925: Cell Phones
Title text: He holds the laptop like that on purpose, to make you cringe.
This comic is a good explanation of the correlation/causation fallacy, where one party states two unrelated events and posits that they must have influenced each other.
After hearing about the "Cell Phones Don't Cause Cancer" study, which refutes a claim made by the World Health Organization (just Google the debate or check out Wikipedia's article on it, the comic doesn't focus much on it), Black Hat plots "Total Cancer Incidence" per 100,000 and "Cell Phone Users" per 100 on the same graph. The graph in frame 3 shows an exponential rise in cancer followed by an exponential rise in cell phone usage, which makes Black Hat comically come to the conclusion that cancer causes cell phones.
The comic highlights a well-known fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, often shortened to simply post hoc. The Latin translates to "after this, therefore because of this," referring to the common mistake that because two events happen in chronological order, the former event must have caused the latter event. The fallacy is often the root cause of many superstitions (e.g., a person noticing he/she wore a special bracelet before getting a good test score thinks the bracelet was the source of his/her good fortune), but it often crosses into more serious areas of thinking. In this case, the scientific research community, which often prides itself on its intellectual aptitude, is gently mocked for being nonetheless prone to such poor reasoning all too often. The different possibilities are generally known as causation, when one thing is proven to cause another, or correlation, when changes in one thing are aligned with changes in another, but there is no proof that they are directly related.
The title text refers to the way Black Hat holds the laptop in panel 2. Being that Cueball (and Randall, for that matter) are quite into computers, the potential damage to a laptop screen either from the weight of its lower body or the pressure of the user's fingers on the LCD screen is enough to make him squirm in discomfort. The risk of dropping the computer is also present.
Note that the graph in frame 3 also shows that the increase in the number of cell phone users appears to coincide with a sudden decrease in the growth of cancer incidence. Randall may have intended Cueball, and the reader, to assume Black Hat was going to say that cell phones prevent cancer. However, this makes Black Hat's alternate conclusion unexpected and therefore more ludicrous.
- [Cueball holds a cellphone. Black Hat is sitting at a desk with a laptop.]
- Cueball: Another huge study found no evidence that cell phones cause cancer. What was the W.H.O. thinking?
- Black Hat: I think they just got it backward.
- [Black Hat turns towards Cueball in an unframed panel, holding the laptop with one hand by the upper edge of the screen. Cueball is not visible.]
- Cueball: Huh?
- Black Hat: Well, take a look.
- [There is a plot of total cancer incidence and cell phone users. Cancer rises from 1970 to 1990, then stays relatively steady. Cell phone use rises from roughly 1984, and steeply after 1990, to the present.]
- Cueball: You're not... There are so many problems with that.
- Black Hat: Just to be safe, until I see more data I'm going to assume cancer causes cell phones.
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