Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If You Deliberately Ask Dumb Questions, People Will Think You're Dumb

On a recent flight with my girlfriend, we shared earbuds and watched a TED Talk interview with Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, Solar City, and SpaceX.

In contrast to TED's usual style of assuming a high level of audience sophistication, host Chris Anderson launched into a series of curiously ignorant questions. Aren't electric car batteries heavy? (So are tanks full of gasoline.) Isn't gasoline just thousands of years of solar power compressed into a small space? (Put a dinosaur in your tank!)

My girlfriend reached over to pause the video. "Why is he asking dumb questions? Is he stupid?" Instead of helping a broad spectrum of audience learn more about clean energy, Anderson seemed to be asking questions mostly on behalf of a narrow slice of clean energy skeptics.

What hosts and journalists like Anderson may not realize is that if you ask deliberately ignorant questions, you risk having people wonder if you yourself are ignorant.

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