Written By - Daniel D'Souza

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Erik L. Cato

This article will discuss the Darwin Awards, their establishment, and what they stand for. We will also discuss the books about the ‘honor’ or ‘dishonor’ – tongue in cheek! It will also discuss why these awards are significant in our society and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution[1] and how it helps us understand the concept of evolution[2]. We will end the article with a discussion on the Darwin Awards Winners over the years and conclude with the best Darwin Awards winners to date.

Ten Highly Educated Darwin Award Winners

Table Of Contents

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What is a Darwin Award?

Darwin awards are a satirical way of honoring individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool by dying of their stupid actions. This honor originated on a computer forum back in 1985. The concept became a formalized project in 1993 by creating a website that chronicles weird and funny deaths worldwide over the years, followed by a series of books starting in 2000. 
But what is interesting, although the Darwin Awards[3] have been ‘won’ mostly by numerous forms of idiots, some of the ‘winners’ come from highly qualified and ‘seemingly’ intelligent sections of the society. That stupid pool of ‘winners’ of this dishonor would include researchers, scientists, and master’s degree students. A Hollywood movie of the same name was made in 2006, where an investigator joins forces with a cynical field agent to probe suspicious and unusual deaths for an insurance company investigating bizarre insurance claims.

What is a Friend of Darwin Award?

The “Friend of Darwin Award” is a designation presented by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)[4] to individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to the promotion of science education and the defense of the teaching of evolution. This award recognizes those who have worked to advance the understanding of evolutionary science and its inclusion in educational curricula.

While specific winners of the “Friend of Darwin Award” may vary each year, the common thread among recipients is their dedication to supporting science education, particularly the teaching of evolution, in various capacities. Recipients often include educators, scientists, activists, and institutions that have played a pivotal role in defending the integrity of science education against challenges from anti-evolution movements.

The Friend of Darwin Award 2023[5] winners are: 

1. The Homo naledi, a research team of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence headed by Lee Berger

2. The Popular Science magazine Scientific American editor-in-chief Laura Helmuth

3. A middle school science teacher in Miami, Florida, Bertha Vasquez, who also serves as the education director for the Center for Inquiry.

What Does It Mean to Be a Darwin Award Winner?

Generally, Darwin Award winners are people who died in the dumbest ways. In this section, we will do a Darwin Award compilation of winners and discuss the new Darwin Award winners. As you have understood by now, these awards are for people who have embraced death by sheer stupidity and ignorance.

For example, Craig from Riverton in Utah tried a new, soft way of landing and splashdown in a canal. The first part went swimmingly, with Craig executing a perfect landing. Unfortunately, the swimming part didn’t go quite so well. Craig’s parachute, filled with water, dragged him downstream and drowned him. Another example would be an individual named Rodney from Lake Washington. He was doing laps on the lake when he realized that his jet ski was running low on battery. Pulling toward the shore, he moored his jet ski and ran to get jump leads. He plugged the ends into a 110-volt outlet and ran down to the water’s edge carrying the crocodile clips. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop at the edge and instantly plunged straight in, electrocuting himself. His body was found floating under the dock later that evening.

Another case in the study could be a gentleman named Wayne Roth of Pittston, Pennsylvania. In 1997, according to the Darwin Awards, Wayne was bitten by a cobra belonging to his friend Roger after reaching into the tank to pick the poisonous snake up. “I don’t need to go to the hospital,” Wayne told Roger. “I’m a man. I can handle it.”

On Wayne’s suggestion, the pair headed to a pub instead. There, he proved what a man he was by sinking several pints, boasting about the bite, and promptly dying about an hour later.

Top 10 Highly-Educated Darwin Awards Winners

  • Toasty Critter: The Power Line Incident
    In 2003, John, a Los Angeles real estate attorney from California, was skimming leaves from his pool when he noticed a palm frond caught in the power lines. His education had equipped him with sufficient understanding to become a successful litigator. Yet, he was not wise enough to avoid becoming a toasty critter when he reached up with the long metal pole and poked at the palm frond. Did I mention the power lines? John was, for once, on the path of least resistance.
  • Bacon’s Frozen Experiment (16th Century)
    Francis Bacon was an influential statesman, philosopher, writer, and scientist in the sixteenth century. He died while stuffing snow into a chicken. He had been struck by the notion that snow instead of salt might be used to preserve meat. He stood outside in the snow to test his theory and attempted to stuff the bird. The chicken didn’t freeze, but Bacon did.
  • Wasp Vacuum and Flammable Fiasco
    Next on our list is a geology scientist named James. He decided to get rid of a pesky wasp nest with the help of a trusty dirt devil vacuum cleaner. Armed with this fearsome weapon, James attacked the wasp nest. He sucked up all the wasps, which buzzed angrily as they struggled in vain against the wind tunnel. The dust bag was soon alive with their buzzing. What James did next to get rid of the disgruntled living wasps was a moronic masterpiece. He held the vacuum tube in one hand, a can of RAID in the other, and proceeded to spray the insecticide into the vacuum. Our smart young scientist failed to remember that aerosols are flammable and vacuum cleaner motors generate heat. The resulting explosion removed his facial hair and scattered the dusty, angry contents of the Dirt Devil all over the vicinity.
  • Astronomer’s Fatal Observation
    Next on the list is an astronomer named Marc, who had earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology[6]. He used to work as an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona, focused on the Hubble constant, the study of carbon-rich stars, and their velocity distribution in dwarf spheroidal galaxies. The Mayall observatory dome has an access ladder attached to the side. The ladder rotates with the dome and is a potential hazard to things in its path. Anticipating “operator error,” the builders designed the dome motor to switch off if the ladder approaches the open hatch automatically. Observers are not supposed to open the hatch while the dome is rotating, but Marc didn’t “observe” that key rule. He opened the hatch and peered out at the sky. The momentum of the heavy dome keeps it turning for a few seconds after the motor is switched off long enough for the ladder to impact the outward opening hatch, which slows the hatch shut—crushing the unfortunate astronomer’s aspirations.
  • Dr. Barnes’ Irukandji Syndrome Dive
    Dr. Jack Barnes of Cairns, Australia, failed to halt the spread of his mad scientist genes, but his survival wasn’t due to a lack of effort on his part. In 1966, Barnes was hot on the heels of the source of a mysterious illness called Irukandji Syndrome[7]. Sufferers endure excruciating back pain, sweating, and nausea. He suspected that the source of the illness was a tiny marine creature, so he set about finding it by sitting on the seabed for hours, wearing a weighted diving suit. To get to the bottom of this syndrome, Dr. Barnes got himself, his son, and a lifeguard stung by a toxic jellyfish.
  • Unbitable Erich vs. Shark
    Next on the list is Switzerland’s “Unbitable Erich”! Just after one remora swam between Erich’s legs, a shark followed and–unaware that Erich’s yoga techniques had turned him into a fellow predator–snapped off a huge chunk of his left calf. He was pulled from the water in shock and flown by air ambulance to West Palm Beach, Florida, where doctors tried to save the remains of his leg and his life.
  • Pilot Patrick’s Fiery Flight
    Pilot Patrick, 52, was up to hopping his new plane home. Patrick was licensed to fly commercial aircraft and had 10,000 hours of flight time and an instructor certificate. But during the first two take-off climbs, aviation fuel had entered the cockpit and sloshed around his feet! A mechanic checked and advised not to fly the aircraft, but Patrick’s solution was to fly without turning on the aircraft’s electrical systems. In pilot jargon, that is known as flying ‘in the dark.’ Patrick’s decision is incredibly baffling because the aircraft was newly purchased, and its trustworthiness was not yet established. Subsequently, the aircraft took off from Missoula International Airport but suddenly turned and crashed, exploding into a fireball. The NTSB report states, “The pilot was [likely] distracted by fuel entering the cockpit and failed to maintain adequate airspeed as he returned to the airport to rectify the [fuel] problem resulting in an aerodynamic stall/spin.”
  • Lt. Ruth and Lt. Burch’s Ill-Fated Lesson
    The instructing pilot, Lt. Ruth, 31, was hellbent on teaching his advanced flight student, Lt. Burch, 25, the old maxim, “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots…” At T-minus 35 seconds, Ruth deviated from the flight path and commenced a descending turn to demonstrate terrain-following techniques. He then returned the aircraft to Burch and instructed him to make a hard right turn. But the plane was too slow and too low. The T-45C Goshawk training aircraft stalled above the rising terrain in response to the irregular maneuvers. Too low. Too slow. Too late. Unable to eject safely, both lieutenants earn entry into the Double Darwin Awards archives.
  • Professor Zharkov’s Deadly Lab Mix-up
    Next on the list is a Russian scientist named Professor Alexander Zharkov. The Oxford University professor had been in the habit of drinking laboratory ethanol until he unwittingly poured his last drink from a bottle of methanol. According to Usenet scientists, methanol is a common lab solvent that looks and smells like ethanol but is “five times as toxic and five times less intoxicating.” Those who drink it invariably drink too much. “By the time methanol symptoms are recognized, treatment, including kidney dialysis, may be too late.” The 44-year-old professor of Ecology was said to have had poor vision and probably misread the label.
  • Intersection Irony (Wisconsin, 2006)
    In 2006, A patrol officer from Wisconsin came to speak to our Drivers’ Education class about safety. Like all such officers, he came with several cautionary tales, and the irony of this one stayed with me. Seven college kids decided to raise a little ruckus after a party in a town down the road. They all piled into a pickup, one in the cab and the rest in the back, and they drove down deserted backroads, pulling stop signs out of the dirt. The goal was to get as many as possible into the truck. Speeding back to the party, they were struck by a delivery vehicle at–you guessed it–an intersection which had, until recently, sported a safety marker. The six in the back of the truck were killed, and the driver was severely injured. The patrol officer said he would never forget the sight of the dead students sprawled at the wreck, surrounded by twenty-seven stop signs.

Best 8 Interesting Darwin Award Winners

The phenomenon of highly educated Darwin Award winners sheds light on the unpredictable nature of risk-taking behavior across all educational levels. Despite their advanced degrees, these individuals engage in extreme, often illogical, activities that lead to fatal consequences. This intriguing aspect of the Darwin Awards challenges conventional notions about the correlation between education and decision-making. From scientists to scholars, the range of education among these recipients emphasizes that intelligence alone does not guarantee sensible actions. This exploration delves into the peculiar cases of highly educated Darwin Award winners, offering insights into the complex interplay between intellect and risk-taking behavior.

Here are examples of eight Interesting Darwin Award Winners:

  1. Man tries to fight a lion (and loses, surprisingly)
    An Australian kung fu master told his class in 1996 that they were good enough to ‘take on lions.’ This encouragement was not supposed to be taken literally. One student took the words to heart and headed to his local zoo. Many shocked zoo visitors reportedly saw the ensuing ‘fight,’ but we’ll leave the details to your imagination.
  2. Two men steal a plane after a drunken bender – it doesn’t end well
    We are constantly told not to drink and drive. But drinking and flying? No, it doesn’t work out well either, as two Canadian men discovered in 1996 after a weekend of boozing when they flew their stolen plane into some power lines.
  3. Home-made bungee jumping cords don’t work as well
    First, the brave young fellow used tape to fix two different bungee cords together; then, he cut them to measure the exact height of the bridge he wanted to jump from. He tied a cord to his car and jumped into the abyss, forgetting that bungee cords are designed to stretch.
  4. Fireworks helmet
    In a peculiar attempt at a unique fireworks display, a man affixed fireworks to his helmet. However, the unintended ignition of the fireworks turned what was meant to be a celebratory moment into a tragically fiery end for the ill-fated individual.
  5. Terrorist opens his letter bomb
    Iraqi terrorist Khay Rahnajet decided to send out a letter bomb in 2000. Not being the brightest of sparks, he forgot to put enough postage stamps on the letter, meaning it returned to the ‘return to sender’ address. Khay was so happy to receive some post that he ripped it open. His career in terrorism ended there.
  6. Lava lamp gets revenge on its owner
    Lava lamps are cool (if you live in the Playboy mansion, circa 1989), which is why a man bought one in Washington in 2004. After plugging it in, the man, known as Philip, took too long to get going and put it on the stove to speed the process up. This got a lot more interesting when it exploded and embedded a shard of glass in Philips’s chest. He bled to death.
  7. Bullet-proof glass isn’t idiot-proof
    This one is a classic case of ‘check this out, guys!’: High-flying lawyer Garry Hoy loved telling his buddies that the windows in his Toronto office were bulletproof and unbreakable. One day, he decided to prove his theory by running into one at full pace. The shocked clients could only watch as Gary crashed through the ‘unbreakable’ windows and ended up on the pavement 24 floors below.
  8. Man tries to recreate Up and is too successful
    Larry Walters didn’t die during the stunt, but the Darwin Awards still gave him an ‘honorable mention.’ After attaching 45 weather balloons to an armchair, Larry cut himself loose, thinking he would float 30ft above his garden in California. He miscalculated and rose to an elevation of 10,000ft. Luckily, he brought an air rifle along for the ride and started shooting the balloons, reducing his altitude. He eventually came down over LAX, where he was promptly arrested.

FAQs About Darwin Awards

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an example of a Darwin Award?

An example of a Darwin Award is the case of a man who attempted to take a selfie with a wild bear. Ignoring warnings and safety guidelines, he approached the bear for a photo, leading to a fatal encounter. This reckless behavior, driven by a desire for social media attention, exemplifies a regrettable act resulting in self-harm.

Q: Why are they called the Darwin Awards?

Q: Are Darwin Awards based on true stories?

Q: Who won the last Darwin Award?

Q: What are the top facts and stats about the Darwin Awards?

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