‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’s’  Macabre Mistake

December 8, 2012

On December 2, 2012, Ripley's Believe It or Not published a factoid in national newspapers that read, "You are more likely to die on your birthday then any other day of the year."

There are few things wrong with this (not counting that they misspelled "than"). The statement is technically true, but completely misleading. It suggests that a given person is more likely to die on their birthday (that is, the day that is the anniversary of his or her birth) than any other of the 364 days in the year. (This interpretation is clear from the illustration, showing a skull with dozens of birthday candles on it.)

That is not true; instead, it should read, "You are more likely to be killed on the day of your birth than at any other time." According to a 2002 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person's first day on Earth is also the day he or she is most likely to be killed: the risk of homicide for newborns is ten times greater than at any other time in life. Each year, hundreds of newborns and children are killed by one of their parents, and over all age groups, mothers kill more often than fathers.

My guess is that Ripley's (which is often good about fact-checking their claims) simply misread or misunderstood this "weird" statistic that someone submitted. If they had correctly understood that fact (and its implications), it's unlikely they would have used it.

After all, the idea that you're likely to drop dead on your birthday is more entertaining than the idea that babies only a few minutes (or hours) old are being murdered, and a skull with candles on it is more entertaining than a dead baby drowned in a toilet or left in a Dumpster.