British Medical Journal Concludes: 'Men Are Idiots; Men Do Stupid Things'
December 14, 2014
Brigid Schulte / The Washington Post & Medical News Today
It's a long-held sexist stereotype. Now, the prestigious British Medical Journal suggests the evidence shows that there may be truth to it: Men really can be idiots. Anne Campbell, a psychologist who studies evolution and sex differences at Durham University, said the evolutionary argument goes like this: "Males (of many species) engage in far more risk-taking behavior" while "female mammals need to stay alive to ensure their infants' survival (and thus their own reproductive success)."
British Medical Journal: Men Really Can Be Idiots
Brigid Schulte / The Washington Post
(December 12, 2014) -- It's a long-held sexist stereotype. Now, the prestigious British Medical Journal, no less, asserts that there's truth to it: Men really can be idiots.
In fact, in a study released December 11, the authors reveal to the world their new "Male Idiot Theory," or MIT: "Men are idiots, and idiots do stupid things."
The authors came to their conclusion after analyzing more than 300 winners of the annual Darwin Awards over the past 20 years. Winners of the award are chosen for dying in such monumentally idiotic ways that the human race, they argue, is better off without them in the gene pool. More than 88 percent were men.
Winners, the study notes, include a man who shot himself in the head with a "spy pen" weapon to show his friend it was real. A man who hitched a shopping cart to the back of a train thinking he'd get a free ride home, only to be dragged two miles to his death. And a terrorist who mailed a letter bomb, and when it was returned for insufficient postage, opened it.
The idea for the study, "The Darwin Awards: Sex Differences in Idiotic Behavior," came from one of the report authors, Ben Alexander Daniel Lendrem, a 15-year-old student in Newcastle in the UK, who is now the youngest author published in the august medical journal, according to his father and second author, Dennis Lendrem, a statistician who studies decision-making at the Institute of Cellular Medicine.
Ben was fascinated by the royally stupid ways people offed themselves in the Darwin awards, and, as he was regaling his father with "macabre" tales of fatal idiocy, pointed out that most of the winners were men. So the father and son and two other co-authors analyzed the data and found that that, indeed, was true.
They expected that more men than women would die stupidly. A raft of research has found that men get into more car crashes than women. They're admitted to Emergency Rooms for accidents and injuries more often. They're more physically and verbally aggressive. They're more likely to drive fast, to commit crime, to climb mountains, skydive, use drugs, take risks and act impulsively.
They just didn't expect that nearly 90 percent of the winners would be men.
"The size of the difference between men and women is what really surprised us," Dennis said. "It was much bigger than we expected."
Just why men behave in more idiotic ways than women, however, remains a puzzle not only for the report authors, but for scientists who study evolution, sex differences, genetics, human behavior and psychology.
"Presumably, idiotic behavior confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties," the Lendrems write. "Until MIT gives us a full and satisfactory explanation of idiotic male behavior, hospital emergency departments will continue to pick up the pieces, often literally."
Indeed, picking up the pieces of men who've done idiotic, risky or impulsive things is what one of the report co-authors, Andy Gray, a consultant trauma surgeon, actually does. "Usually every Friday or Saturday night," Dennis said.
Anne Campbell, a psychologist who studies evolution and sex differences at Durham University, said the evolutionary argument goes like this: "Males (of many species) engage in far more risk-taking behavior as a result of their greater fitness variance (bigger difference between male winners and losers in terms of reproduction compared to females) and the fact that their investment in offspring is not obligate," she wrote in an email. "Female mammals need to stay alive to ensure their infants' survival (and thus their own reproductive success)."
In other words, male idiocy can get them the girl.
The Lendrems said examples of male idiocy abound, not just in the Darwin Awards. Consider TV shows like Jackass, the BBC's World's Craziest Fools with Mr. T and Tosh. 0, which gives people a chance at "Web redemption" after posting videos on the Internet of them doing stupid things that usually go very, very wrong. Like the guy who jumped off a 100-foot cliff during spring break and nearly missed the lake. ("Don't do it, you idiot!" one girl screamed as she watched the failed jump from below.)
"It may be that in the past, males have found themselves in situations where those rapid reaction impulsive behaviors are adaptive, to ensure survival. I'm thinking in fights or battle, or when, trying to take down a saber-tooth tiger, those kinds of situations," Dennis Lendrem said.
But why men may be inclined to idiocy in the 21st century? "We really don't know, is the honest answer."
Brigid Schulte writes about work-life issues and poverty, seeking to understand what it takes to live The Good Life across race, class and gender.
Men Are Idiots and Idiots Do Stupid Things,' Study Finds
Medical News Today
(December 12, 2014) -- It is that time of the year again. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and the BMJ have put out their annual silly issue. Previous Christmas articles from the journal have attempted to diagnose Star Wars' Jar Jar Binks and used a "covert observational study" to assess the survival time of chocolates on hospital wards.
The journal's Christmas edition of spoof stories and silly -- yet peer-reviewed studies -- has become so notorious that, in 2009, a Danish journal conducted a study of citations of BMJ Christmas articles, investigating to what extent the studies were reported at face value, rather than taking their humorous intent into account.
Elsewhere on Medical News Today, you will find a discussion of the BMJ's study into why magazines in doctors' waiting rooms are always old. Here, we look at a study reviewing data from the Darwin Awards, which concludes that -- scientifically -- men are idiots.
The Darwin Awards is an annual hall of fame commemorating those considered to have died in exceptionally stupid ways. Wendy Northcutt, author of the Darwin Awards' website, describes the awards' rationale:
"In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chances of long-term survival."
Although many of the early entrants in the Darwin Awards -- collected during the Web's relative infancy in 1993 -- turned out to be hoaxes or urban legends, verified-as-real winners include:
• James Burns of Michigan, who died while attempting to repair his truck from underneath while it was still in motion
• Polish farmer Krystof Azninski, who won a "contest of masculinity," trumping his friends -- who had stripped naked and were hitting each other over the head with frozen turnips -- by cutting off his own head with a chainsaw
• A terrorist who posted a letter bomb with insufficient postage and, upon its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter.
Data Lacking on 'Sex Differences
In Idiotic Risk-taking Behavior'
The researchers behind the study, from Newcastle University, note that sex differences are well documented when it comes to risk-seeking behavior and emergency hospital admissions. Men are more likely than women to be admitted to an emergency department after accidental injuries, as well as being more prone to sporting injuries and fatal traffic collisions.
However, the authors say that there is less available data on "sex differences in idiotic risk-taking behavior." Therefore, they configured the new study to test "male idiot theory" -- the idea that sex differences in risk-seeking behavior explain the observation that "men are idiots and idiots do stupid things."
Examining the nominations of the past 20 years, the researchers found that of 413 Darwin Awards nominations, 332 were independently verified and confirmed. The researchers then excluded joint male and female nominees from their analysis -- typically, "overly adventurous couples in compromising positions" -- leaving 318 valid cases.
The analysis shows that, of these 318 cases, 282 of the awards were awarded to men, with just 36 being given to women. Therefore, the study reports a hugely statistically significant finding of men making up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners.
The researchers consider this finding to support the hypothesis that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.
However, the authors concede that the results could have confounding influences. For instance, women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award, or the sex difference may be indicative of differences in alcohol use between men and women.
Further investigation will follow. "With the festive season upon us," write the authors, "we intend to follow up with observational field studies and an experimental study -- males and females, with and without alcohol -- in a semi-naturalistic Christmas party setting."
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