Iceberg 1 – Upper Lips 0

melchyMore Britons than Americans died on Titanic
‘because they queued’ – The Daily Telegraph

According to new research by a “behavioural economist”, more British people died on the Titanic because…they were too British.

‘Americans were 8.5 per cent more likely to survive than other nationalities, while British passengers were 7 per cent less likely to survive.

“The only things I can put that down to are: there would have been very few Americans in steerage or third class; and the British tend to be very polite and queue.” (The ship’s first-class staterooms were closest to the lifeboat deck.)’

as well as…

“a significantly higher number survived, and there’s got to be a reason.”

Orly? The ONLY things? GOT to be a reason? If this is an accurate quote, this guy is not thinking too hard. I’d like to put this down to media misinterpretation – that this was just one of many suggestions the author made, and they’ve zeroed in on and overemphasised the one most likely to interest their readership. Or, he did provide the quote as quoted, but after loaded questioning from the journalist. Always difficult to know.

Whatever the reasons, the end result is this bizarre and rather tasteless “Stiff Upper Lip” hypothesis – just speculation. Note, in fairness, that the  author does point out the low numbers of Americans in steerage before going on to blame Given the well-established difficulty of escaping this part of the ship, this is surely rather more likely to account for the difference than is a majority of Brits going “oh no, old bean, I must insist – you go first!”. And let’s not forget “random” factor. There doesn’t HAVE to be a reason. Not every apparent anomaly has to have a significance. This is one event. There’s nothing wrong with suggesting reasons for something like this, but if you’re going to do it in an internationally available article and bring aspects of nationality into it, you’d better have some evidence to support them. All we get here is;

“…plenty of examples of gentlemanly conduct by British passengers and crew…”

Plenty – yet we’re only given one;

…the captain, Edward John Smith, shouted out: “Be British, boys, be British!” as the cruise liner went down, according to witnesses. One wealthy passenger, recognising he was doomed, donned a tuxedo and declared: “I’m going to go down well dressed.”

What on earth does this have to do with the claim at hand? “Be British” is nothing more than a morale-boosting rallying cry, whilst the “wealthy passenger”‘s behaviour is by no measure particularly “British”. People behave oddly when faced with death, and we don’t know his personal circumstances. Did he give up his place in a lifeboat to don his tux? Even if so, did he do it for an American or other non-Briti? This is cherry-picking of anecdotal evidence, sans context.The article goes on to talk about the old “women and children first” canard, as though this was somehow a preserve of the British. Needless to say, it was a long-observed tradition amongst all “civilised” nations, and one that makes perfect altruistic evolutionary sense. Sod all to do with one’s nationality.

As ever the premature release of findings via the media does no-one any good. Too little info, too heavily edited and reinterpreted, and given the obligatory sensational spin. This “daft posh/brave and stoic Brits (delete as applicable) let themselves die in shipwreck” meme is rather like the “lazy Spanish sailors sink the king’s flaghip” one we got a few months back. Hopefully this is just the usual media crapfest, and there’s an article or a book to actually present a proper case, rather than stoking the fires of national rivalry and lazy thinking.

6 thoughts on “Iceberg 1 – Upper Lips 0

  1. Interesting – and look at this comment from the behavecon:

    “Mr Savage said he had no direct evidence that Americans on the Titanic were pushy or rude, “But a significantly higher number survived, and there’s got to be a reason,” he said.”

    As you say, there doesn’t have to be a reason. In particular, if what he is saying is that there was a statistically significant difference between the % of Americans surviving and the average % surviving, did he correct for multiple comparisons (i.e. did he take into account the fact that there were many different nationalities, each of which had a random chance of surviving, meaning that there were lots of stats tests to be done?)

  2. Dude,
    Your a fucking cock! You spend your days looking on the net and abusing what other people are saying and doing!
    Sounds a bit bitter to me. You get bullied when you where younger and doing this makes you feel like your the boss now?
    Get a life, do something worth while instead of trying to make other people look bad.. only make yourself look bitter and lonely!
    warm regards and fuck you

  3. Hi Rob,

    I’d say it’s at least as valid a pastime as spending my days “ghosthunting”. How’s that working out for you? Filling a hole?

    All the best,


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