Vol. 4, Issue 2, March 21, 2006
From Truthiness to Proofiness: The New Scientific Standard
When rising Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert launched the word "truthiness" into the wide world of mainstream media, the term found instant acceptance. Media pundits and the public alike found truthiness to be the mot juste they didn't know they needed, but then couldn't do without, to describe the increasing tendency to suborn, glamorize, or enhance actual facts in the name of a bigger and more interesting message. The American Dialect Society named it "word of the year".
Could copycats be far behind? Of course not.
Hence the world was treated this week to the proud coining of the term "proofiness" to describe a similar standard in science and scientific reporting.
"We think this captures the innovative spirit of American scientific knowledge that keeps us at the forefront of, you know, science and things like that," said President Bush in a fundraising speech in Virginia last week. "It's easy for smaller minds to get bogged down in details and the scientific process. Frankly, policymakers don't need all those details. We encourage our scientific advisors to concentrate on "proofiness", getting to the important stuff behind the numbers and theories. It's a more creative process."
Analysts suggest that the concept of "proofiness" explains a lot about the Administration's approach to science during the past several years.
"Time and again we have seen respected scientists quit or be forced out of government committees and task forces because they don't support the conclusions of the group, or because they felt that the government was unofficially dictating the conclusions in advance," said Peter Holyoke, senior program director in the National Academy of Science. "The notion of "proofiness" as the new underlying standard for the Administration really crystallizes what's going on here. Of course, that doesn't make it any less abhorrent. But now we have a name for it."
With the new standard in place, hundreds of alternative research programs have been given hope that they might now be eligible to receive funding from the government. The best known of these is the "What Would Jesus Do" supercomputing project proposed by the Oral Roberts University, a simulator capable of generating "conclusive and scientifically accurate" analyses of what Jesus would do in any given circumstance.
"Proofiness does offer some temptations," admitted Holyoke with a sigh. "To meet this criterion, an argument just has to sound good. It would make it a heck of a lot easier for math professors to get tenure, for one thing."
An unexpected challenge, however, has arisen from the liquor industry, which claims to have trademarked all permutations of the word "proof" in 1985.
"It's one of our quality control categories," said Harlan Lemon of the Jack Daniels distillery. "It's one of the "three P's": Palate, Proofiness, and Price. Let 'em try to take proofiness away from us. We'll see them in court."