Most of the time, statistics mean serious business. They're called upon by doctors deciding how to treat patients, bankers investing money, and politicians weighing the impact of one policy over another. But not all statistics will induce you to wrinkle your brow in concentration, or yawn from boredom. What follows is a list of oddball and often hilarious statistics, but ones that nonetheless offer insights into the strange world we live in.
Last year, a study by Logitech, the computer accessory and remote controls manufacturer, revealed that there's a nearly 50 percent chance that your lost remote control is stuck between your sofa cushions. Meanwhile, 4 percent of lost remotes are found in the fridge or freezer, and 2 percent turn up somewhere outdoors or in the car.
Fishing may seem like a relaxing pastime so low-key, in fact, that some find it infernally dull but it's actually the most dangerous occupation in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, the fatal injury rate for fishers and related fishing workers was 128.9 deaths per 100,000. That's much higher than the fatal injury rate for truck drivers, roofers, electrical power-line installers and repairers, and even miners, all of whom had death rates below 35 per 100,000 workers in 2008.
A 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll published online Jan. 1 revealed that 2 percent of American adults believe Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's real first name is "Mittens." Only 6 percent of poll respondents knew that the former Massachusetts governor's given name is actually Willard.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project study, published in Aug. 2011, found that 8 percent of Internet users do not use email or search engines. Somehow, this sizable portion of the online population manages to surf the web some other way... perhaps by typing in URLs by hand?
Recent research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Americans spend 1 hour and 14 minutes eating each day. We're the third fastest eaters among those in the 34 countries studied. Turks, the slowest eaters, spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes eating per day. The French also take their time at the table, spending an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes there daily.
Godless in spirit
In a recent survey of 275 elite scientists, 20 percent of scientists who identified themselves as "atheists" also said they were "spiritual." Despite the fact that spirituality suggests a belief in supernatural entities, and that atheism is usually taken to mean just the opposite, this statistic clearly suggests the two notions can be compatible.
In 1993, a group of medical researchers in Britain found that traffic accidents were 52 percent more likely to result in hospital-worthy injuries if they occurred on Friday the 13th than if they occurred on Friday the 6th.
Their study, which analyzed traffic accidents on London's M25 motorway during five months in which the 13th fell on a Friday (and compared it to data from the previous Fridays of those months), ended up getting published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. The findings were real, but their actual intent was to demonstrate how arbitrary statistics can be when small sample sizes are used. However, ultimately, no one was more interested in the results than triskaidekaphobics those who fear the number 13. [The Origins of 9 Common Superstitions]
There are approximately half a million pieces of space junk in orbit around Earth that measure at least half an inch (1.27 centimeters) wide. Occasionally, one of these pieces re-enters Earth's atmosphere, and if it doesn't burn up during re-entry, it crash-lands somewhere on the planet's surface. Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency's Orbital Debris Office, calculated that there's a one-in-100-billion chance that you'll be severely injured by a falling piece of space junk this year.
In the course of a 75-year lifetime, then, the odds you'll get hurt by falling space debris are a little less than one in 1 billion. [Mysterious Metal Object Crashes Through Mass. Warehouse Roof]
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Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.