This Halloween, millions of Americans will dress up as supposedly scary things—demons, witches, chainsaw murderers—and go trick-or-treating.
But in a perfectly rational world, Halloween costumes would look much different. After all, the things we tend to fear most—ghosts, spiders, shark attacks, airplane crashes—are actually extremely unlikely to harm us in the real world. But we don't blink at things that are, statistically speaking, way more likely to put us in grave danger.
So if you really want to scare people this Halloween, don't dress as a ghoul, a goblin, or a smoldering airplane. Instead, try a costume that represents a real, statistical danger to people's lives. Like these:
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death on the planet, with 1.2 million traffic fatalities a year globally, according to World Health Organization estimates. By comparison, only about 1,320 people died in airplane accidents last year. (According to the Insurance Information Institute, your odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident over the course of your lifetime are about 1 in 112. For air travel, your odds of dying are about 1 in 8,000.)
Cars kill more people in an hour than Jack the Ripper did in a lifetime. A car is a scary-ass costume.
Ladders look unassuming and unthreatening, but hoo boy, do they kill and injure a lot of people. According to a 2014 CDC report, ladders are responsible for 20% of fall injuries, and are involved in 43% of fall deaths. Among construction workers, ladders accounted for 81% of fall incidents that resulted in a trip to the ER.
By comparison, goblins have caused exactly zero ER trips.
Among all of the spooky things looming in your house, a hot tub or swimming pool is almost certainly the most dangerous. Drowning is the fifth-leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to the CDC, and hot tubs have the added benefit of being harbors for Legionella, the germ that causes Legionnaire's Disease, and that results in up to 18,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. (For perspective, that's twice as many people as are bitten by venomous snakes in a year.)
If you want to be statistically accurate at your Halloween party, you could always go as heart disease, the number-one killer in the world. But if you want to get more specific, go as sugar. Between its contributions to diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health problems, sugar indirectly causes millions of deaths a year. (Sugary drinks alone contribute an estimated 185,000 deaths a year.) Jason from "Friday the 13th" has nothing on glucose.
As scary Halloween costumes go, alcoholic beverages make werwolves look like Care Bears. According to the CDC, alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths per year in the United States. It impairs judgment, makes operating cars and other heavy machinery even more dangerous, and contributes to liver disease and other deadly conditions. These Halloween revelers, pictured above, may look like they're having fun—but their costume represents something that kills more people every year than ghosts, devils, and Sexy Donald Trumps combined.
Everyone knows that cigarettes and cigars are bad for you. But hookahs have somehow flown under the radar.
The tobacco found in hookahs is just as dangerous as the tobacco in cigarettes. And because of the way a hookah is typically smoked, it's actually much worse. The average hookah smoker will inhale about 90,000 milliliters of smoke during a single session. That's equivalent to the smoke from 180 cigarettes. 180 cigarettes! Boo!
If you're going to go as an animal for Halloween, consider bees, wasps, and hornets, which are far more likely to kill you than most supposedly scary animals. They kill an average of 58 people in the U.S. per year, according to the CDC. That's way more than are killed by dogs (28 people a year), spiders (7 people a year), or sharks (1 person a year).
While we're on the topic of insects: mosquitos may not look like much, but they are terrifying little beasts. Over a million people die of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue fever every year. With their disease-ridden blood siphons, mosquitos will kill your ass. I, for one, would not open the door for a mosquito trick-or-treater.
If you want to impress your science nerd friends this Halloween, try making a "Hayflick Limit" costume. The Hayflick Limit is the name scientists have given to the theory that cells can only replicate and divide a certain number of times (usually 40-60) before they die. Some geneticists believe that the Hayflick Limit will kill us all in the long run, by imposing a natural ceiling on the human lifespan. Spooky!
Have a rational Halloween, everybody!