2466: In Your Classroom

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In Your Classroom
Ontology is way off to the left and geography is way off to the right.
Title text: Ontology is way off to the left and geography is way off to the right.


Randall has created a thought experiment and corresponding chart about school courses. The idea is, "the subject of the class appears in the classroom" and the chart compares how dangerous and how unusual that would be.

In the title text two points that are off the chart to the left and right are also mentioned. See details about all the subjects in the table below.

Note that Randall uses similar diagrams in each of 388: Fuck Grapefruit, 1242: Scary Names and 1501: Mysteries, which also contain different items. They also have extra points mentioned in the title text. In the first two comics the points are also off the chart, whereas for the last the description of the point is too long to fit on the chart. Extra info outside the chart is also used in the title text of 1785: Wifi, but this is a line graph.

Table of subjects[edit]

(Clarification: -10 on weirdness means furthest on the "normal" left extent of the horizontal normal-to-weird scale, while -10 badness means at the "good" top end of the good-to-bad vertical range, with respective axes crossing each other at zero. Values are approximate. Written labels avoid overwriting each other, or axes, with no obvious datum points other than the centre of each fragment of text.)

Breakdown of Subjects
Course Topic Weirdness Badness Explanation
Atmospheric Physics -10 -10 Absent very strange and unprecedented circumstances, every classroom on Earth has an atmosphere (although going by the exact wording of the starting hypothesis, "The thing you study just showed up in your classroom", the implication is that up until that point, the room in which the class is being held contained a vacuum, which in and of itself is interesting to physics students.)
Ethics -5 -10 Ethical thinking and behavior are widely considered good[citation needed] and should normally be present in education, but are sadly not universal.
Education -10 -8 Learning usually goes on in classrooms, so education as a concept is both being learned about and present in the form of learning itself.
Bibliography -5 -8.6 Bibliography is the study of books, and books are normally present in classrooms, particularly bibliography classrooms. Although, more commonly speaking academically, a bibliography is a list of all sources used to compose a research paper, considered mandatory in all branches of academics but occasionally falsified or written in an incorrect style.
Human Physiology -10 -6 This comic assumes that there are humans learning in the classroom, which was true at the time this comic was published, although in many places at the time the comic was published, many classrooms were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Public Speaking -5 -7 Some classes require students to present things in front of the class, which is likely a requirement in a public speaking class. Thus, public speaking itself would be present in the class.

Some classes also have a teacher talking or presenting to the students from the front of the class, another form of public speaking.

Architecture -10 -4 All buildings can be considered architecture, and most classes take place in buildings. This comic also refers to a classroom, which is a room, and therefore considered architecture.
Library Science -5 -5 Library science is concerned with the organization of knowledge, and is useful for finding information. Many classes require research papers that require the use of books and other sources of information to complete them. This would be even more appropriate for a class actually taught in the school library.
Furniture Design -10 -2 Most rooms have furniture,[citation needed] so this would probably be present in a classroom. May also be implying the classroom furniture has not been assembled yet, making it not as good and a lesson in furniture design.
Culinary Arts -2 -4 Most studies of culinary arts include the teacher and/or students preparing food using the tools and/or techniques that have been taught, so it would be fairly normal for food to be a result of classroom activities. How good it is, however, can be a mixed bag, especially for student cooking attempts.
Ergonomics -9 -1 Ergonomic equipment and workspaces promote comfort and efficiency, while non-ergonomic ones may be unpleasant, unhealthy, or even immediately dangerous.
Botany -2 -2 The near-neutral position of botany (aka plant biology) suggests that the most likely reason for plants to be present would be something like a potted plant, which is not uncommon, and usually not unpleasant, but not very noteworthy. There are other potential reasons for plants to be present, but those are generally less likely.
20th Century Authors 3 -8 Literature classes would benefit greatly from an open discussion or interview with the author themself. Sadly such things are rare, but not unheard of, putting it slightly on the "weird" side of the spectrum. Well-known authors of the 20th century have an increased likelihood of being dead by 2021, but there are still some authors of the 20th century who were well-established enough to be studied and still alive at the time this comic was published.
Exobiology 10 -10 Exobiology is the study of extraterrestrial life. This would mean that an alien lifeform was in the classroom. This is extremely weird but very good for people to investigate and research the alien.
21st Century Authors 2 -6 21st century authors have the advantage (over 19th and 20th century authors) of typically being alive and active at the time this comic was published. However, most authors who were primarily active in the 21st century are still developing their body of work, and/or still awaiting the judgment of history. The better availability of such authors, as compared to 20th century author probably explains the slightly lower "weirdness" score, while the limited body of truly prominent authors probably explains the lower "goodness" score.
19th Century Authors 10 -7 No author who was active in the 19th century was alive at the writing of this comic,[citation needed] hence, having one of them show up in class would be extremely weird. The opportunity to interact with such a person would be utterly unique, meaning that it scores pretty high on the "goodness" metric, though interestingly not as high as a 20th century author. Possibly, the potential "badness" of having a zombie or other reanimated being show up in your class is weighed against the advantage of having a historical figure there in person. It may also be that someone from the 19th century has an increased danger of having outdated ethics, which may result in discomfort on the part of the students.
Paleontology 10 -5 Paleontology is the study of the history of life on Earth as based on fossils. In geology classes, it would be normal to have some fossils in the classroom. However, fossils are not usually found in other classrooms, and especially below the college level. Randall is also probably implying the weirdness of finding a live Jurassic Park-style dinosaur.
Robotics 1 -4 A course on robotics would often be expected to have some form of working models of the robots being discussed. However, for it to have "showed up" in your classroom could imply an actual functioning robot prototype walked into the classroom. While not cause for concern (as long as nobody in the class is named Sarah Connor), this would be a bit weird.
Martian Soil Chemistry 10 -3 Martian soil only reaches Earth in small amounts, so it would be unusual to find a meaningful amount anywhere, except Mars.
Tourism 5 -2 Tourists coming into an active classroom would be quite unusual; while tourists sometimes visit university campuses, it would generally be rude for a tour guide to lead them into a classroom when class is in progress. This could also refer to the students leaving to become tourists in another location.
Child Psychology 2 -1 Children are rarely students in classrooms advanced enough to teach child psychology. In order for child psychology to be on display, presumably someone would have to have brought a child (either for a demonstration, or for some other reason), which is slightly weird, but not unheard of. This is considered slightly "good", presumably because it would give students some opportunity for firsthand observation, and because most people like, or at least tolerate, children.
Entomology -7 1 Entomology is the study of insects. Insects getting into a classroom is a very common event, even putting aside the possibility of someone bringing insects specifically to study. Most insects that might get in are relatively benign, but some (such as mosquitoes) might sting or bite, and many people simply don't like insects, even when they're not harmful, pushing this slightly into "bad" territory.
Occupational Therapy -8 2.4 Injury, illness or mental health problem that hinder your participation in life/school. Many students who have significant physical injuries and conditions that require occupational therapy would generally not engage in those activities during a class, although volunteers may be brought in as a demonstration of a particular health problem or method of treatment.
Hydraulic Engineering -2 2.4 Likely in the form of flooding or plumbing problems.
Pest Control -5 4 This is not dissimilar to entomology, but pest control tends to involve larger infestations, as opposed to individual insects, and also includes non-insect animals, such as rats. Such events in classroom are not as common as individual insects getting in (especially in a well-maintained building), but are far from unheard of, and risk many negative effects, from bug bites to structural damage, and may require evacuation and fumigation to deal with.
Foodborne Illness -7 6 Sometimes students in a culinary arts class do not properly observe hygiene standards and the food they present would lead to illness in those that consume the food. Thankfully, this is rare if the teacher is paying enough attention to proceedings. Students could also be ill from food eaten outside of class.
Criminal Law -1 7 This might happen if a crime occurs in the class. While an armed robbery is unlikely, incidents involving theft or drug use are not particularly uncommon. Regardless, such an incident would be very bad.
Physiology of Stress -10 8 Stress in a classroom, even stress that's bad enough to manifest itself in physical symptoms, is all too common. Stress that bad is very harmful, and a student realizing that they were manifesting the symptoms they're studying should take it as a warning sign.
Oncology -5 10 Oncology is the medical practice of treating cancer. For someone in a classroom full of students to have cancer is, unfortunately, not an uncommon event, putting it on the "normal" side of the scale. While not abnormal, it's clearly very bad.
Ornithology 2 1 Ornithology is the study of birds. A bird getting into a classroom would be somewhat strange, but there are circumstances under which it would happen. In most cases, that's not especially dangerous, but it would be disruptive, and introduce the possibility of the bird making a mess, and possibly getting hurt (or even hurting others), which makes it slightly bad.
Animation 10 1.2 Presumably Randall isn't referring to examples of animated works being displayed to the students in an animation class, as that would be normal. Nor is he referring to teachers or students doing animation by creating or filming drawings, stop-motion figures, or computer graphics to make an animated film, which would also be normal. However, it would be very weird for animated characters to appear physically in the classroom instead of being projected on screens. Possibly a reference to movies such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit in which cartoon characters actively interact with the live action cast. As many of the characters abide by different physics, and a couple are depicted as insane, this would be very weird and potentially bad.
Petroleum Geology 3 2 Crude oil coming up through the floor of the classroom would be very weird[citation needed]. Any potential for hands-on learning experience would be limited, and quickly outweighed by classes being disrupted entirely (be it damage to the building, or oil companies trying to negotiate for the land).
Highway Engineering 5 3 A highway being built through an active classroom would be very unusual and not that safe.
Toxicology 1 5 Most likely, a toxic substance is present in the room. This is not very weird if the room is in a building that has asbestos-containing insulation (phased out during the 1990s, although it has not been specifically outlawed in the United States due to industrial lobbying) or lead paint (which was fully outlawed in the United States in 1978, so any paint that remains must have been applied prior to that date). However, toxic substances are unsafe for humans.[citation needed]
Hematology 5 4 Hematology is the study of blood. Given that there should be blood in each of the students present,[citation needed] we should probably assume Randall means "large quantities of blood outside of one's body (click here)", which would indeed be both bad and weird.
Hostage Negotiation 4 7 Reasons as to why there would be hostage negotiations taking place at a school have horrifying implications for the students and teacher. The 'weird'ness rating of this occurence would presumably change depending on location, school shootings and hostage situations being (unfortunately) much more 'normal'ised in the USA than any other country.
History of Siege Warfare 10 6 This would be an exceptionally strange event. Given that the topic is "history", having it show up implies that either historical figures have the classroom under siege (possibly through time travel or reanimation) or at least that the besiegers are using traditional weapons and methods in their attack. In either case, it would be a very weird event, and also very bad.
Trauma Surgery 1 9 An injury severe enough to require trauma surgery would be rare in a classroom, but there are circumstances under which it could realistically happen. Such an injury would be, by its very nature, a very bad thing.
Volcanology 5 9 Having a live volcano in one's classroom is both very dangerous and very weird [citation needed]. Volcanoes mature over very long time frames, but even the earliest stages are highly disruptive and potentially deadly, as seen in the 1943 eruption of Paricutín and the 2018 flank eruption of Kilauea. Note this also applies to baking soda and vinegar volcanoes that are offshoots of much larger vinegar hotspots.
Quasar Astronomy 5 10 Quasars are distant astronomical objects that release large amounts of energy. Not only would the power of a quasar destroy the classroom (as well as the rest of Earth), quasars are too large to fit inside any known classroom. For example, ULAS J1342+0928 has a mass of 8*10^8 solar masses. This means the event horizon of the black hole is almost 16 AU in radius, and this size does not include the accretion disk.
Ontology (title text) <-10 ? Ontology is the philosophical study of existence and being. Since there must be something learning in the classroom, it is unsurprising that ontology is a normal subject to appear in the classroom. It would, in fact, be more bizarre to have a lack of ontology in the classroom.
Geography (title text) >10 ? Geographers study the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth. While each classroom contains a small portion of the Earth's surface (normally not enough of it to be interesting to geographers), having the entire Earth appear inside a classroom would likely demand explanation. In particular, if this is an ordinary classroom (i.e. located on the Earth), the planet's simultaneous appearance within its walls would both defy our current understanding of spacetime, and risk disastrous consequences at the hands of curious students. This could also be implying the classroom is suddenly being located on top of a geographic border, which would be highly unlikely, especially if it happened without warning.


[Caption above scatter plot with labeled axes]
Caption: The thing you study just showed up in your classroom! That's...
Top: good
Bottom: bad
Left: normal
Right: weird

Items are listed row by row, left to right, top to bottom.

[First quadrant (good and weird)]
20th century authors
21st century authors
19th century authors
Martian soil chemistry
Child psychology
[Second quadrant (good and normal)]
Atmospheric physics
Human physiology
Public speaking
Library science
Furniture design
Culinary arts
[Third quadrant (bad and normal)]
Occupational therapy
Hydraulic engineering
Pest control
Foodborne illness
Criminal law
Physiology of stress
[Fourth quadrant (bad and weird)]
Petroleum geology
Highway engineering
Hostage negotiation
History of siege warfare
Trauma surgery
Quasar astronomy

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yay! another one where a table is useful for an explanation! also first ALPHALUL 01:01, 22 May 2021 (UTC)Bumpf

Exobiology should not be in the Good area. I've seen those movies, I know what happens next. Andyd273 (talk) 02:18, 22 May 2021 (UTC)

I'm sort of sad that the the hover text, or perhaps the origin, wasn't simply "Tautology" 21:01, 22 May 2021 (UTC)

I think that the scales would be better shown as +/- from a (0,0) point than %'s from the top left. At least for the Good/Bad axis It's really weird to say that "Education" has 10% danger because it's not quite as good as having an atmosphere. Is it just me? --Bobson (talk) 01:51, 23 May 2021 (UTC)

Many students consider education - especially tests - dangerous. -- Hkmaly (talk) 02:26, 23 May 2021 (UTC)
No, I agree as well. Would it be out of line if I changed it? 17:26, 25 May 2021 (UTC)

Not sure how big is smallest quasar, but I suspect one appearing in class would be bad even for Sun and rest of solar system. -- Hkmaly (talk) 02:29, 23 May 2021 (UTC)

I agree. This should be sooooo far below the bad axis (or Volcanoes) that it should only have been mentioned in the title text. Of course Quasars do not exist in this age... But if one suddenly began in your class room it would be the end of the local spiral arm of the galaxy, and would devour most of what was there forming a new black hole center of the galaxy (a double black hole center). It would of course end all of Earth history as well as the solar system and the local cluster of stars. So putting it right under volcanoes, which would only destroy the local city (it was not given it was a super volcano), compared to ending Earths existence is not really serious. And as explained in the explanation he has previously also mentioned off chart points in the title text, as he does also for less interesting subjects in this one as well. --Kynde (talk) 19:06, 24 May 2021 (UTC)

Is vertical axis how dangerous? I read it as either being positive utility (Societal good and bad) or how much Randall likes it? Kev (talk) 10:19, 23 May 2021 (UTC)

Shouldn't it be vulcanology?Joem5636 (talk) 12:33, 24 May 2021 (UTC)

I thought that, but it appears that vulcanology/volcanology are both possibly equally valid (though the 'vulc' definitions point to 'volc' ones almost always in online dictionaries, with the reverse mostly only as 'alternative', and 'vulcanologist' seems less acknowledged than 'volcanologist' in related-words linking). In many ways, that annoys me, but that might be the classicist in me rather than the geographer/geologist who appreciates that "vulcanology" might be a rather more limited field that would require no more travel to extensively study than can be afforded by a handy Sicilian fishing boat or light aircraft. 14:48, 24 May 2021 (UTC)

Would an alternate Geography = weird be due to an invading nation-state? We already have volcanology and other similar "The earth came into the classroom" things in the graph. OhFFS (talk) 21:42, 24 May 2021 (UTC)

That would be bad, but still less weird than the actual Earth. 18:09, 26 May 2021 (UTC)

TL;DR: Too many "citation needed" tags! It's not funny if you use it too much.

Several parts of this explanation seem to have been written in such a way as to include statements against which nobody in their right mind would argue and, in any other context at least, would not require any supporting citation, and are hence appropriate places for the humourous use of "citation needed" often seen on this site.[citation needed] I very much appreciate the hitherto typical Explain-XKCD-style sparse (about once per article) use of "citation needed" but I feel that it loses much of it's comedic effect when used frequently (six times in this article as I write!) in text that appears to be composed with the purpose of including the tag several times. I appreciate that some of us enjoy reading explanations peppered with the tags, so I haven't removed any of them, but my feeling is that the 'too much of a good thing' concept applies here. In future articles I personally hope to see normally written explanations (or as normally written as we can reasonably expect given the subject matter) with "citation needed" tags used only sparingly.

Missed opportunity: "...and Quantum Mechanics is both way off to the left and way off to the right." -- 22:25, 1 June 2021 (UTC)

I tried to edit the table to have the weirdness and badness from -10 to 10, but the table broke. Can someone fix it please? Cal3000000 (talk) 12:12, 4 February 2024 (UTC)

Fixed it here (before I read your call for help). I mention in the summary the reason it broke, and was just about to let you know anyway (you don't have a Talk page yet, so came here to give the link and then find the above plea).
(I had to squash the reason down, to fit, however. Table-data lines get the "|-" symbol at the start of a line (text after that doesn't appear as regular cell data). Table cell-data starts as "|" on a line-start (or "||" where adding more cells on a single line of markup) and when the cell ("|") starts with a "-" (e.g. "-5") then it clearly looks like a row-break ("|-[...]") unless you do something about it. In this case, I put a space between the cell-pipe and the value-negative (and also could have added one, or two, before the unsigned values ...just for markup neatness). Other solutions might have been to use a different dash (”–” instead of "-", visually not too different, but might have annoyed other people doing text-searches [edit: and caused more fuss in supporting table-sorting functionality, of course!]), moved the new-line cells into being "||" followups to the respective prior line or used something like a <nowiki/> "breaking-nonspace" interjection (i.e. technically the opposite of an &nbsp;, though that would have worked also for several reasons). I'm sure there are other ways of doing it, as well, but I only tried the first, with the others in mind in case I'd got the right sort of diagnosis in mind but hadn't immediately identified a working cure.)
The only suggestion I have, for future, is to use the Preview button more. As I ought to, sometimes. But it lets you play around to see if you can identify (and solve!) any problems, especially with notoriously miseditable table markup. You can also entirely back out of changes easier, while you try to learn what went wrong or seek help from others. It's always good to learn, of course! And I also learnt from this, and it's probably only circumstantial that I had never made the same inadvertent error in the past... ;) 13:57, 4 February 2024 (UTC)

Thanks to whoever added to my clarification on top of the table Moderator (talk) 01:50, 5 February 2024 (UTC)

hey, uh, i think a joke in here needs an explain-explain-xkcd page.

the thing in robotics' row about sarah connor from terminator. self-explanatory. -- Willlbrwillbr (talk) 01:31, 13 February 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I'll put a wikilink in, then. Perhaps her Character Page, if she has one and it relates to her (justified) robophobia. 02:08, 13 February 2024 (UTC)