Random AsidesScienceSkepticism

Bad Chart Thursday: Shark Attack Risk Increases 1200% in Hawaii!

According to International Shark Attack File stats, between 2008 and 2013, shark attacks increased from 1 a year to 13 in Hawaii. I know, I know, that’s still a very small number, but that is a 1200% increase, which is MASSIVE!

In contrast, California, which had TWICE the number of attacks as Hawaii at the start of this period, has experienced a 50% decrease in this time frame. Yes, this means that Hawaii in 2013 has had 1200% more attacks than California.

The trend in Hawaii is DISTURBING.

Okay, okay, so this probably just means an increase in activity in the water. For California, for example, you can see a relationship between victim activity and number of attacks in this ISAF chart, which you can get to from the main ISAF Stats, Trends, and Analysis page.

You might notice something very suspicious, however. The same data appear to be missing for Hawaii.

What is Hawaii hiding?

Sharkinfested Hawaii meme

Now missing information could mean a lot of things. There’s no reason to assume the worst, such as an elaborate cover-up to line Hawaii’s pockets with more tourist dollars by minimizing risks. I’m just presenting the facts.

But it only gets worse.

Out of 47 total attacks in the United States in 2013, only 1 was fatal. Guess where that happened?

That’s right. Hawaii.

We can see the needless death so much more clearly in a chart.


But even if we don’t emotionally exploit a very small death toll, a comparison of the number of attacks is still SHOCKING, especially when you consider Hawaii’s shoddy information-providing practices. Odds are, the numbers are much higher, closer to what the far right bar shows in comparison to a year for California. But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that your risk of shark attack, even death, is HIGHER in Hawaii, no matter how we make the comparisons. And every single number I’ve provided in this post is a verifiable fact.


You can bet that when I find out the name of whoever is responsible for this, I will not stay silent. I will make sure everyone knows the TRUTH about them. Because if I can save just one person, or thirteen, from horrific trauma and even death, it’s worth it.

You’re welcome.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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    1. I do wonder what Kansas is hiding about its landshark problem. This could be much bigger than I ever imagined.

      1. Indeed, Melanie. I can’t find any statistics on shark attacks in Lake Michigan, either. That got me thinking. Hawaii, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, AND Indiana are clearly concealing shark attack data. This must go all the way to the Federal Government. When I checked the CIA Factbook, it confirmed my suspicions. Absolutely nothing on sharks. The FBI website doesn’t have one word on shark attacks, either. These organizations are supposed to be protecting us, but they’re silent on the subject of sharks. What are they hiding?

        My research leads me to inexorably to one chilling, incontrovertible conclusion: sharks did 9/11.

        1. I have to say that all this time I was sure there was an alien-9/11 connection, but that’s just what the sharks and the GOVERNMENT want me to think, isn’t it? I’ve been such a fool.

  1. In your last paragraph: “You can bet that when I find out the name of whoever is responsible for this, I will not stay silent.”… The answer to that question is “Bruce”. You’ll notice he has taken the pledge “Fish are friends, not food.” No mention of humans. Jes sayin’.

    1. This only leads me to wonder whose side the fish are on. I have a terrible feeling in my gut that I don’t want to know the answer to that.

  2. “Needless risk”. Seriously if you don’t like it don’t swim in the damn sea. I’m so sick and tired of people whining about the great evil man eating machines. Get a life.
    Yes there are going to be risks swimming in the sea, just like everything else in life. People use your kind of thinking to cull sharks.

    1. Do you have any data that this kind of thinking leads to shark culling? At least Melanie provided charts.

  3. I am posting this here because comments were closed on the home birth article where Dr. Tutuer responded this “shark attack” article.

    I really admire Prof. Orosz’s and Dr. Tuteur’s patience and willingness to waste their time explaining basic concepts to people who are clearly not experts, but somehow think they are and even qualified enough to write articles attacking the work of other experts. This must be done in the context of peer review and not on blog posts. It is really damaging to the scientific process when scientists are reduced to publicly arguing with total amateurs in comment threads, in order to defend their reputation. The Dunning-Krueger effect seems strong on this blog.

    It is also disturbing that people here don’t seem to comprehend the seriousness of accusing other scientists so publicly of making mistakes and manipulating data, without peer review. Not sure if people here are just oblivious or just don’t care.

    1. The comments are not closed on the article where we’re discussing how this post applies to the tactics Dr. Tuteur uses.

      Should I have gotten peer review before pointing out this mistake to you? Sorry, I am not up on all the rules for Arguments from Authority because I tend to focus on the arguments themselves.

      1. Yes, you should have had it “peer reviewed” or checked with the other administrators on this site before posting your comment trying to correct me, because comments were closed for a brief period. It looks like the comments on that article were reopened again. Amateurs.

        1. ” Sorry, I am not up on all the rules for Arguments from Authority because I tend to focus on the arguments themselves.”

          You are not qualified to understand the arguments (even though you think you may be). Do you have a medical degree? Do have a PhD in statistics? This is no different than Sarah Palin trying to argue climate change or evolution. Geez.

          1. Actually, the more accurate analogy is Sarah Palin trying to argue with Richard Dawkins about evolution. Qualifications and expertise matter. If you are suspicious about someone’s work on statistics, then refer that work to another expert statistician and ask for their opinion. Have the wisdom to know the limits of your own knowledge and have respect for the expertise earned by scientists through their years of training and research.

          2. mary123, are you really saying that basic statistical literacy is only for doctors and statisticians? That all of us ordinary folk need a degree to determine whether someone is using misleading tactics with numbers?

            So you honestly can’t tell by looking at the post above that even though all the numbers are true, the way I presented them was misleading. You would need a Ph.D. in statistics to determine that? Because that is exactly what you’re saying. I apologize if I’ve now contributed to an irrational fear of sharks in you. I hope you can find a statistician to help clear that up.

          3. It’s not just basic statistical literacy. It’s about a deep and in depth understanding of the medical literature to provide context and a deep understanding of statistics to again to provide context on the appropriateness of a particular method to a given situation. Even Dr. Tuteur who is a highly qualified medical doctor with an in depth understanding of the medical literature, had the wisdom to get a statistics professor to take an independent look. If you think you understand basic statistics, don’t you think a professor of statistics also understands it? And way better than you? It should give you pause.

            As I said in another comment, the hardest thing to impress upon non-experts is how much they don’t know. We scientists really know our own limitations, because we understand how much work goes into becoming an expert in one field; so we understand that since we haven’t put the same amount of work into some other field, we are not qualified to comment on it.

            One of the skepchicks (Kavin Senapathy) on this blog really gets it. Here is a quote from her article on the “home birth fracas”, which really captures the sentiment:

            “But while I would consider myself relatively knowledgeable about life science and genomic data and am really into crunching those types of numbers, I have the wisdom to know that my unrelated profession/hobby, while really science-y, does not make me an Obstetrician, social scientist, or statistical expert.”

          4. It is ENTIRELY about statistical literacy and has nothing whatsoever to do with the medical literature except to the degree that misleading representation of numbers is a known problem in the medical literature (this article goes into depth about it–http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/pspi_8_2_article.pdf–but you can google “misleading relative risks” to see that the issue is also addressed in Lancet, BMJ, JAMA, and in a Cochrane Systematic Review). Dr. Orosz did not address Dr. Tuteur’s misleading use of numbers. So far, in fact, everyone has decided to make this about everything BUT what it’s actually about.

            Again, if credentials are required to spot misleading use of numbers, then you are saying that credentials are required to be able to determine whether my use of numbers in this post is misleading. I used the exact same tactics Dr. Tuteur used (expressing very small numbers with a large relative risk percentage; making faulty comparisons among groups; filling in missing information with the worst-outcome guess–a very popular tactic among conspiracy theorists, btw; creating a graph to visually inflate small numbers; omitting a bar for the larger comparison group and using the second bar’s numbers in the third bar to inflate it).

            If all of this is OK to do, then my post above is accurate. We both know that’s not true.

          5. Sigh. Unfortunately, I have work to do and can’t keep this up. Not sure how Dr. Tetuer and Prof. Orosz have the patience to keep doing this; really admire their stamina. All the best.

          6. I don’t understand how Dr. Tuteur has managed to write so many words on this subject without ever actually addressing the flaws in how she presented her information. She’s written much to undermine the people critiquing how she presented the numbers. This has become about arguments from authority and ad hom attacks in place of actually addressing the arguments themselves.

            What I don’t think you understand is that I advocate for much better education about the risks of homebirth. That is why I have an issue with others educating about this by manipulating the information. It makes it much harder for us to persuade people who already have a mistrust of medicine to consider the homebirth risks when one of the most prominent voices is being blatantly dishonest with how she presents the numbers. You think this dishonesty is okay because she’s a doctor?

        2. It’ll go a long way towards bolstering your claims to intellectual elitism if you don’t call people amateurs when you yourself haven’t yet realized that there are two posts–one with closed comments and the other not.

          1. No. The administrator Elyse even posted a comment explicitly saying that she is closing comments on the home birth article because it was getting torturous and was best that it just died. Comments were closed there for a brief period and then opened again. My claims are not about intellectual “elitism”, rather they represent the simple concept of intellectual “awareness”. Be aware of where you have expertise and where you don’t. Recognize that experts in a field know a *lot* more than you do. It’s really not that controversial.

          2. That comment from Elyse was on the other article, not the one where we’re talking about this chart. The comments on that article were closed and left closed. The comments on the other article were never closed. You confused the two.

            Please. Quit while you’re behind. This is getting ridiculous.

          3. Alright, if I did really misunderstand Elyse’s post then I will concede that point and withdraw my claim and admit I was wrong about comments being closed. See? Simple.

            What is really ridiculous is that people on this blog with no real credentials are literally arguing about home birth statistics with an actual medical doctor and a professor of statistics. It’s comical, really. The hardest thing to impress upon non-experts (amateurs) is how much they don’t know. This is how we end up with the Sarah Palin’s of the world arguing with actual scientists and affecting policy. Scary.

          4. This entire discussion is about misleading use of statistics. That is what it has been about from the very start. It happens to be about this misleading use in presenting the information about homebirth, but could easily have been about the misleading use in presenting information about sharks. The entire point of these critiques is to point out misleading uses of numbers. This misleading use happens to be a problem among physicians as well as laypeople and journalists. I provide links to illustrate this along with explicit explanations of how these uses are misleading. This post illustrates how those tactics are misleading very clearly. If they weren’t misleading, I would not have been able to write this post using accurate numbers yet coming to completely ridiculous conclusions.

            Instead of addressing the arguments themselves about misleading uses of numbers, you are saying that people without the proper credentials can’t do this. So what you are saying is that without credentials, you can’t look at the post above and tell that the numbers have been presented in a misleading way. You need to be a statistician or an expert in shark mortality. Is that how you really feel? That you can’t look at the post above and tell that it’s misleading because you do not have the credentials to do so? Because that is what you are arguing.

          5. Read my earlier comment on this thread, where I also use a quote from the skepchick Kavin that illustrates the point.

          6. Good thing we took classes on identifying shitty data way back in high school. Man oh man, the things the plebs can do these days!

            You seem to be conflating trying to actually debate the hard and crunchy numbers in a peer reviewed journal (which is kind of ironic given how much peer review Dr Amy has exposed herself to) to being able to identify manipulative data on a blog.

            All Melanie has done is point out how statistics can be misused. Now if Dr Amy didn’t really do that, then why are you so upset about this little ol’ shark statistic? Or are you saying that no doctor can ever manipulate data and as long as we see a few letters after the name of someone we should shut up and trust them implicitly. (Because, I know a few doctors who’ve held up some pretty insane charts, and I’m thinking you wouldn’t mind me using a little critical thinking in those cases.)

          7. I don’t care about this shark statistic. I’m referring to the home birth statistics discussions, but posted here by mistake. All I am saying is that debates about scientific matters should be between scientists. It gets dangerous when non-experts and scientists are given the sam weight because it leads to a lot of misinformation. This is the reason we have so many in the US who don’t accept evolution, for example; i.e. they don’t distinguish between the expertise of a scientist and a politician.

          8. This is so Argument from Authority, I can barely even see straight through the snobbery.

            1- You’re on a blog. A BLOG! There’s no “same weight” going on here. This isn’t a peer review journal. We plebs get to talk about all kinds of things including manipulation of data. Get over it.

            2- People don’t accept evolution because a-hole scientists just roll their eyes and say “It’s real. Trust me. I’m a scientist,” and behave no differently than their religious leader or a politician about the whole thing. Every time someone like Bill Nye actually takes the time to explain the evidence, every poll taken shows that he even convinced creationists.

          9. chrisbrecheen – Thank you, that was why I was so upset over all the skeptics, atheists, and scientist that poo-pooed Bill Nye for daring to debate Ken Hamm. Sure Hamm is a joke and yes it was used as a fund-raiser but the argument that he shouldn’t do it because it give credence to creationism is just so fucking elitist. What they were essentially saying was “we can’t get through to these people so way should we try?” And while it may be true that “true believers” won’t be persuaded there are plenty who watched that will now question things.

            Don’t we supposedly like education? A debate buy someone who isn’t completely out of their depth is educating viewers.

            Do we believe that the dyed-in-the-wool aren’t worthy of education? How elitist.

            If we can cause a few people to think about what they accept as truth without question why would we? Why indeed.

    2. “It is also disturbing that people here don’t seem to comprehend the seriousness of accusing other scientists so publicly of making mistakes and manipulating data, without peer review. ”

      The irony *actually* burns.

    3. “It is also disturbing that people here don’t seem to comprehend the seriousness of accusing other scientists so publicly of making mistakes and manipulating data, without peer review. Not sure if people here are just oblivious or just don’t care.”

      This is not what peer review means.

      1. If you are going to accuse scientists of manipulating data publicly (a very serious charge), first write a paper and get it published in a peer reviewed journal. Then you can blog about it and refer to the published paper when you make the accusation. Making a serious public charge about scientific work, should at least meet this minimum standard.

        1. So free speech be damned scientists are above reproach? You do know what the argument from authority fallacy is right?

          I have no opinion on the original article but you’re arguments are becoming very wide ranging, you may want to stop with the AFA line.

          1. Free speech? Seriously? Should the science committee deciding science budgets in the US give equal weight to recommendations from Sarah Palin and Richard Dawkins because of free speech? This is not about “authority”, it is about scientific expertise.

          2. Bull fucking shit. Are you seriously saying that Sarah Palin is not allowed to speak her incorrect views? Because that’s not what I’m see on the TV all the time. If you don’t like something that someone is putting forward actually show how it is wrong rather than screaming about how only scientists should ever deign talk about science. That is an elitist view of the world that I see as far more dangerous then someone getting statistics wrong. How dare someone talk about science if they don’t possess the correct alphabet soup.

            And yes, free speech allows anyone to say what they want about anything even if they do not possess the right degree, if you don’t like that I suggest you shut down the internet.

  4. mrmisconception, let me clarify. Of course I don’t believe that this blog doesn’t have the “right” to post anything they want. Nor am I implying their right to post anything should be taken away. I totally agree on this. I’m saying that this blog could elevate themselves by respecting scientific expertise, and inviting scientists to argue peer reviewed research with each other. Can the blog make public accusations against scientists without peer reviewed research? yes. Is it a good idea? In my opinion, no. This is what I am hoping to convince them of. Otherwise, in my opinion, the reputation of this blog will suffer.

    1. Then argue the issues, show them how they were wrong if you can. Saying that they shouldn’t argue with a doctor is not sufficient. I highly doubt that you are that concerned about this blog’s reputation. It looks to me like you feel a friend was misrepresented and you are using any argument you can to defend them.

      1. No. I have no stake in this. I am a scientist in a completely different field. It just scares we that one day I can wake up and be accused of all sorts of things publicly on a blog (with no peer reviewed research to back it up). Then in order to defend my public reputation, I’m forced engage in discussions with non-experts in comment threads. As a scientist, I am all for confrontation and debates within the scientific community. Scientists have spent a long time debating evolution and climate change with non-experts. However, they still fail to convince because non-experts because they don’t understand the arguments and are truly unaware of how much they don’t know. US science policy today is in shambles because so many politicians listen to recommendations from non-experts, because they cannot distinguish the expertise of scientists.

        1. If you are terrified of being accused of misleading with how you present numbers, don’t mislead in how you present numbers. It really is that simple.

          Let me see if I understand this peer review request. You are suggesting that we get scientists to analyze whether Dr. Tuteur was misleading with her numbers in a blog post and submit that to a journal. That is what you think is the reasonable thing to do here.

        2. “It just scares we that one day I can wake up and be accused of all sorts of things publicly on a blog (with no peer reviewed research to back it up).”

          This exact thing is a staple of the blog you’re defending.

          Despite your florid pleas for the reputation of Skepchick what I suspect is that having been called out on your fallacy of authority, that is your latest move in a clear pattern of motivated reasoning. Conflating everyone who doesn’t have a PhD or MD with partisan rhetoric and willful ignorance is insulting. If the argument were so fucking spectacular, these experts would be able to convince a bunch of science-loving skeptics who ALREADY AGREE with their ultimate conclusions.

        3. This is absolutely absurd. I am also a scientist in a completely different field, and in my field, reasoned criticism of published research happens in all kinds of venues, including peer reviewed publications, editorially curated but not peer reviewed letters in professional journals, professional but unreviewed venues like arXiv.org, minimally overseen conference posters, personal discussions among colleagues, and yes, even blog posts.

          1. You say you are concerned because Jamie “accused [Dr. Tutuer] of all kinds of things publicly on a blog.” But Tutuer’s original criticism was… on her blog. Jamie isn’t even critiquing peer reviewed research, she’s critiquing Tutuer’s un-reviewed critique of MANA’s work. To claim that Jamie’s choice of venue for criticism is inappropriate while Tutuer’s was appropriate is extremely disingenuous.

          2. Comparing Jamie’s critique to denialism of evolution and climate change is poisoning the well. Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology, and its veracity is supported by practically every new biological fact we discover. Anthropogenic climate change is an extremely well supported hypothesis endorsed by greater than 95% of climate scientists (last I read). To the best of my knowledge, our understanding of the relative safety of home versus hospital births is not nearly as well-studied or unanimously agreed upon as these two issues.

          3. Framing this as expert versus non expert is also disingenuous. Jamie has training and professional competence in basic statistical practice, which is the topic under discussion. Were Jamie critiquing Tutuer’s knowledge and practice of obstetrics, then she would have to do a lot of extra work to demonstrate that her critique is in fact informed. But since the topic under discussion is the interpretation of the statistical results of a study, her qualifications are clearly adequate.

          4. Qualifications aside, the critique should be read as it stands. Tutuer’s critique of the MANA results are harsh but reasoned. Jamie’s critique of Tutuer’s interpretation is also harsh but reasoned. Because the only thing under discussion here is basic statistical practice, which does not require a highly specialized knowledge base, we can easily evaluate the relative merits of their arguments. This isn’t some arcane point that only those exalted few who have been hooded can claim to understand, this is a fairly clear question about where the numbers came from, what they actually say, and how we should interpret that. In short, it’s perfectly well suited for a discussion on a blog. Which is probably why Tutuer chose to blog about it originally rather than submit a paper for peer review.

          Like you, I also have no stake in this. In fact, my relatively uninformed inclination is to believe that home births probably are slighly more dangerous than hospital births, but I am open to being convinced otherwise. In the present discussion, my relatively uninformed takeaway is that the quality of the data set under discussion is probably too poor to say anything definitively one way or the other, but I haven’t taken the time to deeply read the arguments on both sides enough to feel that I can say this with any certainty. But I find the idea that scientific debate should be confined to peer reviewed research and kept out of the public eye to be antithetical to one of my major goals as a scientist, which is to bring science to the public. You say, “US science policy today is in shambles because so many politicians listen to recommendations from non-experts, because they cannot distinguish the expertise of scientists.” I agree. I believe one way to redress this issue is make real scientific debate (such as what I believe is was on display here) more, not less, visible to the public. Greater exposure to genuine scientific disagreement can only help people learn the difference between scientific criticism and pseudoscientific or denialist criticism. And I think Skepchick is providing a valuable service to the public on that front.

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