925: Cell Phones
Title text: He holds the laptop like that on purpose, to make you cringe.
After hearing about the "Cell Phones Don't Cause Cancer" study, which refutes a claim made by the World Health Organization (just Google the debate, the comic doesn't focus much on it), Black Hat plots "Total Cancer Incidence" per 100,000 and "Cell Phone Users" per 100 on the same graph. The graph in frame 3 shows that the number of cell phone users rises after the number of cancer incidence, which makes Black Hat comically come to the conclusion that cancer causes cell phones.
The comic highlights a well-known fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, often shortened to simply post hoc. The Latin translates to "after this, therefore because of this," referring to the common mistake that because two events happen in chronological order, the former event must have caused the latter event. The fallacy is often the root cause of many superstitions (e.g., a person noticing he/she wore a special bracelet before getting a good test score thinks the bracelet was the source of his/her good fortune), but it often crosses into more serious areas of thinking. In this case, the scientific research community, which often prides itself on its intellectual aptitude, is gently mocked for being nonetheless prone to such poor reasoning all too often.
The title text refers to the way Black Hat holds the laptop in panel 2, previous to the cell phone causes cancer hypothesis, many people claimed resting computers in your lap damaged fertility. Research has shown this is not due to radiation, but rather to lack of ventilation leading to overheating both laptop and testicles. The original fear gained popular attention due to the same fear of new technology as the cell phone to cancer correlation.
- [Cueball holds a cellphone. Black Hat is sitting at a desk with a laptop.]
- Cueball: Another huge study found no evidence that cell phones cause cancer. What was the W.H.O. thinking?
- Black Hat: I think they just got it backward.
- [Black Hat turns towards Cueball, holding the laptop with one hand by the upper edge of the screen.]
- Cueball: Huh?
- Black Hat: Well, take a look.
- [There is a plot of total cancer incidence and cell phone users. Cancer rises from 1970 to 1990, then stays relatively steady. Cell phone use rises from roughly 1984, and steeply after 1990, to the present.]
- Cueball: You're not... There are so many problems with that.
- Black Hat: Just to be safe, until I see more data I'm going to assume cancer causes cell phones.