2894: Research Account

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Research Account


Cueball has a longstanding craving to win online arguments and to prioritize these arguments (see 386: Duty Calls, one of Randall's viral comics). In the comic he is filling out a form to register for a research account. Such accounts are typically intended for people doing serious work in the relevant field, who need access to the materials provided to support that work. Cueball, however, has filled out “other/none” for institution, and “to win an argument with someone in a group chat” for “reason for requesting access to our datasets”, making it clear that his interest is both petty and personal. While this may be honest, it doesn't match the assumed purpose, and he may be worried that it might mean that his registration would be rejected or subsequently cancelled. So he then selects all and deletes his previous justification, replacing it with “independent research”, which is an accurate, if generic, explanation. Randall is undoubtedly familiar with such registration forms from doing background research for xkcd and What If?.

In the title text, he says that his research focuses on “extreme pettiness and unwillingness to let anything go” (in all caps), further reinforcing the reason that he is doing this solely to win an argument. It is possible this is a pun on different meanings of the word "focus" - while the question about the focus of one's research is typically about the subject matter they are researching (raft building in fire ants, etc), Cueball appears to be writing about what drives his desire to do research. Similarly, Cueball is not doing research INTO pettiness, but rather is focusing entirely on his pettiness as his main reason to perform research and achieve his goals. Of course, there is a focused area of research related to individuals who obsessively pursue matters disproportionately to their severity, who are known as querulants.

It is not uncommon for online forms to include fields like these, where it's unclear what, if anything, will be done with the input, and therefore how much it matters what is entered. It's unlikely that anyone would have the capacity to review all the freetext answers submitted, and in any case, by the time they did so, Cueball would presumably have already accessed the materials he wanted.


[Cueball sits at a desk, typing at his laptop computer.]
[Above him, there is a box indicating his computer screen.]
[Caption above screen:] Application for research account
[Under the caption, there is a panel, representing the computer screen; in the panel: (cut off from above) "Institution: Other/none", where the option has been selected from a drop-down menu. Under that is written "Reason for requesting access to our datasets:", under which is a comment field where "To win an argument with someone in a group chat" has been written. Under that, two long bubbles containing the words "Select all" and "Delete" separate another panel, with a panel featuring the comment field with "Independent research" written. The cursor can still be seen blinking.]
[Caption below the comic panel:]
I never know how honest to be on these forms.

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wasn't there a whatif that caused Randal to temporally loose the access to Wolfram Alpha? 19:40, 14 February 2024 (UTC)

It was the what if about balloons Anonymouscript (talk) 02:02, 15 February 2024 (UTC)

Although Cueball is often considered to be Randall's alter ego in the comics, when writing explanations we refer to the character. Barmar (talk) 20:16, 14 February 2024 (UTC)

I wanted to add something to the explanation saying that he's overthinking, and it probably doesn't matter what you write in the justification, since it's unlikely that anyone actually reads them. But I don't actually know this. If anyone knows what goes on behind the scenes at research institutions, add something. Barmar (talk) 20:23, 14 February 2024 (UTC)

That's my impression (it's very like an account-creation process, supplying free-text to be reviewed at leisure only after attaching the user to a UID with no more verification other than "click on this emailed link to confirm this is your contact details", rather than an application which can be denied or blackballed). But I don't delve into (or control) particularly privileged data-sources where it could be far more strict (yet not so much that it can't be handled by an easy to access web-form), so would also be interested in hearing the facts-of-life from beyond the more open-data side of things. 22:32, 14 February 2024 (UTC)
I suspect the "Institution" dropdown might be used for some marketing statistics. No one has time to go through all the free-form inputs, although AI may change that. Barmar (talk) 22:58, 14 February 2024 (UTC)
If the database is being funded by a grant (governmental or philanthropic), the "institution" data are likely reported back to the funder, as a means of assessing whether the database is reaching the targeted audience, as may be specified on the proposal. Not too far from "marketing statistics", I reckon. A larger-than-expected number of non-institutional users, especially if the database is targeted to a small number of highly specialized users, could trigger more scrutiny of "reasons for" comments. Such scrutiny could have more direct impact on the grantee (imposition of more restricted access, or grant termination) than on the individual user. 05:53, 15 February 2024 (UTC)

I would say there's also some similarity to the classic 386: Duty Calls. -- 03:35, 15 February 2024 (UTC)

Definitely. I didn't even recognize it by the title, but I just pulled it up in reference to my own behavior patterns... Cueball looks like he's barely moved since then!
ProphetZarquon (talk) 01:56, 16 February 2024 (UTC)

Reading this comic, I feel attacked ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:30, 15 February 2024 (UTC)

You could probably get away with calling it "Combating public misinformation." 22:37, 15 February 2024 (UTC)
Duty calls...
ProphetZarquon (talk) 01:56, 16 February 2024 (UTC)
"Educational outreach". Might be funny with effectively "no organisation", if they have "university", "college", "high school", "elementary school", as actual choices. But, without seeing what the rest of the drop-down options are, might still be conceivably a valid reasoning to have "other" (get them wondering if you mean to educate a kindergarten class/a scout troop/a prison educational program/whatever). 02:55, 16 February 2024 (UTC)

The part about "spell focus" seems unnecessary and unrelated. I'm going to delete it if no one objects. Boochin (talk) 22:32, 16 February 2024 (UTC)