The Odd Side – November 11, 2014

A Mere Two Million Rats Make NYC Home, Statistician Says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – There may be 8 million stories in the Big Apple, but one of them — that New York City is home to 8 million rats, or one for every human resident — is probably a tall tale, according to research by a Columbia University statistician.

In truth, the city’s rat population is probably closer to two million, said Jonathan Auerbach, a Columbia doctoral student who wrote an essay on the subject.

The urban lore that there are as many rats as citizens dates back at least a century, Auerbach says. It may have endured in part because reliably estimating the city’s rat population is difficult.

“Animals are terrible survey respondents,” he wrote in the article, which was the winning entry in a young statisticians writing competition organized by London’s Royal Statistical Society.

Auerbach did not let the difficulties deter him, arguing that more precise estimates would be useful given that the rodents spread disease, start fires by chewing on electric cables and occasionally bite people.

His initial plan was to use a method that involves capturing a random sample of rats, marking them, releasing them, and then capturing another random sample of rats.

But the city’s health department, which is responsible for dealing with rats, was not enthralled with the idea, Auerbach wrote.

Instead, he used complaints from the public about rat sightings, which the city tracks and publishes. Combining the data with a number of assumptions, he was able to extrapolate the number of rat-occupied lots to about 40,500 across the city, or less than five percent of the total.

If each inhabited lot is home to a typical colony of 50 rats, that would mean there are about two million rats in the city.

In a statement, the health department called Auerbach’s research “interesting,” but added that there was simply no valid method for counting any large city’s rat population, nor would it be particularly useful if there were.

Deceased Washington State Legislator Headed for Re-Election

SEATTLE (Reuters) – An incumbent Democratic state representative in Washington was headed for a decisive re-election victory last Wednesday even though he died the week before, results indicate.

Roger Freeman, a first-term representative from Federal Way, a city between Seattle and Tacoma, had 53 percent of the vote, compared to 46.9 percent for his Republican challenger, Jack Dovey.

Freeman, 48, died two weeks ago after a battle with cancer. His death came after ballots were mailed to Washington voters, where all voting is done by mail.

“This is extremely rare,” said Brian Zylstra, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. “But there are protocols in place.”

Once all ballots are finalized in coming weeks, if Freeman wins the vote, Democrats still will hold on to his seat in the state House of Representatives, Zylstra said.

Democrats in Freeman’s district, which spans two counties, will select three names for a temporary replacement and the King and Pierce County councils will vote to appoint one of those candidates to the seat for one year, according to state election rules.

The seat would be on the ballot in 2015 to fill out the remainder of the two-year term, the rules say.

Should the Republican candidate win, he will take the seat in Olympia at the start of the next legislative session.

Former New York Mayor Bloomberg Cancels Purchase Of Insulting Web Domains

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called off the purchase of a slew of website domain names that insult and belittle him and his work, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The move came a day after reports that two law firms working for Bloomberg had purchased about 400 such online domains.

The domains included, and, according to an online registry. Others were more insulting, such as and

The purchase of negative website domains is a common strategy among politicians and other public figures in an effort to protect their reputations.

Bloomberg spokeswoman Meghan Womack said his lawyers had been “overly-aggressive” in trying to protect Bloomberg.

“We have requested the immediate release of any domains that are not straightforward,” she said.

The release meant the domains would be publicly available, she said.

Dallas Zoo Sells Rights to Name Baby Giraffe for $50,000

DALLAS (Reuters) – The Dallas Zoo has sold the naming rights for a recently born giraffe for $50,000 to a bidder who asked to remain nameless, a zoo official said on Monday.

No name has yet been selected for the six-foot male calf born on Oct. 26, whose naming rights were sold at an auction at the zoo’s annual fundraiser on Saturday, spokeswoman Laurie Holloway said.

“There was a lot of interest in choosing a name so the timing was perfect since an auction was already planned,” she said.

The money will be used for giraffe conservation efforts in African countries where the animals roam.

The baby giraffe is the 12th in the Dallas Zoo’s herd, which is among the largest in the United States, Holloway said.