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.)
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.
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. As CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria writes 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.
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 the 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counter Terrorism Center notes that 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.