The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals in Australia

People look upon Australia as the home of every dangerous creature that walks, crawls, or throws telephones at hotel staff. This is true. But anyone with Australian friends – and not just those people you have webcam sex with – will tell you that Aussies seem to survive in spite of all this death.

Like every country, a lot of attention is focused on the stuff that doesn’t actually kill us that much (spiders) rather than stuff that kills most people (being a round, gelatinous ball of lard). So here are the 10 most deadly animals in Australia for 2000-2010 according to the National Coroners Information System of Australia.

10) Emus
Right now you are probably wondering what an emu is and why it killed 5 people. The easiest way to describe the emu is as an Australian version of the ostrich; that is, a long legged, long necked, flightless bird, and being Australian it is likely to be wearing a hat with corks dangling from it and be planning to kill you.

Five people isn’t a huge death toll for an Australian animal, but you have to remember that emus like to live in the middle of the country. You know, the part of Australia that people avoid because it is too hot and lacks beaches. So emus only occasionally have the opportunity to kill people.

9) Crocodiles
If there is a muddy river in Australia there is a good chance there is a crocodile waiting to eat someone. Unfortunately for the crocodiles, Aussies and tourists have gotten wise to their antics after watching Crocodile Dundee and have only been able to snack on 9 people.

Since people are more aware of crocodiles, they now act as sign enforcement officers. Most rivers and water holes have warning signs that tell people not to go swimming on penalty of death. Crocs are there to make sure those signs are enforced.

8) Snakes
Racking up a measly 14 deaths for the decade are venomous snakes. That’s right; Australia is home to pretty much all of the most deadly snakes in the world and they only manage to kill 1.4 people a year.

Australian snakes make all other country’s snakes look more lame than a 50 year old at a nightclub. In other countries snakebite is treated as a painful experience that might require a hospital visit. Might. In the next day or two. In Australia a snakebite is pretty much a death sentence, with snakes ranked in terms of how many minutes you have to get antivenin into your body before you’ll be visiting the morgue.

So why the low death count? Why is one of the most feared animals in a country filled with deadly animals killing so few people? Well, when you live in a country like Australia with so many poisonous critters trying to kill you, the local hospitals, and people who are scared of their own shadows, like to stock up on antivenins. Ambulances are used to bringing some antivenin to you.

The reason snakes don’t kill that many people is down to the way Aussies deal with snakebites. Take the recent example of an average Aussie bloke. The world’s second most deadly snake bites him and he does two things: calls an ambulance and grabs a nice cold beer. Because if you’re going to die, you might as well die refreshed. After dispatching the snake that bit him, the man was cool, calm and collected. If the ambulance didn’t arrive in time, well he’d have enjoyed a beer and the great outdoors. Keeping calm gave the ambulance time to save his life, and enough time to finish his beer.

7 and 6) Sharks and Bees
One is the undisputed apex predator of the World’s oceans, the other likes to give people sweet treats. With 16 deaths each, we see the humble honeybee kill as many people as the desperately-in-need-of-a-hug sharks. I’m sure if we included the deaths from heart disease that bees contribute to with their delicious honey, the bees would rank ahead of the toothy grinned sharks. Even without the heart disease aspect, if we talk long-term averages, honeybees are actually more deadly than sharks in Australia. Bees kill roughly 2 people per year, whilst sharks are only averaging 1 per year.

In the meantime humans are doing their best to wipe out both animals. Sharks are edible, so we kill 100 million of them a year. Colony Collapse Disorder is pretty much a fancy way of saying we are stressing the bees with viruses, diseases, pests, bad food, frequent travel and pesticides, leading to a decline in honey bee numbers.

5) Kangaroo
Stamping its place as the modern day T-Rex, if T-Rexes were vegetarian and spent most of their lives sleeping under a tree, is the kangaroo. With 18 deaths to its name, the kangaroo is getting back at Australians for their love of eating this national icon.

Kangaroos may look loveable and cuddly, but underneath that skin that is ideal for leather shoes, lays a nasty, vicious bully:

Attacks aren’t that common, but they are hilarious to watch.

The real danger to Aussies from kangaroos is on the roads. Roos are fond of hanging out in the middle of traffic, or leaping out in front of passing cars, so much so that they contribute to 5.5% of road deaths. Not to be outdone, Aussies install Roo-Bars to the front of their vehicles to ensure anything they hit – Roos, pedestrians, children – die instantly.

4) Dogs
Australians love their dogs; they even make movies about them and have landmarks devoted to them. One town is famous for its pet cemetery devoted to dogs. But with 27 deaths to their names, Aussie dogs just don’t seem to love their owners back.

In fairness, dogs are doing Aussies a favour, as they tend to kill kids and old people. The family pet is clearly trying to trim down the weaker members of the pack to make the household stronger, as 78% of attacks are by the pet dog. Legislation is trying to weed out the more suspicious looking dogs, but most dog bites are more a result of the owners than of the dog’s breeding or temperament.

3) Cows
Right now you’re about to say, “Is it really true that all Aussie men are as good looking at Hugh Jackman?” Why yes, it is true. But that is off topic. If you were on topic you’d probably be questioning how cows made this list at all. Are they even Australian? And these things aren’t deadly; they are hamburger fillings and animals that make the green stuff on your dinner plate palatable. Yet cows still managed to kill off 33 Aussies and come in as the third deadliest animal in Australia.

It isn’t like cows have guns in Australia, so how can they be the second most deadly animals? Well, much like kangaroos, cows love to spend time hanging out in the middle of roads, probably deciding which side has greener grass, or looking to hitch a ride to the city. And because Aussies love a good steak, there are more cattle in Australia than people, 26.5 million at last count. That’s a lot of cows trying to hitchhike. Cows also happen to be a fair bit larger than the average kangaroo, so Aussie drivers either die crashing into them, or from crashing into a tree when swerving to avoid them.

The other Aussies on the top of the cow’s hit-list is their chief persecutors: farm workers. Being the biggest of farm animals they account for the majority of animal related deaths on farms, usually by crushing people, or at least their limbs.

2) Horses
That’s right, horses! Just let that fact sink in for a moment. Horses have killed 77 people in a decade in Australia. Australia has sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and spiders that are deadly enough to make Rambo look like a cub scout, but horses killed more people than all of those terrifying critters combined.

So how did horses beat out such deadly competition? Well, 92% of those deaths are from horses deciding they’ve had enough of someone sitting on their back. The rest of the time the horses decide that they need to crush or trample people, possibly to see if humans can be made into glue as well.

1) Humans
Was this ever in doubt? Humans are by far the most deadly Aussie animals. When you compare the animal deaths to other causes of death in Australia, like drowning killing 290 per year, or car accidents killing 1200 people per year, it is clear that even the most deadly of Aussie creatures, the horse, just aren’t that deadly.

But Aussies are generally getting better at not killing each other. There are 270 murders per year and this rate has been declining for the past 20 years. If this trend continues, then within a decade all the other animals in Australia may actually kill more Aussies than people murdering each other.

In the meantime, if you want to stay safe in Australia: don’t let a horse drive your car near water while you argue with an Aussie about whether that’s a knife. Safety first.

Update: Okay, so this piece is a few years old now and more recent data is available from a ANHMRC study looking at data from 2000-2013.

Creature Deaths
(2000-2013)
Hospitalisations
(2001-2013)
Snakes 27 6,123
Hornets, wasps and bees 25 bees, 2 wasps 12,351
Spiders 0 11,994
Ticks and ants 5 4,533
Marine animals 3 3,707
Scorpions 0 61
Centipedes / millipedes 0 119
Unknown animal or plant 2 536

Since 2000, 74 people have died from being thrown or trampled by a horse. Twenty-six people have died from shark attack and 23 from altercations with dogs. Crocodiles have been responsible for 19 deaths.

And compared to 4,820 drowning deaths and 974 deaths from burns in the same period, the snake bite figures figures are still remarkably low. (Source)

Horses and humans still on top!!

The decline of cinema

theater management

There is only really one thing I miss about living in the city and that is going to the cinema. Of course, I’d miss that even more if there were movies worth shelling out this month’s mortgage repayments to see. The idea of paying big bucks to sit in a seat that has probably been used for sex by strangers, eating snacks that have a 2000% markup, after forgetting your earplugs and going partially deaf, which is a blessing after the pre-movie ads, is just not that appealing. Now Australian cinemas have decided they aren’t charging movie goers enough money and have decided to blame an easy target to justify their cash grab.

Cinema executives have blamed piracy on the recent price rises of ticket prices in Australia. Because of course it is piracy that is to blame, and not the marginalising of the customer base with exorbitant pricing regimes. Nor could it possibly be that people have more alternate entertainment options, including waiting a few months to watch the latest “blockbuster” in their own home cinema. Nor could it be the rubbish that so many movie studios are turning out.

Let’s dissect this nonsense like the original reports in the media should have done. There are many factors at play in the decline of cinema. The first real problem is that there hasn’t really been a change in the proportion of the population that go to the cinema in 40 years, but the number of times per year they go has been steadily declining since the 90’s.

ATTENDANCE
(% BEEN TO THE CINEMA IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS)

FREQUENCY
(AVERAGE NO. VISITS PER YEAR)

audiences_cin_attend_01

audiences_cin_attend_02

So rather than keeping audiences entertained regularly, audiences are clearly becoming more occasional customers. Underneath that general trend are some interesting changes in the demographics of cinema attendance. It is no secret that Hollywood movies are made for teenagers. Teens are a huge chunk of the cinema audience. But, the biggest change in the repeat attendees is in the teen market, which has been in steady general decline since the 70’s. Which part of the market is going to be most impacted by price rises? Go on: guess!

ATTENDANCE RATE
(% BEEN TO THE CINEMA IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS)

FREQUENCY
(AVERAGE NO. VISITS PER YEAR)

audiences_cinxage_rate

audiences_cinxage_freq

Another way to look at this is in the proportion of the population going to cinemas in the age demographics. Below you can see the 14-17 and 18-24 age groups are overrepresented as cinema goers, this starts to even out in the 25-34 group (also known as the settling down and going out less demographic), is at parity in the 35-49 group (also known as the parenthood has stolen my social life demographic), and people over 50 clearly don’t like all the loud noises.

AGE PROFILE OF CINEMA-GOERS COMPARED TO THE AUSTRALIAN POPULATION
OVER THE AGE OF 14, 2012

audiences_cin_genderprofile

So while the proportion of the population that have been going to the cinema each year has been pretty steady across the entire population, it is the number of times people go that is making the difference, especially in that much coveted teen “I want to see explosions and car chases” market. (Interesting aside: when you look at the age group breakdowns you do see that the over 25 audience since the 70’s have generally increased in their likelihood to attend the cinema, but this has been static for most demographic groups since the mid 90’s.) To put some hard numbers on that difference in the number of times a teen goes to the cinema each year, in 1974 the 14-24 demographic averaged 16.4 visits to the cinema, in 2012 that had dropped to 6.6 visits.

Obviously there are a lot of changes in the marketplace that have occurred over this time. TV has expanded, cable TV is a thing now, home rental or ownership of movies is a thing (VHS succeeded by DVD, now being superseded by Streaming, which will probably be superseded by actors coming to your house to perform on demand), computer games have grown in leaps and bounds, the internet, all vying for our attention and wallets. Just look at the change in households with various alternatives to cinema (NB: the game consoles data doesn’t tell the full gaming story, see this for more about that market):

Graph: Proportion of households with computer, Internet, mobile phone, games console and DVD player. The following table provides the data.

I alluded to this above, but one big change has been the home cinema. Some people will remember a time when some cinema screens were actually not much bigger than the ones installed in many homes now. Sound systems have improved greatly over the crappy little speaker that was the drive-in experience. Now we have high quality TVs and projection units that rival anything you can get in a cinema complex, and these come with a pause function, easy access to food that doesn’t kill your wallet nor beat your heart with belly flab, and sound settings lower than jackhammer. Then you have all the other possible entertainment options available, suddenly the list of movies (not) to see just isn’t as appealing.

The one thing cinemas still have going for them is windowing. For the first few months after opening, there is no other (legal) way to watch the film, you have to watch it in the cinema or wait for the DVD release. Although it seems clear people are more willing to wait, let the dust settle after opening weekend, and figure out what is worth watching, whether that be at the cinema, on DVD, when it makes it to TV, or at all. And now I’m going to contradict myself and say that piracy proves people aren’t willing to wait for those other options, preferring simultaneous releases. Both arguments still point out that people just aren’t as interested in paying big(ger) bucks to see movies in the cinema. Of course movie studios and distributors don’t like that idea, since windowing is great for their bottom line, especially opening weekend.

Now the reason for the price rise could be something to do with this chart, showing that 21% of the market is in the highest income households. Cinemas are obviously betting that their price elasticity is low and will take the price increase in their stride. What this ignores is the age demographic data above, which shows a sizeable chunk of the audience may be from affluent households, but that doesn’t mean their teenage bank account is bulging with lots of cash.

Equivalised gross household income quintiles No. cinema-goers (‘000) Share of cinema-goers (%) Attendance rate (%)
Lowest quintile 1,010.6 9.7% 47.2%
Second quintile 1,305.6 12.5% 50.8%
Third quintile 1,879.1 18.0% 66.6%
Fourth quintile 2,106.4 20.2% 75.3%
Highest quintile 2,199.2 21.1% 80.0%
Unknown 1,930.5 18.5% 65.8%
Total 10,431.4 100% 65.2%

So we see that cinema audiences are becoming more occasional consumers, the trip to the movies is a special event, not a regular event. Teens are a big chunk of the cinema market and they aren’t the repeat customers they used to be. This is what happens when you price customers out of the market, you bite the hand that feeds. You also have them turn to other entertainment mediums. Blaming piracy for what is demonstrably a long term trend is a pretty big reach. I’d also argue that piracy is a reaction to consumer demand for lower pricing and simultaneous releasing, so that audiences can consume the movies in the way they want to, not the way they are being forced to, at a price that is commensurate with the utility received (e.g. people pay as much or more for a DVD – less if you consider it a couple or family purchase). If cinemas have anyone to blame it is themselves and their suppliers (distributors and studios). Using piracy to justify a price increase is clearly unfounded.

Of course, what needs to be mentioned is that films are essentially a loss leader for cinemas so that they can make money selling snacks and beverages. This ticket price increase is probably driven through the supply chain rather than by the cinemas themselves. But this also shows how cinemas have to adapt in order to survive. Going out to a movie is an experience. People are more willing to pay for experiences rather than stuff (DVDs). So if cinemas can get serious about screening experience at a fair price, they might get the audience back, or at least stop the decline.

Sources: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/audiences.aspx

http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4901.0Main+Features1Apr%202009?OpenDocument

http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6530.0Main+Features12003-04%20(Reissue)?OpenDocument

I think you’re Mythtaken: Guns #2 – The second armour-piercing round

After a recent discussion about gun myths, I realised that my last blog post hadn’t covered anywhere near enough of the myths that are floating around (this article will mainly be about US guns, but parallels from the resources and science cited can be drawn to other countries). This is obviously because stuff is much easier to make up than to research, just ask Bill “tides go in, tides go out” O’Reilly. One of the big problems with research in the US on guns is that the National Rifle Association has effectively lobbied to cut off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing on gun violence. As a result there are a lack of hard numbers and research often tends to be limited in scope. Scope: get it? So like a lost rabbit wandering onto a shooting range, or a teenager wearing a hoody, it’s time to play dodge with some of these claims.

Myth: Guns make you safer, just like drinking a bit of alcohol makes you a better driver.

The myth I hear the most often is that guns make you safer;  just like the death penalty is a great deterrent, surveillance cameras stop crime, and the internet is a good source of medical advice. The problem with this myth is that people like having a safety blanket to snuggle. What they don’t realise is that guns don’t make you safer, they make you 4.5-5.5 times more likely to do something stupid to someone you know and love than be used for protection.

I want to be clear here: there’s nothing wrong with going shooting at the range, or hunting vermin. The problem is thinking that you can use a gun for self-defence, when it actually makes the violence problem worse. That gun escalates the violence because people have it there: why not use it? To wit the criminals enter into an arms race and a shoot first policy.

Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicidesuicide, and accidental death by gun. For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home. 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm, and in one experiment it was found that one third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a handgun pulled the trigger, which is just plain unsafe.

As for carrying around a gun for self-defence, well, in 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime. In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument. A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if they carried a gun. Their odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.

It is even worse for women. In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers. A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun, and that access could be the woman keeping one around just in case her attacker needs it. One US study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates; funny that.

There is also the action hero delusion that often gets trotted out when talking about guns for self-defence. The idea is that everyone is a good guy, so give them a gun and you have a bunch of action heroes ready to fight off the forces of evil. This has worked so well that all governments are thinking of getting rid of the military….

The reality is that the average person is not an action hero and would fail miserably in a high stress situation with actual bad guys. You only have to look at the statistics:

  • Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
  • Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5

I’ve seen several examples cited of “citizens” shooting someone who looked intent on killing everyone they could (with a gun…). But in every instance the “citizen” was actually an off-duty police officer, or a person in law enforcement, or someone in the military. In other words, the people who stop mass shootings or bad-guys with guns, are trained professionals.

There have also been a few studies done that claim X million lawful crime preventions, therefore guns must be good; notably by researchers Lott and Kleck. To say that their research is flawed is like saying Stephen King has sold a few books. Lott’s work has been refuted for extrapolating flawed data. Kleck’s research has similarly been refuted by many peer reviewed articles:

Myth: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, quite often with a gun, because punching someone to death is hard work.

If this myth were true we wouldn’t send troops to war with weapons. I get where people are coming from with this myth, because the gun itself is an inanimate object and is only as good or bad as the person using it. Yes, I did just quote the movie Shane: thanks for noticing. But here is the thing, in a society we are more than just a bunch of individuals, we are a great big bell-curve of complexity. So when you actually study the entire population you find that people with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. In the US, states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as firearm type restrictions or safe-storage requirements.

ownership-death630
Sources: 
PediatricsCenters for Disease Control and Prevention

Gun deaths graph: The three states with the highest rate of gun ownership (MT, AK, WY) have a gun death rate of 17.8 per 100,000, over 4 times that of the three lowest-ownership states (HI, NJ, MA; 4.0 gun deaths per 100,000).

The thing is that despite guns being inanimate objects, they affect the user/owner’s psyche. It’s like waking up one morning with a larger penis or bigger boobs: you not only want to show them off, you act differently as a result. Studies confirm this change in behaviour. Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively. Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without. In US states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defence, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

Now people also like to try and red herring the argument against guns by pretending that video games or mental health is the problem. The NRA tried to claim video games were to blame after the Newtown shootings. Of course we’d be able to see this relationship by looking at gun ownership versus video game playing, like by comparing the USA to Japan.

United States Japan
Per capita spendingon video games $44 $55
Civilian firearmsper 100 people 88 0.6
Gun homicidesin 2008 11,030 11

Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopersSmall Arms Survey (PDF), UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The thing is controlling guns has been shown to work, although there are other factors in play, and policing is still key. But when gun control has been shown to reduce firearm deaths by 1-6 per 100,000 then the case is pretty much closed.

Myth: They’re coming for your guns to stop our freedom and tyranny and democide and Alex Jones said so and aliens made me do it!

As I stated above, the statistics on guns and gun violence is hazy. No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Those “freedom” loving gun owners – all 80 million of them – have the evil government out-gunned by a factor of around 79 to 1. If government were coming for the guns, you’d think they’d have done so before being this grossly out-gunned.

guns-owned630Sources: Congressional Research Service (PDF), Small Arms Survey

Yes, 80 million gun owners is a minority! I find it interesting that from 1989 to 2000 there was a decline in gun ownership of 46% to 32%. Now the decline in ownership rebounds to hover between 34 and 43% for 2000-2011 (notably the high point in 2007 was after the Virginia Tech shooting which the NRA did a lot of campaigning around), which shows why the decline didn’t continue. Now compare those rates of ownership to the recent report from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics sums up the rates of gun violence. You can clearly see a decline in gun violence from 1993 to 2000 before a plateau that has pretty much held since. This is confirmed by other studies. This is an important take home point: all the research shows violence and gun violence is on the decline. The idea that people need a gun for protection is becoming more and more ridiculous. This is despite the global decline in violence, and trends seen in countries like Australia (more Aussie stats here). On a side note, in the last lot of statistics you see that the more female, educated, non-white, and liberal you are, the less likely you are to own a gun. 

So scare campaigns may work to boost sales of guns for a while, but overall, most people don’t want or need a gun. The long term trend has nothing to do with the government coming for the guns and everything to do with people realising they don’t need one and prefer to read a good book, or watch a movie, instead of going to the range.

The simple fact is that more guns in society is the best predictor of death, thus it is time to rethink the reasons for owning a gun, especially if that reason is in case you have to John McClane a situation.

More mythbusting gun articles:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/more-guns-do-not-stop-more-crimes-evidence-shows/

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hemenway-guns-20150423-story.html

http://thinkprogress.org/gun-debate-guide/#moreguns

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/01/good_guy_with_a_gun_myth_guns_increase_the_risk_of_homicide_accidents_suicide.single.html

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/12/11/9891664/daily-show-mass-shootings

https://theconversation.com/six-things-americans-should-know-about-mass-shootings-48934

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html

More science:

http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(13)00444-0/abstract
http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301409?journalCode=ajph
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447364/pdf/0921988.pdf
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/
http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/dranove/htm/Dranove/coursepages/Mgmt%20469/guns.pdf
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/print/2011/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths/69354/
http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/30/opinion/frum-guns-safer/
http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/mythsofmurder.htm
http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayers/ayres_donohue_article.pdf
http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayres/Ayres_Donohue_comment.pdf
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2003/10/double-barreled-double-standards
http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/WhitePaper020514_CaseforGunPolicyReforms.pdf

Mythtaken: Shark attacks

A while back I wrote a post on how sharks aren’t the deadly monsters attacking people all the time that we think they are. Now I’m not suggesting that we all go and hug sharks, they only like to be touched by cleaning fish, nor that we jump in to swim with them, they play tag far too roughly for delicate humans. What I’m suggesting is that we really need to start worrying about stuff that is actually a concern rather than stuff that is just wild gesticulations in front of a camera for ratings.

So here is a list of things that kill more people than sharks annually:

funny-sharks-things-that-kill-more

 

Picture from: http://themetapicture.com/things-that-kill-more-people-than-sharks/

I think you’re mythtaken: Guns

Nerd cred if you can name this gun correctly.
Nerd cred if you can name this gun correctly.

There are a lot of guns in the world. The figure is something like 639 million firearms, or to put it another way, one gun for every 9 people on the planet. Yet the average person knows diddly squat about guns. People probably have a better idea of how Nicki Minaj managed to become a star than express knowledge about guns. Most of our knowledge is likely to come from movies:


Or professional Russians:

As an author I really wanted to make sure I didn’t base my gun knowledge upon misinformation, otherwise I’d have to work as a reporter covering the gun debate. So here are a few myths to be busted.

Machine guns are not monsters of death
They may fire great big bullets at hundreds of rounds per minute but machine guns really are given the fashion magazine airbrushing treatment. A great big gun letting off a whole lot of explosions in a short amount of time has a habit of getting hot. Really hot. We’re talking change the barrel over every minute hot! Yes, that’s right, at the maximum rate of fire your machine gun needs a new barrel every minute to keep firing without causing problems – which I imagine as a gigantic explosion like Bugs Bunny sticking his finger in the end of Elmer Fudd’s shotgun. But it isn’t just the barrel changes, most of the time you aren’t actually firing the machine gun at people, you’re firing it at super mean looking inanimate objects, or as the military call it, suppressive fire (250,000 rounds for one kill!!!). Essentially the machine gun is a tool that performs a very different role from the one gun noobs think it does. Well, unless you don’t mind the thing catching on fire (yes, I know that isn’t technically a machine gun):

Guns aren’t really death machines
For death machines, these gun things really don’t kill enough people. In science we talk about effects, rates and how to blow up stuff with the things you find under the kitchen sink, as such it is hard to look at the gun deaths and gun injury rates and not think guns kinda suck at their job. The USA use guns to kill roughly 30,000 people a year, one third of those are homicides, but that is less than half the people they injure with guns, roughly 65,000. But that isn’t really fair, because not every time a gun goes off is it being used to shoot at someone else or a particularly nasty piece of paper. If you just look at homicides and attempted homicides, guns are still only getting the job done 21% of the time.

Guns suck for self defence
Not everyone can have Chuck Norris camped out in their house for self defence, nor carry Steven Segal around where-ever they go. But as mentioned above, guns really do suck at their job. Whether it is only being 23% effective in legal interventions, or the fact that you’re 4.5 to 5.5 times more likely to be shot for carrying a gun, you really start to think running away looks like a better option, even if you are as fat as Steven Segal has gotten lately.

Handguns are about as accurate as the horoscopes
A handgun is a really convenient weapon to carry around with you, but if the side of a barn is more than a few metres away, you’re not particularly likely to hit it. Even cops can’t hit much with these things, even when the bad-guy is less than 15m away. Half the problem is that bad-guys shoot back, which means you don’t stand around collecting holes, you run for cover, which really ruins your accuracy. But I’ve already mentioned that guns suck at their job, well, your handgun might hit the bad-guy 55 times and still not kill them.

Guns sure do help kill people
As much as guns suck at their job, as I’ve just pointed out, guns still do a better job of killing than many of the other methods we’ve devised for killing each other. Sure, people love their tools to kill one another, but guns are a really good tool to use for killing one another. I can’t wait to see the military being sent off to war with hammers and cars instead of a gun.

Being shot doesn’t mean you can fly
The trick to flying is throwing yourself at the ground and missing. So being shot clearly can’t make you fly. Don’t know why people think that shooting someone can disobey this simple fact, let alone Newton’s Laws of Motion. But what good is a trope if it isn’t always on display?

Semi-auto rifles are not assault rifles
Every time someone refers to a semi-auto rifle as an assault rifle, or worse, the made up term assault weapon, a puppy dies. You don’t want all the puppies to die do you? Well then, it is time to learn the difference between the military configured select fire rifle, called the assault rifle, which is capable of fully automatic and (sometimes) burst fire, and the civilian one trigger pull, one shot, semi-automatic rifle. I know, they may look the same to the untrained eye, but some people think cars are all the same thing too.

Mags, clips, high capacity…
While we’re on the topic of rifles, I have a dictionary and an abacus for people talking about magazines, clips and high capacity mag clips. A magazine is something you read, a clip is something you watch and high capacity is a Japanese train at rush hour. Different guns have different sizes of magazines (which may or may not be loaded with a clip), which means 30 rounds may be high capacity for one gun and normal capacity for another. Also, when one of these these rifles go through 700 rounds per minute and even soldiers only carry 210 rounds, from a standard 30 round magazine, then no gun fight is really lasting that long.

It’s a suppressor not a silencer!
Remind me, is +120 decibels loud or quiet? It sure is a lot quieter than a normal gunshot sound (+160db), but calling it “silent” is like calling bagpipes a little annoying. When the best suppressors on the smallest calibre weapons still manage to be as loud as a jack hammer or AC/DC, then suppressors have again gotten the Hollywood make-over. But 30db is a decent drop from ear splitting to “say what” territory, so I’d say these things should be compulsory.

There is no smell of cordite
If someone describes the smell of cordite in the air after a gun fight, you either know that the book is set before 1950 or that there is a sub-plot about a time traveller who comes from the past to assassinate a future self. It seems really odd that so many books use the time traveller sub-plot, because it is usually a one off. It would be far more interesting if this was built upon more, maybe have Gengis Khan show up to knock down a wall, or something, as well.

Less guns are a good idea
Shooting is fun, hunting is very primal, but at some point your neighbours start to get worried when you look more like you are going to war than to the shooting range. Aside from guns sucking for self defence, they also suck at not shooting your loved ones, are handy for suicide, and unless you are in a warzone, more guns in society equals more gun violence. But it is also worth thinking about what gun figures actually mean, like 300 million guns in the US, enough for one for every American despite there being only about 80,000 gun owners. Sounds like a lot, but that means each gun owner has a rifle, a handgun and a shotgun, which is clays, targets and pistols at the local range on the weekend. Perfectly reasonable to go shooting, just not at your local school.

Update: another mythbuster article:

https://tysonadams.com/2014/03/21/i-think-youre-mythtaken-guns-2-the-second-armour-piercing-round/
http://thinkprogress.org/gun-debate-guide/#moreguns
http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hemenway-guns-20150423-story.html