A new study in the British Medical Journal finds that the winners of the Darwin Awards are much more likely to be men, indicating that men may be more inclined to do incredibly dumb shit for virtually no reason. Shocking. Are you feeling faint with surprise? Do you need to have a seat? No?
The Darwin Awards are the highly depressing satirical prize awarded annually to people who die or remove themselves from the gene pool in shockingly stupid ways. (In truth, they're pretty dark, and perhaps a little morally questionable.) The British Medical Journal study on the Darwins, which we saw via New York magazine's Science of Us blog, is part of the BMJ's hotly anticipated Christmas edition, which always features weirder, funnier science. One of the studies last year looked at whether James Bond's drinks were always shaken "because of alcohol-induced tremor." (Conclusion: A resounding yes. Seek help, Bond.)
This year, the BMJ's Christmas theme is "Going to Extremes," and in that spirit, the Darwins study analyzed all the winners between 1994 and 2014, when the award was first created. The authors looked at 318 cases, excluding couples (14 couples have won, the study found, "usually overly adventurous couples in compromising positions." Good God.) This year's winners include a man who tried to steal copper wiring from a high-voltage underground electrical line, two Finnish gentlemen with a rather unfortunate interest in collecting old, but still quite live explosives, and a would-be banana robber in Costa Rica who somehow shot himself in the ass mid-heist.
The authors found that over the life of the award, 88.7% of the winners were men, consistent with the theory not just that men take more risks — that's well-documented — but that they are more likely to engage in a specific kind of risky behavior, "idiotic risk-taking behavior." Those are, in their words, "senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final."
The authors acknowledge that the study has some drawbacks (because it is mostly a joke):
However, this study has limitations. One of the weaknesses is the retrospective nature of the data collection. One alternative explanation for the marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners is that there is some kind of selection bias. Women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award, or there may be some selection bias within the Darwin Awards Committee. In addition, there may be some kind of reporting bias. Idiotic male candidates may be more newsworthy than idiotic female Darwin Award candidates.
Despite these limitations there can be little doubt that Darwin Award winners seem to make little or no real assessment of the risk or attempt at risk management. They just do it anyway.
That they do. The authors also speculate that there's something to be said for the role of alcohol in the idiotic-risk taking behavior of some men, or, to take the dubious "evolution is responsible for every single gender difference" route, that men do stupid things because " idiotic behavior confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties."
One hopes God or nature has a long game in mind here. Otherwise some of these — the man who tried to mail off a letter bomb, had it returned for insufficient postage, and merrily opened it up when it came back to him — are just so damn stupid you could cry.
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