2268: Further Research is Needed

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Further Research is Needed
Further research is needed to fully understand how we managed to do such a good job.
Title text: Further research is needed to fully understand how we managed to do such a good job.

Explanation[edit]

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a CONFIDENT RESEARCHER WHO BELIEVES THIS EDIT RESOLVES ALL REMAINING EXPLANATION ON THIS TOPIC. General niceness. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In most scientific fields, it's very common to end research papers with the caveat that "more research is needed", or words to that effect. This is particularly true when reporting results on a topic that's not well studied, and in which there's not enough literature to form a broad consensus. This is a very reasonable suggestion, an individual research project may produce results that suggest a certain conclusion, but it would be foolhardy to take something as established fact based on a single study. Individual studies may produce misleading information, they may have flaws that don't become evident until later, they may be based on assumptions that don't hold up, or the results may end up having an alternate explanation (as when a correlation is found, but does not establish specific causation). It's all too common for science reporters, particularly in low-quality outlets, to draw broad and bold conclusions from a single study, but actual scientists quickly learn to be more cautious. Peer-reviewed papers will generally make clear that conclusions are tentative, and may be modified or even overturned by future research.

This comic's fictional paper, however, ends with a statement that the paper has resolved all the problems about its topic, and that no more research is necessary. Humorously, the authors are so confident in their research skills that they believe that they have solved all the problems in that particular topic that can be solved. Munroe jokes that he'd like to see researchers with "the guts" to make such a proclamation. In real life, doing so would likely damage the reputation of the study's authors, because it would belie both a breathtaking arrogance and a lack of understanding of the research process. If nothing else, studies need to be replicated, to establish that the initial data gathering was accurate. In addition, no single study could realistically address every aspect, variation and complication in a given topic. It's simply not feasible that a single paper could "[resolve] all remaining questions" on any given topic, and making such a ridiculous claim would badly damage a researcher's credibility. At the same time, if no further research were necessary, every researcher in the field, including the author who wrote the study, would need to either change fields or change careers. The title text ironically states that "further research" is indeed needed to understand how the researchers who wrote the paper were able to resolve all the problems in that topic or field, thus allowing the researchers to justify future funding for their research.

Perhaps the statement most like this made by a real scientist was by Albert A. Michelson, at the 1894 dedication of the University of Chicago's Reyerson Physical Laboratory: "[I]t seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice." (Variants of this statement are sometimes misattributed to William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin.) Even this statement is couched in much less certainty than the concluding statement presented in this comic strip, and sure enough, just eleven years later, Albert Einstein wrote his Annus Mirabilis papers. These four papers explained the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity (itself partially inspired by results including the Michelson-Morley experiment), and mass-energy equivalence, turning established physics on its head.

The Woodward Hoffman textbook on organic chemistry in chapter 12 of 'The Conservation of Orbital Symmetry', entitled "Violations," has made a statement very similar to the one in the comic as its conclusion: There are none! Nor can violations be expected of so fundamental a principle of maximum bonding.

Transcript[edit]

[A panel, representing an excerpt from a scholarly journal, with two sentences clearly visible. Below the text is one more readable word, with a horizontal line below it, and then four numbered lines with unreadable text. Rare for xkcd the text is written with normal capitalization rather than in all caps.]
We believe this resolves all remaining questions on this topic. No further research is needed.
References
1.
2.
3.
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[Caption below the panel:]
Just once, I want to see a research paper with the guts to end this way.


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Discussion

First! 172.69.63.145 14:56, February 14, 2020

Please sign your comments. That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 23:59, 14 February 2020 (UTC)

I got two things to say:

That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 23:59, 14 February 2020 (UTC)

Paper title: "Constructive proof of P=NP". Conclusion: "No further research is needed" ... because anyone who read this paper can get so rich they won't need to do any research for rest of life, spent on nice tropical island. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:58, 15 February 2020 (UTC)

... other paper with similar property: "Experimental disapproval of second thermodynamic law" -- Hkmaly (talk) 01:01, 15 February 2020 (UTC)
Sorry, but when experimental disproofs (we really hope one comes by soon) appear, entire research streams into how to optimise the disapproval begins. "No further research required" apply far more to constructive disproofs for theory (i.e. like maths) rather than for the empirical sciences. 162.158.119.67 19:22, 18 February 2020 (UTC)
You missed the joke being that "no further research is needed" was applied to the researcher - that is, that the researcher doesn't need to do any research - instead of on the field/topic. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:33, 20 February 2020 (UTC)

Can someone make a category called "Research" or "Research Papers"? Other comics with this topic include: 2012: Thorough Analysis, 2025: Peer Review, 2215: Faculty:Student Ratio, 1594: Human Subjects and 1574: Trouble for Science. 172.69.33.83 00:59, 15 February 2020 (UTC)

Done. Is easy. -- Hkmaly (talk) 01:08, 15 February 2020 (UTC)
I thought a similar one already existed, since there have been quite a few comics talking about scientific study papers. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 01:03, 16 February 2020 (UTC)

Here is a list of a bunch of papers that could have done this (but for some it might not have been known at the time): https://mathoverflow.net/questions/347540/what-are-examples-of-collections-of-papers-which-close-a-field Fabian42 (talk) 02:16, 15 February 2020 (UTC)

Regarding topics that might reach a conclusion: The first subset that comes to mind is religious matters (e.g. "God works in mysterious ways -- let's not think about this too much.") The second subset that comes to mind is game theory regarding games that have been solved. (e.g. there's not much left to be said about tic-tac-toe.)

Further research is needed to see why humans continue to play tic-tac-toe when it's so widely known how to avoid losing. And into how anyone ever wins. And why on earth Google has an online version, with 3 different difficulty levels. Seriously though, there is actual research into how to have the best chance of beating a player who isn't very good (meaning someone who is bad enough to lose occasionally), which involves not only game theory, but also psychology about what mistakes an opponent is most likely to make. Finally, there are newer, more complex, variants, such as playing on a 4x4 grid or in 3D, and new ones can always be developed so that the field is never closed.172.68.47.162 00:08, 16 February 2020 (UTC)
Okay, what about a game of Nim? any variant that doesn't change the game so far as to be unrecognizable can easily be solved with backwards recursion. 172.68.211.34 06:01, 19 February 2020 (UTC)
3 players. Fabian42 (talk) 15:05, 19 February 2020 (UTC)
Further research needed is into why Wikipedia editors keep missing the sentence "When played as a misère game, Nim strategy is different only when the normal play move would leave only heaps of size one. In that case, the correct move is to leave an odd number of heaps of size one (in normal play, the correct move would be to leave an even number of such heaps)" and posting lengthy comments on the Wikipedia Nim talk page about the strategy (for normal play) resulting in losing in a misère game.

Leaving this explanation "incomplete" would be perfectly meta. Please don't ever remove that incomplete tag 162.158.134.142 16:46, 16 February 2020 (UTC)

I think it would have been even better to have the explanation say: "We believe this resolves all remaining questions on this comic. No further explanation is needed." and leave it at that. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:59, 18 February 2020 (UTC)

How about a subject where rather than further research not being needed to answer questions, further research is undesirable, as further investigating some matter could potentially trigger catastrophic results, such as allowing the invention of technology that would do great harm if available, ranging from being usable in crimes that can't be traced or stopped, or somehow destroying the world, or that further looking into some matter is likely to somehow drive the researcher insane?--162.158.74.21 06:42, 17 February 2020 (UTC)

You are only considering ideas that might run afoul of the ethics committee if it ran. Those are old hat. It is far more interesting and fruitful to point out that we have some examples of the diametrically opposite situation. e.g. the safety and efficiency of vaccines are so great that papers ought to end with "We should not wait for further research in order to recommend that vaccines be mandated." 162.158.119.67 19:27, 18 February 2020 (UTC)

If further research really isn't needed on the topic (although obviously papers get things wrong and results need to be reproduced as a check, so let's say this is that), then the next funding can go to someone else's research, and that is Good For Science. Robert Carnegie [email protected] 162.158.155.92 12:15, 17 February 2020 (UTC)

I'm imagining a book titled "There are a finite number of primes", chapter 3 "Proof" reads "This page intentionally left blank" :-) --OliReading (talk) 18:04, 17 February 2020 (UTC)

there is a joke about cold fusion in there somewhere.--Artemis1101 (talk) 15:55, 18 February 2020 (UTC)