36: Scientists

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A leading expert characterized the situation as 'retarded'
Title text: A leading expert characterized the situation as 'retarded'


This comic plays on the type of statement that news reports often use: "in what [group of experts] are calling '[quote]'," to add more weight and credibility to their stories. In this case, Cueball is using the phrase to attempt to add gravitas to the (relatively mundane) fact that his shoes are missing and he thinks it's "pretty gay" by assigning this opinion to scientists (rather than it being, presumably, his friend's or his own opinion). The same joke is at play in the image text where a leading expert thinks the situation is "retarded."

There may be a second level to the joke: Randall was still working for NASA at the time the comic was posted, so his friends at that time would presumably include scientists and "leading experts." If his friends made fun of him for not being able to find his shoes, it would therefore be accurate to say that scientists had made those statements. However, since their being scientists is irrelevant to the legitimacy of their opinions about Randall's shoe problems, presenting their teasing as an expert opinion is humorously misleading; a similar joke is at play in 1206: Einstein.

The phrases "pretty gay" and "retarded" are homophobic and ableist slang for "foolish" or "contemptible," and so they are the opposite type of speech expected of experts on news reports. (These terms were not generally considered more than mildly offensive by most of the public at the time this comic was posted; the cultural mainstream is now typically much more critical of this type of language, and this comic would likely be heavily criticized if it were published today.)


[Cueball is staring at an empty box on the floor.]
In what scientists are calling "pretty gay", I can't find my shoes.


  • This comic was never posted on LiveJournal.
    • But its "comic number" was still among the 44 comics that was posted on the day the xkcd web site opened (1st of January 2006).
    • 41 one of these were previously posted on LiveJournal; only three were not.
    • The other two are 5: Blown apart and 12: Poisson.
  • However, comic #36 was originally posted as a duplicate of comic 10: Pi Equals. This was corrected sometime between April 23, 2006 and July 5, 2006, when the current version showed up in the web archive (see the links).
    • The comic looks like one of Randall's old drawings. So when he realized his mistake (over three months after it was originally posted), he probably found an old drawing he never originally intended to use and posted it, to not make it stand out compared to the other comics from that time.
    • This is the reason there is no date for this comic. It can be anytime between the two dates mentioned above.

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If Cueball's a scientist, the statement is perfectly valid. Even more so if his scientist friends are helping him, and they can't find his shoes either. Davidy22(talk) 07:07, 31 October 2012 (UTC)

I found the fact that the last sentence was present in the explanation funnier than the comic itself. -- 22:13, 14 May 2013 (UTC)

Its worth pointing out the comic was drawn in 2006 -- 'pretty gay' was not nearly as politically incorrect then as it is now. Wow, this is an old comic. 14:33, 8 September 2015 (UTC)

Political incorrectness is a good thing. I'd hope he'd do this one again today. — Kazvorpal (talk) 01:07, 24 April 2019 (UTC)

Political incorrectness is a good thing? wow. While I also find overly political correctness in many cases over the top, unneccesary and annoying, this is a clear example where political correctness helps to battle discrimination. By using the term "gay" to describe one stereotype associated with homosexuality, this stereotype is further enforced, and people are treated according to it. I do not know a lot about you, but your username sounds like an adjective, so imagine, I started a trend describing people who are e.g. pedophile as "kazvorpal", and this trend catches on. Soon you would find yourself excluded from events, jobs, etc. because people would assume you are a pedophile. Wouldn't you prefer that to not happen? that is one example why political correctness is a good thing. Sorry for the trollfeeding. --Lupo (talk) 06:04, 24 April 2019 (UTC)
No, you are suffering from the ravages of inductive reasoning. Political correctness includes a pretense that the speaker is battling discrimination, but it's just virtue signalling. They are, in fact, encouraging discrimination, and heaping advocacy of censorship and repression on top of it. Using "gay" as a mock pejorative does nothing to harm actual homosexuals, and in fact robs the term of its emotional power, as humor often does. Daniel Tosh incessantly making faux-bigoted comments uses humor to weaken racism, sexism, et cetera. And the end does not justify the means: Repressing the expression of others is evil, even when you're trying to use doing so to impress others about how virtuous you are. — Kazvorpal (talk) 15:43, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
That opinion is what scientists call "pretty straight white man". -- 22:18, 2 March 2021 (UTC)