Dumb Questions

Do smart people ask dumb questions?

I recently came across this tweet:

This statement seems so incontrovertible, right? But something felt wrong, so I started digging. My hangup is with the word dumb: It’s way too ambiguous to give clear meaning to the statement!

Whenever questions are referred to as dumb, the intent is to describe a question that sounds silly as if the inquirer had no knowledge about the matter at hand. I believe the word most people could have used instead of dumb is silly or naive. These words more aptly match the character of such questions.

But let’s not get side-tracked by what words could be used just yet and get back to the original statement to answer the question: What would an actually dumb question be? Questions I would classify as dumb are either unnecessarily rhetorical, uncalled-for non-sequiturs, or - at worst - malintent. These are bad questions. They are also exceedingly rare and not something I ever heard truly smart people utter.

Could we then rephrase Kelsey’s tweet and substitute the word bad for dumb: Smart people do not ask bad questions. But that doesn’t sound right either, does it? There is no such thing as a bad question. We’ve all learned that at school! I would hope that from my previous argument, it should be clear that there is such a thing as a bad question: Malintent questions are bad questions.

I discovered more nuance to the statement from Kelsey’s tweet than I initially expected and find myself disagreeing: Smart people do not ask dumb questions!

An elementary fear of smart people is to be disgraced by appearing - and here it comes - dumb. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to that fear and take the risk of appearing dumb. This is why I would simply state:

Smart people are not afraid to ask questions.