LBN-COMMENTARY By DAVID P. BARASH (U Wash (Seattle) 10:27, 6 July 2007 (PDT)
Here is a paradox: Science is our best way of deciphering the complexities of the natural world. It is useful, consistent and, despite the claims of fundamentalists -- religious or postmodern -- true. Yet the insights of science are often counterintuitive, frequently lacking what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness." When Colbert coined that term, during the inaugural episode of his satirical show, "The Colbert Report," he applied it to things that people in general (and George W. Bush in particular) know to be true "from the gut," as opposed to from the head. Truthiness trumps dry logic, dull evidence and mere facts. It disdains or simply bypasses laborious intellectual examination in favor of what feels right. The word has taken on a life of its own, and Colbert stuck it scathingly to Bush's political decisions, including the rationale for invading Iraq and his claim to have looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and seen "his soul." But such gut thinking poses another set of dangers to science. All too often, it bumps into scientific truth, and when it does, it tends to win -- at least in the short term. Ironically, much of the time, scientific findings don't seem immediately logical; if they were, we probably wouldn't need its laborious "method" of theory building and empirical hypothesis testing for confirmation. We'd simply know.