Like many writers, I have enough of an ego to want to know when one of my books gets a mention somewhere. I was surprised today when I got an alert saying that one of my older books The 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them (Broadway Books, 2004) was mentioned in a current article. I was even more surprised to find that the title was being cited as scientific evidence that global warming is good for you.
Let me begin by explaining that The 100 Most Dangerous Things was not my choice for a title. I can’t remember my working title, I don’t think it was that great, but the idea behind the book is that you’re more likely to be hurt by an ordinary, everyday object like your desk, than by a shark precisely because you interact with desks every day. Sharks, not so much.
Publisher’s Weekly summed up the book by saying, ” Ultimately, it’s a clarion call for common sense, written with playful irreverence and several eye rolls at our society’s inflated hysteria at risks and our bumbling attempts to diffuse them. The advice is useful–and often cheeky. To minimize the threat of germ-ridden currency, for example, Lee suggests we send her our money immediately.”
Some statistically minded folk have found fault with the book for saying, for example, that teddy bears are “more dangerous” than grizzly bears (more people, in pure numbers, are injured by toys) when it should, to be accurate, compare how many of the people who come into close contact with grizzly bears get injured compared to how many who come into contact with teddy bears. This is a valid criticism, but the point is, I don’t care. I knew that when I wrote it. I was trying to find a bit of humor in our inelegant accidents: The same type of humor that comes from watching someone slip on a banana peel, which, of course, I examined in the book:
If cartoons and comics are to be believed, banana peels are one of the most dangerous things on earth. People slip on them left and right. While we accept this as a truism, no recent documentation exists to support the theory. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which catalogs all manner of injuries related to consumer products, does not track banana peel related falls. “Fruits and vegetables fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration,” they say. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has no records of large numbers of people slipping on banana peels. Could it be that the enormous publicity surrounding the dangerous practice of snacking on bananas and leaving the peels on the floor has made our lives safer?
In fact, it may be banana-cide that put an end to generations of people going wooo-aaaa-hhhhh. The Gros Michel was a variety of banana that was bigger and sweeter than the cavendish variety we’re used to seeing in our North American and European supermarkets. Banana authorities believe that the Gros Michel was the inspiration for the falling-on-a-banana slapstick routine. This tasty but slippery fruit was wiped out by a crop disease in the 1950s or 60s making it safe to walk without falling once again.
Wrong! All you need to slip and fall is a floor and gravity as 12,000 Americans will attest. Or they would attest, if they could, because that is the number that die in falls each year. Many of the accident statistics you will find in other chapters– injuries by tables, office supplies, chairs, stereos, drum sets– actually involve people falling down and crashing into them.
That should give you a sense of the tone of the book. I put a lot of work into researching it, but never expected it would show up cited as an authoritative source on scientific matters. But then maybe it is not so surprising given the argument put forward in the article– we shouldn’t try to stop global warming, we should be celebrating it.
The article appears on a web site which Media Bias Fact Check describes as an “extreme right website that peddles conspiracy theories such as Obama being an Islamic Terrorist and 9/11 as an inside job. They also promote climate change denial and creationism.”
The author of the piece makes the case that as more people die in extremely cold weather than in extremely hot weather, global warming is actually a benefit to humanity. (Just get rid of all that snow and you’ll have fewer skiing accidents too!) In support of this theory the article’s author pulls out this factoid from my book: In the United Kingdom, between forty thousand and fifty thousand more deaths occur during the winter months than in summer months.
It is probably worth mentioning what the entire entry in my book had to say about this. The reason I mentioned England’s winter mortality at all is that more people die from the effects of cold weather in Britain than in much colder places like Russia and Finland. The number of excess deaths in the cold months in mild London is greater than the number of excess deaths during the cold months in Yakutsk, Russia– the coldest city on Earth. No one in Yakutsk has ever been shocked to discover it was cold outside. They are careful about avoiding exposure to cold, whereas in places with milder winters, people go out in light-weight jackets and, as their mom’s tried to warn them, catch their deaths of cold.
So if you were citing the entire entry, you could just as easily make the case that another ice age would be good for our health because it would plunge us into such extreme cold that we’d never forget to dress in layers again. Both arguments strike me as having equal merit.