Human beings have an incredible propensity to worry about things that are unlikely to ever affect them, while ignoring the things that pose serious threats to their health and wellness, and safety and security.
This week, Bill Gates prompted much discussion by tweeting about a data science study that compares causes of death for Americans, to media coverage of those phenomena. This should be required reading for every American middle school and high school student. There is something about a stacked bar chart that really has the propensity to hammer the point home.
The important issue for the public is this: what conclusions can we draw about this information? Why do we live in a world with such distortions?
I’m always amazed by the disconnect between what we see in the news and the reality of the world around us. As my late friend Hans Rosling would say, we must fight the fear instinct that distorts our perspective: https://t.co/uQRofM4q2u pic.twitter.com/SzXDFr4clj
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) June 11, 2019
Here is the first and obvious takeaway, that in a sense offers a real degree of hope for the future of humanity:
Homicide and terrorism are extremely unlikely to affect you in your lifetime. Other human beings are not the real danger to your vitality and safety. Rather the decisions that you make with respect to your health, diet, and lifestyle are.
Perhaps it would behoove us to consider hidden, but very real, dangers to the typical American lifestyle.
Fast food, sugary beverages, a sedentary existence, and excessive media consumption…are probably considerably more harmful to the American public in general than gun owners or terrorists.
For a liberal like Bill Gates (and I don’t use the word pejoratively)…is he also prepared to address the clear fact that guns are not the grave danger to the American public that they are constantly made out to be by the American media?
The odds of being killed by gun violence are extremely low. The odds of being killed by gun violence at an American school are even lower.
How low? According to a Harvard professor, writing in the Washington Post, the odds of being killed in a school shooting on a typical day since 1999 are 1 in 614,000,000.
Let’s take a look at terrorism. The risk of Islamic terrorism is real. No one is going to dispute that although the Islamic State has lost its territorial base in Syria and Iraq, that their capacity to execute a terrorist attack on American soil remains a clear and present danger.
While the United States government should devote resources to fighting Islamic terrorism, there is no doubt that the American public’s perception of the excessive risk posed therein, drives our government spending and our foreign policy.
The risk of a typical individual being the victim of a terrorist attack is, again, infinitesimal…a probability relegated to the tens or hundreds of millions. In fact, animals pose a far greater threat to humans than terrorists.
The odds of being killed in a terrorist attack between 2008 and 2015? One in 30.1 million.
The odds of being killed by an animal in the same time period? One in 1.6 million.
Animals are 19 times more deadlier to the American public than terrorists.
Republicans and conservatives may be guilty of stoking the fears of terrorist attacks in order to drum up support for some of their disastrous foreign policy initiatives, like the War in Iraq. The mainstream media has no problem with pointing out this part of the study.
They seem far more reticent when it comes to the “gun reform” (read: gun control) movement, which wants to lead the American public to believe that our Second Amendment rights, coupled with a culture of reckless and irresponsible gun ownership, make life in the United States a dystopian nightmare.
Few Democrats are willing to risk the political fallout of standing up to those who want to use murders and school shootings to paint a picture that is wildly statistically inaccurate.
Terrorism is a problem. Gun violence is a problem. But let’s allocate our limited resources to these problems in a fashion that corresponds to the risk they actually pose to our health and safety.