2714: Cold Complaints

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Cold Complaints
Our investigation into whining-based remedies became the first study to be halted by the IRB on the grounds that the treatment group was 'too annoying.'
Title text: Our investigation into whining-based remedies became the first study to be halted by the IRB on the grounds that the treatment group was 'too annoying.'


When people are ill, they will often complain about the symptoms that they're suffering from. A common stereotype is that men will revert to infantile behavior when miserably sick. This can be annoying to the people around them, but they typically tolerate such behavior out of compassion. The joke in this comic is that Hairy spoke via a telehealth appointment to Ponytail, a medical professional who explicitly advised him to act out, since his condition has no effective medical treatment. He takes her advice to "act like you're the first person ever to have a cold" literally, stating it specifically when his companion asks about it. Given xkcd's humor in the past, this may be supposed to trick the cold virus into thinking that it has not had a lot of time to evolve to infect human cells effectively so that it does not infect Hairy's cells as effectively.

This comic was published during a "tripledemic" in the U.S., involving COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, a frequent cause of common colds) infections, the latter of which do not have readily available effective treatments, other than to wait them out with plenty of rest and fluids (provided that symptoms do not require hospitalization). It expounds on the finding that "talking about troublesome events, including events with which one is dissatisfied, may ... result in improved physiological health." (Kowalski, R.M. (2002) "Whining, griping, and complaining: positivity in the negativity" Journal of Clinical Psychology 58(9):1023–35.)

The title text describes a similar study, but where the institutional review board (IRB) halted the study because the participants were too annoying. This is ironic since they were supposed to whine annoyingly for the sake of the experiment. IRBs are expected to review the ethics of a research project, with particular attention paid to the well-being of the subjects. Whining is not usually considered dangerous,[citation needed] but in this case it was presumably so intolerable to the Board (or perhaps the control group, who were presumably forbidden from whining while sick) that they had to put a stop to it.


[Hairy sitting on a chair in front of a computer screen, with unkempt hair, and a line of figurative bubbles emerge from the back of his head to indicate a muzzy feeling in his head. There is an image of Ponytail on the screen, speaking.]
Ponytail: Well, it's not COVID or flu. Probably one of the other viruses.
Hairy: Ughh
[A zoomed out version of the image, Ponytail cannot be seen]
Ponytail: There's not much you can do to speed up recovery other than rest, hydrate, and whine and complain and be a gigantic baby about it.
[Same as previous panel]
Hairy: Whine and complain?
Ponytail: Yeah. You need to act like you're the first person ever to have a cold.
[Hairy lying on a couch wrapped in a blanket, with a lot of paper tissues around]
Off-screen voice: Are you sure that's what she said?
Hairy: Unbelievable. Here I am, the only person ever to feel bad, and you're doubting me?

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That study sounds like something that would win an Ig Nobel Prize. But the 2002 prize in medicine went to "Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture". Barmar (talk) 20:37, 21 December 2022 (UTC)

Also common cold cannot really be cured, just wait and see. http://www.picturequotes.com/proper-treatment-will-cure-a-cold-in-seven-days-but-left-to-itself-a-cold-will-hang-on-for-a-week-quote-272191 Vdm (talk) 20:49, 21 December 2022 (UTC)

Are we sure that's the actual explanation? I thought the panels we see of the telemedicine are fibs to explain why Harry is acting this way. As in, he's pretending a medical professional told him to act like this. 21:59, 21 December 2022 (UTC)

The default assumption is that anything depicted, outside of things explicitly called out by e.g. thought/dream bubbles, actually happened in XKCD World. Plus, it would lose a lot of the humour if it were just a fiction he has made up. 14:22, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Can the citation be moved to a ref tag instead of just Being There? on a related note, why is the 58 bolded? 22:32, 21 December 2022 (UTC) Bumpf (shh)

We usually don't bother with the cite and just use numbered links, especially in cases like this where the full cite is on the first page of the link. I'll change it. Journal volume numbers are written in bold in APA style. 00:23, 22 December 2022 (UTC)
In this case I prefer the full cite showing the counterintuitive quote comes from a pertinent peer-reviewed journal. 03:38, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

I know far too many people who already follow this course of treatment.  And not just for viruses, either. RAGBRAIvet (talk) 23:59, 21 December 2022 (UTC)

I've tried relatively polite requests such as "I want to be alone" and "Go away, you are not wanted here". But women are lacking in basic communication and social skills, so you have to resort increasingly infantile levels of behavior in an attempt to communicate. 16:58, 23 December 2022 (UTC)

Please don't (ab)use this discussion to generalise your dissatisfaction with your own experience into an attack against all women. 20:47, 23 December 2022 (UTC)

Is the accepted explanation for this comic that it is... mocking people who ask for sympathy or help when unwell for being "big babies"? That seems uncomfortably close to, say, making fun of people who seek treatment for mental illness... I understand that there is a disproportionate level of complaint relative to minor discomfort that is ridiculous and maybe even funny, but that doesn't seem to have been established here. I think we should emphasize that, "Hey, it's perfectly fine and even healthy to talk about the disappointment of feeling shitty, but don't take it to this extreme" - even if the original comic arguably doesn't do so. Notanotherusername (talk) 03:01, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

I feel like the Journal of Clinical Psychology quote fulfills that purpose somewhat. Kudos to whomever found it.

(User:TehEpikXkcdsplainer)Are we sure that this character is Hairy? His hair is kind of scarce and kind of looks like it's connected to his head like Bart Simpson. (PST) 4:29 December 22

My first thoughts were that it was a "ruffled" Cueball/Rob, sphysically/sartorially grizzled by his symptoms. All depends on whether Cueball is actually bald (at least since the days of "Kid Cueball", where the time-linked character has been depicted as moderately hairy), or merely that his hair is so immaculate (normally!) that it doesn't really show as a feature. But hard to imagine that his sick-bed bed-hair is the only time it ever ruffles into view, given other scenarios he's been in.
So my second thoughts were "Yeah, some kind of Hairy works for me", if that's what the early editors decided, at least until I could remember any closer match from the xkcd pantheon. Which I still haven't. But watch this space, or suggest your own precursor archetype if you have your own inspirational moment. 01:42, 23 December 2022 (UTC)

Swearing has been shown to be effective in pain management. Maybe there's some precedent here for the whining response too.

Uhhhhh, "tripledemic"? This is the first I hear there's anything going on besides Covid and normal ordinary Flu Season (which does not a pandemic make, as it's yearly and no measures are usually taken other than flu shots and trying to be clean). I strongly question this claim. NiceGuy1 (talk) 07:13, 1 January 2023 (UTC)

That may be a neologism, but the recent concerns have been in (UK) news for a while, even back before it was this season's thing. i.e., upon lockdowns being relaxed, fears that everything that wasn't previously circulating so much (beyond just the target Covid) would get a foothold into the now slightly more naïve population (immunologically and in a wreckless 'return to socialising') and combine problems. Mostly, we didn't get that before now. Though a current surge with Strep-A deaths in children has been highlighted over the last month or so, and flu-season seems to have been an earlier thing than usual.
I'm not sure if this supports the idea (observer-effect, etc), but it seems to be both a realistic fear and a somewhat realised one... at least around these parts. 15:21, 1 January 2023 (UTC)

I'm very surprised with the shown explanation. I'm sure that the right one is what said: the doctor did not tell him to act that way. That's why the off-panel person doubts the veracity of it: because it's absurd. I disagree with's "it would lose a lot of the humour if it were just a fiction he has made up"; I find it funnier that the guy is pretending that the doctor told him to whine and complain like a baby as part of his recovery plan. -- 21:33, 27 February 2023 (UTC)


Some of them are re-uploading the comic image - if there's something that you can't see in the edit history, make sure File:cold_complaints_2x.png is OK. Megan (talk) 04:21, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Also check Special:RecentChanges during any string of vandalism, because e.g. 591, 2222, and 2713 are currently also under attack. Liv2splain (talk) 04:27, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Some 2 year old appears to have gotten access to a computer and is posting images of themselves in place of the comic. Attempting to undo. 05:28, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

We're currently actively under attack by CobsonTheGemson. I don't know if any admins will be on for a while, but I've tried to revert the 2x image and that didn't work, so I've created a new copy. I don't know why it's 2x in the first place so... Eelitee (talk) 05:47, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Your reverts work even when they don't appear to. Liv2splain (talk) 05:50, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Alright, it looks like they aren't a bot. I think I'm going to change a little to make it clearer. Sorry for inconvenience. Eelitee (talk) 05:51, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

holy schizo CobsonTheGemson (talk) 05:53, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

haha knew it~~ Eelitee (talk) 05:55, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

I find it amusing, but also kind of sad, that there are people who put in effort just to vandalize something like ExplainXKCD 05:58, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Of all the vandalism, I found [1] to be the most thought-provoking and meritorious. Liv2splain (talk) 09:02, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

I got quite the surprise when I decided to visit the wiki, so I made an account and tried to help out as best as I could. Right now it seems mostly clear now at the time of posting. Neerti (talk) 09:04, 22 December 2022 (UTC)

Good work! You're so much faster than me. The only thing I can't figure out is the weird colored image behind MediaWiki:Tagline which I'm sure wasn't what it is now, and definitely was vandalized into a blue image, so I guess it got reverted to the wrong version. Liv2splain (talk) 09:47, 22 December 2022 (UTC)
I'm kinda stumped too. Only thing that comes to mind is that some css got edited but if so I'm not sure where it'd be or if it can be edited by users (I hope not). Neerti (talk) 10:02, 22 December 2022 (UTC)
It's definitely an image, because my browser still has the cached vandalized version which went away (in incognito mode) during when we were both reverting images. Liv2splain (talk) 10:34, 22 December 2022 (UTC)
Fixed now. I guess someone figured out which cache to purge. Liv2splain (talk) 11:32, 22 December 2022 (UTC)