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 2 million, said Jonathan Auerbach, a Columbia doctoral student who wrote an essay on the subject published in Significance magazine.
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 even though the creatures are hardly invisible, as most New Yorkers who see them skittering about the subway tracks or hear them rustling through trash piles will attest.
“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.