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article image'Men are idiots,' says study in prestigious medical journal

By Business Insider     Dec 12, 2014 in Science
After a night of apres-ski drinking on Feb. 2, 2008, a 46-year-old British man named David and three friends decided they wanted to go sledding.
Not having a sled on hand, the inventive group decided to make their own. So they grabbed a foam pad that some kids had pulled off of one of the crash barriers at the bottom of the slope and made their way to the top.
They were a few guys doing the sort of dumb thing that men do all the time — because, based on the available evidence, we men are idiots.
They careened down the same slope and smashed right into the metal poles of the same barrier that that the safety mat had been removed from.
David hit his head and died.
He won a Darwin Award for that moment. The Darwin Awards are given to people who improve the human gene pool by removing their own stupid genes from it.
But here's the thing.
Some Darwin Award winners engage in truly idiotic behavior but in this case, things just went wrong for David, don't you think? That could have happened to anyone, right? Or was David, and his idiotic male ilk, just dumber than women?
As we all know from personal experience, most guys do dumb things all the time — especially when friends and beer are involved — things that cause distress to some of the more rational people around, like swimming across a lake in the middle of the night just because earlier in the day they saw alligators in it (oops).
There's even a show about it.
So is it just a guy thing?
A study published in the Dec. 11 issue of the BMJ — the medical journal's light-hearted "Christmas issue," which uses science to tackle important and under-addressed questions — says yes.
According to the available evidence, men are much more likely to be idiots (or at least to engage in idiotic behavior).
Researchers realized that even though we know men die, end up in emergency rooms, and engage in "risk seeking" behavior much more frequently than women, scientists had never tackled "idiotic risk taking behaviour" specifically.
They defined "idiotic" risk as senseless, "where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final."
So they took a look at the data on Darwin Award winners over the past 20 years, from 1995 to 2014.
This is excellent data to work with. The winning event must be verified, winners must "show an astounding misapplication of common sense," the winners must be both capable of making good decisions — and they have to be the cause of their own death. Exactly the kind of "idiotic" risk taking the researchers were looking for.
The researchers excluded honorable mentions, urban legends, and anything unverified.
They also didn't include men who didn't successfully eliminate themselves from the gene pool, like the man who "slipped when using a belt sander as an auto-erotic device and lost a testicle" — he was able to repair his scrotum using a staple gun and save the other testicle — so was still able to procreate.
Of the 332 verified and confirmed Darwin Award nominees, 14 were shared by a man and a woman. These 14 were excluded to eliminate statistical confusion.
Of the remaining 318 cases, 282 "winners" were men.
There are confounding factors, like the effect of alcohol. As the researchers write, "anecdotal data support the hypothesis that alcohol makes men feel "bulletproof" after a few drinks, and it would be naïve to rule this out."
As an example, they cite three dudes who "played a variation on Russian roulette alternately taking shots of alcohol and then stamping on an unexploded Cambodian land mine. (Spoiler alert: the mine eventually exploded, demolishing the bar and killing all three men.)"
There wasn't an easy way to adjust the data to see alcohol's role and whether it explains some difference between the sexes.
Plus, correlation doesn't equal causation and there's always the possibility that men are more likely to be nominated or more likely to have a news article written about their demise.
But 282 out of 318 is almost 90% of winners. It's a very statistically significant indication that men are probably idiots.
As for why the Y chromosome works the way it does, we aren't sure. "Presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties," write the authors.
The team plans to follow up their research with observational studies of men and women with and without alcohol in Christmas party settings.
That's science, folks, and as Business Insider's only male science reporter, I'd say you can't argue with science.
This article originally appeared in Business Insider. Copyright 2014.
More about British medical journal, Bmj, Darwin awards, stupid men