Behind the Numbers: The Sharks and the Vending Machines
Book of Odds has recently addressed a much chewed-over Internet topic: what is more likely, to die from a shark attack or a vending machine accident? In terms of total victims, vending machines are deadlier. The odds a person will die from a vending machine accident in a year are 1 in 112,000,000, while the odds that a person will die from a shark attack in a year are 1 in 251,800,000. One can say with confidence that while vending machines crush an average of 2 to 3 unfortunate Americans every year, the number of recorded US shark fatalities is typically nil.
But it can't be stressed enough that the details matter. Big time. First of all, the average American's exposure to vending machines is significantly higher than his or her exposure to sharks. Essentially, only those who live on or visit the coasts and choose to swim will have any chance of being attacked by Jaws. The rest of the country—everyone who populates its larger, inner area—will have little to no exposure to sharks. Less exposure = lower probability. So a grain farmer’s likelihood of being chewed into chum is probably much, much lower than a skin diver’s—or worse, a shark whisperer's.
Vending machines are a different matter. They are everywhere. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates there are around 3 million beverage-vending machines in the US, or about 1 per 100 Americans. America's interior may be a shark-free zone, but it's bristling with vending machines.
At close proximity, a shark is much deadlier than a coin-operated refrigerator full of cold Sprite™. A vending machine, after all, doesn't have multiple rows of serrated teeth. A vending machine cannot make chase at 25 mph. A vending machine cannot smell your blood in quantities as low as one part per million. A vending machine doesn't possess the sense of electroreception, which sharks use to detect your body's weak electrical field. All a vending machine has is its tendency to fall towards Earth's center along with its allure as an object full of beverages and money and its occasional frustrating mechanical failure, all of which tempt some people into vigorously shaking one.
Sarcasm aside, it is important not to bend the above Odds Statements. Vending machines, yes, are deadlier on average. But sharks are far, far deadlier in particular. It's all a matter of exposure. Given a choice between the two, sidle up to the vending machine.
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