‘Hippy Crack’ – It’s More Dangerous Than Taking A Bath

Well the ‘hippy crack’ story didn’t stop Arsenal stretching their unbeaten run to 21 games in all competitions with a 1-0 win over Huddersfield. Unai Emery was probably not all that amused to see his players highlighted for inhaling nitrous oxide – he refused to discuss what he’d said to them – but then again it was four months ago and seems unlikely to have had a detrimental effect on performances. So the coverage in The Sun that was then picked up by other papers was a real mountain out of a molehill.

Football365 had the same view, and set to work in their Mediawatch feature, making fun of The Sun and Mail’s sensationalist reporting of a relatively harmless incident where no laws were broken and no one got hurt – hell, at the time no one was even offended! And I agree, The Sun’s reporting is usually awful, the ethos of the paper is offensive to sensible people, and their attacks on certain individuals are disgusting. Aside from that, the pictures they showed of the ‘wild party’ looked incredibly tame, and did nothing to enrage or appal me or the massive majority of Arsenal supporters.

So I’ll have a laugh at The Sun and Mail’s fake outrage as much as anyone, but F365 have tried to be a bit too clever. Their writer doesn’t understand statistics or probability, which lots of people don’t, especially in football. F365 quote The Sun saying there have been “at least 17 fatalities” related to nitrous oxide, then say: “So in the history of nitrous oxide being used as a recreational drug around the world, it has been linked to just 17 fatalities.” No. “At least” is not the same as “just”. And if they did two minutes’ research they’d know the 17 is the number in the UK between 2006 and 2012. In the US it’s about 15 per year, and given that nitrous oxide has been used as a recreational drug for about 200 years there have undoubtedly been hundreds, probably thousands, of fatalities. In their haste to laugh at The Sun, F365 have made themselves look stupid by not checking and instead trying to be deliberately misleading. Which is the sort of thing The Sun do.

Then F365 say: “It’s worth noting that 7,697 people died from alcohol-specific causes during 2017 in the UK alone. There is literally no comparison between the dangers of nitrous oxide and the dangers of alcohol.” Er, well there literally is, because you just literally made one. Literally, that’s what you did.

But what matters is not the raw number, it’s the danger involved and the percentage of people affected or killed. Is it 1 in a million or 1 in 10? I don’t know with nitrous oxide and nor do F365, so the comparison is pointless.

Then F365 say “Around 30 people per year die of accidental drowning in a bath tub in the UK”. This is entirely irrelevant. They may as well say that zero people in the UK died from crocodile attacks, ergo baths are more dangerous than crocodiles. Baths are not more dangerous than crocodiles, because baths are not trying to kill you. Similarly ladders are not more dangerous than crocodiles, however many people fall off them. Even if baths were inherently dangerous (they’re not), if 50m people take 200 baths each per year and 30 die, that’s a one in 3 billion chance. If 100,000 take nitrous oxide 20 times each and 4 die that’s 1 in 500,000. (I’m guessing on the numbers, but I’m pretty sure baths are more popular.) And that doesn’t even account for the fact that most people who drown in baths are either drunk, infants or old and infirm. The infirm might have died anyway, they just happened to be in the bath at the time. Those taking nitrous oxide may well also be drunk, but aren’t likely to be old and infirm, or infants.

Over 600 British people a year die on foreign holidays – they sound really dangerous, and I advise you to stop taking them. It’ll help the British economy and will be especially useful for me as I can avoid other tourists when I travel.

I know this stuff about ‘hippy crack’, alcohol and baths isn’t to do with football stats, but it’s symptomatic of how badly stats are used by football media and fans that a football website comes up with this drivel.



2 thoughts on “‘Hippy Crack’ – It’s More Dangerous Than Taking A Bath

  1. I LOVE this post! For so many reasons. The loose-limbed approach to statistics is one of journalisms fatal weaknesses.

  2. Of course, you’re correct, Phil, about The Sun and The Mail. They’ll publish anything for a click along with its related “ching”. However, I’m intrigued by the underlying stats – I wonder how many of those deaths in the bath happened to people who had previously inhaled nitrous oxide?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger Waters was at that wild party too. He seems to think that the Israeli army takes their practice shooting on Palestinian children, and that Israel is “practicing apartheid”. I guess that no-one’s told him that there are 1.5 million Israeli-Arab citizens living in Israel?

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