Dead Wrong: Visualizing How Perceived Causes Of Death Differ From Reality

The saying goes that nothing in this world is certain except for death and taxes.

And rightfully so, the inevitability of death is a prominent fear for many humans around the world. After all, death is universal, mysterious, immutable, and sometimes sudden – and it can shake up life in ways that no other event can.

But, as Visual Capitalist's Jefff Desjardins asks is how we perceive death, along with its common portrayal in media, something that is accurate?


Like anything that is shrouded in mystery, death has accumulated its fair share of myths and half-truths that get baked into our stories, perceptions, and societies.

Even further, high-profile and tragic events like terrorist attacks, murders, and suicides dominate many aspects of the news cycle. As a result, the causes of death that media outlets are the most fixated on couldn’t be further from actual causes of human death as shown through statistics.

The following animation, which comes from Aaron Penne, compares three data sets to show that our worries and media coverage have become quite disproportionate from the actual data. The animation looks at the following:

  • Which causes do we worry the most about? (Google Search data)
  • Which causes are talked about in the media? (NYT and Guardian headlines)
  • What are actual causes of death in the U.S.? (CDC data)

And as you’ll see, the data is quite different for each source.

We worry about cancer 10x more than we worry about heart disease, but in reality both diseases kill roughly the same amount of people. Meanwhile, the media is fixated on terrorism, homicides, and cancer, but heart disease – which kills more than all put together – receives almost no coverage.


Actual causes of death are quite different from personal and media perceptions, but this data is not absolute either. After all, how someone may die depends greatly upon other factors like age.

Here are causes of human death in the U.S. graphed by age group:

The data shows that accidents are the leading cause of death for most ages up until 45 years old, at which case cancer and heart disease take over.

While the topic of death is grim, the above data and statistics can arguably help provide a more realistic outlook regarding one of life’s certainties. It also shows that humans and media are not necessarily rational about this topic, so it’s important to think about it independently if at all possible.


ravolla wadalt Sun, 06/10/2018 - 23:33 Permalink

Good to see my man Wadalt and our newbie CHEOLL back out from under the couch with  Hot Pockets and back on the threads SPAMMING like a Grease Fire!!!!

THIS is an important week here in the SPAMMER's BUNKHOUSE.  You see, there are dozens of "personalities" living in this one single sad SPAMMER's sick little mind, which he calls "Spammer's Bunkhouse."  How sick is that?

This week I (we?) are celebrating SEVEN YEARS here on ZH, obsessively SPAMMING every thread we can with off-topic comments.

SAD BUT TRUE!!  I (we?) have wasted my (our) youth (or at least the last seven years) with at least one hand in my pants and the other hand SPAMMING ZH.  Yes, indeed.  DOZENS and DOZENS (maybe hundreds) of log-on's banned -- 
>>  Biblicism: that's me.
>>  All the porn at Celebrity-leaks: that's me
>>  "I made $7500 last week on the Internet sucking cock!": that's me. 
>>  Daily Westerner: that's me.

>>  "In the news....SPAMMER broomsticked by furious readers" -- registered in Nigeria) :: that's me TOO!! 

That's our life (all of us living in Master Spammer's Mind): mopping the floor at the Porn Cinema at 2am, working the drive-thru window at SONIC, sucking cock on the Internet, and spamming ZH with an enormous Excel spreadsheet of the log-on's of dozens of "digital friends" who upvote one another and virtually suck my little micro penis..

MEET my current imaginary friends.  We all live in one SPAMMER's HEAD but as for me, I have gone off the reservation.  These other "personalities" are pretty troubled.

  <<<  NEWBIE
Cheoll   <<<  NEWBIE

Mr Hankey    <<<  total utter WHACK JOB
gzcekkyret     <<<  NEWBIE

You know SPAMMERS never die on ZH -- here's just a sampling of the banned log-on's ("The Fallen Spammers") ---

 beepbop, pier, lloll, loebster, ergatz, armada, Mtnrunnr, Anonymous, luky luke, Cjgipper, winged, moimeme, macki mack, tchubby, sincerely_yours, HillaryOdor, winged, lexxus, kavlar, lhomme, letsit, tazs, techies-r-us, stizazz, lock-stock, beauticelli, Mano-A-Mano, mofio, santafe, Aristotle of Greece, Gargoyle, bleu, oops, lance-a-lot, Loftie, toro, Yippee Kiyay, lonnng, Nekoti, SumTing Wong, King Tut, Adullam, evoila, rp2016, alt right dude, altright-girl, alt-right girl, Blufin, Schlomo Scheklestein, BraveForce

In reply to by wadalt

Adullam ravolla Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:11 Permalink

Your argument would have more validity if you took time to be more accurate. Take a few minutes to check out my posts and you will see I have exposed the "biblicism institute" before you were doing it. Quit calling me a spammer.

P.S. I have never linked to my site on any comment made.

In reply to by ravolla

D503 Adullam Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:50 Permalink

Graph doesn't put into perspective deaths relative to surviving previous "most likely causes."

The infanticide rate is 8/100,000

But the murder rate is 5/100,00

Why count infanticides separately from murder? Well mostly because 70% of infanticides are committed by the mother.

Not such a fun data point when making homicide an issue.

In reply to by Adullam

brushhog D503 Mon, 06/11/2018 - 08:00 Permalink

The difference in the charts might reflect our fears for HOW we die, not just death itself. I'd rather live a normal life and keel over from a heart attack at 70 than go through cancer treatments, live with sickness/death hanging over my head, and live to be 75 or even maybe 80.

Most of us fear sickness, suffering and emotional trauma more than simply "not being". I dont fear being dead, I do fear living with pain, suffering and knowledge that I'm dying.

In reply to by D503

OverTheHedge Dane Bramage Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:14 Permalink

My favourite is deaths from "benign tumours". What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but if it kills you, it's benign?

And no one over the age of 5 is dying from neo-natal causes - something really must be done about this - it's for the children, obviously!

I think the obvious thing here is that whilst cancer may or may not be random and hard to avoid, heart disease is easy to allay. Fat, unfit people die of heart disease, so don't be fat and unfit. When did your heart rate last get over 140? It should be a daily occurrence (ask the wife, nicely, if you need help)

In reply to by Dane Bramage

Dane Bramage OverTheHedge Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:24 Permalink

"And no one over the age of 5 is dying from neo-natal causes - something really must be done about this - it's for the children, obviously!"  You mean if SIDs isn't so sudden?  Oh, that's a new disease recently discovered by allopathic practitioners called GrIDS (Gradual Infant Death Syndrome) or EIDS (Eventual Infant Death Syndrome).  Both definitely not caused by aluminum, mercury, formaldehyde nor any of the other adjuncts, ingredients in vaccines.  

In reply to by OverTheHedge

ImGumbydmmt Bigly Sun, 06/10/2018 - 23:48 Permalink

hospital acquired infection kills 99,000 per year in the USA

that is

8x murders.

3x auto accidents.

all brought to you by health care professions with a Hippocratic oath to first do  no harm. 

as a former hospital architect  for a decade i can confirm, US hospital management sucks


In reply to by Bigly

zvzzt ImGumbydmmt Mon, 06/11/2018 - 04:06 Permalink

Where do the very sick and very weak (by default) go? To the hospital. Dangerous places for unhealthy and weak people. Not much you can do about that regardless of Hippocratic oath. 

We were even advised to give labour at home because it is considerably safer for mother and child. I was quite surprised (and slightly unnerved) by the advise at the time. 

In reply to by ImGumbydmmt

bloofer zvzzt Mon, 06/11/2018 - 14:05 Permalink

Three of my kids were home births. When I researched home birth back in the 1980s there were statistics showing that the likelihood of death or injury to both the infant and the mother was several times greater in a hospital birth.

Home birth is far more comfortable and less traumatizing than hospital birth. Even if you have opted for "natural" childbirth in the hospital, that's not what you'll get. Do you think your doctor is going to wait around for the natural progress of labor to complete? Oh hell no! You'll pitocin in the IV (and of course they won't tell you this). That way you get to experience a bone-crushing birth experience, as opposed to the far more gentle (less brutal) process of allowing labor to progress naturally.

I am also Rh negative. Rh negativity is not an issue in home birth. The possibility of the mother's blood and the child's blood coming in contact (causing an immune response), is caused by the brutality of the hospital birth. It is entirely (or almost entirely) an issue caused by medical interventions in childbirth.

Another plus: Childbirth is a joyous experience--one of life's peak experiences, in fact. Though you would never guess that from talking to mothers who have had hospital births. Sometimes after my kids were born, I would feel like I just had to tell some other mom about my wonderful experience. Those other moms would invariably turn pale and look like they were going to pass out. Even the reminder of a hospital birth makes moms turn nauseous and green around the gills, years after the fact.  

In reply to by zvzzt

cbxer55 Sun, 06/10/2018 - 22:56 Permalink

I don't think about it much myself. There's nothing you can do to prevent it, it's going to happen sooner or later. So why worry about it? I'm 56, and in going shape physically. I work out almost every day and try to eat right, drink a lot of water. 

I also take too many risks, one might say. I have two powerful and fast motorcycles, and I ride them like they were meant to be ridden. I've got a high power supercharged pickup truck, and high power and truck aren't a good combination due to too little weight on the back wheels. 

I also have a pilot license. Don't fly any more, but used to quite a bit. Had a few good scares while airborne. 

When it comes, I hope it's fast. If not, I hope I have the courage to do what is necessary to make it fast. 

I've lost friends and family. Some at too young an age. 

Miffed Microbi… cbxer55 Sun, 06/10/2018 - 23:58 Permalink

Working in a hospital I have seen many deaths. Some absolutely agonizing. I'm not sure if I have the courage to face such an end. I am healthy too and can't imagine being bedridden for an extended time in excruciating pain. 


We hide the dying process quite effectively in our culture. Most driving by hospitals have no conception what occurs in those walls. As with everything today it is sterilized so not to upset the masses. Personally I would require everyone to participate in a code blue before they insisted on technology to save their lives. I've seen enough to get a DNR tattoo on my chest. 




In reply to by cbxer55

Ms No Miffed Microbi… Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:13 Permalink

I have a friend who has worked in hospitals and clinics and she tells gruesome stories all the time. She used to draw blood on the living and the dead so she has seen a lot. 

I don't prefer the fact that so many people poop everything out within an hour of death.  What intubation does to the brain (apparently they liquify faster, as is shown in autopsies.  Makes you wonder if you would ever want to be hooked up to that at all for any period of time), gastric bleeds, how the lizard brain can keep you breathing when your consciousness is gone, etc.

It's too bad the decay of bodies is such a disgusting thing (not always but enough.  Apparently is you are wasted drunk at death it can slow the process).  It doesn't seem that we are allowed much dignity a lot of times.  Think I would just go the hospice route and quick cremation.  I wonder if sometimes people choose to die a little earlier just because they want the hell out of the hospital.

Apparently my friend has a really good track record when asked if people are coming back or not.  I asked her how she could tell and she matter of factly said she can tell when their soul is gone.  So at least we have that.  I think I will have strict rules about no viewing of my body after a certain period of time.  I don't know how mortician types deal with this stuff, especially the 400 pounders.

In reply to by Miffed Microbi…

cbxer55 Miffed Microbi… Mon, 06/11/2018 - 00:36 Permalink

I've thought about at least getting a DNR necklace. Problem is, last time I took the required CPR course where I work, bi-annual, the instructor informed us that even if you have DNR on you somewhere, it's the EMT techs decision if he/she actually goes with it, or resuscitates you. They don't have to let you expire, even though it's your desire to do so. 

In reply to by Miffed Microbi…

khnum Sun, 06/10/2018 - 22:59 Permalink

Perhaps you could separate out the 9.5 per cent due to medical negligence but I dont blame the author  his sources are very unlikely to mention that including the CDC.