2475: Health Drink

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Health Drink
You'd need to keep track of so many people! Would you use, like, Excel or something? Far too fancy for a simple country nanoenzyme developer like me.
Title text: You'd need to keep track of so many people! Would you use, like, Excel or something? Far too fancy for a simple country nanoenzyme developer like me.


This comic pokes fun at health fads, alternative medicine and the like. It points out that many such products will go out of their way to market themselves as legitimate and cutting-edge by using impressive-sounding scientific terms, yet fail to perform even the most basic part of actual science: running a randomized controlled trial to find out if the drink actually helps fight infections. When Cueball points this out, White Hat reacts as though this process is highly advanced and unreasonable, which clearly demonstrates that his product is either nonsensical or an active scam (or both).

Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. For example, certain proteins aid digestion by breaking down large molecules. Every cell of the human body produces lots of enzymes; the suggestion that people may be lacking them is frequently used as a basis to peddle pseudoscientific products. Nanoenzymes are synthetic materials that perform similar functions to ordinary enzymes; although they may be useful for treating specific diseases and conditions, the average person will probably not find them beneficial. Amino acids are the chemicals that make up proteins, and therefore all natural enzymes are made from amino acids anyway. White Hat's claim use of the term is not particularly explanatory and is likely used to impress and bewilder his audience, so that they are more likely to buy the product.

The comic may reference the FDA's decision three days earlier to approve a drug for Alzheimer treatment, without direct evidence of efficacy.

The title text further showcases White Hat's incompetence. First, he suggests keeping track of large numbers of people in a clinical trial by storing their data in Microsoft Excel, a popular spreadsheet application. Despite the insistence of many companies and government agencies throughout the years, Excel is not a database, and it should not be used to store other people's personal and medical information. He then complains that Excel is too "fancy", and then calls himself a "simple country nanoenzyme developer" — this is a parody of the idiom "simple country lawyer," a trained professional who pretends to be an average joe to garner sympathy. Nanomaterials are developed using specialized equipment in laboratories by people who are extremely well-versed in science; the notion of comparing one of these scientists to a 'simple country' anything is ludicrous, and the idea that they would find Excel daunting and overcomplicated is equally so. It's ironic that the person with the seemingly very complicated work and production would be unable to perform the simple procedures which Cueball has suggested in order to make his claims rigorous and supported with evidence. In this, White Hat is demonstrating his complete incompetence and lack of knowledge into what his product actually does.


[White Hat holding a bottle and standing next to Cueball]
White Hat: My new health drink is packed with amino acid nanoenzymes that I designed to train your immune system to fight infections!
Cueball: Can you give it to some people and see if they get sick less often?
White Hat: Whoa, that sounds way too complicated.

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Actually, there would be quite a lot of scientists, experts in their fields, which may have trouble using excel or think excel is good way to store data. However, White Hat likely isn't scientist, and "nanoenzymes" may actually be normal enzymes just with cooler name suggesting nanotechnology, because, well, they have the right size for that. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:15, 16 June 2021 (UTC)

Nanoenzymes are inorganic nanoparticles (typically many thousands of Daltons) with artificial catalytic enzymes stuck on their surface. I don't think they're ever administered by ingestion. And as pertains to the comic, they are impossible to engineer without a solid working familiarity with experimental design. 09:54, 16 June 2021 (UTC)

I can think of a few famous medicines being promoted by government right now with insufficient testing data.Seebert (talk) 13:00, 16 June 2021 (UTC)

Probably not worth even a Trivia entry but, w.r.t Excel, my first thought about the Excel mention was this thing from last year: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-54423988 15:56, 16 June 2021 (UTC)

It should probably be noted your body is unlikely to absorb nanoenzymes through the digestive tract. Even regular enzymes or polypeptides not really absorbed intact through the digestive system. Even if the nanoenzymes could train the immune system, they would be of little value in a health drink. Finally, anything mucking with the immune system should probably go through the healthcare system, not a health drink. 14:55, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

My interpretation is that the nucleic acid nanoenzymes are viral. With or without a capsid shell (some can work that way, and in concentrated amounts there may be some flock-like protection from the environment) and other helper-proteins (not always necessary, if the D/RNA exposes the right key elements from its packing to create enzymish active sites), what you've basically got there is a whole lot of virus... erm, viruses/viri/viroxen... Which of course trains your immune system to handle a virus, or you'll die trying. 12:09, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
The details of what nanoenzymes actually are is irrelevant to the point here, it's just meant as an example of the fancy sounding claims on all sorts of the many supplement products on the market that then claim they help the immune system or other generalized health benefits, but have not experiments or testing done to actually back up or their claims, and make no effort to do so.-- 23:18, 29 June 2021 (UTC)

Actually what Cueball proposes does not even meet the requirements of a randomized controlled trial, he seems to be suggesting an exploratory field test; which is much less rigourous than a randomised controlled trial. Of course even that is too much for white hat. 15:06, 24 June 2021 (UTC)