1232: Realistic Criteria

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Realistic Criteria
I'm leaning toward fifteen. There are a lot of them.
Title text: I'm leaning toward fifteen. There are a lot of them.


Many people are opposed to space exploration. While the overall budget of NASA is not very large compared to the big spenders such as health, education, social services and the military, individual space missions seem very expensive to the general public (typically hundreds of millions of dollars) and the actual benefits derived from them can seem intangible. To put it simply, many people think that the money can be better spent on Earth, where there are real, serious problems that need to be addressed.

The decision on how to best allocate our money is not a simple one. White Hat believes we should not explore space until "we have solved all our problems here on Earth". This is unreasonable. It is vague, broad and near-impossible to achieve, at least within the span of a human life. The basic problems that face us all - war, disease, hunger, climate change, natural disasters, general malaise - have been with us since the dawn of humanity at least, and will certainly be around for much longer than ten or fifteen years; in fact, it is unclear if some of these problems will ever be solved. As of 2022, nine years after this comic, it seems humanity has rather created more problems than it solved, so it is very unlikely indeed that the goal of ten years could be reasonably achieved.

Cueball, however, is playing the naive engineer, thinking that everything is as easy and simple as the math problems he uses everyday. Alternatively, he could be replying sarcastically, knowing that there is no timeline for solving all of Earth's problems. This serves two purposes: First, it highlights the untenability of White Hat's statement by emphasizing their size, and second, it serves as a punchline, as anyone with a modicum of common sense knows nothing is that simple when humans are involved.

In the title text, Randall leans towards fifteen years, as ten doesn't seem sufficient, given all the problems. This also may be said by Cueball, or White Hat replying to Cueball.


[Cueball and White Hat stand talking. White Hat is making a forward gesture with his hand.]
White Hat: We shouldn't be exploring other planets until we've solved all our problems here on Earth.
Cueball: Sounds reasonable. So, what's the timeline on "Solving all problems"? Ten years? Fifteen?

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I'm not sure I want NASA (or other space agencies) to solve all problems on earth. And what constitutes a problem? My laptop crashed this morning? Fighting in Afghanistan? Flooding in Germany and Poland? Kaa-ching (talk) 07:28, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

Hence the title: "Realistic Criteria" ;-) Kaa-ching (talk) 07:29, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

I'm sure there is more that enough problems for 15 years in https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/ alone. Also, exploring other planets can help solving problems on our one. -- Hkmaly (talk) 08:44, 1 July 2013 (UTC)
Earth should have a Bugzilla. 13:43, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

"The argument between exploring space vs saving resources and solving problems on Earth is a pretty common modern one, both in theory, and in practice."

Actually, we shouldn't have started expanding our species out of Africa before predicting (and allowing for) the development of Religious Hatred, Mechanised Warfare and Oppressive Copyright Practices... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Personally, I usually quickly send my initial Zulu forces up to blockade the land-bridge in the vicinity of Egypt, and then expand out throughout Africa so as to allow me to develop my own superior navy (and as many wonders as I can, including the library) before anyone else gets there. (Apologies, my comment below rather sent me down this line of thought.) 17:20, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

This attacks a rather typical conservative attitude that we shouldn't "waste" resources on "minor" problems when there are bigger problems to deal with. (e.g., "Why are you giving me a ticket for speeding when there are murderers out there you should be catching?") The title text pinpoints the fallacy of it (if you only ever work on the biggest problems, you will never solve that problem and also never accomplish anything else) JamesCurran (talk) 16:10, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

I have issue with 'The comic is, at its core, a parody of the overly optimistic scientism that often attaches itself to the idea of a manned Mars mission, which in the minds of its supporters is always "ten to fifteen years away," no matter the unsolved technical or logistics challenges that are still standing in the way.' I think it's the converse. The overly optimistic semi-scientism that if we put something like Mars exploration on hold that the resources this frees up would be instantly transferable into "solving all the world's ills". The ten-to-fifteen-year span is then the (sarcastic?) suggestion as to how long this would need to be done for, before we can consider them all solved and start pumping the same resources back into space missions and pick up from where we leave off.

I agree that the 'The comic is, at its core, a parody of the overly optimistic scientism that often attaches itself to the idea of a manned Mars mission, which in the minds of its supporters is always "ten to fifteen years away," no matter the unsolved technical or logistics challenges that are still standing in the way.' line is not a correct analysis of this comic. I removed it, but would be happy to see it re-added if there is a discussion here that bring to light any evidence supporting it. 13:38, 2 July 2013 (UTC) Mike Powers
It could even be some what of a reference to 678: Researcher Translation Regdoug (talk) 14:47, 19 February 2014 (UTC)

(Reminds me of my typical Civilization-playing scenario, pumping lightbulbs into one or other single scientific advance, but switching the target when realising I would quite like something else researched (perhaps for its associated military unit), even though it wasn't my original plan on the way to (perhaps) the Alpha Centauri win. Or, more generally, jumping between all 'spare population' being scientists and them all being entertainers or tax collectors, for a few turns, to deal with morale or cashflow problems while a corrective Wonder is being built... then once it's done I'm free to blithely make it 100% Science again, if I've got such a max/min playing style at the time...) 17:20, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

Great(!) Made a unanimous decision to make the change I intended (the "Fuggit!"-labelled edit), after apparently no-one else having an opinion about the need to switch the focus round, and then quickly a set of other edits occur that don't even revert things back (which I wouldn't have minded). Anyway, don't want to cause an Edit War by reverting/de-reverting/etc, so I'm leaving the following here for your combined consideration.

Mr (or Ms) who "removed the comment about (...) the Mars Mission". You didn't remove anything explicitly about Mars, as I'd already removed that reference and re-edited that section (check what I did in http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=1232:_Realistic_Criteria&diff=prev&oldid=42725) and of all the edits I made , I actually quite liked that bit of rare non-waffling. I propose we re-add text similar to:

The comic is, at its core, looking at the idea that space exploration is something we can ill-afford to fund whilst there are so many Earth-based issues that need to be addressed.

It's indicating White-Hat's views, and is neutral about whether this is a sound idea or not. (The rest is maybe more forceful, as I'm personally definitely not an "Earth-only" person, although I'm not extreme in the other direction either so hopefully created balance.)

My thanks to the typo-corrector (I'm always mistyping "lieu", it seems). Although "spaceborne" seems more correct to me than the hyphenated version. "Space-born", yes (born of space, e.g. a person of said heritage), but "airborne" is a word in my dictionary, so... Anyway, I've no excuse when I used "seem" instead of "seam" as the root of another word.

Dgbrt: Good reduction of my waffle (surrounding my oblique reference to Teflon), but I'm saddened to lose the general (if not always proven) examples and your edit perhaps goes explicitly pro-Space more than I'd intended. Still, it's shorter and more readable. I don't understand the criteria for "Trivia" enough to understand if that'd be a more suitable locale for what was removed. (But suspect it wouldn't be for the purely hypothetical asteroid-avoiding scenario.)

And I know this is potentially a hot-topic. Hence why I used loads of words to try to indicate that it is a hot-topic, that almost everyone could have an opinion about. (Even exclusing the totally uninformed, "for every expert there's an equal and opposite expert", so I tried to make sure everybody understood why they might find the explanation neither too pro-Space or too anti-space, depending on their defauly stance.) But for now I shall leave it as is. 15:58, 2 July 2013 (UTC)

Uhhh, who should (or would) read all this?
I'm trying to keep it simple, but all important details must be shown. That's why this article is still incomplete.--Dgbrt (talk) 16:29, 2 July 2013 (UTC)
I apologize for the issues. I assume what happened was that we were both editing at the same time. When tried to submit and was prompted to update. I skimmed the update too quickly and only seen the "The comic is, at its core" start of your paragraph and assumed it was the "Mars Mission" paragraph and thus deleted it. I have no issues with you adding the "The comic is, at its core, looking at the idea that space exploration.." initial paragraph and you will not be starting an editing war. -- 15:56, 3 July 2013 (UTC) Mike Powers
Chaos at the explain section

Please try to add your content in a proper way, people will NOT read this chaos. But even if they do, they still do not understand what you're talking about. At this moment this explain is chaos and so it is incomplete.--Dgbrt (talk) 21:41, 2 July 2013 (UTC)

Ok, chaos indeed, and I don't pretend to understand the edit-history progression. (When did the Mars Mission get specifically reintroduced? Perhaps I don't care.) How about something quite brief like...

White Hat is suggesting that the exploration of space and other planets is a luxury that we should not yet be dedicating resources to when there are so many other things for which the resources could apparently be similarly used.
Cueball agrees, possibly disingenuously, then asks how long it would be for a society purely focussed upon Earth-problem solutions to implement the necessary answers, allowing us to renew spending on the aforementioned luxuries without cause for complaint.  The Title Text errs towards the lengthier period, almost certainly tongue in cheek regarding the ease of such an approach.
It is probably a simplistic point of view that funding and work currently dedicated to the space sciences are fully transferable away from this area and towards creating a utopian ideal on Earth, on a whim.  It also unfairly discounts the very real possibility that large tracts of research and practical engineering might indeed have useful Earthly applications, but without the driver of 'space' may never be undertaken in the first place.

Then perhaps a final paragraph about Real Life not being a game where, turn by turn, the entire scientific apparatus can be diverted from one 'tech tree' target to another without causing stumbling blocks. And that we don't even have a well-defined Tech Tree, and sideways propogation of ideas is rife. Purely non-space research is as self-destructive to advancement as much as single-mindedly purely pursuing its space-targetted counterpart to the exception of environmental protection, food production, etc.

Paragraphs 1 and 2 of this suggestion explain the obvious direct content of the comic. Paragraph 3 deals with the issue raised (I'm very much assuming Cueball and the Title Text are being as sarcastic as White Hat is being earnest). Anything else could be considered mere opinion, but perhaps can still be kept neutral. But someone else might have better wording for all of it. 22:56, 2 July 2013 (UTC)

Do What Works

This is my first post, so I'm not sure if it's appropriate to discuss the underlying theme. If not, please let me know. Anyway . . .

Historically, for my ancestors at least, exploration and expansion to new frontiers did a lot more to solve their problems than any government programs. They came to America during the potato famine, climbed into a covered wagon and headed west.

From Apollo 15 astronaut Alfred F.Worden's poem, "Apollo Lost":

Say to me we need the money
Just to feed the poor,
And I say, 'Gee that's funny,
It's for them that we explore.'

Say to me we should be fighting,
Say to me the world's at war.
And I say we are uniting
People tired of war and more.

CoderLass (talk) 20:53, 10 July 2013 (UTC)

I apologize if I have made the new explanation too pro-space. But I believe it should be, as Randall is. Great poem, by the way. 22:48, 7 February 2014 (UTC)

Many thanks for your edit, but humans are still also animals. So I did remove a few statements. The incomplete tag is also removed. --Dgbrt (talk) 14:41, 8 February 2014 (UTC)
You removed the reason why space exploration is especially important? Good job. 21:59, 8 February 2014 (UTC)

Coincidentally, a lot of things that are used in day-to-day life now were actually originally developed for space travel or made possible by space travel, such as GPS, solar energy or the ability to freeze dry food. Tharkon (talk) 00:04, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

I always felt Cueball was being sarcastic, pointing out the ridiculousness of White Hat's statement.

This comic hits a little differently in 2021, when billionaires are spending enough money to prevent 37.5 million people from starving in order to enjoy four minutes in space. 10:49, 4 September 2021 (UTC)

Hear hear, well said! -- The Cat Lady (talk) 12:14, 7 October 2021 (UTC)