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The Sciences

The truth, the whole truth, but perhaps not the literal truth

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollFebruary 2, 2006 10:22 PM

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Would it surprise you to learn that, when George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address presented a goal of cutting down on our imports of oil from the Middle East by 75%, his advisors had to explain the next day that this wasn't meant to be the literal truth? Turns out that we import about 20% of our oil from the Middle East, and that region has the most abundant and easily accessible supplies, so that even if alternative fuels displace an amount equivalent to 75% of our imports from the Middle East, those will really be the last to go. (We import about 60% of our oil all told, so reducing all imports by 75% is not on the agenda.) Apparently some of our oil-producing allies in the region took him seriously -- just like they did last year after the Second Inaugural Address gave them the mistaken impression that we had something against repressive dictatorships. They need to understand that these speeches are not about the ordinary "literal" truth that scientists are so fond of, but a larger, purpose-serving truth in which our President specializes.

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Would it surprise you to learn that, when George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address proposed a multibillion dollar initiative to strengthen education and research in math and science, two-thirds of the money is actually not in the form of funding, but rather tax breaks for businesses? In fact, tax breaks that already exist, but are renewed annually, and Bush would simply like to make permanent? What's that? You wouldn't be surprised? You hopeless cynic. Next you'll be wondering how our President can be a rancher if he doesn't know how to ride a horse.

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