What's More Dangerous Than a Shark?

Our latest Freakonomics podcast, “The Season of Death,” explored the relative danger of some favorite summertime activities — all of which claim many more lives than the much-feared shark attack. Foreign Policy has compiled a list of 10 things that kill more people than sharks. Our favorites: trampolines, roller coasters, and vending machines.  Also on the list: aggressive TVs or furniture:

Crushed by television or furniture: 26.64 deaths per year. As I’ve noted, this is a bigger killer of Americans than terrorism, which led to this Colbert Report Threat Down warning against the perils of “terrorist furniture.”



I'd like to once again remind the Freakonomics audience that one of the deadliest things you can do is go swimming with a vending machine. Almost as deadly: shaking a shark until it gives you your potato chips.


This is kind of misleading. I'd imagine shark being more dangerous on a per encounter basis than TV. Also it's not a uniform risk since the risk of Shark attack is different for someone swimming in Cape Cod compare to Utah. I'd imagine telling the dude who got chased by a great white on a canoe a few weeks ago that TV is more dangerous is not all that comforting.


According to Jack Handy, it is a shark riding an elephant, just trampling and eating everything it sees.


I think what you've missed here is the (perceived) controllability of the risk. I would bet that most of the deaths from vending machines, furniture and so on are in a larger sense unintelligent volunteers removing themselves (or people close to them) from the gene pool. Thus I can, by acting sensibly, eliminate much of my personal risk from such things, while I can't do much of anything to affect my risk from terrorist or (assuming I choose to swim in the ocean) shark attacks.


I once was almost crushed by a TV when I was a kid. It fell down on me, but I put my hands up to block it before it had a chance to completely crush me. It must have popped damn near every capillary in my fingertips, they were covered in brown spots for weeks. My fingers were also stiff for a while too, couldn't move them at all for a few days and didn't regain full range of motion in my fingers until a few weeks later. Better my fingers take a beating than my entire hand get crushed.


bobby, i TOLD u to stop running and playing in the living room!


Over on BoingBoing, Maggie Koerth-Baker is documenting Cow Week, emanating from her discovery that cows can kill up to 27 times more people in a year than sharks:

"It also throws some sharp relief on the way we talk about sharks. (And, for that matter, on the way we think about risk.) Much like the dichotomy between not-terribly-dangerous-but-highly-feared airplane travel and highly-dangerous-but-not-terribly-feared car travel, cows sneak in under our cultural radar—they kill effectively and relatively often, while we save up all our terror for the much, much less deadly shark."

The first installment can be found at http://boingboing.net/2012/08/14/cow-week-cow-kills-irish-pens.html Truly captivating stuff for the statistics-loving, story-one-upper in your circle!


The problem with saying that cows are more dangerous than sharks because they kill more people than sharks is that there's no accounting for exposure to the risk. For a fair comparison, you'd have to figure out deaths per human-shark interaction hour (probably pretty large, since there's really not that much actual interaction), and compare that with deaths per human-cow interaction hour (pretty large, considering all the farm & stockyard workers interacting with multiple cows. So spending say one hour in a cow pasture is likely to be a lot less of a risk than spending an hour in a shark tank.


You're assuming that all sharks attack humans and that of the species that might, they're big enough to do so. Put me in a shark tank with a 1 ft white shark and it's not going to bother me at all.

The rate of human-shark interactions per hour spent in the water is minuscule. Your assumption that the rate is "probably pretty large, since there’s really not that much actual interaction" is inaccurate and perpetuates the misconception about sharks (which is the whole point of this post). There's a lot more interaction with sharks than you know about... just because you don't see them, doesn't mean they aren't there. They just leave you alone.

Evi L. Bloggerlady

Of course one the biggest killers are mosquitoses. In numbers but probably also in biomass (when you add them all up).


In Africa, among the larger creatures, it would be the hippopotamus

Ryu Fan

This is the sort of data / summary that I adore the Freakonomics phenomenon for. A large segment of the US press stays afloat by keeping everyone scared senseless about statistically improbable dangers. Perspective like this is critical.

Shane L

Regarding trampoline deaths, the Simpsons wisely observed this some time back!


You just keep right on driving,

Eric M. Jones.

NYC maintains a comprehensive study of this stuff., and has for a century or more. See:

10 Leading Causes of Injury Death
New York City: 2007-2009
Highlighting Unintentional Injury


Although their use of the term "Unintentional" seems a little strange....


Since you didn't publish the death rate by shark attack, it's impossible for me to know whether more people are killed by rattlesnake bite (<1) than sharks. Yet people still fear snakes.


My aunt was killed when a shark bouncing on a trampoline tipped over the left-handed vending machine she was using. I think it's fair to say she assumed the risk.