There is this strange undercurrent in conservative (read: anti-science) circles that relies on the technique of asking a ridiculous question and yelling "gotcha!" when the person being questioned hesitates at being asked something seemingly so silly. The following exchange occurred this week between Noble Prize winning Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and ranking House Energy and Commerce Member (and possible lobotomy enthusiast) Joe Barton.
Later, Rep Barton gloated on his Twitter page "I seemed [sic] to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from?"
Well, to the extent that the word "Baffle" comes from the Scottish "Bauchle" meaning, "To treat with contempt." Then sure, yes you did.
The worst thing about this scene, as it is true of all of these created, farce bafflements, even if they are only metaphorical, is the smirk and sense of pride on Rep. Barton's face. He believes that because he doesn't understand how something works, how he can't even fathom the completely reasonable explanation given to him, that he was too busy eating paste in elementary school to absorb plate tectonics, that he is somehow the victor in the exchange. One gets the feeling that at the local carnival, Rep. Barton would find "Heads I win, tails you lose." A winning proposition. That he would turn to his small, round, drooling family, candy apple syrup holding the scraps of caramel corn to his stained lips, and declare, "I like them odds!"
Of course the grandpappy of these self-content performances is the supposed "stumping" of Richard Dawkins by Australian creationists who ask the awkwardly phrased challenge, "Give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome."
Do you have an answer? Probably not. Nor should you. You are not a geneticist. Neither is Richard Dawkins. He is a biologist. More importantly, does the challenge seem to make sense? Does it seem to be part of a discussion? To me it reads like a childish dare that people of lesser intelligence than Dawkins huddled for weeks in a rented backroom over a cheap card table with uneven legs formulating. Dawkins felt this way too and realized he had let a creationist film crew into his house under false pretenses. He was upset. The film crew taped this reaction, looped it and now post it everywhere as "Dawkins Stumped." Of course the people who take pleasure in this only indicate their respect for Dawkins in a backwards way by indicating that stumping him is such a giant triumph. To cause a biologist to pause with an oddly formulated hyper specific question about genetics, what a defeat. Those who prostrate themselves with joy at this victory, it goes without saying, also don't understand the question. Here is Dawkin's actual response to the challenge. It is of a length and breadth that would have not served the creationists at all, so they just shake their heads and tuck the joy right down into their little hearts.
All of this ridiculousness reminds of a friend of mine. He considers himself a tough guy and likes to joke around like we are sparring. The problem is, if you move your head like a boxer, he laughs at you for "flinching." If you move in and clinch he says, "I don't go for that wrestling shit." And then he walks around all day gloating over the beating he gave you. Of course, if you were to follow him around trying to explain the absurdity of his thinking you look like an insecure school marm so you just have to let him go on crowing.
Cock-a-doodle-do Rep. Barton.