It’s a well known maxim that nobody wants to be a redshirt on Star Trek: The Original Series. The proud members of Operations, Engineering, and Security are the space-expendables, the first line of defense, the… well the ones who always get sent down with the away party full of more important characters and get murdered by the space monster of the week. Like, all the time. But what if, instead of considering this from the viewer’s perspective, you considered it from the perspective of a crewman choosing a line of work? What if you’re just a redshirt, and not “this episode’s redshirt?”
Matthew Barsalou took this perspective and applied math to it, and lets just say that Kirk, Chekov, and Sulu might not be to happy about it.
Barsalou’s findings were greatly informed by a bit of information missing from most Star Trek drinking games: the exact crew breakdown by color of the Enterprise NC 1701. While redshirt deaths make up the largest percentage of crewperson deaths in the Original Series (42%), redshirted crewmen also make up the majority of the crew of the Enterprise.
In fact, by percentage of total population of crewmen wearing their respective colors, the blue science and medical officers have it safest, only losing 5.1% of their population. Redshirts have it the next best, with an even 10%, and it’s the yellow shirts of command and helm crew who top out at losing 13.4% of their population over the course of the series. Barsalou can break it down even further: only a portion of red shirted crewmen are actually security personell, the specific population of crewmembers who suffered the worst casualties at 20%. But Barsalou takes it a step further:
Using what is known about Enterprise crew and casualty figures, suppose an Enterprise crew member has been killed. Discarding the 15 unknown casualties, redshirts consist of 60.0% of all fatalities where the uniform color is known; blue and gold uniforms are the remaining 40.0% of casualties. Redshirts are only 52.0% of the entire crew, but 60.0% of casualties, so what is the probability that the latest casualty was wearing a redshirt? The Enterprise often visits Starbases and takes on new crew members, so we assume sampling with replacement.
Then he does a bunch of math. His conclusions? If you hear about a crewperson dying on the Enterprise, there is a 64.5% chance that they were wearing a red shirt. But there is also a 61.9% chance that they were a member of the security department. All those other redshirts? They’ve only got an 8.6% casualty rate, which puts them ahead of every yellow shirted crewperson on the ship. So mommas, don’t let your kids grow up to be security personell. But if they want to work in operations or engineering, you can probably relax.