2177: Gastroenterology

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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"Mostly it means that I'm acutely aware that the kid one table over coughed as the server walked past with our food."
Title text: "Mostly it means that I'm acutely aware that the kid one table over coughed as the server walked past with our food."


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a GASTROENTEROLOGIST. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
Gastroenterology is the study of the normal function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver.

Antibiotics are substances that kill bacteria. They are very effective at treating bacterial infections, including in the gut; unfortunately, they can also kill the good gut bacteria. Probiotics are harmless or helpful bacteria which are sometimes used to replace the good bacteria killed by an antibiotic. This prevents re-infection and allows the natural gut microbiome to recover more effectively; comic 1471 was about the same theme. Probiotics are included in many foods, such as yogurt, and are marketed as having health benefits.

Antibiotics and probiotics are often used together during a treatment. Mixing them as in the comic, however, would just cause the antibiotic to kill the probiotic bacteria rather than causing an explosion. Explosive reactions between antibiotics and probiotics are highly unlikely. The probiotic + antibiotic = explosion may refer to annihilation, a reaction between particles and antiparticles, which produces large amounts of energy -- an explosion -- although one could not keep antiparticles (antimatter) in a jar touched by a person made up of particles (matter), and the explosion would happen upon mixing, not a short time later. Another possibility is that the sequence refers to a reaction between an acid and a base, which could cause an explosion if kept in a tightly sealed container like a water bottle and would additionally take a bit of time to occur, as in the explosion here.

In the last panel, Ponytail appears to be covering this action up by saying to Megan that her work is merely a lot of paperwork. Another explanation is that the explosion sequence is some kind of action fantasy on Ponytail's part and she is telling Megan the reality of her mundane job. A third explanation is that this is Megan's fantasy about gastroenterology and Ponytail is telling her what it is actually like.

In the title text, Ponytail adds that her work makes her aware of a child over-coughing as the server was bringing food at the restaurant table, exposing the food to possible germs that could cause a gastroenterological infection.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Ponytail, wearing a lab coat, and a guy wearing a scrubs hat rush in from the right side of the panel. Ponytail is holding a water bottle. There is a desk on the left of the panel with two jars.]
Hat guy: Hurry, they're right behind us!
[Zoom in on Ponytail, behind the desk, pouring the two smaller jars into the water bottle.]
An arrow points to the left jar: Probiotic
An arrow points to the right jar: Antibiotic
[Zoom out on Ponytail shaking the water bottle to mix the two substances.]
Shake Shake Shake
[Ponytail throws the water bottle toward the right side of the panel, at something off-screen.]
[Hat guy and Ponytail run toward the left side of the panel, as the water bottle explodes.]
[Megan and Ponytail sitting at a table, facing each other, having a meal.]
Megan: So what's gastroenterology like?
Ponytail: Pretty boring. Lotta paperwork.

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I hope they are not eating italian, you never know what might happen if pasta and antipasta meet. Arachrah (talk) 16:23, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Yea I figure this is a matter / anti-matter joke. Cgrimes85 (talk) 16:55, 17 July 2019 (UTC)
This antimatter explanation lacks the usual "punch" that I would expect from XKCD on a science joke. It's unsatisfying because the comic lacks any (other) reference to physics or space. My best guess is that it's a pun based on an alternate interpretation of the word "gastroenterology." Could some part of the word be re-used (or commonly used) in another, more explosive context? Could the explosion refer to methane production by the body? Or is it somehow a joke about a movie, or the general movie trope of making scientists into action heros? Jpaugh (talk) 14:41, 18 July 2019 (UTC)
It's playing on the general idea that mixing opposites often results in a violent reaction. Acid/Alkali or Matter/Antimatter. In a sense, probiotics and antibiotics are opposites - and in the (evidently very boring) world of gastroenterology - this is about as exciting at it gets. Obviously, the actual reaction between such things would be very slow and exceedingly un-exciting. SteveBaker (talk) 13:58, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

Current transcript says "Cueball" is the second character in the first and fifth panels. I don't think that's usually how it's done for a character wearing a hat, so I was thinking he should instead be named something like "Beanie Guy" or similar. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 17:21, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I think the hat looks like a surgical scrub cap[1]. Rtanenbaum (talk) 22:45, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Saying the final panel is a lie is just one possibility. The 5th panel below can potentially mean the "reality", as opposed to the 4 panels above that's a fantasy/joke. Almost all jobs have this "what people think I do" and "what I really do" gap. Another possibility: I thought I saw in old cop/secret agent movies a common joke is when a character gets into a lot of action - and thus cause a lot of trouble - that person will need to write a lot of paperwork for the damage caused. Then the character will say "this job is boring. Lots of paperwork." Sorry I can't find an example right now but I seemed to remember seeing the joke multiple times.

It's hard to appreciate gastroenterology jokes if you've ever had a colonoscopy.Barmar (talk) 17:44, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I disagree, & I'm holding back a bunch of bad puns about it. ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:02, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I see a thematic connection with the comic about appendicitis treatment, although this could be about an unrelated ailment. 18:01, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Current explanation says 'over-coughing'. What's that? a kid one table over, coughed. 10:22, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

Fixed! (Did you know they just hand out logins?) Jpaugh (talk) 14:53, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

"Another possibility is that the sequence refers to a reaction between an acid and a base," WHAT? No. They're specifically labeled! Where did "acid and base" even come from? Why not "Yin and Yang" or "White meat and dark meat"?? 10:46, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

I think the editor meant that the sequence is comically pretending that the mixing of probiotics and antibiotics gives a similar explosive effect to an acid/base reaction (or a matter/antimatter reaction) - they're not saying that that's literally what's happening. They're explaining the possible inspiration behind the cartoon logic. Hawthorn (talk)
And now the explanation covers that nicely. Well done. 09:49, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

It seems possible that the fantasy as a whole is a reference to a scene in the series Breaking Bad, in which Walter White substitutes fulminate of mercury for crystal meth, then uses it to cause a(n unrealistically large) explosion in the office of a rival. However, similar scenes can be found in earlier shows and films (e.g., the show MacGyver has several instance of such), so it may not be a reference to this specific one. 17:29, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

Any take on the meaning of the abundance of white space in the lower left part of the comic? Spongebob (talk) 15:17, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

My take is that it's a narrative device: the white space in which nothing is happening represents the two people just quietly eating, in stark contrast to the action-packed scene above. Hawthorn (talk) 19:46, 18 July 2019 (UTC)
It's almost as if the first row of frames is in a "think balloon" within the last frame. SteveBaker (talk) 13:58, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

My preferred interpretation is that Ponytail is to Gastroenterology what Indiana Jones is to Archeology... A usually boring field but Ponytail's / Indiana's versions are secretly more exciting. :) And Ponytail is keeping the exciting part to herself, just sharing the standard part. (Actually, now that I write that, I wonder if that's what Randall was going for) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:43, 20 July 2019 (UTC)

In a sealed container prebiotics and probiotics would generate CO2 and explode, although it would take a while and likely not be a large explosion. As said antibiotics would likely just kill the probiotics.BlakeFelix (talk) 13:45, 22 July 2019 (UTC)

I think you'll find Gastroenterology is the study of the words used to describe the high quality food found in a moth's stomach :-) --OliReading (talk) 12:28, 30 July 2019 (UTC)