Friday, December 11, 2015

Your Chance of Dying

          Of course, on any absolute scale, your chance of dying is 100%.  But that's not what I'm thinking  about.  No.  It's the rash of mass murders over the last couple of years that has given me pause--me and everyone else, if the wild popularity of presidential candidate Donald Trump, the Pied Piper of scared rats, is any gauge.   It's terrorists we're all terrified of, if you'll pardon the redundancy.  They strike everywhere with recent executions and bombings in Paris and California and Brussels cases in point.  (Paris, Nov. 15, 2015:  a series of attacks that killed 130 and left 368 injured; San Bernardino, California, Dec. 2, 2015:  14 killed, 22 seriously injured; Brussels, March 22, 2016:  34 killed, 190 wounded.) 

          Most of the attacks are by Muslim terrorists, but it's good to keep in mind that there are also Christian terrorists who open fire at Planned Parenthood clinics, racist terrorists who gun down blacks in churches, and various other berserk nationalists who shoot down foreign airplanes to send a message.  For thirty years or more at the end of the twentieth century, the Irish Republican Army waged a bloody reign of terror on the United Kingdom.  Add up the fatalities and you have plenty of reason to worry about dying in a terrorist attack.
          Or do you?

          Recent charts in the Tampa Bay Times and the New York Times suggest otherwise.  Your chance of dying of heart disease or cancer is 1 in 7, a truly sobering statistic that manages not to disturb many people.  (Go figure.)  Your chance of dying in a car crash is 1 in 112, while your chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 8,015--but we all knew that it's safer to fly than drive.  (It turns out it's a lot safer.)
          Guns kill people at the rate of 1 in 358.  That's the rate of "assault by firearm."  The rate is 1 in 6,700 for "firearms discharge," the difference apparently being that if you are assaulted by someone with a gun, you're a lot more likely to die than if a gun should mysteriously discharge while you happen to be in the vicinity.  And "sugary drinks," according to the New York Times on July 7, 2015, kill 184,000 people every year, 25,000 in the United States alone.
          It's hard to know where the truly oddball statistics come from or what they mean.  Coconuts, for example, are said to account for 150 deaths a year, champagne corks only 24; ladders cause 355 deaths, vending machines only two--and 450 people die every year falling out of bed.
          After that your chances of dying are sky high:  1 in 55,000 for death by stinging insect; 1 in 116,000 for death by dog bite; and 1 in 164,000 for death by lightning strike. 
          But you are two and a half times more likely to die of a lightning strike than from a terrorist on a shooting spree.  The odds against your dying that way are a staggering 1 in 700,000.
          What this proves is that terrorists aren't nearly as great a threat to you as sugary drinks, which really should carry a warning from the Surgeon General.

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