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Crunching the Numbers on Mortality

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data mortality death infographic

Crunching the Numbers on Mortality

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

One of the key traits that make human beings unique on planet Earth is that we’re aware of our own mortality.

Scientific advances have given us insight into which behaviors may prolong life, and which activities carry the greatest risk of death. Naturally, there have been some unique attempts to create a unified structure around risk and benefit, and to quantify every aspect of the human lifespan.

As today’s graphic from TitleMax demonstrates, even when we’re thinking about death, the human desire to codify the world around us is alive and well.

Mortality Units

Certain events – such as a parachute failing to open or being hit by a meteor – have an easily quantifiable effect on life, but how do we measure the riskiness of day-to-day habits and situations? This is where a unique unit of measurement, micromorts, comes into play.

This concept, invented by renowned decision analyst Ronald A. Howard, helps compare any number of potentially lethal risks. One micromort equals a one in a million chance of sudden death. Here’s the riskiness of various activities measured in micromorts:

ActivityMicromorts
Ascending Mount Everest37,932
Getting out of bed (Age 90)463
Being born (first day of life)430
Giving birth170
Playing Football20
Riding a motorcycle10
Running a marathon7
Rock climbing3
Travelling 6,000 miles by train1
Travelling 230 miles by car1

Life Units

The average person, by the time they reach adulthood, will live approximately one million half-hours. Those 30 minute units are known as microlives.

The microlife concept was invented by professor David Spiegelhalter as a way to measure the consequences of various behaviors. For example, 20 minutes of physical activity earns us two microlives, while watching TV for two hours subtracts one microlife.

This measurement extends beyond nutrition and eating habits. Simply living in a modern era earns us an additional 15 microlives per day compared to those who lived a century earlier.

Casting the die on how we’ll die

How will the estimated 353,000 humans that will be born today eventually meet their end? This was the thought experiment conducted by Reddit user, Presneeze.

causes of death

While our focus is often drawn to people who meet their end in spectacular and tragic ways, the vast majority of humanity will succumb to conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Geography can play a big role in shifting these odds:

  • In the United States, which is grappling with an opioid addiction crisis, there is a 1-in-96 chance of dying from a drug overdose.
  • Diarrheal diseases may not be on the radar of most people living in first world countries, but in developing regions, they remain a leading cause of preventable death – particularly for children.
  • In Russia, the odds are 1-in-4 that a man will not live beyond 55 years. The main culprit? Vodka.

On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

–Chuck Palahniuk

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COVID-19

How Many People Die Each Day?

COVID-19 deaths can be hard to interpret without context. This graphic shows how many people die each day globally, by cause.

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How Many People Die Each Day?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the media continues to rattle off statistics at full force.

However, without a frame of reference, numbers such as the death toll can be difficult to interpret. Mortalities attributed to the virus, for example, are often measured in the thousands of people per day globally—but is this number a little or a lot, relative to typical causes of death?

Today’s graphic uses data from Our World in Data to provide context with the total number of worldwide daily deaths. It also outlines how many people who die each day from specific causes.

Worldwide Deaths by Cause

Nearly 150,000 people die per day worldwide, based on the latest comprehensive research published in 2017. Which diseases are the most deadly, and how many lives do they take per day?

Here’s how many people die each day on average, sorted by cause:

RankCauseDaily Deaths
#1Cardiovascular diseases48,742
#2Cancers26,181
#3Respiratory diseases10,724
#4Lower respiratory infections7,010
#5Dementia6,889
#6Digestive diseases6,514
#7Neonatal disorders4,887
#8Diarrheal diseases4,300
#9Diabetes3,753
#10Liver diseases3,624
#11Road injuries3,406
#12Kidney disease3,370
#13Tuberculosis3,243
#14HIV/AIDS2,615
#15Suicide2,175
#16Malaria1,698
#17Homicide1,111
#18Parkinson disease933
#19Drowning809
#20Meningitis789
#21Nutritional deficiencies740
#22Protein-energy malnutrition635
#23Maternal disorders531
#24Alcohol use disorders507
#25Drug use disorders456
#26Conflict355
#27Hepatitis346
#28Fire330
#29Poisonings198
#30Heat (hot and cold exposure)146
#31Terrorism72
#32Natural disasters26
Total Daily Deaths147,118

Cardiovascular diseases, or diseases of the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death. However, their prominence is not reflected in our perceptions of death nor in the media.

While the death toll for HIV/AIDS peaked in 2004, it still affects many people today. The disease causes over 2,600 daily deaths on average.

Interestingly, terrorism and natural disasters cause very few deaths in relation to other causes. That said, these numbers can vary from day to day—and year to year—depending on the severity of each individual instance.

Total Daily Deaths by Country

On a national level, these statistics vary further. Below are the total deaths from all causes for selected countries, based on 2017 data.

how many people die each day
China and India both see more than 25,000 total deaths per day, due to their large populations.

However, with 34.7 daily deaths per million people each day, Russia has the highest deaths proportional to population out of any of these countries.

Keeping Perspective

While these numbers help provide some context for the global scale of COVID-19 deaths, they do not offer a direct comparison.

The fact is that many of the aforementioned death rates are based on much larger and consistent sample sizes of data. On the flipside, since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, daily confirmed deaths have fallen in a wide range between 272 and 10,520 per day—and there is no telling what could happen in the future.

On top of this variance, data on confirmed COVID-19 deaths has other quirks. For example, testing rates for the virus may vary between jurisdictions, and there have also been disagreements between authorities on how deaths should even be tallied in the first place. This makes getting an accurate picture surprisingly complicated.

While it’s impossible to know the true death toll of COVID-19, it is clear that in some countries daily deaths have reached rates 50% or higher than the historical average for periods of time:

excess deaths covid-19

Time, and further analysis, will be required to determine a more accurate COVID-19 death count.

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Misc

11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes

Humans are hardwired to make mental mistakes called cognitive biases. Here are common biases that can shape political opinion, and even elections.

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Cognitive Biases in the Political Arena

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election fast approaching, many people will be glued to the 24-hour news cycle to stay up to date on political developments. Yet, when searching for facts, our own cognitive biases often get in the way.

If this isn’t problematic enough, third parties can also take advantage of these biases to influence our thinking. The media, for example, can exploit our tendency to assign stereotypes to others by only providing catchy, surface-level information. Once established in our minds, these generalizations can be tough to shake off.

Such tactics can have a powerful influence on public opinion if applied consistently to a broad audience. To help us avoid these mental pitfalls, today’s infographic from PredictIt lists common cognitive biases that influence the realm of politics, beginning with the “Big Cs”.

The First C: Confirmation Bias

People exhibit confirmation bias when they seek information that only affirms their pre-existing beliefs. This can cause them to become overly rigid in their political opinions, even when presented with conflicting ideas or evidence.

When too many people fall victim to this bias, progress towards solving complex sociopolitical issues is thwarted. That’s because solving these issues in a bipartisan system requires cooperation from both sides of the spectrum.

A reluctance towards establishing a common ground is already widespread in America. According to a 2019 survey, 70% of Democrats believed their party’s leaders should “stand up” to President Trump, even if less gets done in Washington. Conversely, 51% of Republicans believed that Trump should “stand up” to Democrats.

In light of these developments, researchers have conducted studies to determine if the issue of confirmation bias is as prevalent as it seems. In one experiment, participants chose to either support or oppose a given sociopolitical issue. They were then presented with evidence that was conflicting, affirming, or a combination of both.

In all scenarios, participants were most likely to stick with their initial decisions. Of those presented with conflicting evidence, just one in five changed their stance. Furthermore, participants who maintained their initial positions became even more confident in the superiority of their decision—a testament to how influential confirmation bias can be.

The Second C: Coverage Bias

Coverage bias, in the context of politics, is a form of media bias where certain politicians or topics are disproportionately covered. In some cases, media outlets can even twist stories to fit a certain narrative.

For example, research from the University of South Florida analyzed media coverage on President Trump’s 2017 travel ban. It was discovered that primetime media hosts covered the ban through completely different perspectives.

Each host varied drastically in tone, phrasing, and facts of emphasis, […] presenting each issue in a manner that aligns with a specific partisan agenda.

—Josepher, Bryce (2017)

Charting the ideological placement of each source’s audience can help us gain a better understanding of the coverage bias at work. In other words, where do people on the left, middle, and right get their news?

cognitive bias in media and politics

The horizontal axis in this graphic corresponds to the Ideological Consistency Scale, which is composed of 10 questions. For each question, respondents are assigned a “-1” for a liberal response, “+1” for a conservative response, or a “0” for other responses. A summation of these scores places a respondent into one of five categories:

Ideological CategoryRanking
Consistently conservative+7 to +10
Mostly conservative+3 to +6
Mixed-2 to +2
Mostly liberal-6 to -3
Consistently liberal -10 to -7

Overcoming coverage bias—which dovetails into other biases like confirmation bias—may require us to follow a wider variety of sources, even those we may not initially agree with.

The Third C: Concision Bias

Concision bias is a type of bias where politicians or the media selectively focus on aspects of information that are easy to get across. In the process, more nuanced and delicate views get omitted from popular discourse.

A common application of concision bias is the use of sound bites, which are short clips that can be taken out of a politician’s speech. When played in isolation, these clips may leave out important context for the audience.

Without the proper context, multi-faceted issues can become extremely polarizing, and may be a reason for the growing partisan divide in America. In fact, there is less overlap in the political values of Republicans and Democrats than ever previously measured.

In 1994, just 64% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat. By 2017, that margin had grown considerably, to 95% of Republicans. The same trend can be found on the other end of the spectrum. Whereas 70% of Democrats were more liberal than the median Republican in 1994, this proportion increased to 97% by 2017.

Overcoming Our Biases

Achieving full self-awareness can be difficult, especially when new biases emerge in our constantly evolving world. So where do we begin?

Simply remembering these mental pitfalls exist can be a great start—after all, we can’t fix what we don’t know. Individuals concerned about the upcoming presidential election may find it useful to focus their attention on the Big Cs, as these biases can play a significant role in shaping political beliefs. Maintaining an open mindset and diversifying the media sources we follow are two tactics that may act as a hedge.

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