Darwin Awards
DarwinAwards.com logo

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor, created by Wendy Northcutt to recognize individuals who contribute to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool, through putting themselves (unnecessarily) in life-threatening situations. A book series is paralleled by a website, "www.DarwinAwards.com" (stylised as "www.đar̆winĀwar̆ḍs.ćōm"), whose "Rules" section explains:

In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chances of long-term survival.

Accidental self-sterilization also qualifies; however, the site notes: "Of necessity, the award is usually bestowed posthumously." But the candidate is disqualified if "innocent bystanders", who might have contributed positively to the gene pool, are killed in the process.

The Darwin Awards books state that an attempt is made to disallow known urban legends from the awards, but some older "winners" have been 'grandfathered' to keep their awards. The Darwin Awards site[1] does try to verify all submitted stories, but many similar sites, and the vast number of circulating "Darwin awards" emails, are largely fictional.[2]

Contents

History

The Awards have circulated since 1985 as emails and Usenet group discussions; the Google Usenet archive records two early mentions of Darwin Awards, 7 August 1985 Vending Machine Tipover[3] and 7 December 1990 JATO Rocket Car[4] urban legend. The JATO legend was widely distributed via emails from 1995–97. Several anonymously authored email lists titled (for example) 1999 Darwin Awards have appeared annually since 1991.[3] There are several websites that record "Darwin Awards".[2]

Rules

Northcutt has stated five requirements for a Darwin Award:

Inability to reproduce

  • Nominee must be dead or rendered sterile.
Sometimes this can be a matter of dispute. Potential awardees may be out of the gene pool due to age; others have already reproduced before their deaths. To avoid debates about the possibility of in-vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, or cloning, the original Darwin Awards book applied the following "deserted island" test to potential winners: If the person were unable to reproduce when stranded on a deserted island with a fertile member of the opposite sex, he or she would be considered sterile. Winners of the award, in general, either are dead or become unable to use their sexual organs.

Excellence

  • Astoundingly stupid judgment.
The candidate's foolishness must be unique and sensational, likely because the award is intended to be funny. A number of foolish but common activities, such as smoking in bed, are excluded from consideration.[5] In contrast, self-immolation caused by smoking after being administered a flammable ointment in a hospital and specifically told not to smoke[6] is grounds for nomination. One 'Honorable Mention' (a man who attempted suicide by swallowing nitroglycerine pills, and then tried to detonate them by running into a wall) is noted to be in this category, despite being intentional and self-inflicted, which would normally disqualify the inductee.[7]

Self-selection

  • Cause of one's own demise.
Killing a friend with a hand grenade would not be eligible, but killing oneself while manufacturing a homemade chimney-cleaning device from a grenade would be eligible.[8] To earn a Darwin Award, the candidate must have killed him- or herself, rather than a third party.

Maturity

  • Capable of sound judgment.
The nominee must be at least past the legal driving age and free of mental defect (Northcutt considers injury or death caused by mental defect to be tragic, rather than amusing, and routinely disqualifies such entries). After much discussion, there also exists a small category regarding deaths below this age limit. Entry into this category requires that the peers of the candidate be of the opinion that the actions of the person in question were above and beyond the limits of reason in their opinions.

Veracity

  • The event must be verified.
The story must be documented by reliable sources: e.g., reputable newspaper articles, confirmed television reports, or responsible eyewitnesses. If a story is found to be untrue, it is disqualified, but particularly amusing ones are placed in the urban legend section of the archives. Despite this requirement, many of the stories are fictional, often appearing as "original submissions" and presenting no further sources than unverified (and unreliable) "eyewitnesses". Most such stories on Northcutt's Darwin Awards site are filed in the Personal Accounts section.

In addition, later revisions to the qualification criteria add several requirements that have not been made into formalized 'rules': innocent bystanders cannot be in danger, and the qualifying event must be caused without deliberate intent (to prevent glory-seekers from purposely injuring themselves solely to win a Darwin).

Examples

Examples of Darwin award winners include:

  • Juggling live hand grenades (Croatia, 2001)[9]
  • Leaving a lit cigarette in a warehouse full of explosives (Philippines, 1999)
  • Three Palestinian terrorists accidentally blown up by their bombs set on Palestinian daylight saving time, one hour ahead of the local time (Israel, 1999)[10]
  • Jumping out of a plane to film skydivers without wearing a parachute (U.S., 1987)[11]
  • Trying to get enough light to look down the barrel of a loaded muzzle-loaded gun using a cigarette lighter (U.S., 1996)[12]
  • Using a lighter to illuminate a fuel tank to make sure it contains nothing flammable (Brazil, 2003)[13]
  • Attempting to play Russian roulette with a semi-automatic pistol that automatically loads the next round into the chamber[14]
  • Attempting Russian roulette with an unexploded landmine[15]
  • Crashing through a window and falling to one's death in trying to demonstrate that the window was unbreakable[16]

Northcutt's Darwin Awards site gives "Honorable Mentions" to people who survive their misadventures with their reproductive capacity intact, by luck or chance. One example is Lawnchair Larry, who attached helium filled weather balloons to a lawn chair and floated far above Long Beach, California, in July 1982. He reached an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and was later fined for crossing controlled airspace. Another notable honorable mention was given to the two men who attempted to burgle the home of "hard man" footballer Duncan Ferguson (who had four convictions for assault and had served six months in Glasgow's Barlinnie prison) in 2001, with one burglar requiring three days hospitalization after being confronted by the player.[17]

Special winners

Each year, one award is selected as being much more "honorable" than the rest, and it is crowned as the "Darwin Award of the Year". In 2007, the winner was "The Enema Within", in which a man died of alcohol poisoning after having two 1.5-litre (0.33 imp gal; 0.40 US gal) bottles of sherry inserted anally.[18][19]

Cultural references

The Darwin Awards is a movie based on the Darwin Awards.

Charles Darwin Award

Apart from the Darwin Awards, there is also the serious ZSL Charles Darwin Award and Marsh Prize, presented by the Zoological Society of London to a British undergraduate student "for outstanding work in zoology."[20]

See also

References

  1. ^ Wendy Northcutt's Darwin Awards site
  2. ^ a b snopes.com discussion of the Darwin Awards
  3. ^ a b Vending machine tipover
  4. ^ JATO Rocket Car
  5. ^ The DarwinAwards.com "Rules" section reports: "Not a Darwin (but not safe either)
    • Whizzing on an electric wire
    • Smoking in an oxygen tent
    • Being hit by a train or automobile
    • Aerosol cans, etc., in the oven
    • Climbing into zoo cages
    • Falling off precipice while posing or pissing
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning
    • Most autoerotic deaths
    • all too common!" URL accessed 19 August 2009.
  6. ^ "Stubbed Out"
  7. ^ Phenomenal Failure - 2001 At-Risk Survivor
  8. ^ "2005 Darwin Award: Chimney-Cleaning Grenade". Darwin Awards. 2005. http://darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2005-09.html. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  9. ^ Juggling Hand Grenades
  10. ^ Living on "Zionist Time"
  11. ^ Parachuting Without a Parachute
  12. ^ Looking Down a Gun Barrel
  13. ^ Workin' at the Car Wash
  14. ^ Gun Safety Training
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Lawyer Aloft
  17. ^ http://darwinawards.com/stupid/stupid2001-04.html
  18. ^ Dunn, Ian (2008-01-11). "2007 Darwin Award winner announced". QI.com. http://www.qi.com/news/item.php?id=637. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  19. ^ Northcutt, Wendy (2008-01-11). "The Darwin Awards - January 2008". The Darwin Awards. http://www.darwinawards.com/newsletter/200801.txt. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  20. ^ ZSL Charles Darwin Award and Marsh Prize retrieved December 23, 2010.

Bibliography

  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action, Dutton Adult, October 19, 2000. ISBN 0-525-94572-5
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection Dutton Adult, October 29, 2001. ISBN 0-525-94623-3
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest, Dutton Adult, October 9, 2003. ISBN 0-525-94773-6
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards IV: Intelligent Design, Dutton Adult, October 24, 2006. ISBN 0-525-94960-7
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards: Next Evolution, Dutton Adult, October 30, 2008. ISBN 0-525-95085-0
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards: Countdown to Extinction, Dutton Adult, October 2010. ISBN 9780-525-95191-9

External links


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