Over the weekend I was perusing a book I picked up during my last trip to England, The Book of General Ignorance, a trivia book based on a British TV show, QI, which stands for Quite Interesting. There’s a whole series of QI books, and I was drawn to it initially because Stephen Fry was involved, and I’m a big fan of his work. One of the entries I read recently was entitled “What’s three times more dangerous than war?” It was the first sentence that leapt out at me. “Work is a bigger killer than drink, drugs or war.”
Many anti-alcohol organizations begin their press releases, policy papers, etc. with the eye-catching statistic that alcohol-related deaths account for a higher number of deaths than another kind. But this seems to fly in the face of that. It claims that “around two million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases, as opposed to a mere 650,000 who are killed in wars.” While I might quibble with the adjective “mere,” it’s clear that far more die at work or in war than from alcohol. You can read the entire entry on the bottom of page 69 through Google Books.
Of course, some recent studies insist that two million die worldwide each year due to alcohol-related causes. Still others insist it’s involved in 1 in 25 deaths, which would mean that if it were really 2 million, then total world mortality for a given year would be 50 million. According to the UN, about 62 million people die each year. In the World Health Organization’s top 10 causes of death worldwide, alcohol is not among them. In 2001, a study by the CDC claimed 75,754 deaths were attributable to alcohol, but added that “low consumption has some beneficial effects, so a net 59,180 deaths were attributed to alcohol.” I could keep going citing study after study with different results, because the way you structure the statistics leads to the ultimate results. And that’s why who does the study and/or their motives are so important. And that’s why you shouldn’t believe such statistics without finding out where they came from, not even mine.
Somewhat off-topic, but quite interesting — at least to me — is the statistics behind the QI’s pronouncement of what’s safe and what’s dangerous were based on The Duckworth Scale, a “scale for assessing the risks involved in various activities” created in 1999. It takes its name from its creator, Dr. Frank Duckworth, a retired statistician. The scale is logarithmic, like the Richter scale for earthquakes. It grades one’s risk of death from activities ranging from washing up to playing Russian Roulette. It starts at zero for living on planet earth for a year, to a maximum of eight for certain death.
The Duckworth Scale
- 8.0 Suicide Russian roulette (six bullets)
Jumping off Eiffel Tower
Lying in front of Flying Scotsman
- 7.2 Russian Roulette (one game)
- 7.1 Continuing smoking cigarettes (male aged 35 – 40 a day)
- 6.9 Continuing smoking cigarettes (male aged 35 – 20 a day)
- 6.7 Continuing smoking cigarettes (male aged 35 – 10 a day)
- 6.4 Deep sea fishing (40 year career)
- 6.3 Rock climbing over 20 years
- 5.5 Accidental falls (new born male)
Lifetime car travel (new born male)
Dying while vacuuming
Dying while washing up
Dying while walking down the street
- 4.6 Murder (new born male)
- 4.2 Rock climbing (one session)
- 2.0 Riding fairground rides (100 times)
- 1.9 100 mile car journey (sober middle aged driver)
- 1.7 100 mile flight
- 1.6 Destructive asteroid impact (in the life-time of a new born male)
- 0.3 100 mile rail journey
Those are the only ones I could find on the scale, but I’d love to see where more activities fall on the scale. Has anyone seen a more comprehensive list?