2683: Fan Theories

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Fan Theories
The universe fandom is great. Such sweet and enthusiastic people.
Title text: The universe fandom is great. Such sweet and enthusiastic people.


This is another comic on How to annoy people. Here Cueball annoys Megan, a Scientist, by referring to the hypotheses that there are subsurface oceans on some of Jupiter's Moons, as "fan theories".

A fan theory is an unofficial hypothesis about a fictional work from enthusiasts instead of the official authors. Fan theories may include non-canonical background information for, or continuations of, official narratives. Since humanity is not the "author" of the universe, all thoughts and writings on the nature of the universe are, almost by definition, non-canonical fan ideas. Fan theories have been referenced before in comic 1401: New.

In this comic, Cueball refers to scientific hypotheses as "fan theories." Scientists might consider this as undervaluing their work, because scientific hypotheses are usually the result of much more serious research than the authorship of fiction. Charismatic cranks often obtain undeserved recognition for supposedly scientific hypotheses, so being lumped in with charlatans or pseudoscientists could be perceived as insensitive to rigorous scientists. Once again, Randall has attempted to devise a new way to annoy scientists. However, many if not most professional scientists are aware of similarities between hypotheses pertaining to fiction and non-fiction.

By referring to rigorous scientific studies as "fan theories" Randall is also elevating the experience of fandom. Though they are typically not supported by research institutions, tenured faculty positions, or grant funding, fandom communities often demonstrate a high degree of skill in literary criticism including evidence gathering, philosophical interpretation, and generative writing. This continues the trend of building connections between disciplines in STEM, social science, and the humanities.

This comic appeared a few days after renewed suggestions that life may exist within one of Saturn's moons.

The title text may be facetious, having to do with unwelcoming or inconsiderate fandoms (or scientists who are annoyed at being called "fans of the universe"), or it could be sincere.


[Ponytail, Cueball, White Hat, and Megan standing in a line. Cueball has his hand raised, and Megan has hands balled into fists, exasperated.]
Cueball: But according to leading fan theories, Jupiter's moons may harbor subsurface oceans.
Megan: Will you please stop calling them that?
[Caption below the panel:]
How to annoy scientists: refer to all hypotheses as "fan theories"

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To me, the title text seems to be referring to the opposite kind of fandom compared to what the current explanation says. 06:54, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

Given the constant stream of manchildren vandalizing this, could an admin please restrict editing access to logged in users? 07:50, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

You mean the xkcd fandom? Fephisto (talk) 16:45, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

I am 100% behind calling hypotheses 'fan theories'. Fephisto (talk) 16:45, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

To the person who inserted the {{Citation needed}} initially unsuccessfully by [[citation needed]], and complained in their edit summaries that no other place uses our formatting (of {{}}s)... That's how Wikipedia implements it (or at least the actual Citation Needed... see below) and [[]]s/[]s are for more general hyperlinking (internal and external). You aren't thinking of some BBCode plugin for forums, are you? They will use [tags] and [tag][/tag], and I could imagine a popular tweak to the tag-handler to not require writing [sup][[u][color=#whatever]citation needed[/color][/u]][/sup], or similar, every time someone wanted to parody (or properly apply?) the meme...
...although, reading your intention, did you instead intend to use the explainxkcd version that is {{Actual citation needed}}? I can imagine another editor removing it, anyway, but I just moved it the more accepted side of the punctuation. 18:41, 11 October 2022 (UTC)

I think this comic might also be a comment on the following phenomenom: a lot of spectacular ideas that were once regarded as not really significant, "fringe", or even dubious by the mainstream scientific community two or three decades ago are now seriously pursued by science - mostly because the kids whose imagination was fired up by those ideas have now grown into scientists themselves, who can decide on their own what things to research. The idea that life might exist in the Europa ocean is a prime example for this: It was once mainly science fiction, popularized by Arthur C. Clarke in his 2010 and 2061 odyssey novels, but has since become a serious research subject. Similar things might be said about the time, energy and money that is nowadays devoted to SETI or to the search for primitive life on Mars. Scientists in the 60s and 70s would have probably fallen out of their chairs in shock if they knew. (note that I am all in favour of looking for aliens, but scientists in the 60s and 70s were much more interested in planetary geology and stuff like that). -- 09:01, 12 October 2022 (UTC)

The inclusion of Kuhn's work as part of the explanation seems odd. This may be because I don't know his work and thus don't see how this is connected to the comic and especially how merely mentioning it actually helps explaining the comic. I removed that part unless someone comes up with some actual explanation why this is relevant. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 11:12, 12 October 2022 (UTC)

Kuhn does discuss paradigms as effectively similar to my simple understanding of fan theories, but I don't understand what the "franchise" terminology means. I can't imagine it would make much of a difference. I guess the point was most professional scientists wouldn't be particularly annoyed by the comparison, because it's not novel or really unusual as a concept. 19:51, 12 October 2022 (UTC)

this suggests a "how to annoy" category w/ 2036 and 2654 (and possibly 2118, though the "expert shouting at cueball" part is absent) -- 13:54, 12 October 2022 (UTC)

What does "franchise with an established fandom" mean? Could you guys please try to use a relatively simple vocabulary and define necessary jargon or specialized language, such as with link(s)? 19:46, 12 October 2022 (UTC)

It feels like the current explanation is missing a clear exposition of the key comparison between scientific research and fan theorising - that they both (a) start from a canonical body of work, (b) build on top of that with experimental theses that are then 'peer tested', and (c) may then in time end up becoming a part of the canon themselves. I can't quite work that up into a form that would flow nicely in the explanation, though. 13:45, 13 October 2022 (UTC)

By referring to scientists as fans, could Cueball be suggesting an author exists? 14:45, 13 October 2022 (UTC)

God? (I'm not intending to ignite a theological debate here) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:26, 14 October 2022 (UTC)
God? (I'm intending to ignite a theological debate here) [[User:|User:]] ([[User talk:|talk]]) 11:59, 14 October 2022 (UTC)

Does anyone else think that the astronomer in the the comic looks more like Danish than Megan? I guess her attitude and demeanor is more akin to a standard Megan, but idk. 15:55, 13 February 2023 (UTC)~ 3:55, 13 Feb 2023 (UTC)

Sorry if I'm a bit late, but I'd like to apologise on behalf of the "furry" vandals. My Species Doth Protest Too Much. I don't believe furries are "better than the rest of humanity combined." Your favorite aura doggo (talk) 03:59, 6 May 2023 (UTC)

Is there any fandom other than the universe fandom that makes fan theories that directly contradict the canon? (talk) 04:10, 30 July 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think that's the norm. There's usually something that a fan disagrees with that official canon says, when they write their own version. Whether it's Snape/Potter slash (or just about any other fan-shipping event, slash or otherwise) or whether the vast majority of Gravity was an anoxic dream sequence (not just the bit where she snaps out of it, but potentially everything from the very first crisis onwards) or, my own personal fanon, that the Patrician in The Colour Of Magic was Vetinari (through Pterry said otherwise, and normally I'd happily take that as gospel). The fan-fiction must turn upon something not in the source, or it'd just be a retelling, and often it's something reinterpretted in order to support the particular conceit of the fan-scenario. Could be minor or major; significant diversion from the 'authorised' material or just a whole undocumented/unaccounted-for side-adventure; something other fans would support or such a twisted take on things that it's sidelined by others. But contradictions are easy. Perhaps harder in some canons, where self-contradictions are already muddying the waters, ironically. 15:14, 30 July 2023 (UTC)