Tuesday, August 19, 2003

1,2,3... or something like that

Question: how many people died in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks?

Answer: It depends on how you count.

If you do a Google search on "september 11 victims count" the first result is this page which gives the following figures:

New York: 2795
Washington: 189
Pennsylvania: 44
Total: 3028

Seems pretty definitive. But the "New York" figure of 2795 is broken down into the following:

World Trade Center: 2801
American Airways Flight #11: 92 (includes all passengers & crew)
United Airways Flight #175: 65 (includes all passengers & crew)

Note that 2801+92+65 = 2958, not 2795. In fact, the figure given for the World Trade Center alone is more than the total given for New York. Obviously, not all of these number can be correct.

The World Trade Center figure of 2801 is explained like this:

(includes 94 missing, body not recovered and no application filed for a death certificate; 1,430 death certificates issued with a body; 1,309 death certificates issued without a body; 56 persons are still listed as "missing")

Obviously, at least one of these numbers must be wrong. Trying to figure out which one (or if it is only one) makes an interesting little puzzle. For example, 1430+1309+56=2795, which is the New York total, but the site says that the WTC figure "includes 94 missing". In any event, it's probably safe to say that about 3,000 people died. (This is absolutely astonishing to me. The WTC towers normally have 40,000 people in them on a typical business day. I remember saying on 9/11 that I would be surprised if the death toll had only four digits, which is to say, if it was below 10,000. Not only was it below 10,000, it was way below 10,000.)

Counting things is not always so easy. How many people voted for George Bush in Florida in the 2000 presidential election? How many people were killed by cigarettes last month? How many by gunshot wounds?

The definitive data for mortality is collected by the CDC. According to the CDC, in 2001, 2,417,798 people died in the United States. That's an average of 6,624 deaths per day. The 9/11 attacks, as horrific as they were, increased the number of deaths on that day only by about 50%, and for the year only by 0.15%. I do not want to diminish the unspeakable horror and evil (real evil this time, not the ironic hyperbole I intended when I used the word to describe Microsoft) of those acts, but in terms of numbers, the casuality count of 9/11 was barely a blip.

19,727 people died of homicide in the United States in 2001. (This does not include the deaths from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which are listed separately. The CDC counts, by the way, are 3074 "total deaths" and "2957 death certificates issued", but this apparently includes a few people who died after 9/11 as a result of injuries sustained (at least that's my guess - the report is not entirely clear on this.) The CDC also includes the terrorists themselves in their count, and classifies their deaths as suicides.)

Every two months in the United States as many people die from homicide as were killed by terrorists on 9/11. More or less.

14,132 people died of "HIV disease" in the U.S. 2001, fewer than died of homicide. 921,819 people died of "major cardiovascular diseases". 553,251 people died of "malignant neoplasms" which is the fancy academic term for cancer. 41,967 people died in motor vehicle accidents. 51,796 people died in "non-transport accidents", which includes things like falls (14,543), accidental poisoning (12,030), and "accidental discharge of firearms" (924, which by now should look like an awfully small number).

18,962 people died from "drug-induced deaths." 19,423 died from "alchohol-induced deaths."

29,423 people died of "Intentional self-harm (suicide)."

The report doesn't list it as a line item, but an average of 93 people die each year in the U.S. from lighning strikes.

Now, for extra credit, how many people have died in the United States military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq?

That is a very hard question to answer for several reasons. First, the count is still climbing even as I write this. Second, no one keeps track, although a few people are trying to keep tabs on the civilian casualties. Some sample data from their efforts: somwhere between 6096 and 7807 Iraqi civilian deaths and around 3500 Afghan civilian deaths.

So... should we be be worried about HIV and terrorism? It depends on how you count.

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