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You have a better chance being struck by lightning.
June 26, 2001 6:58 AM   Subscribe

You have a better chance being struck by lightning. Or do you? Well it may depend on who you are, where you are, and whether or not you play golf.
posted by ZachsMind (49 comments total)

 
And yes I know. Three postlinks is past the unofficial daily limit, but I go months sometimes not postlinking anything to the front page and found some gems this morning. So sue me. The odds of this ever happening again are, well, better than getting struck by lightning. Maybe.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:00 AM on June 26, 2001


Actually, if someone says the " chances are a million to one" than the chances are it will happen
to 270 people in the United States.
posted by brucec at 7:55 AM on June 26, 2001


I read someplace that those lucky enough to survive the inconvenience of a lightning strike episode are subsequently left at a much greater risk than they previously had of the same thing happening again. Bad deal all round really.
posted by Kino at 8:18 AM on June 26, 2001


Brucec: And if we add up how many nasty things there are with 'a million to one' statistics attached things just ain't looking good for anyone! People are gonna have to brace themselves, pull together, do their duty and share the load (luckily, i'm from across the ocean so i'm safe!).
posted by Kino at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2001


Well i am since i became a cow.. MoOoOoOoOoOo.
posted by Kino at 8:34 AM on June 26, 2001


What's a "postlink"?
posted by rodii at 8:45 AM on June 26, 2001


Its a support group for transexuals fresh out of hospital. They sit round discussing makeup tips and how 'the op wasn't so bad; having my my asshole widened and my balls took out was a breeeeeze.. but having my mouth widened and my brain took out to make me into a real woman really pissed me off..'
posted by Kino at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2001


Kino, that was totally tasteless and totally uncalled for.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:22 AM on June 26, 2001


Ahhh.. Bit below the belt perhaps.
posted by Kino at 9:34 AM on June 26, 2001


Its okay Kino, I'll accept you as a woman when you finally get out denial. First date is on me!
posted by skallas at 9:41 AM on June 26, 2001


Actually, if someone says the " chances are a million to one" than the chances are it will happen
to 270 people in the United States.


On average.
posted by iceberg273 at 9:42 AM on June 26, 2001


I read someplace that those lucky enough to survive the inconvenience of a lightning strike episode are subsequently left at a much greater risk than they previously had of the same thing happening again. Bad deal all round really.

I think that this analysis is incorrect. The chance of an event (like a lightning strike) occuring is always the same. However, people who are struck once may be more likely to be struck again for the reasons mentioned in the topic article for this thread: certain behaviors increase your chances of being struck by lightning. Thus, if you were struck once, you probably engage in some behavior that increases your chances of being struck by lightning. After being struck once, if you do not change your behavior pattern, your odds of being struck are still higher than the odds of people in the general population. But they are the same odds as they were before.
posted by iceberg273 at 9:51 AM on June 26, 2001


I've never been in denial skallas! Ask her.. She doesn't take luncheon vouchers!

Iceberg: Based on what.. Assumptions? I don't know if it's a fact or not - i have no basis to know if its scientifically correct - Other than the fact i remember reading it someplace. I've always been under the impression that if it is true there's a chance that maybe getting a few million volts administered to ones person might lead to them being more conductive or something. Like everyones favourite book club, they unexpectedly find themselves getting a shock of a present and then get charged for the honour too!
posted by Kino at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2001


Statistically, ljr and dogmatic may be right. But how good is his statistic?

Based on probability theory and the fact that being struck by lightning does not leave you electrically charged. Read some probability theory. Before you go gambling. Please. Do it for yourself.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2001


Statistically, ljr and dogmatic may be right. But how good is his statistic?

That should read "Iceberg: Based on what.. Assumptions?". Stupid copy button. Stupid quick trigger finger. Stupid me.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:21 AM on June 26, 2001


You can apply probability theory all you like Iceberg, that part was noted: But you still have yet to present evidence to back up your solid statement that the chance of lightning strike occurring are always the same, and that those struck by it have the same chances of a repeat performance as they had before. Your claim that if there was any truth in the story it may be based on behavioral habits is a fair and valid one in debate. As for your new claim of it being a fact that lighting doesn't leave people charged in some way.. Are we to accept that also as fact on your say so? I'm not saying it isn't, or that it is, but was merely speculating that it may be a cause (if the phenomena in question is true). As for your Mom-like end line - I have shown far less indication that i haven't read probability theory than you have that you shouldn't own a gun.
posted by Kino at 10:51 AM on June 26, 2001


you have that you shouldn't own a gun.

I shouldn't.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2001


Phew.. That's one less 'chance in a million' to worry about then.
posted by Kino at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2001


Y'know, I find it intrinsically amusing that iceberg points to any probability theory reference to support his (exceedingly logical) claim, and Kino points to "some thing that I may have read some time", and yet it's Kino calling the bergman out for proof.

Kino, do a little experiment for me:

flip a coin.

Now, flip a coin again.

The chances of getting heads on the first flip is 50%. The chances of getting heads on second flip is... 50%! It's exactly the same odds the second time as it was before, it's probability theory.

Can you demonstrate your thing that you may or may not have read at some point as easily?
posted by cCranium at 11:37 AM on June 26, 2001


Kino, have you ever heard of the null hypothesis?
posted by rodii at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2001


But you still have yet to present evidence to back up your solid statement that the chance of lightning strike occurring are always the same, . . .

Given that the person in question engages in the same sort of behavior in the same geographical area, this would be true, ceteris parabus. If it wasn't exactly the same, the difference is in all probability due to error. The null hypothesis that the events are independent (i.e. that the probability is exactly the same) is the one that must be rejected, not the alternative hypothesis that the two events [lightning strikes] are causally connected and that you are more likely to be struck the second time than the first time.

. . . that those struck by it have the same chances of a repeat performance as they had before.

Given that their behavior does not change . . .

Your claim that if there was any truth in the story it may be based on behavioral habits is a fair and valid one in debate.

Which this is.

As for your new claim of it being a fact that lighting doesn't leave people charged in some way.. Are we to accept that also as fact on your say so? I'm not saying it isn't, or that it is, but was merely speculating that it may be a cause (if the phenomena in question is true).

It's as least as valid as "I think I read this somewhere . . .", given that false memories are pervasive (e.g. Loftus, 1997).

I cannot find a study that list the frequency of multiple strikes in a population (multiple stirkes to people, I'm not disputing multiple strikes to fixed strcutures). Thus, I can't compute the probability. However, I can examine the weight of the evidence.

The data compiled by the NWS does not list repeat casualties, but does differentiate between death and injury. If we take the death rate to be about 20% on average (it varies by population, year and state, among other things), only 80% of victims will survive to have the chance to be struck again. This lessens the overall probability of a lightning strike victim being hit again if we take the narrow view that lightning strikes completely randomly. Of course, this doesn't prove a thing about a residual charge in the human body. However, it does demonstrate that lightning strikes can cause severe trauma. We'll need this fact later.

People who are struck by lightning do not give of shocks to people who perform CPR on them. Electrical phenomena residing in the body as the result of a lightning strike thus seems unlikely. Consult your local CPR training program for more details.

Furthermore, lightning usually does pretty harmful things to the human body. Thus, it seems unlikely that a person would be capable of putting themselves in the position to by struck again. As Mary Ann Cooper, a lightning injury researcher puts it:

[In response to the statement:] "Some people can attract lightning."

Some have called themselves "human lightning rods," claiming that thunderstorms would change course to find them or that they had been struck multiple times. Given my experience with lightning victims, I must say that, although some may suffer little injury from a single strike, the majority have some type of sequela. When one claims to have been hit 20 or more times, the odds of being able to talk about it decrease logarithmically. Would any reasonable person not have enough sense to learn to avoid lightning after the first couple of hits?


I have only been able to find two cases of multiple lightning strikes (although I am sure others exist). However, in each lightning strike case, the individual was involved in a risky behavior (which, in the case of lightning, can include something as simple touching metal within 6 miles or 30 minutes of a storm containing the possiblity of lightning).

Thus, I would argue that the burden of proof in this case would lie in demonstrating that lightning does strike people twice at a statistically significant frequency due to electrical charge. The claim that lightning does strike people more often than would be expected by computing the probabilities of two independent events is one that could be demonstrated, given the right data. However, the idea of a "human lightning rod" seems much less likely, given the evidence. Roy Sullivan does not a pattern make (Context: Roy was struck by lightning seven times, and committed suicide because he believed that the eighth was just a matter of time).

As for your Mom-like end line

Claims of non-independent events due to unsubstantiated hypotheses tend to make you a little Mom-like after a while. Now eat your greens and study your probability theory and hypothesis testing, or you'll get it when your father gets home. :)
posted by iceberg273 at 12:01 PM on June 26, 2001


'Kino, do a little experiment for me:

flip a coin.

Now, flip a coin again.
[snip]
Can you demonstrate your thing that you may or may not have read at some point as easily?'

I was not claiming what i read to be a fact, merely relaying a memory of something connected to the threads issue that i had read at some point in my past - Take that how you want to (there's a slim chance it may have been a hallucination, but in all probability, would it be a lie?). Oh, and Cranium, if the coin was thrown so high that when i caught it i ended up being left with a big gaping hole in my palm my chances of getting either a head or a tail on the next throw are reduced, and the chance of losing the coin are much higher - a risk i'm unwilling to take. The first throw would have changed the variables involved in the second. Your old, old mindboggler just doesn't cut the mustard i'm afraid. Either your assuming that the lightning victim is left completely unaltered by the experience or you think i've disputed some parts of Icebergs post that i haven't, and i certainly don't need a mock high school wacky fun exercise in logic for you to attempt to show me the light. Try again.
posted by Kino at 12:06 PM on June 26, 2001


Oh look, there's a big massive Iceberg post.. there may be light in this tunnel afterall.. Gimme a chance to read and digest the tome and then i'll get my people to see your people...
posted by Kino at 12:09 PM on June 26, 2001


Considering there's no agreement on what exactly the odds are and that one guy, Roy Sullivan, has been struck 7 times I'd say the jury is still out on this one. Toss in the fact that 20-30% of lightning strikes are fatal (more agreement here than on strikes per capita), we have a real anamoly here. Maybe he ties himself to lightning rods for kicks, but his survival rate is another probability buster.

Sure he could be at the end of the curve, but I'm reserving judgement. It might not be fashionable to think of the body as magnetic, but your blood is full of iron and its magentic properties could be altered to promote repeated strikes.

Some good info here:

http://science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/essd18jun99_1.htm
posted by skallas at 12:09 PM on June 26, 2001


'It's as least as valid as "I think I read this somewhere . . .",'

What i actually said: 'I read someplace that those lucky enough to..'.

The lawyers told me to point that one out quick, they're working on the rest..
posted by Kino at 12:19 PM on June 26, 2001


Zappity POP!
posted by daveadams at 12:19 PM on June 26, 2001


i certainly don't need a mock high school wacky fun exercise in logic for you to attempt to show me the light.

cCranium was just trying to point out the null hypothesis in coin flipping, Kino. I really like your coin flipping story - it parallels your residual electricity hypothesis exactly! Congratulations! (At this point, your line is "Wha?!" I'll explain).

cCranium's coin flipping is like my probability of being struck by lightning. We'll assume that they are independent events until the evidence indicates otherwise. Then we will assume some natural phenomenon (weighted coin, strikee's behavior pattern), until that is assumed otherwise. cCranium's wacky high school fun is good science.

Your hole in hand hypothesis is unlikely because the weight of the evidence indicates that you are incapable of throwing a coin that high. Likewise, your residual electricity hypothesis goes against the weight of the evidence.

You may be right, I may be crazy, and this just might be the lunacy we're looking for.
"I've seen the light, don't try to save me!"
You may be wrong for all I know, but you may be right.
echo: You may be wrong, but you may be right.

It your alternative hypothesis to prove, now go get me some evidence. Mommy's waiting.

Unrelated: parodying Billy Joel songs is fun.

It might not be fashionable to think of the body as magnetic, but your blood is full of iron and its magentic properties could be altered to promote repeated strikes.

However, the ability (hypothetically) of the any molecule to retain changes in magnetic properties would monkey with MRI in all probability. (MRI in a nutshell: nuclei alignment is random, 2 Tesla magnetic coil activated, nuclei align, magnet turned off, radio waves collected at nuclei alignment becomes randomized again.) The huge magnet used in MRI haven't been shown to change the magnetic properties of blood; there's no reason to think that lightning would either.
posted by iceberg273 at 12:33 PM on June 26, 2001


Don't forget the following two alternative hypotheses, Kino.

1. the "He was a park ranger, for Christ's sake" hypothesis (thanks rorschach);

2. the "vicious, arbitrary God" hypothesis.

("I read someplace that" God is wont to strike down sinners and others with whom he disagrees.)
posted by rodii at 12:40 PM on June 26, 2001


Iceberg: All these 'which suggests' and 'I would argue that's are in contrast to the counter-original gripe, which was that you stated it to be fact, with 'is always's and 'they are's, that repeat strikes are as likely as first strikes, and my suggestion that if they are not a possible cause could be alteration of the victim once stricken, somehow. If you take my original post it was presented as a memory of something i read and was devoid of my own position on it (because i don't, and have never, had one). I just have thoughts of 'how unlucky would that be.. and if its fact it might be because..'

'Claims of non-independent events due to unsubstantiated hypotheses tend to make you a little Mom-like after a while...'

I haven't claimed they were events, just mentioned i remember reading a piece that claimed they were and made a suggestion of what i consider may be a possible cause if they were. I wasn't doing the claiming around here, and when my father DOES get home.. he's gonna bash you! ^___^
posted by Kino at 12:52 PM on June 26, 2001


'Your hole in hand hypothesis is unlikely because the weight of the evidence indicates that you are incapable of throwing a coin that high. Likewise, your residual electricity hypothesis goes against the weight of the evidence'.

An imaginary circumstance that doesnt cater to nit-picking to can be used demonstrate a point Mom.. erm.. i mean Iceberg. I didn't want to go and rent expensive machinery and drag it all the way past your 25 chapter post just to show the null hypothesis has no bearing on the issue of you boldly stating things you had yet to look into as fact. [sigh] Daddy won't be pleased.
posted by Kino at 1:00 PM on June 26, 2001


"He was a park ranger, for Christ's sake"

Yep, and men are more prone (4x) to being struck by lightning than women and most lightning strikes happen most at work, not golfing. Being an outdoors man his probability of being struck once is relatively high, but 7 times in my opinion is ridiculous. Note he survived 7 strikes also, which is statistically absurd.

Alt hypothesis:

1. The first strike deranged him mentaly and the rest of the 'strikes' could be lies. The injuries could have been him sticking his face into a 220v. (pushing it here, a competent doctor would see this)

2. Iron in blood hypothesis, the eletrical output of an MRI is paltry compared to a lightning bolt. So I wouldn't discard that as self-contradicting yet.

3. Not people but areas (think underground minerals) that are prone to frequent lightning strikes - namely the park he works in.

4. He wears lots of jewelry.

5. None of the above.

Considering there's no agreement on what the odds are and seemingly no location specific data and multiple victims exist and one beat the most liberal odds considerably in both frequency and fatality all I am saying that there's probably many things misunderstood or not grasped yet about the nature of lightning strikes. Its called being skeptical. Its okay to try.

I know there are runner ups to Mr. Sullivans record who we can also classify as anomolies. Just haven't found them yet. I'm not writing a paper but this is definately odd.
posted by skallas at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2001


[Likes the sound of Skallas' post and decides to do his bit to eliminate that other hypothesis Roddii deviously spun into the fray.. the new fangled God one by doing a raindance inspired stomp to the nearest mountain in a suit of armour, holding Moms umbrella aloft and yelling 'alllll Gods area fake!!!!']
posted by Kino at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2001


[Eliminates himself in the process and looks down in horror at the spelling mistake in the second to last word he ever wrote]
posted by Kino at 1:26 PM on June 26, 2001


I wasn't doing the claiming around here

you boldly stating things you had yet to look into as fact.

Previously in this episode: [Kino] I've always been under the impression that if it is true there's a chance that maybe getting a few million volts administered to ones person might lead to them being more conductive or something.

I suppose I should have linked to my CPR instructor saying "You can give CPR to a lightning strike victim; they are not still electrically charged." I suppose that I should have posted a list of anatomy and physiology textbooks. I suppose that I should have couched my statements in the phrase "I've always been under the impression that if it is true there's a chance that maybe" in order to backpedal with greater ease and not be accused of stating facts. I suppose that I will have to always cite my sources in the future so that I will not be accused of boldly stating things that I had yet to look into as fact. [sigh]

I've always been under the impression that if it is true there's a chance that maybe this post has the potential get me a severe MetaTalk beating. I could however, be wrong.*

*It doesn't matter now. Kino's dead, and I give up.

posted by iceberg273 at 1:40 PM on June 26, 2001


[Haunts Iceberg* with the ghoulish, echoing words.. being conductive to electricity does not equate to retaining and giving off dangerous electric charges at the scene of a lightning strike incident. The lack of the latter does not give cause to eliminate the first']

* for eternity, or ''until you change the error of your ways young man''. Oh, thanks Mom, tell Dad he won't be needed.
posted by Kino at 2:11 PM on June 26, 2001


Umm, it's probably a moot point by now but I just thought I'd say that given the numbers thrown around here, it's *not* all that unlikely for someone to survive seven lightning strikes. If we take the probability at face value, someone struck by lightning has an 80% chance of surviving, then someone struck by lightning seven times has an 0.8^7 or approximately 21% chance of surviving. This disregards completely the chances of being struck seven times, just the chance of surviving seven strikes. Given the lack of data on how many people have had multiple strikes (the last one being fatal or not), I don't think surviving seven can be called ridiculous.
posted by caveday at 4:06 PM on June 26, 2001


Well, no, perhaps not in itself Caveday. But arriving at a figure that 'disregards completely the chances of being struck seven times' in the first place means i'd have to agree with you on the moot point intro. After all, that's where the truly astronomical numbers are rumoured to be hanging out, especially when you consider that there's only around 6.156 billion people on the planet (and the amount that have ever lived is frequently asserted to be less). It'd be so interesting to have 'recorded multiple strike' figures available (even from just one nation) and use population figures to draw a few semi-reliable statistical conclusions about multiple strikes in general.
posted by Kino at 6:42 PM on June 26, 2001


This has gotta be one of the most brainiac-doofus threads I've read in recent memory, and I'm proud to have started it. Now let's see. Factors and variables that may or may not affect the odds of being struck by lightning.

* Having already been struck by lightning at least once.
* People who brace themselves, pull together, do their duty and share the load, provided they don't live on the other side of the ocean.
* People who say, "chances are a million to one."
* People who date Kino and then fall into a state of denial.
* gun ownership.
* coin tossing
* Whether or not the potential victim is operating heavy machinery at a huge industrial complex.
* Something about water towers but I forget
* belief in a vicious, arbitrary God.
* park rangers ("let's go get the pic-nic baskets BooBoo!" BOOM!)
* amount of metallic deposits in the bloodstream
* amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream (oops wrong list)
* playing golf Sunday afternoons at 2pm in the rain in Florida while holding a 9 iron on the fairway of the 12th green. Alcohol is optional.
* Whether or not you personally attract lightning in some scientifically indescribable way, much like Tom Jones and Prince attract horny women.


Have I covered everything? No where in this thread do I see a single reference to the obvious: whether or not it is in fact, raining.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:36 PM on June 26, 2001


I can only find one thing on the 'Net about Roy Sullivan @ Everything2.com and would think if this guy were more than an urban legend there'd be at least one website devoted to him or something. Can anybody else find any other info about him?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:04 PM on June 26, 2001


Ha. So i did my raindance inspired stomp to the nearest mountain and ended up dead for nothing!!!

I can see why people end up storm chasers now: It isn't anything to do with an unhealthy extreme fixation for 'The Wizard of Oz'... And his little booth thing (Urrghghghgg!!).... Oh NoOoOo.. They just want answers!!!

And to think - i've managed to cope with all this whilst completely one handed typing! (Nooo! i don't get turned on by brainiac-doofusness!!!.. i broke my right arm a week ago and i'm right handed :/).. Been worth it though. Bravo! Oh hang on, i enjoyed all THIS !¿!?.. I must be a pervert afterall!!!!

Quick! GET ME to DALnet!!.. I'm gonna spurt!!!
posted by Kino at 8:28 PM on June 26, 2001


Can anybody else find any other info about him?


I found at least 10 refrences. Get yourself a google toolbar and start practicing. Try keywords: sullivan lightning
posted by skallas at 8:38 PM on June 26, 2001


Yeh, trusty google.. 95. How unlucky would that be.. Getting struck seven times and killing yourself and you don't even get famous!!! There's a thought: That final bit of misfortune just throws the 'chance of that happening' statistic right out the cosmos!
posted by Kino at 8:43 PM on June 26, 2001


I don't think you all understand. I checked Google. DUH! I know you think I'm dumb but I ain't stupid.

All I can find are pages that refer to the fact that a park ranger called Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning several times and lived, only to kill himself later. How ironic, some of them point out. The problem is none of these bozos are an official source. They're all quoting from somewhere else and don't bother to cite the original source material. Was it the Guiness Book of World Records? Because I don't exactly consider them a pristine and trustworthy institution of god-like magnitude. They're rather like the New York Post of statisticians.

I mean who was this, park ranger Roy Sullivan dude? What was he like? Did anyone do tests on him? Were there witnesses to all seven strikes? Was the guy on severe medication? Was he a victim of Agent Orange during 'Nam? Something? Anything? What's up with this guy?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:53 PM on June 26, 2001


I wonder what everyone out there in, y'know, front-page-land thinks of all this! We should keep this thread going forever and mass-spam people with the url to see if the schizophrenia and/or suicide levels go up!
posted by Kino at 9:08 PM on June 26, 2001


Let's see, I know two people that have been struck (but not killed) by lightning, so it not must be that rare. I don't know that many people. I do remember when I was younger, that four golfers in my hometown were killed by lightning in one week. Personally, I think it's God's way of injecting a little danger into the game.
posted by dr. zoidberg at 9:14 PM on June 26, 2001


Ahhhhh, so that's why all them strange people watch it on TV. It's not the unbridled ecstasy of squinting for days at a tiny ball flying through what could be any direction in any part of the sky, but more to do with the allure of imminent danger.. ala F1 racing styleee.
posted by Kino at 9:48 PM on June 26, 2001


Anyone else reckon Kino's been drinking a bit too much this evening? Have one for me, mate...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:00 PM on June 26, 2001


It's them damn maggots, can't resist 'em.. They taste a bit salty after a while though. [Burp]
posted by Kino at 10:16 PM on June 26, 2001


[Zach] No where in this thread do I see a single reference to the obvious: whether or not it is in fact, raining.

From the AMS Recommendations for Lightning Saftey: lightning is always generated and connected to a thundercloud but may strike many miles from the edge of the thunderstorm cell.

Thus, it doesn't have to be raining for lightning to strike.

Hence the 30/30 rule.
posted by iceberg273 at 8:15 AM on June 27, 2001


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