You’re More Likely to Die from Brain-Eating Parasites, Alcoholism, Obesity, Medical Errors, Risky Sexual Behavior and Just About Everything Other than Terrorism

We noted in 2011:

– You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

— You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane

— You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack

–You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack

— You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack

– You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack

–You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack

–You are 9 times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack

–You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

–You are 8 times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack

– You are 6 times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack

Let’s look at some details from the most recent official statistics.

The U.S. Department of State reports that only 17 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as a result of terrorism in 2011. That figure includes deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other theaters of war.

In contrast, the American agency which tracks health-related issues – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – rounds up the most prevalent causes of death in the United States:


Comparing the CDC numbers to terrorism deaths means:

– You are 35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 33,842 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

(Keep in mind when reading this entire piece that we are consistently and substantially understating the risk of other causes of death as compared to terrorism, because we are comparing deaths from various causes within the United States against deaths from terrorism worldwide.)

Wikipedia notes that obesity is a a contributing factor in 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year. That makes obesity 5,882 to times 23,528 more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

The annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to avoidable medical errors is as high as 100,000. Indeed, one of the world’s leading medical journals – Lancet – reported in 2011:

A November, 2010, document from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that, when in hospital, one in seven beneficiaries of Medicare (the government-sponsored health-care programme for those aged 65 years and older) have complications from medical errors, which contribute to about 180 000 deaths of patients per year.

That’s just Medicare beneficiaries, not the entire American public. Scientific American noted in 2009:

Preventable medical mistakes and infections are responsible for about 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an investigation by the Hearst media corporation.

But let’s use the lower – 100,000 – figure. That still means that you are 5,882 times more likely to die from medical error than terrorism.

The CDC says that some 80,000 deaths each year are attributable to excessive alcohol use. So you’re 4,706 times more likely to drink yourself to death than die from terrorism.

Wikipedia notes that there were 32,367 automobile accidents in 2011, which means that you are 1,904 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria noted this week: “Since 9/11, foreign-inspired terrorism has claimed about two dozen lives in the United States. (Meanwhile, more than 100,000 have been killed in gun homicides and more than 400,000 in motor-vehicle accidents.) ”

According to a 2011 CDC report, poisoning from prescription drugs is even more likely to kill you than a car crash. Indeed, the CDC stated in 2011 that – in the majority of states – your prescription meds are more likely to kill you than any other source of injury. So your meds are thousands of times more likely to kill you than Al Qaeda.

The number of deaths by suicide has also surpassed car crashes, and many connect the increase in suicides to the downturn in the economy. Around 35,000 Americans kill themselves each year (and more American soldiers die by suicide than combat; the number of veterans committing suicide is astronomical and under-reported). So you’re 2,059 times more likely to kill yourself than die at the hand of a terrorist.

The CDC notes that there were 7,638 deaths from HIV and 45 from syphilis, so you’re 452 times more likely to die from risky sexual behavior than terrorism.

The National Safety Council reports that more than 6,000 Americans die a year from falls … most of them involve people falling off their roof or ladder trying to clean their gutters, put up Christmas lights and the like. That means that you’re 353 times more likely to fall to your death doing something idiotic than die in a terrorist attack.

The agency in charge of workplace safety – the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – reports that 4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011 within the U.S. homeland. In other words, you are 271 times more likely to die from a workplace accident than terrorism.

The CDC notes that 3,177 people died of “nutritional deficiencies” in 2011, which means you are 187 times more likely to starve to death in American than be killed by terrorism.

Scientific American notes:

You might have toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which the CDC estimates has infected about 22.5 percent of Americans older than 12 years old

Toxoplasmosis is a brain-parasite. The CDC reports that more than 375 Americans die annually due to toxoplasmosis. In addition, 3 Americans died in 2011 after being exposed to a brain-eating amoeba. So you’re about 22 times more likely to die from a brain-eating zombie parasite than a terrorist.

There were at least 155 Americans killed by police officers in the United States in 2011. That means that you were more than 9 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.

And – according to the 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counter Terrorism Center – Americans are just as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year” as they are to be killed by terrorists.

Let’s switch to 2008, to take advantage of another treasure trove of data.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 33 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide in 2008 from terrorism. There were 301,579,895 Americans living on U.S. soil in 2008, so the risk of dying from terrorist attacks in 2008 was 1 in 9,138,785.

This graphic from the National Safety Council – based upon 2008 data – shows the relative risks of dying from various causes:

If the risk of being killed by a terrorist were added to the list, the dot would be so small that it would be hard to see. Specifically, the risk of being killed by terrorism in 2008 was 14 times smaller than being killed by fireworks.

Reason provides some more examples:

[The risk of being killed by terrorism] compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000. In other words, in the last five years you were four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just published, Background Report: 9/11, Ten Years Later [PDF]. The report notes, excluding the 9/11 atrocities, that fewer than 500 people died in the U.S. from terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2010.

Terrorism pushes our emotional buttons. And politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism out of proportion. But as the figures above show, terrorism is a very unlikely cause of death.

Category: Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

9 Responses to “Calm Down: You Are More Likely to Be Killed By Mundane Things than Terrorism”

  1. ilsm says:

    Assuming 30,000 deaths in US per year from “self inflicted” gun related wounds.

    1800 times more likely to die from a gun in your own hands, than from a terrorist.

  2. mathman says:

    Just the way we live, industrial civilization, is killing us. And look at the tactics these polluting industries use (this in England, but probably here too or coming soon)

  3. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Keep your house clean with our new über-toxic spray cleaner! You’ll be the envy of the coffee klatch, until the tumors become unsightly.

    Damn. That looks much worse in writing than seemed as a thought.

  4. The worst part is that by succumbing to fear, we allow terrorists win. They have disturbed our way of life,and that is their objective.

  5. AtlasRocked says:

    The 1930s presented a world gone mad, with just 2 major coutries retaining sanity: Britain and the United States were sane. Japan went nuts. Germany went nuts. Russia went nuts. Italy went nuts. China was starting to fall to the Chi-coms. France went squishy. Get the picture?

    The US and Britain were the MINORITY. Canada and Australia, lesser powers, joined us, but the majority of the world powers were nuts.

    In today’s world, these two nations would have been deemed out of line for going against what the majority wanted, right? Is being in the majority at an international level really what we want, as we see all these nations around us pursuing the same idiotic finance policies of the 1930s, the ones that left everyone broke, or,… war? Or both?

    Fear is a reasonable and healthy behavior – if you’re reacting to something like getting your legs blown off or inflating away your savings with liberal fiscal policies. Plenty of polls and a huge number of documented Islam-on-everyone else attacks world wide to refute the claim that we have nothing to worry about.

    Polls of support of islamic terrorism, try to find polls about support for terror from any other religion.

    List of terrorist attacks since 9/11. Try to find a similar list for any other religion.

    Remember, the Chinese weren’t too afraid of the Japanese either:

    I found that the Japan invaded “tolerant” Manchuria by simply riding the trainlines into the heart of the country, and deploying troops. They went 700 miles into China while barely a shot fired. Go look up the Nanking massacre if you want to see how well tolerance works, when an enemy realizes you are tolerant.

    • Biffah Bacon says:

      We become what we fear.
      The philosophy that set Germany, Italy and Japan on the course for war was born in the United States-see Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh’s medals from the Germans and Mussolini’s account of fascism as the combination of state, economic and religious power. Fritz Thyssen wrote a book about how he used his corporate money to fund a German political party and its successes-it might look Murdoch-y, though.
      There were no “crazy” countries and non-crazy countries-there were ideologies and people using them to their own ends, just like today, and empires a-building and collapsing.
      Would Islam be an issue if we weren’t murdering Muslims by the hundreds in myriad ways? If we weren’t invading their countries, raping their women and killing their children and old people as Ann Coulter paraphrased Conan the Barbarian? The people who invented calculus, Al Jebra, and the system of numbers we use every day?
      Imagine who we would be spending taxpayer dollars to murder if Reagan and Bush hadn’t murdered all those Central and South Americans. Wasting tax dollars instead of selling them things. Who does our government work for again? Imagine if we could get internet and cable tv to the people of the world instead of bombing and shooting them.

      We become what we hate. We become what we fear. We fear what we find strange.

  6. yenwoda says:

    “Terrorism pushes our emotional buttons. And politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism out of proportion. But as the figures above show, terrorism is a very unlikely cause of death.”

    True – and if you want some insight into the psychology of that button-pushing you could consult your own posts beating the drum of nuclear panic in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi containment failure, the public health effects of which can be read about here (pdf):

  7. says:

    This is absolutely the worst way to use statistics.

    There is a huge difference between P(Terrorist Attack) in your home vs Time Square

    The correct way to analyze is conditional probability. After all, no humans can control the random outcomes they can control the context.

    The other problem is, you can’t just use data for fat-tail events. Just because there has been no terrorist attack in Time Square for the past millions of years doesn’t mean the Probability is 0.

  8. bergsten says:

    You are 18,474 times more likely to die by a seizure from watching the news than from a terrorist attack.

    Though one might argue: Aren’t they the same thing?