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In many episodes of the original series of Star Trek (Star Trek TOS) a team will be selected to beam down to the planet (or wherever the action was in the episode). This will have major characters from the series (like Bones, Kirk or Spock) who are (obviously) going to survive whatever adventure awaits. But the team will also have minor characters. Sometimes some of them will die.

It has been a widely shared belief that the minor characters wearing red shirts are the ones most likely to die. Is this really true (especially if adjusted for the number on the ship)?

PS if true, does this tendency extend to the later series after the original three TOS seasons?

  • you noticed that too. I always thought that was unfair. I think that has changed in the reboot.... The captain seems to take a lot of beatings. – Old_Fossil Apr 18 '17 at 3:37
  • For the record, if doing a Star Trek themed skit, having a red shirt die is obligatory. – Pete B. Apr 18 '17 at 15:47
  • According to TV Tropes, " [the] number of casualties that the Enterprise had, [...] compare[d] that to an actual military, [...] is excellent, [Kirk did] far better than any general in U.S. history" – jpaugh Apr 18 '17 at 16:20
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    Also the black guy dies first in horror movies. – Chloe Apr 18 '17 at 17:16
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    @cde Nothing about Star Trek is naval in nature... If anything, their death rates should have been much higher where no man has gone before. – jpaugh Apr 18 '17 at 18:32
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Red shirts have a skewed death rate in TOS due to the nature of their job. The Security role is handled by Ops, which all wear red shirts (Scotty, the engineer, is also Ops). So red shirts die in higher number because Security officers are at a higher risk. They assume guard duties and the dangers inherent to that role.

In TNG and beyond, the color structure has changed. Command has become the red shirts, and ops has become gold. In TNG, there is a higher number of gold shirt deaths. Tasha Yar being a prime example. Again, it is because Security is gold.

That’s according to Matthew Barsalou, who debunked the red shirt curse for Significance Magazine by mathematically breaking down the death rates, by uniform color, of characters on the original Star Trek. A simple pie chart reveals 55 total deaths and, yes, red shirts perished in frightening numbers. A whopping 24 died, compared to 9 in yellow/gold command and 7 in blue, with 15 crossing into the final frontier in unidentified colors. However, it’s all a matter of perspective and percentages. There were 430 crewmen aboard the Enterprise, 239 of them in engineering, security or operations, and all wore red. So, in reality, they had a decent survival rate, and it was, statistically speaking – courtesy of a little something called Bayes’ theorem -- the folks in gold who were more likely to meet their maker. - See more at: http://www.startrek.com/article/did-redshirts-really-die-more-often-on-tos#sthash.wUlkpts5.dpuf

So while red shirts in TOS are statistically safer, based on ship crew complement, they suffer a higher on screen death count. Higher number, lower percentage.

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    I like it: actual statistics and a proper explanation! – matt_black Apr 17 '17 at 17:40
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    I dispute that it is due to the nature of their job. It seems more like terrible training and abnormally dreadful protocols. Many of those deaths were completely unavoidable. :) – Lightness Races with Monica Apr 18 '17 at 1:33
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    @BoundaryImposition Did you mean to say that the deaths were avoidable? If they were unavoidable it would be pointless to try to blame training or protocols since unavoidable deaths would happen no matter how good they were. – Glen_b Apr 18 '17 at 9:55
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    @Glen_b Aw, you know what he meant, irregardless of his wording... – Mr Lister Apr 18 '17 at 11:43
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    @coteyr it's a tv show, it's all made up – cde Apr 19 '17 at 13:14

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