Title text: On the other hand, it took us embarrassingly long to clue in to the lung cancer/cigarette thing, so I guess the real lesson is "figuring out which ideas are true is hard."
In this comic, Cueball is telling White Hat about several recent scientific studies he read that appear to contradict the results of either prior studies whose results have stood for a long time or are long-held misconceptions. The studies can be reviewed on-line via their Digital Object Identifier (DOI) in Randall's citations.
In the first, Cueball mentions a study that showed that while water is good for you, you only need to drink when you are thirsty. This appears to be a reference to common misconceptions that we should drink a certain set quantity of water per day (oft-cited as eight cups - see 715: Numbers) and may even be referencing the fact that drinking too much water (well more than the standard 8 cups, for most people) can lead to hyponatremia (lack of salt in the body).
Another recent study showed that prolonged sitting is not bad for you which contradicts the long-held belief that sitting at a desk all day is unhealthy and that standing or lying down are healthier. The study showed that the position is not particularly relevant if there is no physical activity in any of the positions.
Finally, Cueball references a study that pre-industrial humans have similar sleep patterns to our own, which would appear to contradict a belief that modern technology has disrupted our sleep patterns (which is likely tied to health concerns around our modern sleep habits).
Cueball's conclusion is that humanity may be over-thinking things in trying to find problems in the way we live our everyday lives. In the last panel, White Hat seems to be attempting to start an inquiry into what everyday modern phenomenon has caused us to over-think things. This is obviously a self-referencing example of the types of claims Cueball is debunking in the first three panels. Cueball responds by suggesting that humanity's over-thinking is likely not a recent phenomenon but probably dates back to the stone age. This could also be viewed as an argument that over-thinking is not all bad, the wheel would certainly be a good result of over-thinking.
In the title text, Cueball gives a counter-example to his own argument, suggesting that it took far longer for us to realize the negative health connotations of smoking than it should have. Suggesting instead it's not about overthinking or underthinking-it's just that people make mistakes about what is important. (The link between cigarettes and lung cancer has been known for longer than most people realize, possibly coming as early as the 1940s.)
Links to studies referenced
- Panel 1: DOI:10.1097/JSM.0000000000000221: "Statement of the Third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, Carlsbad, California, 2015", Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, July 2015, Retrieved 19-Oct-2015
- Panel 2: DOI:10.1093/ije/dyv191: "Associations of sitting behaviours with all-cause mortality over a 16-year follow-up: the Whitehall II study", International Journal of Epidemiology, 27-Aug-2015, Retrieved 19-Oct-2015
- Panel 3: DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.046: "Natural Sleep and Its Seasonal Variations in Three Pre-industrial Societies", Current Biology, 15-Oct-2015, Retrieved 19-Oct-2015
- [Cueball and White Hat are walking together. The references are at the bottom of the three first panels.]
- Cueball: I found a study* that said water is good for you, but you should just drink it when you feel thirsty and not go overboard.
- White Hat: Uh huh?
- [More walking with Cueball lifting his hand in front of him.]
- Cueball: Another study* found that prolonged sitting isn't necessarily bad for you, as long as you're also getting exercise.
- White Hat: Okay...
- [A border-less panel, but still walking.]
- Cueball: Now a study* claims that humans in pre-industrial societies stay up late and sleep 6 or 7 hours a night, just like most people today.
- White Hat: Huh.
- White Hat: So what you're saying is...
- [Zoom out showing Cueball and White Hat walking in silhouette.]
- Cueball: Maybe we're overthinking it.
- White Hat: But what caused our modern epidemic of overthinking?! Plumbing? Or is it email?
- Cueball: Modern? I bet the wheel was invented by someone overthinking "pushing."
- In the original version of the comic, the three DOIs were shifted one panel, so the reference in the first panel belonged to the second panel, the second belonged to the third panel and the reference in the third panel belonged to the first. This was corrected within a few hours.
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