What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Is bin Laden Dead? The Burden of Proof in the Fog of War

May 5, 2011, 12:00 AM

Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Was he born in the United States? Did we really kill bin Laden? Where's the proof?

To sum up the events of the last week, it was goodbye birthers, hello "deathers": The dust had hardly settled from the birth certificate controversy when the Obama administration found itself facing another burden of proof test concerning the death of Osama bin Laden.  

The night before the raid Obama played the truthiness card to great comedic effect at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. It was an amazingly cool performance given the decision Obama was facing on whether to order a raid to kill bin Laden. Having finally closed the book on the birther controversy, the President said "now we can focus on more important matters like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

No one could have known at the time that the death of Osama bin Laden would soon be added to the vast annals of conspiracy theories that plague the Obama administration. What proof could the White House offer to preempt the inevitable doubters? There was a photograph!

It promised to be the most-viewed photograph of our epoch, easily surpassing scrutiny of Kate Middleton's waist. But what effect would the release of such a photograph have on both our friends and enemies? Would this be Al Qaeda's version of the famous photo published in Time Magazine in 1943 of three dead American soldiers on an obscure Pacific island? (That photo was cleared by the Office of War Information censors at the time because President Roosevelt feared the American public was growing complacent about the war's rising death toll.)

Public trust in government has eroded a great deal since The Good War, owing to many factors, such as Watergate. And yet the notion has been kept alive, contrary to Thomas Jefferson, that we should always trust our government in a time of crisis. Karl Rove exploited this to great political advantage in the 2002 midterm elections and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, along with other prominent members of both parties appealed to this notion after bin Laden's death. No photo was to be released, but the public needed to trust their government. 

Healthy skepticism, of course, is an important requisite of a functioning democracy. The public also needs to accept a basic set of facts if a credible government is going to exist. Sadly, this public trust was undermined by the fact that three Republican Senators--including none other than Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee--were duped by a fake photo of the dead bin Laden. Timeout: the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Selected Committee on Intelligence authenticated a picture he said "looked like it was a picture of bin Laden." The source of these fake photos is still not clear. Could they be the same ones being spammed across Facebook and Twitter?

And Chambliss, of course, wasn't alone. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) had earlier told a New England cable network “Let me assure you that he is dead, that bin Laden is dead — I have seen the photos," only to issue an embarrassing retraction later. 

In the past week we have learned many fresh details about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Marijuana plants were grown around his Pakistani mansion and Nestle crunch bars were hoarded inside. A commando dog--perhaps a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois (we don't know for sure)--was used in the raid, as was a radar-evading 'stealth helicopter' that aviation experts had never seen before. It would, of course, be great to learn more about the DNA tests the government ran on Osama, which apparently is forthcoming. If the fact that Al Qaeda confirmed bin Laden's death fails to silence the doubters, perhaps nothing will.  




Is bin Laden Dead? The Burd...

Newsletter: Share: