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).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Comic 978: Randall Makes Up Words for the Internet

First of all, let me clear up a few things. I missed the last two updates simply because I was uninspired and no one sent in any guest posts. I will not review those two strips now, because it's old news and if I didn't care about them when they were new, no one's going to care about them when they're old.

Now, this may cause some concern among you about the stability of this blog. To help ease those fears, let me make you several guarantees that will never change as long as I'm in charge here.

  1. I will never find fault where there is none, and I will never write a review that is anything other than (what I believe to be) a legitimate criticism of the comic in question. We all know what happened to the other blog, and I promise you that will not happen here.

  2. Unfortunately, if I have to stand behind my words, that means that there are going to be days when I have nothing to say. On those days, I will not waste your time. I will not post nonsense. You will either get a guest review or no review at all.

  3. Unless it is absolutely atrocious, I will always post any guest reviews that get emailed to me. This blog was originally intended to be a collaboration, not a one man show, and I'll take all the help I can get.

  4. Finally, I will never abandon this blog without an explanation. I may miss a post here and there, as you've recently seen. However, if I step down from running this blog, I will explain why and leave someone willing and capable in charge (if the community so chooses).

Well, that's a weight off my chest. On to why xkcd sucks!

Title: Citogenesis; alt-text: I just read a pop-science book by a respected author. One chapter, and much of the thesis, was based around wildly inaccurate data which traced back to ... Wikipedia. To encourage people to be on their toes, I'm not going to say what book or author.

I initially tagged this as "straw man," thinking that Randall was just making up a problem and assigning it a name, but a brief jaunt through the forums indicate that this has happened before. However, it's also clear that this is a small, isolated issue, and not the universal "Where Citations Come From" problem that Randall implies it is.

The truth is, Wikipedia is often an excellent resource for research. Obviously you should never cite it directly, but the fact that it's open to editing and that the more important articles get more attention mean that on a whole, Wikipedia is self-correcting. In other words, the information on Wikipedia is MORE likely to be accurate than any other source, simply because it remains current and errors can be removed.

It's also worth noting that this problem goes beyond Wikipedia (one poster mentioned Norse genealogies as an example). Randall uses the Wikipedia example because that's where he lives, but doing so presents the issue in a bubble and misdirects blame. The problem isn't Wikipedia; the problem is confirmation bias that cause people to call it good as soon as one thing backs up what they want to believe. That's a known psychological fallacy - well, known to people who have any interest in the "soft sciences," anyway.

P.S. Does anyone else find it hypocritical that Randall uses his webcomic to cry about bad citations, then offers us an alt-text with a claim but no citation at all? "To encourage people to be on their toes" is a retarded reason to withhold information (if said information actually exists, which several forumites doubt).

P.P.S. It's worth noting that there are two consecutive "was"es in the first panel right now. I expect this is an error that will get corrected, but if it was put in there intentionally (some people on the forums are using it as an example of an "erroneous edit"), that's stupid. You only don't see those things if they're separated as they are in the comic. On a Wikipedia page, the error would be obvious.


  1. Face it dude, you can't hold a candle to Randall.

  2. I had no problem with the alt text. I thought the lack of citation was supposed to be the joke and I find it chuckle-worthy. If that was not his intention, though, your postscript stands.

  3. I don't know what to think about the two consecutive "was"es. Things with intentionally doubled words on separate lines have been floating around for decades as a demonstration of something about how the brain processes text or an tricky "can you spot the error" problem.

    The thing is, I can't see how one could unintentionally produce that kind of error, especially in a hand-lettered comic (I've made mistakes like that in typed text, usually because I start to phrase a sentence one way, come up with a better phrasing and delete most of the words from the initial phrasing, but end up leaving one word undeleted). Randall would have to be incredibly stupid and incompetent to make that mistake unintentionally when writing long-hand.

    On the other hand, I can't see Randall doing it intentionally. It seems quite a stretch to see a "grammar error" in Wikipedia as having much connection to the subject of the comic (flat-out bogus facts in Wikipedia). Futhermore, it's awfully subtle. Randall doesn't do subtle. If there's a subtle joke/reference in the comic itself he always makes sure to beat you over the head with it in the alt-text.

  4. "Citogenesis" is a funny pun. A competent editor would have reduced the entire comic to a Sniglet:

    Citogenesis: (n) The spontaneous generation of citations; a process by which writers who carelessly paraphrase Wikipedia create articles that Wikipedia contributors carelessly cite. cf: wikipedantry.

    Of course then he'd have to draw a stick figure standing next to it. Or maybe the stick figure would be reading it from a dictionary. And then Megan would come and ask the stick figure why the dictionary has a joke entry. And then the stick figure would say something obnoxious and then the caption would be "My Hobby: Pretending Old Sniglet Books Are Real Dictionaries" (alt-text: "...And Prescient Of Modern Internet Technology"). And then the book would start floating away which is funny because books don't usually do that...etc. etc. etc.

    It practically draws itself.

  5. More constructively, may I suggest blowing up the flow-chart in the last panel, changing "brain" to "incorrect assertions" and deleting everything else. xkcd fans are smart; they would get the joke without so much gratuitous hand-holding.

    Somewhat less constructively, using the word "facts" in the first panel undermines the entire premise of the cartoon. Duh.

    Even less constructively, I suspect Randall was replaced by an underpaid intern about 2 years ago.

  6. Aww, man, I didn't get a fair chance at identifying the double wases, as the first time I read it was five seconds after waking up and the second time was after you mentioned it. I expect Randall to blow it off as a mind trick.

  7. Could you please post the day's comic, even if you have nothing to say? I don't like giving Randy any traffic.

  8. You give him traffic by loading the page, though, as the picture is I think hotlinked to the actual xkcd webpage.

  9. 979: Randall discovers the reason why sites like StackOverflow were created. And does so several years late, as usual.