Died in a Blogging Accident has lived up to its name and died... in a blogging accident. That is to say it has concluded. You can still re-live the magic by clicking here to start at chapter 1. For genuine criticism of XKCD, please click the top link to the right (XKCD Isn't Funny).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Comic 938: WORDS (about cancer, what else)

Okay, I am seriously about to blow a fuse here. Randall, LEARN HOW TO SET UP A JOKE. This is not freaking rocket science (even though you should be the expert on that anyway, right, NASA boy?) Here's a tip. If you have to cram 120 words into three panels before you can get to the punchline (which, on the Ravenzomg scale of Wordiness™, means you'll probably need a bigger scale), you're doing something way, way, way wrong. I mean, just look at this freaking thing!

Title: T-Cells; alt-text: 'We're not sure how to wipe out the chimeral T-cells after they've destroyed the cancer. Though I do have this vial of smallpox ...'

What is this, Subnormality? Randall, we get it. You read an essay on leukemia (which, according to one forumite, is here, because it's next to impossible to read Randall's "citation" in the strip), and it's all relevant to your personal troubles and speaks to you and whatever the heck cancer articles do for you. That doesn't mean you have to write an essay of your own in response! Yes, okay, you get one point for being current this time (only five days removed!). However, your execution gets about 15 negative points, so you're well below breaking even. By the time you've given me the context for the joke, I don't care about the joke anymore. Here's hoping it was funny.

Oh. The joke is, "It sounds like you're putting something bad in me to protect me from something worse. Are you really a doctor?" Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what vaccination is? Furthermore, the doctor's response is, "Almost definitely," which is just such a load of BS. "Hey, this sounds wacky!" Randall thinks. "Surely anyone crazy enough to suggest it would be so nuts that they wouldn't even know if they're a real doctor or not!" Except, apparently smarter people than Randall have studied this and decided it's worth a shot. In other words, he's talking out of his butt and making fun of things that he doesn't understand. Just a day in the life, right?

I don't really know much about this, so instead of shooting my mouth off about it (like some WEBCOMIC AUTHORS), I'll just quote someone who seems to be clued in to this; namely, xkcd forumer BlueLabel.

I'm sorry but I was pretty disappointed with this comic. I get that Mr. Munroe is probably not a specialist in genetics methodology but lentiviral transduction is a standby technique in biological/life science labs. A perfunctory review of modern gene therapy approaches couldn't possibly overlook this technique. It's a shame that it's been so grossly mischaracterized here. Usually the science jokes turn on the readers' understanding of the concept being discussed - here it's only funny if the reader is ignorant of the technique.

Just to clarify, there is nothing new or novel about using modified retrovirus to deliver genetic material to human cells. This is an incredibly common lab protocol. I was transducing glioma cell lines as an undergrad. That this is what's been highlighted as the innovative aspect of this research is rather shocking to me.

I've bolded a rather important part of that quote. See that? In his webcomic for nerds, Randall is banking on his audience's ignorance. Now, that's not really a surprise if you understand what xkcd truly is. It hasn't REALLY been for nerds since the early days, when he was talking about taking Fourier transforms of cats. More recently, it's just been a big wank-fest for people who think they're nerds but are really just a bunch of antisocial toolbags. But hey, whatever pays the bills, right? Who else is going to buy a T-shirt with nothing but a stick figure on it (FOR FORTY-TWO DOLLARS), just so they can feel like part of some exclusive group?

Okay, in all this ranting, I haven't gotten around to commenting on the alt-text yet. Surprisingly, it's well done. It furthers the joke without being required for the joke, and doesn't explain it or anything like that. Randall gets one more point for that. Unfortunately, his total is still -13. But hey, sub-par is what we've come to expect from this comic, and it hasn't let us down.

P.S. For those of you who don't read comment threads on older posts here, Jon's going to be a bit late with bingo. Something about falling into Eyjafjallajökull or something.


  1. I think Randall could've omitted the first three panels ALTOGETHER and get the same joke. Seriously. You don't need this setup at all. The only reason it's there is to link it with cancer which I honestly begin to find sickening.

  2. "....But hey, sub-par is what we've come to expect from this comic,...."

    And from our great golfers too!

  3. +1 to Anonymous: Last Panel, Alt text as link to article... much improved almost to the point of funny... perhaps if he worked the current alt-text in as a replacement for the "are you sure your a doctor?" part it would work?

  4. I actually looked up and read that article he cited. It was only successful in one guy. This is more "proof of concept" than anything else.

    Additionally, Randy's still managed to be behind the times, because this same method had been used to treat SCID almost a decade ago.

    Thanks for the good reviews though. It's a refreshing read after seeing whatever Rob's managed to cook up (or before, since you're actually on time).

  5. @ALTF - did you watch the PGA in Atlanta? I was rooting for Dufner the whole way, so the ending was really intense, but ultimately disappointing.

  6. This is a 6.94 on the Ravenzomg Scale of Wordiness™. For reference, Subnormality the self-proclaimed "comic with too many words in it" typically ranges between 5 and 6. When you need to "pan the camera up" in panel 3, because there are too many words in there? Yeah, that's like healing a tumor by cutting the x-ray in half and saying, "look, it's 50% of its previous size!" Which is to say he's killing the comic through negligence =[

  7. Dearest Santiclause,

    Watching golf is bad enough, but actually 'rooting' for a particular golfer? - you are in need of something. What? I do not know, but certainly something.

  8. Anon @6:55

    Randall could not have omitted the first panel because he then wouldn't have had a smoove a place to put in that reference to a medical journal.

    You know, just kind of casually mentioning this thing he read in the latest issue of the NEJM.

    What, you haven't read it yet? Oh well I'm sure you'll get to it. Anyone as casually cool and nerdy as Randall Munroe is just gonna have happened across it, you know?

  9. 938 should've been called TL;DR-Cells...

  10. Kind of odd, standing while holding & reading a laptop. Maybe if it were an iPad, that would work.

  11. It's pronounced EYE-ah-fyat-luh-YO-kuh-tluh.

    Accent on the Yooo0000ooo000.