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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Data Error
Cyanobacteria wiped out nearly all life on Earth once before, and they can do it again!
Title text: Cyanobacteria wiped out nearly all life on Earth once before, and they can do it again!


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by some anomolous perfectly normal algae. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

Megan is frustrated that a data error invalidates her research, which was ready for publication. Black Hat suggests two options: redo her analysis and share the correct results, trying to extract some value from the research; or, as our classic classhole says, she should destroy the evidence, build a superweapon and dominate the world. She seems excited about this idea, and proclaims that people should fear her algae, which would probably be her superweapon, but then she remembers that her first research was incorrect because of the data error, so they are merely normal algae.

In fact, destroying the evidence, hiding the error and publishing the wrong results as if they were right is what a dishonest scientist would do in such a situation. This is what a lot of readers would expect a dishonest character as Black Hat to suggest in panels two and three. However, the unexpected turn in mid of last panel changes leaves scientific misconduct to go to pure supervillain.

The title text refers to the Great Oxidation Event, when prokaryotic photosynthetic organisms built up oxygen in Earth's atmosphere for the first time and most organisms, which weren't adapted to oxygen, went extinct. That suggests that algae may be somehow dangerous - although cyanobacteria, which are colloquially referred to as "blue-green algae", are not considered to be true algae by many scientists, who restrict the term to eukaryotes.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Black Hat and Megan stand facing each other.]
Megan: I can't believe this data error invalidates a year and a half of my research.
Megan: I was about to publish.

[:Black Hat and Megan stand facing each other. Black Hat has his hands raised slightly]

Black Hat: Don't panic. You have two options.
Megan: Yeah?
[Closeup shot of Black Hat holding one hand up.]
Black Hat: 1) Redo your analysis and share whatever results you can, whether positive or negative. It's disappointing, but these things happen.
[Zoom out on Black Hat and Megan. Black Hat has closed his fist. Megan holds her arms up in the air.]
Black Hat: 2) Destroy the evidence. Use your materials and research methods to build a superweapon. Conquer Earth and rule with an iron fist.
Megan: Tremble before my anomalously productive algae!
Megan: Except the anomaly was an artifact.
Megan: Tremble before my normal algae!

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