Is the Recession Keeping You from Being Eaten by a Shark?

By Melissa Lafsky | February 20, 2009 3:43 pm

Shark!When people have less money, they tend to do less of certain things, like buy $3,000 jackets, order the $250 omakase, and pick up diamond-encrusted lingerie for their penthouse-dwelling mistresses. They also don’t typically fork over as much cash for vacations to beaches, islands, and other ocean-bordering locales.

The good news: Since all these recession-battered folks are crouched in their living rooms watching their 401K values plummet on a laptop screen, they aren’t swimming and cavorting in waters that are also frequented by permanent residents, such as sharks. With fewer humans and sharks in physical proximity, we have fewer chances for said sharks to munch on passing surfers and snorklers. Logical? Absolutely.

Of course, all logic can be twisted and mangled with a little help from the English language. Which brings us to the following LiveScience headline: “Economic Recession Means Fewer Shark Attacks.”Ah where shall we begin…

First, there’s the actual numbers: Shark attacks have fallen “from 71 in 2007 to 59 in 2008, the fewest since 2003, when there were 57.” So the grand worldwide decline is all of 12 attacks. In the U.S., the number of shark attacks went from 50 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. As the article (thankfully, eventually) points out:

Shark attacks basically correlate with the number of people in the water. The more people go to the beach, the more they are in the shark’s home, the offshore waters, and the more attacks on humans.

The key point, really, is the egregious use of “means.” In science, where correlation v. causation is a struggle akin to good v. evil, saying that two things occurring in a similar time frame caused each other to happen can lead to all sorts of unnecessary hysterias and harmful behaviors. And, likewise, a few well-placed words can plop causation in the lap of an effect or event that has only the mildest of relationships to its supposed link.

The economic crisis will have ripple effects throughout every facet of society. Yes, it will make people visit beaches less, so they’ll have less opportunity to get chomped by dorsal-finned swimmersby. It’ll also keep people off the road more (layoffs mean less commuting, and less money for gas) so they’ll be less likely to get in accidents. So does that “mean” that we should start running headlines like “The Recession Could Save Your Life”?

Image: Flickr / Daveybot

  • http://www.bewilderedjimjpt.blogspot.com jpt

    Or…less money, less consumption, less cholesterol, less heart attcks, less deaths.
    Or…less money, less pathetic chasing around and a better calmer life, maybe.
    There will probably be some good comes out of it all.
    We couldn’t carry on as we were.

  • http://www.pound360.net/2008/10/expert-death-rates-go-down-during.html pound360

    Okay, it’s not the headline, but an op-ed at the NY Times did use, in bold text, “A recession could save your life” (click on my name above to see more on that). Funny piece, by the way, Ms. Lafsky. Extra points for linking to the CNN story on night lights and near-sightedness!

  • http://www.staple-austin.org Chris

    i think it is imperative that we get this economy back on its feet so that all those poor sharks won’t be going hungry.

  • http://www.riohotelcasinovegas.com riohotelcasinovegas

    lol, I agree with you

  • Mariano

    No, no, no, can’t you see it?
    The recesion is caused by the decline in shark attacks!
    People, rub some tuna on yourselves and get into the water, the world economy will revive!

  • Ris

    Sharks don’t even normally feed on humans. In fact, a worldwide recession may mean good news for the sharks, because demand for shark fin ,an expensive delicacy, is likely to fall.
    This article only applies to a tiny portion of urban societies (what proportion will even visit shark-infested beaches?). It applies even less (almost negligibly) to the human population when we take into account that urban population makes up only 50% of the world’s population, and that urban population includes poor people.
    Does this article take into account fishermen, or simply people who live near beaaches (it’s free for them anyway)?

    As for vehicle accidents, perhaps it would mean we’re a teeny bit safer, but only if and because the careless pedestrians and drivers visit the roads less often (if driving for purposes of leisure even made a huge proportion of their drivnig time anyway).

  • Ris

    I don’t think recession’s what’s bringing down the number of people dying from shark attacks. The difference is probably just due to chance.

  • Jo

    Ah, good ol’ LiveScience. The headline that finally turned me off the site for good was something along the lines of ‘Five Children Killed by Lightning.’ The victims were two 16-year-olds, two people in their twenties and one in their thirties, all killed in four separate incidents over a single weekend. Tragic enough to be newsworthy without the hyperbole.

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