scientists are baffled


It’s the favorite headline of crappy science reporting. When you find a story with this in the headline it’s often, but not always:

– a gullible story about some pseudoscience crap
– another way of saying “scientists are still working on the answer” or
– they didn’t actually talk to a credible scientist

Sometimes it’s a perfectly legitimate phrase to use, of course. A Google search turned up the following “baffles.”

Woman With Perfect Memory Baffles Scientists (If this is the case I read about in The New Yorker recently, it’s been satisfactorily explained, and by the way, her memory isn’t “perfect,” though amazing.)

Mysterious Acorn Shortage Baffles Scientists (The article quotes the director of a nature center and someone who lives in the area–Arlington, VA. No scientists, baffled or otherwise, are mentioned.)

Rising cancer rate in girls baffles scientists‎ (Article and photo caption use a variation on the word “baffled” four times. It means “they don’t know the reason yet.”)

Human Size Consistency Baffles Scientists
(In the article, a scientist speculates on some reasons why humans are of a consistent size, but he doesn’t know for sure. I guess that means scientists are baffled.)

Red spot on Titan baffles scientists (This article includes several speculations as to what might be causing the red spot. How can it be so dang baffling when there are several good hypotheses for it?)

Blue Whale Song Mystery Baffles Scientists
(Okay, scientists really don’t know why the whales are singing in a lower tone. They’ve got a few speculations. I’ll give this a real “baffled” rating for the moment, because I’m feeling generous.)

Origin of Crop Circles Baffles Scientists
(This is from a Web site called “” Yup. Anyone with half a brain cell is not baffled by crop circles.)

Declining Male Birth Rate Baffles Scientists (There are hypotheses for the small decline. We just don’t know yet. That ain’t baffling.)

Black Brazilian Mother Baffles Scientists After Giving Birth To Three Albino Children (Genetics professor says it’s a very rare occurrence. Does that make it baffling?)

Increase in Autism Baffles Scientists (Increased level of reporting and awareness, plus a broadened definition of the illness is the non-baffling explanation I’ve heard.)

Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffle Scientists (The article quotes a geophysics professor who says, “It’s difficult to say what might be causing the tremors.” He pointed out that Yellowstone is the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 70,000 years ago.)

From this point onward, I’m overcome with baffle-ization:

Mysterious Roar from Outer Space Baffles Scientists (Keeps me awake at night, too.)

Monk baffles scientists. (His body looks and feels the same since he died in 1927! Go on, feel the body. Don’t be shy. )

Fish that doesn’t have sex baffles scientists (Well, the fish are experiencing the equivalent of a cold shower all the time!)

Missing Chilean Lake Baffles Scientists (Thirsty aliens.)

DNA Demonstrates “Telepathic” Ability, Baffles Scientists (One commenter on the story said, “People who have done mushrooms already know this.”)

Scientists are Baffled as Suicidal Cows Throw Themselves Off Cliffs in the Alps (I couldn’t find any scientists in the article, but we know they are out there and baffled. I think the cows are overwhelmed by the roar from outer space.)

You can Google on any of the boldface sentences to get original stories.


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