bill, a flat tail like a beaver, webbed feet like a goose and walks with legs out to the sides like a lizard. In addition, the male platypus has a venomous spike on its an- kles that enables it to kill in self-defense. No European had ever seen such a crit- ter until 1797 when British explorers made their first sighting on the banks of a lake near the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales, Australia. e first record of the duck-billed platypus can be found in Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins' "Ac- count of the English Colony in New South Wales" in which he catalogues a whole host of strange creatures unique to the land Down Under. In great detail, he de- scribed this most unusual new specimen. e response in England was less than enthusiastic, though they can't be faulted entirely. is was a creature too bizarre to be believed. e scientists back home de- cided it had to be a hoax. For much of my life I have been some- what harsh in my judgment of these sci- entists. eir bumbling doubts and dis- belief seem somewhat comical from our modern vantage point. But put yourself in their shoes. Not all of the treasures Brit- ish sailors brought home from overseas were authentic. Chinese opportunists, for example, took mummified monkeys, cut their bodies in half at the waist and sewed them to the back ends of fish, selling them to sailors as "mermaids." ey were very clever. (Nowadays we do it using Photo- shop, and some folks are still fooled.) So those scientists can't be blamed for being somewhat skeptical. Ultimately, the whole thing is a matter of trust. I have no record here of what their thinking was. ey may have believed the explorers were playing them for dupes. Hence, they dis- trusted this strange evidence of a creature unlike all others. Or, it may be they felt the explorers were good men who themselves had been duped. Frankly, a healthy skepticism is not nec- essarily a bad thing. But at some point, keeping a closed mind to new ideas has its own risks and consequences. One of these risks is that we never learn anything new or fail to believe something that's true. Modern Times At this point, it's time to turn this column in the direction of synthetic motor oil, be- cause I'm not sure how interested you'll be in the other things I learned about duck- billed platypuses while researching this column. Quite honestly, I believe a lot of oil change professionals are like these scien- tists when it comes to synthetic motor oils. You know what I'm talking about. "Snake oil, that's all it is." Whatever that's supposed to mean. Do they mean it is oil from snakes? Or oil that is being sold by snakes? I would guess the latter, hence real snake oil salesmen were tarred and feathered in earlier days. e more common argument against synthetics is they are better than con- ventional petroleum, but too expensive to be worth the higher price. "ey cost too much," some people say. Compared to what? Compared to car insurance? Com- pared to the inconvenience of regular oil changes? Since the 1970s, countless scientific studies and SAE papers have been written about the superiority and performance benefits of synthetic motor oils. And yet, to this day, the biggest opponents to synthetic oils that I run into are not the common folk in the street, but rather the trained professional mechanics and quick lube people who ought to know better. Like the scientists who simply could not believe those platypus specimens were real, there are simply too many mechan- ics out there who have been "trained" just enough to doubt the possibility that syn- thetics are what they claim to be. Sometimes, no matter what the evi- dence, some doubters prefer to doubt rather than to believe what science has proven and billions of miles of experience has demonstrated. At a certain point, it becomes obvious some people will pre- fer to be naysayers no matter how clear or persuasive the arguments are. I'm not making this up. ere are oil change pro- fessionals who will never recommend syn- thetic oils no matter what. Why is this? If it could be proven syn- thetics were better for the customer, would actually save them money in the long run and were more profitable for the oil change companies that installed them, what's there not to like? More than 200 years have passed since those British scientists initially rejected the possibility of a duck-billed platypus. eir doubts, however, were soon van- quished with further evidence. How long will it take for quick lubes to have their doubts cleared up and resolved? Synthet- ics exist because they are meeting real needs for today's and tomorrow's engines. If you've been sitting on the fence, it's time to take another look. S ED NEWMAN is the advertising manager for AMSOIL INC., an independent manufacturer of synthetic lubricants. He's been writing articles about synthetic oil since 1986. He can be contacted at For more information, visit:

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