The next time you call the man in your life an "idiot," know that science -- if not compassion -- is on your side.
A new tongue-in-cheek analysis published in the typically offbeat Christmas edition of the distinguished British Medical Journal examined winners of the Darwin Awards -- a dubious prize given to those among us who have injured ourselves or even perished due to, uh, poor risk assessment skills. They found that 88.7 percent of the "winners" were male.
On the other hand, the clever person who came up with this study is himself a man -- or close: 15-year-old Ben Alexander Daniel Lendrem from Newcastle, U.K., conceived and carried out the analysis with his statistician father, Dennis Lendrem, reports The Washington Post.
The Lendrems defined idiotic risks as "senseless... where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final."
"According to 'male idiot theory' (MIT) many of the differences in risk seeking behavior, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things," explained the study authors. "In this paper we present evidence in support of this hypothesis using data on idiotic behaviors demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award."
The team ran an analysis of 20 years of Darwin award winners and whittled down the cases to those whose deaths were independently verified were included. Awards shared by men and women (usually "overly adventurous couples," notes the study) were also left out.
That left 318 Darwin awards: 282 given to men, and 36 to women. Researchers note that the difference between the sexes is highly statically significant, which means it's extremely unlikely that this division occurred by chance. Here's how the study authors distinguish a Darwin-worthy death from a more routine accidental death:
For instance, Darwin Awards are unlikely to be awarded to individuals who shoot themselves in the head while demonstrating that a gun is unloaded. This occurs too often and is classed as an accident. In contrast, candidates shooting themselves in the head to demonstrate that a gun is loaded may be eligible for a Darwin Award -- such as the man who shot himself in the head with a "spy pen" weapon to show his friend that it was real.
Other examples of Darwin winners include the terrorist who didn't put enough postage on his package when sending a mail bomb; it was returned to him, and he promptly opened it and perished. Another man attached a shopping cart to the end of a train car, which dragged him to his death.
Though half in (rather morbid) jest, serious, comprehensive research has also found that men are more apt to take risks and less apt to control their impulses than are women, to damaging effect. This study notes that men are more likely than women to be admitted to hospital emergency rooms after accidental injuries and more likely to be in a traffic collision with a higher mortality rate.
Of course, even wacky studies have their limitations: Men drink alcohol more than women, which could skew the results. Alternately, idiotic men may idiotically die in a more newsworthy way, which leads them to be nominated for the Darwin awards. Finally, more woman may be nominating men for the award.