It’s a long-running joke amongst Trekkies and sci-fi fans in general. If you’re in the Star Trek universe, you’re wearing red, and you’re not a recurring character, you’re almost certainly going to die horribly when you beam down to that unexplored alien world to investigate that mysterious distress signal. It’s just the way things are.
It’s a concept that’s been parodied a thousand times. Writer John Scalzi wrote a book about the phenomenon. Even the official Star Trek comic series recently dedicated an entire issue to the troubles and travails of the titular Redshirts. But as it turns out, the rumors of the Redshirts’ inevitable mortality may be a little exaggerated.
See, a new article in Signifigance Magazine, a publication about statistics — and in related news, there are magazines about statistics — puts the whole redshirt/death phenomenon under the microscope and finds that it may not stand up under close scrutiny. Penned by Matthew Barsalou, the article culls casualty statistics from Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha and runs the data through a Bayesian statistical analysis. The results? Being a redshirt can be deadly…but mainly only if you’re a member of security. Which makes sense when you think about it; they would logically be the ones most often putting themselves in harm’s way. You’d think Starfleet would let them swap uniform colors every once in a while, just to keep up morale.
Here’s an excerpt from Barsalou’s findings:
Although Enterprise crew members in redshirts suffer many more casualties than crew members in other uniforms, they suffer fewer casualties than crew members in gold uniforms when the entire population size is considered. Only 10% of the entire redshirt population was lost during the three year run of Star Trek. This is less than the 13.4% of goldshirts, but more than the 5.1% of blueshirts. What is truly hazardous is not wearing a redshirt, but being a member of the security department. The red-shirted members of security were only 20.9% of the entire crew, but there is a 61.9% chance that the next casualty is in a redshirt and 64.5% chance this red-shirted victim is a member of the security department. The remaining redshirts, operations and engineering make up the largest single population, but only have an 8.6% chance of being a casualty.