Collaborative SCIENCE: Responding to the Peer Review

xkcd'dScience is not done in a vacuum. Sure, there are experiments which require a vacuum but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the collaborative nature of science. In much the same way as comics, very few people do their own book without help from start to finish; very few people do their own research without help start to finish. Well iFanboy is nothing without it’s amazing and insightful community of contributing members and last week my article seemed to strike a chord with some of y’all (I’m a scientist, but I can still be folksy, right?). Today I will attempt to respond in-depth to some of that feedback. In the interest of full disclosure, the “in-depth” portion ended up taking way longer than anticipated and some comments may be used as the inception for future full columns with full accreditation of course (science is also big on giving props to those whom contribute) so if your particular comment is absent fret not, it may have a grander future ahead. Without further ado, here’s what I had to say on some of your comments.

Yeah, Wolverine's telomeres must be getting pretty frayed by now.

Posted by Aalbatr0ss on 08/19/10 at 11:36 AM

They're telomeres, baby!So I’ll start this by stating that I’m in no way a molecular biologist. It’s interesting and all, but at a certain scale the level of necessary abstraction required just causes me to kind of tune out. However, I put some time into figuring out telomeres (which I’m sure I’ve already learned and forgotten at least twice, judging by my transcripts). Telomeres are a section of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome. Basically every time your cells split they have to copy the DNA in that cell, this leads to degradation of the information (think of a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox) and telomeres are the buffer. Since they’re repetitive, you can remove a chunk without removing necessary information from the DNA. The question of how someone with negligible senescence, i.e. aging, telomere’s would actually look is a great question. Perhaps Wolverine is capable of replenishing his telomeres, which could be the source of most of his restorative properties. Or perhaps some other mechanism entirely is at work. I think much research could be done if Wolverine donated some cell cultures, that in all likelihood wouldn’t ever even perish, to a few labs so they could get to work. If he’s unwilling to donate they could pull an Amanda Waller and just collect his genetic material from the scene of his most recent tussle with Sabertooth. I say Sabertooth because another ultra-healer wouldn’t really contaminate the scene, right?

…Whenever you have some sort of violation of conservation of mass (madrox), energy (magma), or angular momentum (Cyclops' neck), you could almost always come up with the rationale that the equation is balanced in a parallel universe.  Its like the GUT of improbable superpower explanations…

Posted by Aalbatr0ss on 08/19/10 at 11:45 AM

There are worse explanations to powers than alternate dimensions, but it’s kind of a “super-powers of the gaps” argument, which is a concept I’m hesitant to explain further but if you know it you know it. This had been discussed on the podcast before, in the context of how many powers now are explained with nano-particles or quantum physics. Before that it was atomic radiation and supercomputers. We’ll continue to move the goalposts that define normal from superheroic as far as is necessary to keep it just out of reach of what we currently have access to in the real world. The question then becomes, and this is something that I think even real theoretical physicists might struggle with: Does the conversation of mass and energy apply across parallel yet capable of interacting universes and/or dimensions?

What say you, Aalbatr0ss?

What if Madrox's real power is that he creates a localized mathematics inversion field, causing E=Mc^2 to be E^2=Mc?  He would probably need a bigger number on the E side of the equation, but that might allow him to turn a smaller amount of energy into larger mass, like dupes.  However, it might mean that smaller bumps would lead to smaller dupes, and falling off of a building would lead to a Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man sized Madrox.  The real problem is that there's no consistency: Every hit, no matter how large or small, creates the same size result. (This could be handled by number of dupes created, I suppose, but then small hits would create half-dupes, which would get… uncomfortable.  And messy.)
Angel: The Superman solution: A localized telekinetic field.  The wings are purely aesthetic, he flies because he wills himself to fly.
Wolverine: Totally has cancer.  Luckily, he keeps healing his own cancer.  I'm more concerned about his hearing.  If his hammer, anvil and stirrup (the small bones in the ear that vibrate to transmit sound to the brain) are made of adamantium, they would be too heavy to vibrate, and he'd be deaf.  Maybe Wolverine's skeleton ought to be a post of its own, as well?

Posted by Quinn on 08/19/10 at 12:31 PM

I’m intrigued by your idea of a mathematical inversion field, however I think your inversion is a bit off. The true inversion of E=m*c^2 would more likely be E*c^2=m. Perhaps I should have clarified in my last post but the reason you get more energy per unit mass is because you’re multiplying the mass by c which is the speed of light squared. c is equal to 3×10^8 m/s which is 300,000,000 meters (about 3.28 feet) per SECOND! That’s fast, really fast. So now let’s square it: 9×10^16 m^2/s^2. That’s 9,000,000,000,000,000 m^2/s^2. Even a very small amount of mass multiplied by that number is going to friggin’ huge. If you moved the c^2 to the E side of the equation you could theoretically get a large amount of mass for a very small energy cost, but a “localized inversion mathetamatics field” is science magic at it’s finest. Congrats to you, Quinn, for coming up with such convincing terminology for something so unlikely (and by unlikely, I mean in no way at all possible ever in this universe).

Angel: Sure, he could have a localized telekinetic field, but figuring out a way to make the wings work is way more fun (and likely the subject of a future post).

Wolverine: I started writing an answer for this one but I've already covered Wolverine a bit above and I'm sure the bone issue will come up again. Hold steady, Quinn.

I have a book somewhere called the Science of the X-Men. I'll have to dig it up and compare.It works, bitches.

Posted by ActualButt on 08/19/10 at 03:54 PM

I too have that book, Mr. Butt. I’ve been tempted to flip through it again (I did read it all the way through the first time around) but I’ve resisted because I want these articles coming from my brain and not sourced from a book I don’t even remember that well.

I realize more people commented than I was able to reply too. I’m actually a working scientist and these columns have a limit so I can’t tackle everything every time, but thank you all the same for commenting in the first place! I have all the comments saved and am working on more responses for a later date. In the meantime, start the discussion anew right here or even e-mail me your comic science questions to tackle directly. The nerding out over science need not ever end!


Ryan Haupt actually is a working scientist. His new lab has yet to fully realize how big a comic book nerd he is. It would help if they all listened to his podcast Science… sort of then e-mailed him to say how much they enjoyed it.


  1. Awesomely awesome article.  Well done.  As someone who has received horribly insulting rejection letters, extremely useful revision requests, and glowing acceptance letters, I know how much fun it can be to receive intelligent and interesting feedback and the opportunity to respond.  It looks like you had fun with this.  Keep up the good work.

  2. Hey, I would love it if you could look into…Why does the Flash fail to get bored?!

    Okay, okay, let me back track a little here.

    In the comics the Flash can do amazing things at super-speed. He can race around and disarm criminals before they even realize what’s happening (Hurray!), he can dismantle cars, or re-build buildings at the blink of an eye (see recent Flash issues for examples), and race across the country in mere seconds.  Of course, in order to do these things I’ve always assumed he he’s able to "process data"/"witness the world" at a super-sped up rate as well (else he wouldn’t be able to control himself at such high velocities).

    Now, since I’m assuming he does process information around him at a faster speed, I’ve also been assuming his feeling/sense of the world is also speed relative to the rest of us — meaning, what feels like several minutes to the Flash feels like a fraction of a fraction of a millisecond to me.

    So I guess my question here is, when Flash is doing something like racing from L.A. to New York, and is avoiding running into anyone or anything on the way with his super-speed-attention…does this mean that to the Flash the journey feels like takes a month, whatever or so?  (I can tell you I would get quite bored, and take super-speed-naps, take super-speed-breaks, et cetera.)

    I guess what I’m really asking from you here Ryan is, is there a way of looking at this problem so the Flash can get the benefit of doing things fast (meaning, in his world, it just took him a second to run from L.A. to New York), yet have the ability to be precise in his super-speed abilities.

    (And of course, as a whole other side note, wouldn’t his super-speed work against him really? I mean, the faster you’re traveling  the slower time gets for you relative to others [Special Relativity], thus his trip from L.A. to New York might seem like seconds to him, but to the rest of the world its months later.  Mind you this is a whole other question, and wouldn’t make the Flash comic all that fun to read. 🙂    )

    Alright that’s a lot to chew on. Thanks!  I love these science-based articles!

  3. You know, Tom Katers might have a comic book based answer for my Flash question, too.