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This Confronting Chart Says You'll Likely Be Killed by Something You're Not Worried About

MICHELLE STARR
19 APR 2018

We're all going to die one day, but if you think terrorism is going to be the cause, well… you might have been reading too many news reports.

There seems to be a vast gap between the most common causes of death in the US, and the causes of death we hear the most about.

 

The infographic below, made by data scientist Aaron Penne, is a visualisation of data collected by computational science students from the University of California, San Diego.

They wanted to see if a study from 1979, which found a disconnect between the causes of death mentioned in the news and actual causes of death, was still valid.

The authors of that study - and two subsequent studies - found that homicide was disproportionately covered in the media, compared to the percentage of deaths it actually accounted for.

The UC San Diego team looked at several points of data. The baseline was the US Center for Disease Control's public health database from 1999-2016, which included cause of death statistics.

They looked, specifically, at the top 10 causes of death in the US, as well as terrorism, homicide and drug overdose - causes of death seen frequently in the media.

They then compared this database against Google Trends, to see what causes of death people were searching for on Google.

They also compared it to article databases from The New York Times and The Guardian, to see if media reporting matched up with the statistical data.

Cause of Death - Reality vs. Google vs. Media

As you can tell looking at the visualisation, the greatest cause of death in America is cardiovascular disease, followed closely by cancer. And terrorism caused so few deaths that it couldn't even be seen on the team's CDC relative mortality rates bar graph.

 

Yet terrorism featured prominently in the Google search trends, while heart disease barely got a look-in. And the two media outlets reported more on homicide than any other cause of death in 1999 - but by 2016, their reporting on terrorism had eclipsed homicide coverage.

"Terrorism, cancer, and homicides are the causes of death that are most mentioned in the newspapers," team member Owen Shen wrote in a blog post.

"Though the share that cancer occupies seems largely proportional, the share given to both homicides and terrorism appears grossly overrepresented, given their respective share of total deaths."

They found that kidney disease and heart disease are both about 10 times underrepresented in the news, while homicide is about 31 times overrepresented.

Terrorism is overrepresented in the news by an absolutely massive factor of 3,900.

Obviously those figures will vary depending on where in the world you live, but it's probably safe to say that if you're in the US, you should probably stop worrying about terrorist attacks and pay a little more attention to your cholesterol levels.

You can read the full analysis on Shen's blog here.