Are you smarter than a Nobel Prize winner?

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, thinks he "baffled" the energy secretary, but he might want to go back and look at the tape.

Published April 23, 2009 2:40PM (EDT)

Here's a hint for you members of Congress out there hungry for camera time: If you ask what you think is a "gotcha" question of a Nobel Prize winner, and he starts laughing, it's probably best just not to bother with that killer follow-up.

Unfortunately, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has yet to learn that lesson. In fact, he's quite proud of himself for his questioning of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. After their exchange, he posted it to YouTube and Twittered, "I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from?" The video is below; here's the transcript of the back-and-forth:

Barton: You’re our scientist. I have one simple question for you in the last six seconds. How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?

Chu: (laughs) This is a complicated story, but oil and gas is the result of hundreds of millions of years of geology, and in that time also the plates have moved around, and so, um, it’s the combination of where the sources of the oil and gas are–

Barton: But, but wouldn’t it obvious that at one time it was a lot warmer in Alaska and on the North Pole. It wasn’t a big pipeline that we created in Texas and shipped it up there and then put it under ground so that we can now pump it out and ship it back.

Chu: No. There are–there’s continental plates that have been drifting around throughout the geological ages–

Barton: So it just drifted up there?

Chu: That’s certainly what happened. And so it’s a result of things like that.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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