Many folks use statistics as a drunk uses lamp posts: for support rather than illumination.
–Not Mark Twain
I recently learned that victims of lightning strikes are overwhelmingly men. According to the National Weather Service, from 2009 to 2019 (so far), there have been 289 lightning fatalities in the U.S., of which 225—or about 78%—were men:
The obvious and only possible explanation for this is that lightning is sexist against men—or, depending on your beliefs, that God or Zeus or whoever is sexist against men. Or maybe those entities are (rightly?) angry and jealous about men’s hubris being vindicated as men get better and better at using math and science to decode and manipulate the universe.
But that’s still sexist, as men have long been socialized to want to be good at, or at least to pursue, math and science. We’ll see if rates of women being struck by lightning go up as they, like men traditionally have been, are socialized to be interested in math and science, and as their numbers increase in STEM fields.
Some people (obviously disingenuously!) argue that the reason for the thunderbolt disparity is that men choose to engage in activities that are more likely to lead to being struck by lightning: boating, fishing, roof repair, hiking, playing football in a thunder storm, golfing (though golfing is reportedly one of the least common; fisherman, I believe, are at the highest risk).
But why those activities? Is it because men happen to prefer them (or, rather, have been socially conditioned to prefer them) that lightning chooses to make those activities more dangerous? Or is it that those happen to be the activities men prefer (or have been socially conditioned to prefer), and so they happen to be doing them while being struck down by lightening?
Finally, where one lives seems to matter. According to my research, you are at least 400% more likely to be struck by lightening in Queens than in Manhattan. Especially interesting is that Queens is about 51.5% female, and yet all the reported victims in recent years in Queens have been male! Manhattan, however, is about 52.7% female, so this could account for why Manhattan is safer.
I live in Queens and cannot afford to move to Manhattan. But 400% (or more!) is a staggeringly worrying number, so the next time there’s a storm in the forecast, I’ll head to Manhattan ASAP. Especially in November through February, given what I’ve been hearing about super lightning and superbolts.
For next time: I’ve also recently heard that the average person has one testicle. I’m not sure what to do with this information, but it sounds important. If I can figure out how this statistic was derived, I’ll let you know. In the meanwhile, I’d say its potential implications are disturbing enough to merit contemplation. Especially if it turns out to be true.
And, to be clear, I’m skeptical about its being true. We should always be skeptical about statistics, right? Really, this is my main purpose with this post. To encourage us all, when we encounter a statistic, to wonder, “Where did those numbers come from? What can we reasonably infer from those numbers?,” et cetera. Today we’ve seen an obvious case (Mother Nature or who/whatever is misandrist) and a strange case (the average person has one testicle; Is Alexa a person? I don’t think she has any sort of genitalia, much less one testicle, though I guess she can have a smart socket).
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the National Weather Service as the “National Death Service.”
Post Script: I’m not the only one to notice this. By sheer coincidence, on the same day I wrote and published this post, the podcast More or Less: Behind the Stats published a story on the same topic!
“Austerity Deaths, C-Sections and Being Struck by Lightening”: Has Austerity caused 120 thousand deaths in the UK and does God hate men?
I usually love this show, but they’re obviously wrong this time (or I’m sure I’ll think they’re wrong once I’ve listened to the episode). They didn’t even spell “lightning” right.
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