If you only scanned the headlines, you might think there was a significant jump in the number of shark bites, particularly in the United States. “Shark Attacks Spike to 10-Year High,” declared CBS News. “U.S. Led the World in Shark Attacks Last Year,” added the Los Angeles Times.
Neither of those statements is false, just misleading. It’s true that the number of unprovoked shark bites on humans rose between 2009 and 2010 — from 63 to 79 according to the International Shark Attack File. It’s also true that 36 of those bites were reported in the U.S. (four in Hawaii), more than any other country.
Problem is, those figures are statistically meaningless. Assume one billion people swam in proximity to sharks in 2010 (a very low estimate). If 63 were bitten, that would represent 0.0000063 percent. If 79 were bitten, that would represent 0.0000079 percent.
Though admittedly, “Global Shark Attacks Rise 0.0000016 Percent” isn’t quite as attention-grabbing.