Greetings, cuddlefish and sucksters alike. I am Ann Apolis M.D., here to cast a surgeon's eye (someday I hope to find out which surgeon) over the latest xkcd. Is strip 882 a simple case for outpatients, or is its lack of humour inoperable? Do I inform the next-of-kin with a smile on my face and a couple of jokes or a sombre expression and a comforting voice? Will the tenuous medical analogies continue? I'm as eager to find out as you.
Here it is:
[Comic title: Significant; Alt text: 'So, uh, we did the green study again and got no link. It was probably a--' 'RESEARCH CONFLICTED ON GREEN JELLY BEAN/ACNE LINK; MORE STUDY RECOMMENDED!']
Once again Randall takes it upon himself to point out how stupid people are [though not his esteemed readership of course, who are all intelligent enough to laugh at the idiots in this comic]. Here it's sloppy statistics. Once you notice the 0.05 and the fact there are twenty tests, the final joke [such as it is] because rather obvious and Randall doesn't deviate from the obvious course in presenting it; we clump, clump, clump to the finish line with weary inevitability.
It's not completely awful; while the Minecraft references are a bit 'GOOMH RANDALL I PLAY MINECRAFT TOO', they are at least attempts to include little jokes on the way to the big joke, and this is something Randall doesn't usually do. [In a similar vein, I was hoping there would be some amusing colours in the TWENTY PANELS OF DOOM, but no dice.]
But the overall impression this comic gives is of an amusing illustration in a textbook, the kind that would get you to go 'Hey, I like this textbook, it's kinda funny'. Except this isn't a textbook, this is The Most Popular Webcomic On The Internet (TM), and this kinda thing doesn't cut it. It's badly drawn (come on, Randall, I don't blame you for copy-pasting the twenty panels, but you could at least have made the heads join up in the original), it's patronising, but most of all it is dull. Dull dull dull dull dull.
And maybe I wouldn't mind, if it would end here. But it won't. For the next week this is going to be passed around with a self-congratulatory pat on the back, a smile of "Aren't newspapers stupid? At least we know how science works". And for years to come any time a medical study is mentioned someone is going to post "ah, but did they take THIS into account
ORWELLIAN WATCH: Originally the comic said "green jelly beans" in panel 2 (http://www.webcitation.org/5xjact3OU) which kinda makes the joke stupid. Quality control at Randall Towers is as high as ever.