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Rep. Joe Barton Denies Plate Tectonics; Thinks He’s a Genius

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas tweets:

I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question – Where does oil come from?

Here’s the video in question:

For those of you who can’t watch, Rep. Barton asks Energy Secretary Steven Chu “How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?” As Dr. Chu begins to describe plate tectonics and continental drift, Barton interrupts by asking “Isn’t it obvious that Alaska and the Arctic Ocean were a lot warmer?” As Dr. Chu explains that what is now Alaska actually drifted north over millions of years, Rep. Barton just laughs. And brags about “stumping” Dr. Chu on his YouTube channel.

Clearly, though, a cursory look at the history of continental drift over the past 200 million years shows that Alaska did, in fact, drift north and was warmer as a consequence of being further south when the plants and animals that made up the initial organic matter that would later become oil were alive.

One would think that Rep. Barton would want to hide this embarrassing video away, but no–he’s trumpeting it. Doesn’t he have staffers?

(link via John Cole)

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. Tlaloc says:

    Clearly, though, a cursory look at the history of continental drift over the past 200 million years shows that…

    Bah. The earth (and the universe) is merely 10,000 years old so clearly plate tectonics are a lie!

    Seriously, you’re surprised by a republican lauding his ignorance of science? It’s de rigeur these days it seems. Global warming, Macroevolution, peak oil, the effects of sonar on marine mammals, the efficacy of condoms, and on and on and on.

    If you want to know why the GOP is in such a bad place idea wise you need only look at the anti-intellectualism that has dominated the party these last several decades. Pretty much since the southern realignment. Who was the last really smart republican president? Nixon. For all his faults Nixon was smart. Reagan and Bush 2 may or may not have been actively stupid but they tried like hell to avoid anything that smacked of “book leurnin.” Even Bush 1, who was almost certainly a smart guy (if totally misguided) worked hard to portray himself as a texas $#@%kicker rather than a north east intellectual, because he knew his party by and large hated intellectuals.

    There is a sizable contingent of GOP voters who are unbelievably ignorant but who celebrate their ignorance and believe it is desirable. Indeed they demand their government be no smarter than they are themselves.

    So, yeah, a republican congressman boasting of his own ignorance by discounting the reason of a Nobel winning scientist doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  2. Richard Gardner says:

    I’ll readily admit I’m not sure where oil comes from despite having followed the topic for years. So I’m not so sure Alex and Tlaloc’s assumptions and disses are totally correct either (though Congressman Barton is obviously clueless).

    If you watched Sinclair Oil commercials years ago, it obviously comes from dinosaurs. Or is it old green plants. Or Algae, or bacteria, or abiogenic. Or a geologic process. Or did Allah put it under the Arabian Peninsula?

    The answer is we don’t know. PERIOD.

    And the useless Congressman expected the Secretary of Energy to declare an answer to a science question. But don’t worry, we all know the answer because we’ve seen it on TV.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. bystander says:

    Tlaloc,

    Amazing! What a talent … spinning your unbridled arrogance into a fabric of judgment that is able to cover an entire political party.

    I have lived long enough and experienced life enough on several continents in all kinds of circumstances to know that intelligence is not superior to wisdom. Come off your high horse son, although you may feel superior to certain American Presidents, you are not among the elite just because you believe you’re ‘smarter’ than others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  4. James M. says:

    Let’s not forget there is a crowd who believes oil is an abiotic substance, which means it comes from magma not dead organisms. And these people aren’t from the right. So science is an argumentative area to a lot of people not a particular party line. I am personally an independent but I look and see nuts on both sides of the aisle. Am I wrong?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  5. Michael says:

    Let’s not forget there is a crowd who believes oil is an abiotic substance, which means it comes from magma not dead organisms.

    Who the hell believes that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. ggr says:

    Let’s not forget there is a crowd who believes oil is an abiotic substance, which means it comes from magma not dead organisms. And these people aren’t from the right. So science is an argumentative area to a lot of people not a particular party line. I am personally an independent but I look and see nuts on both sides of the aisle. Am I wrong?

    Definitely nuts on both sides, but its still pretty amusing to see a congressman (of any party) proudly proclaim his ignorance of something as basic as plate tectonics. Suggests a lack of education (as in elementary school education), intelligence and wisdom (as in asking an adviser before making a fool of yourself).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. odograph says:

    John McPhee’s “Assembling California” is a great little book. Apparently Alaska “hit” us first, helping to push up our Sierras, before rotating north.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. odograph says:

    (I know the stock scientific answer is that oil is formed when organic sediments fall into deep and oxygen poor sea beds. I believe they know one or two places where it is happening today, and given a few tens of million years “aging” “we’ll” have more oil.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. FranklinTest says:

    When I first viewed this clip, I wasn’t sure what the Senator wanted the answer to be. I’m still not sure.

    I thought he may be going with a “God put it there a few thousand years ago” argument. But it’s possible he was trying to prove that Alaska was once warm, maybe trying to show that global warming isn’t bad, or that it happens naturally. There are probably some reasonable arguments along those lines, but I doubt they can be covered in the last six seconds of a meeting.

    Anyway, it ended up seeming like a politician trying unsuccessfully to play gotcha. I really don’t know why Barton was proud of this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Who the hell believes that?

    Not many people…. but the debate is not wholly ludicrous either. There are actually a lot of puzzles in terms of the origins of oil.

    Among them:

    The range of organic compounds found in oil is suspicious and may be consistent with oil being filtered through organic compounds rather than being formed by them.

    Some data which suggests that oil reserves seem to be replenishing in some locations.

    The fact that oil seems to be found in some surprising locations, even after accounting for continental drift.

    I wish I could find the cite… but I read a fascinating book about a series of controversies like this that seem well-settled, but where there is some genuine scientific debate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of science realizes how few things are ever truly settled. For instance, when I was small we were taught that stomach ulcers were not and could not be caused by bacterial infections, but low and behold a few years ago expert opinion did a complete 180 on this. As our knowledge increases things that some people “know” to be true are shown to reflect at best an incomplete understanding of what is actualy happening.

    Using one specific fool to generalize foolishness to an entire group is however an entirely different breed of error from the field of logic.

    Tlaloc, do yourself a favor and drop the baggage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. odograph says:

    The range of organic compounds found in oil is suspicious and may be consistent with oil being filtered through organic compounds rather than being formed by them.

    My understanding is that oil contains break-down chemicals related to chlorophyll, which you know would be strongly indicative of biological origin. The “filtering” idea seems a hail-Mary, frankly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. James H says:

    Of course, if the Earth is only 6,000 years old, then Alaska was warm while it was nice and comfy in the North …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. John Burgess says:

    As this Wiki piece notes, abiogenic oil is an idea that flourished in the USSR and Ukraine in the 1960s-80s. It’s main US proponent was Thomas Gold, who wrote several books on the topic.

    It’s not generally accepted as the source of most of the world’s oil, but it might account for some of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Tlaloc says:

    spinning your unbridled arrogance into a fabric of judgment that is able to cover an entire political party.

    Not the entire party, just a distressingly large swath of it.

    I have lived long enough and experienced life enough on several continents in all kinds of circumstances to know that intelligence is not superior to wisdom.

    I tend to agree, but substituting what you want to be true for what is empirically demonstrable is in opposition to both intelligence and wisdom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. Tlaloc says:

    If you watched Sinclair Oil commercials years ago, it obviously comes from dinosaurs. Or is it old green plants. Or Algae, or bacteria, or abiogenic. Or a geologic process. Or did Allah put it under the Arabian Peninsula?

    The answer is we don’t know. PERIOD.

    No, we pretty much do know how it formed. The abiogenic theory has one significant problem: it’s bollocks. That’s why it came from the vaunted Russian science infrastructure during the cold war and never gained any real traction outside of those circles.

    There are certainly questions about biogenic oil formation. There are also questions about gravity. That doesn’t mean either theory is false or even remotely in doubt. It just means there are details still to explore.

    The test as always is whether it can predict. Our ability to sniff out oil formations by knowing where they should form is the supporting evidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc, do yourself a favor and drop the baggage.

    That you consider scientific literacy to be “baggage” is a perfect example of what I said above.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. Ah, so it’s scientific literacy you think you’re peddling?

    You are a cantankerous buffoon utterly lacking in decency, reading comprehension and integrity. Have a nice life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  19. Tlaloc says:

    You are a cantankerous buffoon utterly lacking in decency, reading comprehension and integrity. Have a nice life.

    Which is exactly the kind of hostility towards intellectuals that made it so I didn’t even have to check what party Rep Barton belonged to.

    I’m sure you’re quite fond of your ignorance and the way it protects your ideology from any pesky intrusions by reality, Charles. Unfortunately reality exists despite your denial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  20. Wayne says:

    The video wasn’t clear in it what point he was trying to make. However Dr. Shu was caught denying that the poles were much warmer at one time and stating uncertain speculations as certain facts. It made him appear as pushing a political agenda instead of being an honest scientist. The poles were much warmer at one time.

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/temperature/

    “At the start of the Eocene, the continents were close to where they are now, but the average annual temperature in arctic Canada and Siberia was a balmy 18° C (65° F). The dominant plants up there were palm trees and cycads. Fossil monitor lizards (sort of like alligators) dating back to this era have been found in Svalbard, an island north of Greenland that’s now covered with ice all year. Antarctica was home to cool temperate forests, including beech trees and ferns. In particular, our Earth had no permanent polar ice caps!”

    Anyone denying the poles were not much warmer at one time are the ones showing ignorance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Hmm…seems like some conservatives around here are a bit on the defensive…perhaps if the GOP didn’t produce candidates like Sarah Palin or George W. Bush, the party wouldn’t be so easy to paint as mostly a bunch of anti-intellectual fools…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  22. Wayne says:

    AIP
    If that is the way you want to play it. Seems like the liberals are a bit defensive since they can’t acknowledge the fact the poles were warm at one time. Perhaps if they didn’t produce candidates like John F’ing Kerry and teleprompter Obama the party wouldn’t be so easy to paint as snobs who think they are intellectual but in fact don’t know jack s*^t. But they read so well, who cares if they can actually think. All they need to do is repeat the same lies over and over, until everyone believes the lies. Mr. Roboto.

    Throwing insults is so easy, no wonder liberals like to do it so often. I needed a laugh today anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Seems like the liberals are a bit defensive since they can’t acknowledge the fact the poles were warm at one time.

    And who are these particular liberals?

    I needed a laugh today anyway.

    Well then just look at the current condition of the GOP…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  24. jghedge says:

    Coincidentally enough, the lack of universal acceptance that manmade global warming theory is encountering parallels the resistance that plate tectonics theory initially encountered. Chapter 12 of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” details how continental drift was initially scoffed at by scientists whose competing theories could not be reconciled with plate tectonics (sound familiar?). In fact the entire book is rife with examples of today’s commonly accepted scientific wisdom being initially rejected for personal and/or political reasons by scientists with competing theories and reputations/funding on the line.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Wayne says:

    Dr. Chu in the Video refused to admit the poles were much warmer at one time and insisted the deposits were due to tectonic plate movements refusing any other possible explanations. Congressman Barton didn’t deny continental drift like many are pretending he did. He simply was pointing out that there was a much more likely explanation. AIP it sounds like you admit the poles were much warmer and the resources that created the deposit could very well have came from that area. I wonder how many of your lib friends are willing to admit it.

    Manmade global warming theory is blindly accepted by many the same way bloodletting was accepted at one time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  26. An Interested Party says:

    In regards to this post, the only thing I admit to is that Joe Barton is an idiot for promoting this clip as though he somehow got one over on the energy secretary…I will ask you again…who are these particular liberals…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Wayne says:

    “the only thing I admit to is that Joe Barton is an idiot for promoting this clip”

    Looks like you are one of the deniers. You won’t admit that the poles were much warmer at one time. Typical liberal, if you don’t like the facts you simply ignore them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  28. Wayne says:

    Remember I already pointed out Chu.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  29. GOP LOLercoaster says:

    Sorry to burst the climate denier bubble, but the “controversy” on climate change is kinda like the “controversy” on evolution. A complete non-controversy trumped up by scientific outliers and non-academics with ideological axes to grind. Climate change is man-made, and is a seriously threat. That is a scientific consensus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3