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Research Risks
The 1919 Great Boston Molasses Flood remained the deadliest confectionery containment accident until the Canadian Space Agency's 2031 orbital maple syrup delivery disaster.
Title text: The 1919 Great Boston Molasses Flood remained the deadliest confectionery containment accident until the Canadian Space Agency's 2031 orbital maple syrup delivery disaster.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: First draft. Add percentages on the table, elaborate on the explanations. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This is a comparison of the possibility of the subjects of various sciences being a threat to humanity. It can either be an autonomous threat to the local population (i.e. by escape from a lab), or as part of a supervillain's scheme to rule the world. [1]

There have so far been several similar comics with such scatter plots. See for instance 388: Fuck Grapefruit, 1242: Scary Names, 1468: Worrying, 1501: Mysteries and 1701: Speed and Danger.

The title text is related to the Molasses Storage entry at the bottom left of the chart, and references the Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Great Boston Molasses Flood. It occurred on January 15, 1919 in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts (the state in which Randall lives). A large molasses storage tank burst and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The joke in the title text is that in 2031 (14 years after the release of this comic) the Canadian Space Agency has an even more serious disaster, which will be known as the orbital maple syrup delivery disaster. The title text claims that this disaster then became the deadliest confectionery containment accident, thus killing more than 21 people...


Risk of Breaking Free Risk of Supervillain Research field Research Risks Comments
very low very high Prosthetics Cyborgs This is probably a joke related to the fact that many movie supervillains have some handicap, and it is thus likely that such a villain would use some kind of prosthetics, although this might not directly help his evil plan...
low high Neuroscience Mind Control
very low high Laser Optics Something like Laser Weapon System. Or a powerful laser could be used to cut the hero in two as in Goldfinger. See Directed-energy weapon.
medium low high Pharmacology Poisons
low high Materials Science Perhaps nanobots, or perhaps armor for military purposes If nanobots were intended, it would likely be further to the right; see Grey goo
low medium high Sociology Sociological research may help in becoming a tyrant and then lead nation to war.
very low medium high History Ministry of Truth, using methodes of previous successful dicators and learning form the errors of unsuccessful attempted dicators
medium low medium high Psychology Ministry of Truth, Hannibal Lecter
high very high Robotics Villains: Robot minions. Escape: robots gaining sentience and killing everything, or nanobots going rogue and devouring everything in their path.
high very high Genetic Engineering Villains: Modify troops to make super powered minions. Escape: Modified life could cause havoc See Gene drive
medium high high Chemistry Explosives
very high high Microbiology Lethal diseases See for instance 12 Monkeys
very low medium low Geology Golems, Earthquake machines Study of rocks. Scores below average on the supervillain scale despite Lex Luthor's plan in the 1978 Superman movie hinging on setting off the San Andreas Fault.
very low medium low Linguistics 1984 Newspeak
low low Paleontology Jurassic Park Study of fossils
very low very low Astronomy Asteroid impact
medium low very low Molasses Storage Breaking free chance is medium low as molasses did "escape" at least once in history. See Great Molasses Flood, as referenced in the title text
very low very low Dentistry Torture/Interrogation
medium high medium low Botany Audrey II, Triffids Study of plants
high medium low Entomology Insects are small and can often escape through even small cracks, and are known for carrying diseases. They could also mutate into terrifying threats - see for example the movie Empire_of_the_Ants_(film) Study of insects
medium high low Mycology Fungi cannot move, but their spores could easily spread, therefore, escape probability has been deemed medium high. However the risk of mycology being used for evil has raised strongly with the release of Star Trek Discovery. Mycology is the study of fungi.
very high low Marine Biology Sharknado, Jaws
medium high very low Ornithology Flying is a useful escape mechanism. Study of birds.


[A chart with two crossing lines with double arrows. Each arrow is labeled:]
Y axis top: High
Y axis bottom: Low
X axis left: Low
X axis right: High
[Near each of the "high" ends of the two axis there is a label written in gray, with a line pointing to the relevant axis:]
Y axis: Risk of your research being used by a supervillain for world domination
X axis: Risk of the thing you're studying breaking free from your facility and threatening the local population
[The following points are on the charts upper left quadrant (in reading order):]
Laser Optics
Materials Science
[The following points are on the charts upper right quadrant (in reading order):]
Genetic Engineering
[The following points are on the charts lower left quadrant (in reading order):]
Molasses Storage
[The following points are on the charts lower right quadrant (in reading order):]
Marine Biology


  • The comic initially had the erroneous spelling "Entymology" (possibly a mistaken mix-up between etymology and entomology, similar to 1012: Wrong Superhero). This was later changed to the correct "Entomology".
  • The SSL-Certificate of xkcd expired while this comic was online, causing a non-reachability of the site.

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