Salon persists in chewing on the story of what Bush had under his jacket in the first presidential debate. In today’s installment, they interview a JPL scientist who does image analysis for a living, and who took footage from the debate and analyzed it using the same techniques he would use on some murky photos of Titan. His conclusion: There’s definitely something under Bush’s jacket. And it’s not fabric wrinkles. NASA photo analyst: Bush wore a device during debate.
Winston Smith of Philosraptor muses on what it all means: Bush’s wire, or: Does this tinfoil make me look fat?
Folks like Craig, presumably, will laugh this off. But I think they’re wrong to do so. The fact that an explanation strikes one as ludicrous on its face is not, in and of itself, a particularly powerful argument. If there’s one thing that the history of human knowledge teaches, it’s that apparent absurdity does not make something untrue.
Let’s look at some of the absurd things people have had a good chuckle over in the past: The earth is spherical in shape. It orbits the sun. Human beings are descended from ape-like ancestors. Heavier-than-air flying machines can form the basis of a viable transportion system. Human beings can journey to the moon and back. Adolf Hitler is a threat to world peace. Arab terrorists might fly hijacked airliners into buildings. The sanctions and weapons inspection program has succeeded in degrading Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of WMD.
Laughter is not a particularly effective means of discerning truth. Just the opposite, in fact: It often serves as a last-ditch defense against information that challenges one’s preconceptions. It’s not an argument. It’s a de facto declaration that no argument is necessary; that the very idea of whatever is under consideration is inherently ludicrous. It’s an abdication of reason.
Which is fine. Everyone needs a little chuckle now and then. That’s why I watch and enjoy The Daily Show, for example. But I don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because something makes for a good laugh when Jon Stewart mocks it on the show means that the thing he’s mocking actually deserves to be mocked. You need to do some actual analysis of the underlying data if you want to make that judgement with confidence.
So with Bush’s bulge. Laugh all you want. But there’s something under there. And it’s not fabric wrinkles. Nor does it look much like a bullet-proof vest, as some Bush defenders have apparently taken refuge in believing. He and his people have systematically dogded the question of what it is, offering only jokes (“It’s a radio for receiving instructions from his alien overlords! Ha, ha, ha!”) and obvious lies (“It’s a poorly tailored shirt”).
So what is it? Laughing at it doesn’t make it go away, as much as your subconscious might wish that it did. At this point, I think the idea that it was a clandestine receiver to prompt him with answers really is the most-rational explanation. And I’d say the burden is on those who disagree to either offer an explanation that better explains the available data, or to admit that they’re not being rational.