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<   No. 4651   2021-11-22   >

Comic #4651

1 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: I SEE YOU ARE A GROUP OF GREAT SCIENTISTS FROM ACROSS HISTORY.
2 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: WHY DO YOU WANT TO HIRE A MAD SCIENTIST?
3 Isaac Newton: Being intellectual giants upon whose shoulders others see further by standing, we are of course possessed of superior minds, incapable of true madness.
4 Lewis Carroll: Speak for yourself, Isaac!!

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A cautionary tale:

I was looking for something to hang this annotation on, and I considered some version of the famous quote along the lines of "there's a thin line between genius and insanity/madness". Wanting to have some background to this, I threw the phrase into Google to see what information I could find.

Among the search results was an even more intriguing quote:

You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.

This struck me as a perfect expression of the sentiment in the comic and—according to Google's preview—it was written by none other than Lewis Carroll himself, the final speaker in this comic! How marvellously perfect!

To get some context around where the quote appears in the attributed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I looked at the complete text of the book on Project Gutenberg (it's available freely as the copyright has expired). After a minute or so of frantic searching, I realised the quote wasn't there.

Thinking that perhaps Project Gutenberg had a different edition of the book to the one with the quote, I checked another online source for the full text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, alice-in-wonderland.net. Same result, the quote was nowhere to be found.

I wondered if perhaps the quote was actually from the sequel book, Through the Looking-Glass, and checked full text versions of that. Again, no luck.

I checked Google's results again. I found the quote most definitely attributed to Lewis Carroll, in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The top hit for the quote on Google links to a quote page on Goodreads, a site dedicated to books, confirming that it was written by Lewis Carroll. There are several similar links, such as this entire page of Lewis Carroll quotes which includes the quote in question. There's even a scholarly article on the link between genius and insanity that quotes this line, attributing it to Charles Dodgson's (i.e. Lewis Carroll's) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. And there are numerous links to specialist quote sites that reiterate the fact that Lewis Carroll wrote this piece of text.

Except they're all wrong.

Lewis Carroll never wrote that line, and it never appeared in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The line is from Tim Burton's 2010 film adaptation, Alice in Wonderland, and is original to that version. It's listed as the top quote on the film's IMDb page.

I found a page (from the aforementioned alice-in-wonderland.net, which appears to be a marvellous resource) all about misattributed Alice quotes, explaining what is going on here:

A very common practice is combining a random quote with an illustration from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” or “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there”. This leads people to assume that the lines can be found in the original story, while they are in fact not from the ‘Alice’ books at all. [...] Unfortunately, already several quotes from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass movies are being thought to originate from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books. Movie quotes that are commonly confused for book quotes are amongst others:

“Have I gone mad?” “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” (Burton’s 2010 ‘Alice in Wonderland’)

Let this be a lesson in the unreliability of the Internet, and that you should double check your facts before propagating them. I'm also reminded of this tweet by Ryan "Dinosaur Comics" North (which he retweeted just yesterday, my memory is not that good):

A reminder that those info boxes under Google searches aren't facts: they're just some algorithm's best guess, and they're there for two reasons: it makes Google results look more impressive, and all the negative consequences when they're wrong are shifted onto you, the user

We don't want a far future where the tattered survivors are looking down on the apocalyptic remains of civilisation and saying, "If only people hadn't believed everything they saw on the Internet."

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My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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