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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Unfinished. More detailed introduction and explain title text.

Cueball, Hair Bun Girl, and Megan appear to be on a talk show called Degree-Off, hosted by Hairy, where representatives of different fields, in this case, physics, biology, and chemistry, explain why their fields are best and why to get a degree in the field. The title "Degree-Off" is a portmanteau of "degree", as in the recognized completion of studies at a school or university, and "face-off", a direct confrontation between two people or groups.

The host asks Cueball to go first. He lightheartedly tells a story about Richard Feynman, finishing with a quote. The quote "all science is either physics or stamp collecting." was said by Ernest Rutherford, not Richard Feynman, implying either Cueball misattributes the quote, or that his story is quite long. During the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, Richard Feymann got bored because of the isolation and started learning lock picking on the secret documents safes. Using these new skills, he played lots of pranks on his colleagues, like leaving notes and spooking them into believing there was a spy among them (which, of course, there was). The reference to stamp collecting is the abstract idea that all other sciences are aggregates of physics and what they study are simply interesting instances of complex behavior derived from basic physics.

Hair Bun Girl, the representative for biology goes next, showing that through their efforts, biology has helped reduce disease ("slaying" Pestilence). She accuses physics of creating a new weapon of destruction from gathering in the desert (likely referring to the Manhattan Project, conducted in the New Mexico desert), insisting that biologists are the true heroes. Physics is taken aback, having believed it would be a fun activity, which Biology refutes, saying he must have been thinking of Stamp Collecting, which was mentioned in the earlier quote. Megan, the representative for chemistry, does not speak during the comic.

This graph shows the death rate from infectious disease in USA, similar to that shown in the comic presented by Hair Bun Girl, as both have the range of 1900-2000. It probably served as inspiration to Randall.

Crude Infectious Disease Mortality Rate in the United States from 1900 Through 1996.gif

Continuing on the Four Horsemen theme, the title text in all caps refers to the mode of speech of Terry Pratchett's character Death. He mocks physics and physicists for not being harder. Referring to the fact that physicists sometimes see their science as being the most hard science of sciences and demean other sciences for being soft sciences (as in 435: Purity) or "squishy". By calling the physicist squishy, Death might be referring to the fragility of the human body which led to his death, or the state of that body once death has had time to set in. According to 435: Purity, the only subject harder or purer than physics is mathematics.

The whole comic might be a subtle hint by Randall on his stance against the anti-vaccination movement, the physicist Cueball being the anti-vaxxer, the biologist Hair Bun Girl showing the success of vaccinations, making Cueball speechless.


[Hairy is acting as the host of a TV talk show, Degree-Off. Cueball, Hair Bun Girl, and Megan are acting as representatives of Phys (Physics), Bio (Biology), and Chem (Chemistry) respectively. They each stand behind their own Lectern with the respective subject label.]
Hairy: Welcome to the Degree-Off, where we determine which field is the best! Physics, wanna go first?
Cueball: Sure! I'd like to tell the story of Richard Feynman's Manhattan project lockpicking pranks...
Cueball: ...and as he said, "all science is either physics or stamp collecting."
Cueball: Thank you.
Hairy: Great! Bio, you wanna go next?
Hair Bun Girl: Okay.
[A graph labeled "Per 100,000 is shown above Hair Bun Girl]
Hair Bun Girl: This is a graph of the death rate from infectious disease in this country.
[Hair Bun Girl raising her left hand]
Hair Bun Girl: The heroes of my field have slain one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
[Hair Bun Girl pointing at Cueball]
Hair Bun Girl: While the heroes of your field gathered in the desert to create a new one.
Cueball: ...Jeez, what the hell? I thought this was supposed to be fun and lighthearted!
Hair Bun Girl: You must have been thinking of stamp collecting.

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