Darwin awards - an educational story
- For those of you who don't know about the darwin awards - those are awards,
given out yearly by a specialized mailing list, to individuals who helped
the human gene pool the most by kindly removing themselves from it, in such
a stupid way that it demonstrated that the human gene pool indeed benefitted
from the removal.
In other words - who died in the stupidest way this year?
So in 1999 people recieved the following letter:
THOMPSON, MANITOBA, CANADA. Telephone relay company night watchman Edward
Baker, 31, was killed early Christmas morning by excessive microwave
radiation exposure. He was apparently attempting to keep warm next to a
telecommunications feed-horn. Baker had been suspended on a safety violation
once last year, according to Northern Manitoba Signal Relay spokesperson
Tanya Cooke. She noted that Baker's earlier infraction was for defeating a
safety shutoff switch and entering a restricted maintenance catwalk in order
to stand in front of the microwave dish. He had told coworkers that it was
the only way he could stay warm during his twelve-hour shift at the station,
where winter temperatures often dip to forty below zero. Microwaves can heat
water molecules within human tissue in the same way that they heat food in
microwave ovens. For his Christmas shift, Baker reportedly brought a twelve
pack of beer and a plastic lawn chair, which he positioned directly in line
with the strongest microwave beam. Baker had not been told about a tenfold
boost in microwave power planned that night to handle the anticipated
increase in holiday long-distance calling traffic. Baker's body was
discovered by the daytime watchman, John Burns, who was greeted by an odor
he mistook for a Christmas roast he thought Baker must have prepared as a
surprise. Burns also reported to NMSR company officials that Baker's
unfinished beers had exploded.
A local paper in Denver published this letter in its back page, adding some
It's the moment we wait for every year, and I'm always glad my name isn't on
"The annual DARWIN AWARDS are out. They are given (although I've never been
clear who, exactly, hands them out) "to those individuals who did the most
for the human gene pool by removing themselves from it."
"Being a cynic, I'm convinced some of these tales of self-removal are little
more than urban legends, but who cares? They make astonishing reading, and
they always raise the question, "What were they thinking?"
"The "winner" in this year's poll is from Canada. It seems Edward Baker, 32,
a telephone relay company night watchman, was killed early Christmas morning
by excessive microwave radiation exposure. Baker, the story goes, warmed
himself on cold Manitoba nights by setting up a plastic lawn chair, and a
six-pack, in line with the microwave's strongest beam.
"Guess what happened next? Baker wasn't told that the company was boosting
microwave power to handle heavy holiday phone loads. To make a long story
short, microwaves have the same effect on a human body that ovens have on a
roast. Say no more."
The editor of this paper recieved the following letter as a response:
Dear Mr. Kreck:
Thank you so much for reprinting my Darwin Award hoax in the Denver Post.
Like you, I am a skeptic and have always very suspicious of these stories.
However, I am also a scientist so I decided to do a little experiment. I
made up the most outrageous and twisted death-by-stupidity tale I could
imagine. I made sure that all the characters in the story had names (Mr.
Baker, Mr. Burns, Ms. Cooke) that would give my joke away to any wary
reader. I set the story in a location that allowed the company "Northern
Manitoba Signal Relay" to have the same acronym as New Mexicans for Science
and Reason, our local version of Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Skeptics. I
took a list of Darwin Awards that somebody sent me and attached my own
creation, which I also declared to be this year's winner. I turned it loose
by e-mailing it to a few out-of-state friends on New Year's Day. Seeing it
this week in the Post is a bit like getting a response to a note in a bottle
eight months after throwing it into the ocean. It is also a good lesson in
why we should all be skeptical of what we see on the internet... not to
mention what we read in the newspaper!
By the way, NMSR president Dave Thomas--a recent guest speaker at Rocky
Mountain Skeptics--is the only person who discovered the hoax and correctly
attributed it to me. He had searched for "NMSR" under Deja News and
recognized my brand of humor when his search turned up my story.
Albuquerque, New Mexico