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Are Men Idiots Who Do Stupid Things? Study Says Yes

Charles Darwin, perhaps best known for his work on evolution, died at the age of 73 in 1882. He would not have been a candidate for the Darwin Awards.
Charles Darwin, perhaps best known for his work on evolution, died at the age of 73 in 1882. He would not have been a candidate for the Darwin Awards.

A new study shows what at least some of us might have suspected for a long time: Men are idiots and do stupid things.

That's the premise of the authors' Male Idiot Theory. The study, published in BMJ, the former British Medical Journal, looked at past winners of the Darwin Awards. The awards are given to those people who die in such an idiotic manner that "their action ensures the long-term survival of the species, by selectively allowing one less idiot to survive."

The study looked at 318 cases, of which 282, or 88.7 percent, were men.

Limitations of the study, the authors noted, include its retrospective nature, selection bias-- women may be more likely to nominate men — and reporting bias — male candidates for the award may be more newsworthy than female candidates. But the authors wrote:

"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. In some cases, the intelligence of the award winner may be questioned. For example, the office workers watching a construction worker demolishing a car park in the adjacent lot must have wondered about the man's intelligence. After two days of office speculation —how does he plan to remove the final support to crash the car park down safely? — they discovered, on the third day, that he didn't have a plan. The concrete platform collapsed, crushing him to death and flattening his mini-excavator."

Other examples of past winners the study cited: the man who shot himself in the head with a "spy pen" weapon to show his friend that it was real; and the terrorist who mailed a letter bomb with insufficient postage and who, upon its return, opened it.

In case you were wondering, the study's authors are all male. They include 15-year-old Ben Alexander Daniel Lendrem, a student at King Edward VI School in Morpeth, England, and his father, Dennis William Lendrem, of the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Newcastle.

But just exactly why men act the way they do confounds the researchers: "[I]t is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks — simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for 'bragging rights,'" they write.

The study adds:

"Presumably, idiotic behavior confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties. 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."

The paper ends with the usual caveat about more research being needed to explain the differences between men and women, but offers a more, shall we say season-appropriate, setting for the future research: "[W]ith the festive season upon us, 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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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