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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Donate now to help us find a cure for causality. No one should have to suffer through events because of other events.
Title text: Donate now to help us find a cure for causality. No one should have to suffer through events because of other events.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by A UNIQUE SEQUENCE OF PAST EVENTS YIELDING FURTHER INFORMATION IF INVESTIGATED - Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

Cueball is at the hospital for some form of check-up. Doctor Ponytail comes in to inform him of the tests they have run, but her statements are frustratingly generic, and so lacking in diagnostic usefulness. She says that his "numbers" have revealed some "measurements" and "variables" but doesn't specify what they are. The fact that there are measurements and variables relate to them having been taken, but is correlated with very few outcomes other than those associated with measurement.

In response to being asked whether this is bad, she ominously says that they are the number one cause of "outcomes." This is obvious, and therefore unhelpful, since every outcome is the product of some set of variables. Additionally, outcomes can be good, bad, or indifferent, so it does not address the question.

Cueball tries to cut to the root of the issue by asking "what are my chances of survival?" Ponytail asks what is Cueball's family history, but rather than asking if his family has a history of similar symptoms to Cueball himself she is just asking if he has any family history whatsoever. Her apparent concern on discovering that he does is presumably due to the fact that everyone who has a family history dies, and therefore she sees this as a negative thing. However, this is not medically informative, since everyone has some kind of family history (whether they personally know anything of it or not) and everyone eventually dies,[citation needed] yet the one does not directly imply the other.

The comic might be making fun of poorly defined health statistics: statistics for the leading causes of accidental death in the United States, for example, typically cite 'poisoning' as the number one cause, even though poisoning other than drug overdoses is actually quite rare. The comic takes vague statistics to the extreme, citing 'causality' as the leading cause of death. It could also be referencing metaness in general, a frequent topic in the webcomic, or how people can be "talked away" with language they don't understand, especially in times of information conflict. It could also be a reference to incredibly heightened paranoia in current times.

It may also be a comment on the impenetrability of some medical diagnoses, where high levels of jargon and non-contextualised statistics, combined with a lot of hedging language, can leave patients none the wiser about their prospects, or the relative merits of various courses of treatment.

It may also be a joke about replacing the name of an effect with simply, "effect", thus being similar in a sense to a simple random generator, like 2243: Star Wars Spoiler Generator.

The title text simply continues the joke, claiming that doctors are searching for a cure to 'causality'. This is obviously absurd and impossible, as it would destroy reality as we know it.

The concept of a cure for causality, and the comic as a whole, relates further to information warfare, as convincing people of something false requires avoidance of the facts in a convincing manner. Problems with information warfare produce a kind of cold war around artificial intelligence, which can stimulate fears of everything known being misused by an advanced system or power. Parts of such fears are influencing our politics.

The comic as a whole is reminiscent of 830: Genetic Analysis and 1840: Genetic Testing Results (particularly the title text of the latter), as the information given by the doctor in all three is self-evident and useless as a result.

Transcript

[Cueball and Doctor Ponytail are talking to each other. Cueball is sitting on an examination table and Doctor Ponytail, in a doctor's coat, is looking down and reading from a clipboard with some illegible writing on it.]
Doctor Ponytail: I'm taking a look at your numbers, and it doesn't look good.
Doctor Ponytail: You have a lot of measurements. Quite a few variables.
[Same setting but Doctor Ponytail looks up at Cueball.]
Cueball: Is that... bad?
Doctor Ponytail: Variables are the #1 risk factor for outcomes.
Doctor Ponytail: The past is a big contributor to the future.
[Same setting but Doctor Ponytail puts her arm with the clipboard down.]
Cueball: Isn't that just causality?
Doctor Ponytail: Causality is the leading cause of death in this country.
[Same setting.]
Cueball: So what are my odds?
Doctor Ponytail: Do you have a family history?
Cueball: Of what?
Doctor Ponytail: Just, in general.
Cueball: ...Yes?
Doctor Ponytail: Oh no.


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