397: Unscientific

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Last week, we busted the myth that electroweak gauge symmetry is broken by the Higgs mechanism. We'll also examine the existence of God and whether true love exists.
Title text: Last week, we busted the myth that electroweak gauge symmetry is broken by the Higgs mechanism. We'll also examine the existence of God and whether true love exists.


In the first and second frames, Megan can be seen accusing MythBusters of not actually "doing science" because of its lack of rigor - a debate beyond the scope of this Wiki. The zombie of deceased physicist, Richard Feynman, comes to explain to Megan that she has failed to recognize the purpose of MythBusters. He explains that MythBusters' value is getting people to accept and understand the importance of experimentation in the scientific method, and that more complex lessons (such as on rigor) would be wasted on people who don't understand those basics.

In the last frame, Cueball attempts to save himself and Megan from zombie Feynman by implying that physicists, being extremely intelligent, would have more desirable brains. Also, in a science lab, the number of brains available would be higher than just two. Feynman's closing remark implies that string theorists have no brains; the joke being that string theorists are presumably less intelligent than Cueball and Megan, who were merely watching television prior to being attacked, and probably also a pun on branes. For another instance of Randall knocking string theorists, see 171: String Theory. This notion fits appropriately with Feynman's description of the core of science. Moreover, Feynman's own career involved applying physics to real world applications (such as for the Manhattan Project), whereas the work of string theorists is theoretical and untested.

The title text starts by rebounding against the complaint of validity as science by purportedly tackling a really big scientific inquiry. Then he veers away into two far more esoteric proposed fields of study, of which at least one is not even determinable by the scientific method, probably both.

The Mythbusters episode being watched is likely Episode 109 – "Ninjas 2", which was the second episode in which the Mythbusters attempted to catch an arrow mid-flight. The voice from the television is likely that of Robert Lee, who provided the narration for Mythbusters. It should also be noted that the ninja mentioned in this is the inaccurate pop culture iteration not the historical Shinobi no Mono. for more accurate info on the Shinobi search "Antony Cummins".

Zombies are a recurring theme in xkcd, particularly zombie scientists, which has also occurred twice after this comic with Paul Erdős in 599: Apocalypse and Marie Curie in 896: Marie Curie.


[Cueball and Megan are sitting on a coach, watching Mythbusters.]
TV: Can a ninja catch an arrow? On this episode, we'll find out!
Cueball: Mmm, science.
Megan: Hey, Mythbusters is entertaining, but it's not science.
Zombie Feynman: BRAAAAAIIINNS...
Cueball: Zombie Feynman!
Zombie Feynman: You got a problem with Mythbusters?
Megan: They fail at basic rigor!
Zombie Feynman: "Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. Everything else is bookkeeping.
Zombie Feynman: By teaching people to hold their beliefs up to experiment, Mythbusters is doing more to drag humanity out of the unscientific darkness than a thousand lessons in rigor. Show them some love.
Zombie Feynman: Anyway, back to zombie stuff. I hunger for BRAAAAAIIINNS!
Cueball: Uh, try the physics lab next door.
Zombie Feynman: I said brains. All they've got are string theorists.

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Just appeneded a paragraph about the title-text. Also tried to word something about it starting off as refering to something from last week, then phased into next week, which is almost certainly a joke on the reversibility of time's arrow within the context of the first item mentioned, but could not get it pithy enough. Over to you to have a go (unless it's a genuine mistake in the first place). 13:16, 18 June 2013 (UTC)

As a slight inner joke, I just noticed that it seems quite natural that a zombie Feymann worries about a lack of rigor less than when he was alive... -- 18:10, 1 October 2013 (UTC)

Should it perhaps be noted that Feynman was a known philanderer, and would therefore be interested in Megan's other body parts as well, not just her brains? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Unmentioned, branes are generalized to a number of dimmensions P, and known as P-Branes... pun on pea-brains 20:59, 7 November 2014 (UTC)

The obvious joke, to me, is the existence of a zombie; exactly the kind of unscientific myth that needs busting. Mountain Hikes (talk) 04:06, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

Brains vs Branes. String theory joke? Flewk (talk) 00:55, 28 December 2015 (UTC)

I thought Zombie Feynman's quip was less about string theorists being insufficiently intelligent but more about the lack of empirical evidence for string theory (i.e. ideas not being tested by experimentation). Randall has made similar remarks about the untestable nature of string theory in

Did Feynman actually make that bogus claim about experimentation being the core of science? I don't remember it, and he'd be wrong if he did. Experimentation is just one tool in the philosophy of science. But junk scientists routinely make false claims based on positivist predictions "verified" by experiments, even aside from the instrumentalists who use observation combined with experiments to make unscientific claims. If a hypothesis is not falsifiable, it's not a theory and experiments "proving" it are not scientific. See string theory. And that is one reason that people who point out the grossly unscientific nature of Mythbusters are very, very correct. The show was wonderful entertainment, and occasionally actually did bust myths. But it also "busted" falsely, like the quicksand slurry experiment. And it has definitely contributed (along with bad public educators) to myths about what science is, and a lot of unscientific attitudes, overall. —Kazvorpal (talk) 01:20, 30 November 2019 (UTC)

Zombie Feynman is the Hillel of science.