2012: Thorough Analysis

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"2012", this comic's number, redirects here. For the comic named "2012", see 998: 2012.
Thorough Analysis
The likely shape of the bells was determined through consultation with several bellringing experts at the Tower of London. Transcripts of those interviews are available in Appendix VII.
Title text: The likely shape of the bells was determined through consultation with several bellringing experts at the Tower of London. Transcripts of those interviews are available in Appendix VII.


This comic remarks on how obsessively some scientific papers investigate some insignificant, obscure things. It gives the example of an investigation into whether an earthquake in 1811 caused church bells 600 miles away in Charleston, South Carolina to ring, which, although mildly interesting, is of minimal scientific importance. The earthquake itself is of enormous scientific interest, as an earthquake of the same magnitude in the same area today could cause enormous damage, but Charleston is not in the area considered at significant risk.

An explicit comparison is made to the 9/11 Commission Report, a study that was undertaken to, broadly, answer the question of how the September 11 attacks were able to occur (and by extension, what errors in security and communication needed to be addressed to improve detection of and response to other terrorist acts).

This paper describes the researchers going as far as to genetically test local trees, likely to find those most closely related to the trees used for construction, so as to measure their structural properties and extrapolate the likely structural properties of the original building. Such extrapolation might require its own study to back its validity. It is likely in real life that the small differences such research would reveal would end up being too unsubstantial to have actually warranted any searching.

The title text is a continuation of this paper, which researches into the bells' shapes, and then goes on to note that the entire interview is provided in Appendix VII, indicating that this paper has a substantial amount of additional information considered distracting from the main body.

The Tower of London would be a strange place to seek expertise on church bells: even its Bell Tower contains warning bells rather than church-style bells (explain xkcd's transcript with the Tower of London officials on this manner can be viewed in Appendix B). Until 2017, the nearby Whitechapel Bell Foundry would have been a much better (arguably the best possible) source of information. Whites of Appleton (in Oxfordshire) or John Taylor & Co (in Loughborough) would be current alternatives. Closer to home for the paper's author, the McShane Bell Foundry in Maryland is likely to offer far more relevant expertise certainly than the Tower of London, and may in addition be able to offer relevant insights specific to the history of bellfounding in the USA.

In keeping with the meta thorough analysis theme of the original comic and this explanation, the comic starts with "The December 1811 earthquake near New Madrid, Missouri..." The town of New Madrid existed in 1811, but Missouri Territory did not exist until June 4, 1812, and the State of Missouri not until August 10, 1821.


[The comic panel consists of the beginning of a research paper written in gray, with the last line being slightly cut at the bottom by the panels frame indicating that the text continues below.]
1. Introduction
The December 1811 earthquake near New Madrid, Missouri reportedly caused church bells to ring in Charleston, South Carolina.
But did it?
The original bell tower has been lost, but a computer model of the church building was created from archival plans and forensic masonry analysis. Genetic testing of the timber from local trees related to those used in the bell tower shows a weakness in the
[Caption below the panel:]
My favorite genre of scientific papers are exhaustive 100-page treatises that answer some minor question with the obsessive thoroughness of the 9/11 Commission Report.

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I started the explanation. Things that need investigation: Is this an actual scientific paper somewhere? Can anyone find the original source? If not, perhaps still based on real events? PotatoGod (talk) 18:06, 27 June 2018 (UTC)

The earthquake was a real event: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1811-1812newmadrid/summary.php & https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-great-midwest-earthquake-of-1811-46342/ (this one mentions the church bells) 18:15, 27 June 2018 (UTC)david0mp
A quick search of Google scholar doesn't turn up anything close to this paper. Tried various combinations of New Madrid Earthquake, Bell, Church, etc. Cgrimes85 (talk) 19:47, 27 June 2018 (UTC)

Maybe its ‘cause I’m dumb, but I originally interpreted the caption as meaning that these papers investigated minor details *about* the thoroughness of the 9/11 commission’s report. As in, the 9/11 commission mentioned this bell tower somewhere, and this report is debunking it. The explanation on here should probably make clear what the intended meaning is. 19:08, 27 June 2018 (UTC)

It looks like this paper covers the earthquake and church bells (https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1029/2000JB900110), but the church bell mentioned is in Georgia and not South Carolina. Close enough I guess? 19:34, 27 June 2018 (UTC)

It does also mention the church bell in Charleston, South Carolina, and that the effects of the earthquake there were stronger than in cities in comparable distance. 09:18, 30 June 2018 (UTC)

Wikipedia quotes the John Reynolds account suggesting a church bell was heard to ring in Cahokia, Illinois. Interestingly New Madrid is in the Kentucky Bend exclave - which I assume would have been simplified when the border was straightened to fix survey errors. Unsigned

My favorite genre of [website] are exhaustive [1000]-page [wikis] that [explain] some minor [webcomic] with the obsessive thoroughness of the 9/11 commission report. Is Randall trolling you guys? 12:40, 28 June 2018 (UTC)

I don't know, but it's a good one. DanB (talk) 14:12, 28 June 2018 (UTC)

Any utility in mentioning that while Charleston, SC is not in the New Madrid seismic zone, it had its own 7.0-ish earthquake in 1886? 16:26, 28 June 2018 (UTC)

I find it amusing that the explanation of this comic (including the stuff about who could comment on the bell structure) is a good example of exactly the phenomenon the comic is talking about - over-detailed research (not that in this case it's a bad thing) -- 09:42, 29 June 2018 (UTC)

I think a that comparison with this website should be included in the comic explanation.--Pere prlpz (talk) 10:23, 29 June 2018 (UTC)
This topic may be the meta obsessive through analysis singularity...GODZILLA (talk) 16:32, 29 June 2018 (UTC)
Comparing this website with the topic of the comic is a bit unfair -- this isn't a scientific journal. Websites obsessing over pop culture phenomena have been with us practically since the web was formed. I once found a fan website for an obscure B-movie actress who I only was interested in because we went to the same junior high school and she was a friend of my sister. Barmar (talk) 17:46, 29 June 2018 (UTC)
The bell-ringing stuff wasn't the result of extensive research; I happen to ring church bells in and around London, so the stuff about the Tower just struck me as obviously incongruous, and I was able to comment on it from existing knowledge (backed up with a couple of quick searches). -- 20:19, 1 July 2018 (UTC)

The explanation currently states "...the McShane Bell Foundry in Maryland is likely to offer far more relevant expertise...", but the company's web site www.mcshanebell.com/history/ourhistory.html states they were founded at least 44 years after the 1811 earthquake.GODZILLA (talk) 16:47, 29 June 2018 (UTC)

"...certainly than the Tower of London", which likely has next to none. -- 20:19, 1 July 2018 (UTC)

I'm guessing when Randall said "Tower of London" in the title text, he was thinking of the bell know a Big Ben, in the Elizabeth Tower (formally known as the Clock Tower) of the Palace of Westminster (AKA the Houses of Parliament) in London. And note the title text says "...consultation with several bellringing experts...", not "bell making experts". Doing my part to bring about the meta obsessive through analysis singularity, GODZILLA (talk) 21:01, 29 June 2018 (UTC)

The Palace of Westminster doesn't have much of a claim to "bellringing experts" either: the bells (including Big Ben) are automatically chimed by the clock, not by bell ringers. St Margaret's church opposite would be a better place to look than the PoW, but still nowhere near as good as the foundries mentioned if what we're interested in is the technical characteristics of the bells. -- 20:19, 1 July 2018 (UTC)

What's the point of the comment about Missouri not becoming a state until after the earthquake? The town was already in Missouri at the time of the earthquake, Missouri Territory. 23:08, 29 June 2018 (UTC)

The "point" is stated at the beginning of the sentence. (And the Missouri Territory did not exist until June 4, 1812, after the earthquake in question.)GODZILLA (talk) 23:53, 29 June 2018 (UTC)

The comma missing after 'Missouri' bothers me so much. jameslucas (" " / +) 02:44, 1 July 2018 (UTC)

With all his internet curiosity, there's no way Randall doesn't know that the 9/11 commission is the least appropriate comparison for the obsessive thoroughness criterion. Either he knows and is deliberately trolling the people who know about it or he's just in denial. 22:32, 31 May 2021 (UTC)