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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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arXiv
Both arXiv and archive.org are invaluable projects which, if they didn't exist, we would dismiss as obviously ridiculous and unworkable.
Title text: Both arXiv and archive.org are invaluable projects which, if they didn't exist, we would dismiss as obviously ridiculous and unworkable.

Explanation

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

ArXiv is a free online repository of electronic preprints of scientific papers in various fields, particularly in physics, math, and computer science. Scientists typically publish "preprint" versions of journal articles to arXiv, which are free to publish to and read. In this comic Megan remarks that academic journals must have a hard time getting by, since their primary revenue is from researchers who pay to publish articles and readers who pay for subscriptions. Her remark seems to assume that arXiv must be a recent development, perhaps similar to the sci-hub project which began in 2011. However, Ponytail informs her that the arXiv project has been around since the 1990s (1991 to be exact).

After a panel of Megan looking contemplative, she remarks that that does not make sense at all. After all, why would publishing companies be able to make money from something that is free online? Ponytail tries to stop her from freaking out, so that her outrage does not inform others about the current arrangement and thus ruin the system.

Ponytail expressing confusion about the continued existence of scientific journals previously happened in 2025: Peer Review.

The title text refers to another project that is invaluable for internet research, archive.org (link). It argues that these two projects are so useful, yet make so little economic sense, that, if they did not exist, we would dismiss them as ideas that would never be viable.

Transcript

Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Megan and Ponytail are standing together. Megan is talking to Ponytail.]
Megan: Wait, all the papers in your field are posted as free PDFs on ArXiv? That must be killing big science journals, since they charge such huge subscription/publication fees.
[Ponytail responds with her arms up.]
Ponytail: Nah, we've been doing it since the 90s and nobody seems to care.
[Megan contemplates, speechless.]
[Megan slightly raises her arms and Ponytail puts up a hand to shush her.]
Megan: That makes no sense at all!!
Ponytail: Shhh, you'll jinx it!



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