What motivates Darwin Award candidates?

David MoonBlog

While driving through the Home Depot parking lot a week ago, I passed a young man making an impressive effort to become a Darwin Award winner. Instituted in 1985, a person is recognized with a Darwin Award when he unwittingly contributes to the advancement of human evolution by removing himself from the gene pool in some extraordinary way. It’s like the Olympics of Stupidity, where contenders compete for the title by meeting their demise while engaging in feats such as climbing into a zoo’s tiger exhibit to take a selfie or trying to jump a dirt bike over a moving train.

These young men – and they are almost always young males – aren’t exactly prime candidates for Mensa membership.

As a young woman carefully observed from a safe distance this rainy afternoon, the daring young lad in the Home Depot parking lot was working underneath his car. Both tires on the driver’s side were suspended in the air. The rear tire had been hoisted by a jack. The front tire, next to where the young man was mostly underneath the vehicle, was propped on a makeshift tower of a few stacked 2x4s, each about a foot long. As I drove cautiously past the impending tragedy, the young man looked from underneath the 3,000-pound piece of steel propped on scrap lumber and playfully waved at me.

A good bit of the 5.9-year difference in life expectancy between women and men in the U.S. is because young males are significantly more likely to die from all causes – including accidents – than young females. The Social Security Administration reports that a 19-year-old male is 2.8 times more likely to die than is a 19-year-old female.

As a reader recently reminded me, it shouldn’t take an entire column to say, “correlation isn’t causation.” But that doesn’t keep me from wondering why young men are significantly more likely to engage in risky behaviors than young women. Is there some systemic bias or prejudice at work? Is courting danger one way that (low IQ?) young men attempt to impress young women? Men and women have essentially the same IQ, so there is something other than below average intelligence at work.

On average, men are 7% taller than women, but I don’t think being tall causes people to crawl under a people crusher propped on scrap lumber. That’s an obvious example of correlation differing from causation. It doesn’t diminish the validity of research related to sex and height or behaviors, but it serves as a very obvious reminder to always consider the possible motives of researchers. Apply your own logic detector to broad, sweeping conclusions about complex subjects such as human behaviors, particularly when condensed into four-word headlines.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.