Analytics According to Captain Kirk

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Analytics According to Captain Kirk

In my seminars, I enjoy teaching analytics because the fun is in finding effective and memorable methods to help people understand the concepts. One of my favorites is an analysis of the Red-Shirt Phenomenon in Star Trek.
Captain James T. Kirk
What? You don’t know about the Red Shirt Phenomenon? Well, as any die-hard trekkie knows, if you are wearing a red shirt and beam to the planet with Captain Kirk – you’re gonna die. That’s the common thinking, but I decided to put this to the test. After all, I hadn’t seen any definitive proof; it’s just what people said. (Remind you of your current web analytics strategy?) So, let’s set our phasers on ‘stun’ and see what we find . . .

The basic stats:
The Enterprise has a crew of 430 ( in its five-year mission. (Now, I know that the show was only on the air for 3 years, but bear with me. 80 episodes were produced, which gives us the data to build from.) 59 crewmembers were killed during the mission, which comes out to 13.7% of the crew. So, that will be our overall conversion rate, 13.7%.

Data Segmentation:
However, we need to segment the overall mortality (conversion) rate in order to gain the specific information that we need:

  • Yellow-shirt crewperson deaths: 6 (10%)
  • Blue-Shirt crewperson deaths: 5 (8 %)
  • Engineering smock crewperson deaths: 4
  • Red-Shirt crewperson deaths: 43 (73%)

So, the basic segmentation of factors allows us to confirm that red-shirted crewmembers died more than any other crewmembers on the original Star Trek series.
stare trek - red shirts down

However, that’s only just simple stats reporting – ready for some analysis?

In-depth Analysis:
Analysis involves asking questions about the data. Analysis attempts to bring reason and cause to the reported data in order to find why something is happening. With that data, one can improve the situation based on the intelligence gained from the analysis.

Q: What causes a red-shirted crewman to die?

  • On-board incident – 42.5%
  • Beaming down to the planet – 57.5%

There were also many fights during the mission; on the Enterprise, on planets, and various space stations. The fights were also divided between alien races or crazed crewmen (usually wearing red shirts).

  • There were 130 fights over 80 episodes.
  • 18 of the 130 fights resulted in a fatality.
  • 13 of the 18 fatal fights resulted in a red-shirt fatality.

Q: what was the rate of red-shirt casualties?

  • 18 red-shirt fatality episodes:
  • 8 multiple fatality occurrences; involving 34 red-shirted crewmen.
  • 9 single re-shirt fatality situations.

It was found that red-shirted crewmembers tended to die in groups. In 17 red-shirt fatality episodes, 8 were multiple incidents, 9 were single incidents. In a little less than 50% of the fatal red-shirt situations, multiple crewmen were vaporized.

Q: What factors could increase/decrease the survival rate of red-shirted crewmen?
Besides not getting involved in fights, which usually proved fatal, the crewmen could avoid beaming down to the planet’s surface, which is inherent to their end. However, that could result in a court-martial for failure to obey orders.

Besides not beaming down, another factor that showed to increase the survival rate of the red-shirts was the nature of the relationship between the alien life and captain Kirk. When Captain Kirk meets an alien woman and “makes contact” the survival rate of the red-shirted crewmen increases by 84%. In fact, out of Captain Kirks’ 24 “relationships” there were only three instances of red-shirt vaporization.
star trek - alien woman

The caveat to this is when Captain Kirk not only meets the local alien women, but also starts a fight among alien locals. The combination of these events has led to the elimination of 4 crewmembers (3 red-shirts).

Here are the statistics:
Red Shirt Death episodes = 18
Episodes with fights = 55
Probability of a fight breaking out = 70%
Kirk “conquest” episodes = 24
Kirk “conquest” + fights = 16
Kirk “conquest” + red shirt casualty= 4
Red shirt death + fight + Kirk “conquest” = 3

And the data trends;
Probability of a red-shirt casualty= 53%
14% of fights ended in a fatality (with a 72% chance the fatality wore a red shirt)
Probability of a red-shirt “incident” when Kirk has a “conquest” = 12%

The red-shirt survival rate is slightly higher when Kirk meets women than when a fight breaks out. This trend necessitates the question: How often did Captain Kirk “meet” women? In 30% of the missions.
star trek - mudd’s women
As the data shows, Captain Kirk “making contact” with alien women has an impact on the crew’s survival. The red-shirt death rate is higher when a fight breaks out than when Kirk meets a woman and a fight breaks out. Yet the analysis shows that meeting Kirk meeting women only happens in 30% of the missions.

We can reliably improve the survivability of the red-shirted crewmen by only exploring peaceful, female-only planets (android and alien females included).

Reporting the Data:
Now, researching the data can be fun and informative. However, that is only half of the battle. The interesting part comes when you have to communicate not only the data, but your conclusions in an effective, persuasive manner. The best analysis won’t go far if you can’t communicate the conclusions in a manner that people understand.

There are a few options at our disposal. First, the PowerPoint Method.
enterprise powerpoint 1 enterprise powerpoint 2 enterprise powerpoint 3 enterprise powerpoint 4 enterprise powerpoint 5 enterprise powerpoint 6

There are a number of things wrong with the typical method of presenting data. For starters, this presentation could bore even the most hardened Starfleet manager (CEO). The typical corporate PowerPoint slide design is obnoxious and does not leave room for information, the charts are redundant, even unnecessary, and it does not do a good job of communicating the information or the analysis.

In most cases, PowerPoint is NOT the recommended tool for communicating analytics data. It is not the right tool for the job. Communicating analytics data involves providing conclusions based on facts, tests, comparisons, and research. In order to display the necessary data, a better method must be used, and not one that forces redundant bullet point and “snazzy” charts.

Visualizing the Data:
There are some necessary elements required in developing a chart for this type data:

  1. A list of the specific episodes
  2. Events that happened in each episode
  3. The number of events that happened in each episode
  4. An easy way to identify data, then compare and contrast actions in all episodes

By seeing all of the available data in one chart, associations, patterns and conclusions can be drawn simply by comparing the relationships as they are presented. This is something that I learned from Edward Tufte – 1. More information is needed to simplify data presentation. 2. Unless all of the data is presented, there is no data integrity.

Information is Primary to Design
This is critical in developing a chart of information – the information is primary. List the necessary data elements first. Then, develop the design around the information, and not the other way around. Otherwise, a beautiful chart will lack the critical information necessary to support your conclusions. The graphing software that I found extremely effective for communicating the episode data for this Star Trek analysis is Microsoft’s Office 2007, and in Apple’s OS X graphics software.

episode graph
click for full-size version

I like this chart – eliminating the need for a legend is critical to allowing the information to flow. The data is the same color or object as the information we are trying to convey. Because there is no suitable color for Captain Kirk’s affairs, we substituted a very flattering picture. Fights are represented by tiny phasers, which are not the best representation because of the size, but can easily be determined by the process of elimination. This chart allows conclusions and observations that simple charts, numbers, and explanations may never bring to the surface. It allows for easy comparison, both to other shirt colors, and in relation to other episodes. It also looks as though Kirk was a very busy man.

In the first year of the series, red-shirt casualties were lower than other color-shirted crewmembers. The second and especially the third seasons were especially brutal. In the third season, only red-shirted crewmembers died; maybe because the other colors enacted better safety protocols, or maybe because they avoided the bridge when a new planet came into view, for fear of beaming down with Cpt. Kirk.

Of the elements that helped to provide this analysis, segmentation was key. Segmentation of groups allows for comparisons. Comparisons allow you to spot trends that by be different from the rest. Asking questions of the data allows you to dig into specific trends and spot additional factors that have affects the original analysis. Unless we dug into Kirk’s personal life, we may never have spotted the contrast of Kirk’s attraction to alien females as it related to saving red-shirt crewmen’s lives.
vina of orion

Remember, when you have to account for lost crewmembers, your report needs to account for the how, the why, and the ability to draw specific conclusions as to how to affect the trends in the future. Depending upon your approach, you could either doom the project, and future red-shirted crewmen, or you could be visiting planets full of peaceful alien women.

I found this motivational poster, that could well be hanging in a cubicle at Starfleet headquarters . . . (courtesy of StarTrek Motivational Posters).
Expendability - motivational poster

Added 1/4/2008: This just seemed too perfect and had to be added:The Sexy Women of StarTrek

Related Articles on the Marketing Logic blog:
Analytics: Is it Fun or Easy: Part 1
Analytics As a Subversive Activity
Search Engine Optimization Basics

About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. st0n3y February 13, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Analytics that even my wife (a Star Trek fan) could love!

    Awesome post. Live long and prosper.

  2. […] often link to other posts here but this was too good to pass up. Matt Bailey has a great post about fun analytics can be and uses Star Trek (TOS) to prove it. You’ve got to read it to believe it! Speak up […]

  3. Bob Gladstein February 13, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Matt, this is sheer brilliance.

    I have just one question regarding the segmentation of groups: does it mess up the data to consider that from ST:TNG forward, a red uniform denotes that the officer is part of the command structure (as opposed to security or engineering)?

    Is it necessary to treat spinoffs as completely separate data?

  4. Matt Bailey February 14, 2007 at 3:32 am

    Wow, Bob, not asking for much, are you? (Really – thank you!)

    I can’t imagine opening up the data to the other Trek franchises. Nothing beats TOS – too much history there. Honestly, I don’t think people recorded the events of the subsequent series nearly as closely as TOS. So yes – it would have to be seperate data in my opinion.

    TNG and Voyager were the ones I watched the most, and I couldn’t get into Enterprise and DS9. The movies, well, that’s just a whole ‘nother story.

  5. Rachel February 14, 2007 at 3:56 am

    Oh my giddy aunt. This was priceless. thank you for this cerebral treat.

  6. Avinash Kaushik February 14, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Matt: Like others I bow in front of your brilliance! I have been immersed in blogging for around a year and this is probably one of the top three posts I have read. Fantastic work and what a great way to teach the power of segmentation!!



  7. kelvin in brighton February 14, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Great Way of explaining the value of analytics, and light hearted the perfect read.

  8. Michael Rock February 14, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Glad you wrote this article Matt! I really enjoyed it in Philadelphia. It was better than my ghost stories over drinks!

  9. David Temple February 15, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Excellent way to show that you have to really look at the story behind the numbers and not just assume what the numbers mean. Just because you wear a red shirt does not mean you have a higher probability of death, it just means you have to stay aboard the mother ship and let others volunteer for planet bound missions.

  10. Paul Denhup February 15, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    No web Analytics? Lots of companies still don’t get it. Makes me scream: Khaaan!

  11. Julien Coquet April 18, 2007 at 3:38 am

    I love this post and reference it as much as I can.

    On a related note, I’m also a huge Robot Chicken fan and these two videos would bring a little more fun to this discussion:


  12. Mike Martin August 24, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    You left out one major piece of data needed to analyze the significance of the date: What percentage of the crew wore red shirts?

    If 73% of the crew wore red shirts, then they died at normal rates.

  13. Matt Bailey August 25, 2007 at 9:44 am


    Thanks for the feedback, I’ve heard that question asked a few times. Unfortunately, no one has that data; Being that this was a fictional TV series, any numbers out there are pretty random and usually made-up.

    The point of the article is to use Star Trek as a metaphor to understand website analytics. It isn’t intended as a star trek expose.

  14. Kelly August 28, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Matt, you have left out some other important data:

    When Star Trek went into regular production, the department colors were: command and helm personnel wore gold shirts. (not very many of those)

    Engineering and security personnel wore red. (

    Science and medical personnel wore blue. (not a lot of those, either).

    (notice, there’s no mention of what color grunt crew-men wear? I guess there weren’t any of the ship).

    The frequent death of red-uniformed security officers led to the coining of the term redshirt.

    That leads to the conclusion that either the Enterprise had a lot of security personnel or they replenished them after they died. They did have access to bases and probably replenished them.

    Those that die are in a high-risk profession, so they are logically going to be the ones to step into the line of fire and protect everyone else. Their percent of deaths may actually be low. If we compare personel, how greatly would the loss of the engineering chief affect the ship as opposed to the loss of a couple of security men?

  15. Matt Bailey August 29, 2007 at 9:05 am


    See my earlier comment on the availability of data. It’s not so much that I left it out, it’s that I used the available data. Being that this was a fictional series, there is no available data for that question.

    This is why I focused the article on the frequency of deaths by comparison. Even if there were hundreds of other red-shirts on board, their frequency of annihilation would still be greater when compared to other crewmen.

    That being said, this was only a cheeky send up of a cultural icon in order to present Web Analytics 101, and not an exhaustive treatise on Ensign Ricky.

  16. Mike Bierstock August 29, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Great piece! Got me thinking though….I would be curious to see how these statistics stack up against something like “incidents of Yellow Shirts Near-Death” (severe Illnesses and the like) or “Yellow Shirt Torture Sessions”. I seem to remember them dying and being revived a few times……

    It may give a good perspective to weigh the Red Shirts .vs. Yellow Shirt issue.

  17. Allen August 31, 2007 at 6:43 am

    This is great reading, but there’s another way to look at whether a red-shirt is more likely to die than another crewmember when on an away team. The heuristic is that a red-shirt that is on an away team is a sure fatality. What you really want to do is get number of deaths and number of crewmembers that went on away teams for each color of shirt. Then compare these percentages. One would need to decide whether to include main characters and this should be stated in the ground rules.

  18. hugh November 10, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Logical… flawlessly logical

  19. Mac February 12, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I can’t believe I am responding to this, but it is nothing short of brilliance.

    However, there is one variable you do not take into account: flawed data. I bring this up because your episodes on the chart do not appear to line up with actual events. Given that you left off half the episode titles, it appears that you are indicating them by airdate and not production date. If so, then starting with “Where No Man Has Gone Before” which aired between “Charlie X” and “The Naked Time”. Your chart indicates a total of two fights and NO deaths. In reality there were many deaths during the attempt to cross the barrier (though in your defense they were not on camera nor categorized by color). However, three named members of the crew were pointedly killed. Lt. Kelso (a beige redshirt) was strangled on the planet and Gary Mitchell (also a beige redshirt) and Dr. Dehner (blue). Obviously this calls into question the data for other episodes. In particular, I am hard to pressed to recall 11 redshirts dying in “The Tholian Web”, though I must admit I’m not an expert.

    Not to take away from the brilliance of your work here, but I would add the missing episodes so there can be no question which statistics match which and double check some of those facts, which I presume are the result of original research, otherwise list your sources (and pawn-off responsibility for the inaccuracies ;-).

  20. Vijay Singh April 7, 2008 at 3:04 am

    A great read and awsome thought process.

  21. Alexis April 22, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    One critical piece of data not discussed here, perhaps because it’s not available, is the percentage of redshirts in the Enterprise crew compared to other staff groups. If redshirts are 90% of the crew but only 73% of the deaths, then they are *less* likely to die than other groups.

    There are 430 crew. Assuming that only half of the non-redshirt crew are featured during episodes, and assuming also that the depiction of redshirt deaths on the air matches the frequency overall, that still leaves redshirts dying *less* often than other crew lines, proportionately.

  22. […] Analytics According to Captain Kirk […]

  23. anonymoustroll August 31, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    > There were 130 fights over 80 episodes.

    Anger management classes for the entire crew, but especially for “senior personnel”?

  24. zara clothing January 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Good Article.The point of the article is to use Star Trek as a metaphor to understand website analytics. It isn’t intended as a star trek expose.

  25. Joe G February 8, 2009 at 3:26 pm


    Do you have available a chart with all 80 episodes? The posted chart, I’m guessing, shows 40 episodes for readability.

    Thanks for the great post.

  26. windows 7 tips April 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I can’t imagine opening up the data to the other Trek franchises. Nothing beats TOS – too much history there. Honestly, I don’t think people recorded the events of the subsequent series nearly as closely as TOS. So yes – it would have to be seperate data in my opinion.

  27. Hetty4 April 3, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Fun way to popularize analytics (esp. for Star Trek fans)! I see one flaw, though, in your analysis. You conclude that red shirts die more often but in your ppt slides you refer to them as “Security.” Seems to me that though there is a correlation with red shirts, the causation is being part of the security detail. It just happens to be that security people wear red. So, security people die more often than engineers or science officers. Gee. That makes sense. (I see that Kelly above made a similar observation. Alexis makes a good point too.)

  28. Apex Professionals April 14, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Nice post!! It’s appears that you are indicating them by airdate and not production date… you have a higher probability of death, it just means you have to stay aboard the mother ship and let others volunteer for planet bound missions….

  29. Wallpapers,widescreen wallpapers April 30, 2009 at 12:43 am

    I don’t think people recorded the events of the subsequent series nearly as closely as TOS. So yes – it would have to be separate data in my opinion.The point of the article is to use Star Trek as a metaphor to understand website analytic. It isn’t intended as a star trek expose.

  30. Dakoda May 9, 2009 at 8:24 am

    I’ve noticed one small problem. In episode 2 (Charlie X), Captain Kirk says that there are 428 crewmen on the ship. There were 3 crewmen killed in the first episode. Thus there are 431 crewmen on the Enterprise. Just something I noticed.

  31. USA Credit Unions May 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    This is great reading, but there’s another way to look at whether a red-shirt is more likely to die than another crewmember when on an away team. The heuristic is that a red-shirt that is on an away team is a sure fatality. What you really want to do is get number of deaths and number of crewmembers that went on away teams for each color of shirt. Then compare these percentages. One would need to decide whether to include main characters and this should be stated in the ground rules.

  32. somewhat June 18, 2009 at 12:52 am

    In Charlie X, a red shirt is teleported into oblivion, but not killed. He is restored at the end of the episode, though not shown the alien who teleports back the female yeoman says “everything is how it was”, implying the red shirt is also restored.

  33. Web Analytics PM June 20, 2009 at 7:59 am

    LoL really cool idea this red shirt example from Star Trek 🙂

    BTW: I have seen another quite interesting comparison of marketing topics with Star Trek here:


  34. Jason Edwards August 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I was searching for statistics since I am taking an SPSS class. This was totally AWESOME.

  35. Nightgaunt September 23, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    It must also be understood in the two pilots there were no red shirts used. “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” also in “Mirror Mirror” Sulu was security chief so he wore red (which fit him) better than command deck gold. Note Uhura word gold once in the series but otherwise wore red.

    In the later series they didn’t follow the color code established which annoyed me no end.

    On a curious side note, Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea had red suited crewmen who tended to die when ghosts, fossil men and aliens came aboard!

  36. Josh @ iD Tech October 22, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    This is absolutely hilarious!!!! In fact I think it deserves its own Wikipedia page. Next, can you analyze the A-Team?!

  37. Eric Troyer November 1, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Wonderful stuff! You might want to add this link to the “Red Shirt Boogie Blues.”

  38. Renaud Joly January 18, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I was in Lille Salon de Vente a Distance for Matt venue late 2009.
    Thanks for a very pleasant conference about web analytics, and a drink in Le Monde Moderne.
    Ready for SEO next time ?

  39. Silly Bandz June 3, 2010 at 2:02 am

    This is interesting. I am amazed about how you used startrek as an analogy of Marketing.

  40. Bethesda Web Design June 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    This is awesome. Thanks a ton!

  41. Robotdoc03 February 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Great analysis, but I have one question: In your section basic stats, you indicate 59 crewmembers died. The next section, you break down to color of shirts -> 6+5+4+43(red)=58. How can this be?

  42. Brian Mathers July 20, 2011 at 2:52 am

    This post is highly entertaining but I remember watching Matt Bailey deliver this presentation live and whilst being a Scotsman I just had to use the word awesome to describe watching this guy teach me analytics through such an entertaining slide deck. Catch him doing a gig somewhere and the impact sitting in the audience will blow you away.

    And thanks to others who have commented here, highly entertaining, my my there are some serious future space cadets should this tv show ever return, but god help wardrobe if they don’t get the right colour of shirt for these guys!

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