Stephen Colbert Johnson was RIGHT

Stephen Colbert, Scientific Pioneer

Since it was first coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005, the term has taken on a massive life of its own–coming to mean, in its broadest sense, the problem of people making up their own reality, one just “truthy” enough that they actually believe it.

Frankly, though, most of us only have a “truthy” sense of what “truthiness” actually meant in its original formulation.

That’s why, when I went back and re-watched the original Colbert truthiness segment, I was so stunned. After a year spent researching the psychology of the right for my book The Republican Brain, Colbert’s words took on dramatic new meaning for me. Frankly, it now seems to me that in some ways, Colbert was ahead of the science on this matter–anticipating much of what we are only now coming to know.

What does this mean? Simply put, Colbert may have been much more right than he knew in 2005.

More right than he knew? I think Colbert would insist that he was exactly as right as he thought he was.

Been There, Done That

Under the Microscope: Fringe

In Fringe’s third season finale, for instance, Whitman and Chiappetta contacted physicist (and Exchange consultant) Sean M. Carroll for a particularly puzzling wormhole/radiation conundrum. “In the finale, which is set in 2026, a wormhole is opened in the middle of Central Park,” explains Whitman. “What we wanted the characters to realize, in a couple of lines of dialogue, is that the wormhole leads to a specific point in time, 250 million years ago. So the question was, what could they detect coming out of the wormhole that would allow for that conclusion?”

Boiling it down to a few lines of dialogue was not an easy task, but with Carroll’s help, the two story editors found a conceivable explanation. “We needed something that could make people go ‘Aha! That’s connected to another period of time!’” says Carroll. “We threw around a couple of ideas and [Whitman and Chiappetta] settled on an unknown form of radiation.” Since the season finale is set in the future, it is possible that scientists could discover a new form of radiation. So, Whitman and Chiappetta “discovered” kappa radiation, which became the series’ tell-tale sign that a wormhole goes through time, not space. “It’s not something that exists in known physics,” says Carroll, “but it is a plausible way that future scientists could tell something fishy was going on.”

Having been in a vaguely similar position, I have to say I think I like the solution. It’s plausible and doesn’t overtly contradict the laws of physics, so it’s within the realm of science fiction’s poetic license. They key is using it consistently and not going to that well too often, as I think Star Trek eventually did, which is precisely why I didn’t want to come up with a specific name and new kind of particle when I had the chance.


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The short clips of McBain throughout the early years of the Simpson edited together to form one short movie!

Free Sample! JK, You're Under Arrest For Theft

How “CSI:NY” Most Definitely Didn’t Steal My Story

When I first saw this, I was relieved it was not the original CSI, for that would have implicated my friend Naren (who is no longer with the show; rumor has it he’s working on a reboot of the Wild, Wild West TV series. That’s TV series, not movie. It also buffers the realization that the show has jumped the shark, which has become blatantly obvious in recent weeks)

The comparison to the Cooks Source plagiarism, and the whole “web is public domain” fiasco of an attitude resonates with me at some level. I’ve seen my cartoons show up on websites stripped of their attribution, and declarations of “reproduced by permission” when no such permission was requested. I have only registered some of my cartoons with the copyright office, so I have no real legal recourse for unregistered works — I can’t show monetary damage for cartoons I’m not selling to anyone. (Registering the copyright allows you to sue for statutory damages. Were I being ripped off more than epsilon of the time, I would be more diligent about registering)

But this case turns out to be different. I don’t have nearly as much sympathy for the author as I did from the set-up of the article, and here’s why: the material that was used was a hoax. That is, it was originally presented as being the truth, not a work of fiction, by an online publication that prints news stories. OK, it’s a tabloid, so “news” is Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, but the point stands. If the hoax were obvious it wouldn’t be much of a hoax, and by the accounting, it was pretty successful at taking people in.

Facts, as the article points out, aren’t copyrightable — they’re in the public domain. It seems to me the author is complaining that people were duped by the hoax, but it raises the question of whether you could sell the story in the first place, if nobody would be taken in by it. I don’t know what the legal standing would be, but it seems like the author wants both of those conflicting circumstances to be true.

Holy Home Projects, Batman!

Wireless light switch or bust

The Bat-Pole activator-type switch as a DIY project. (Batman had Shakespeare, not Beethoven) If only I had a workshop.

Ah, memories of my youth. I know that many Batman comic book aficionados never liked the campy TV series, but I loved it. I’ve searched and found bat phones for sale, too, but the amount I’m willing to drop on one does not exceed a hectobuck, which is a bit of a Biff! to the midsection of my desire. (Hmmm … maybe for Christmas … that’s how I got my Maltese Falcon statue …)

Thermodynamics is a Good Idea

Toyota has a new commercial series out, going by the moniker “Ideas for Good.” The gist of it is using technology that they have invented, or at least use, and point it to new applications. The first one I saw was crash modeling and using it to analyze football collisions to help reduce concussions. Great.

But the next one was taking regenerative braking and putting it on roller coasters, so that we could “create the world’s first self-sustaining amusement park.” Which sounds suspiciously like perpetual motion. You can’t do it. You will always have losses of your useful energy (heat), and can’t recover all of the mechanical energy to use it again. Maybe they meant something else, but if they did, the execution was off.

Here is a link to the commercial, in case you want to watch it.