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5 Miserable Ways You Could Die (Infographic)

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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Generally speaking, we humans are pretty bad at understanding low probability events. That’s probably why we’re so afraid of them. I’ve been afraid of heights my entire life even though the odds that I’d ever die from falling off of something is incredibly low.

We all have irrational fears that unfairly dictate our lives. You can either look at that as depressing or kind of funny. I choose the latter. That’s why I made this infographic explaining the five most commonly feared ways to die and the actual likelihood that you’d ever experience one of them. Enjoy.

5 miserable ways you could die, but probably won't

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. So, what are the odds of getting killed reading this post?

  2. Doug says:

    Great post and graphic! Good to keep some perspective.

    Although I have to say, 18,000 deaths from falling in the US seems like a lot.

    • Doug, I actually screwed up that statistic. That’s 18,000 people/year who die from falling in any fashion – mostly the elderly and very young. Adults falling from *a height* is actually only responsible for about 80 deaths a year.

      So there you go…

  3. Matt says:

    I think we are forgetting about conditional probability here. For example, your odds of being swept away in an avalanche go way up if you are an avid skier or live in the mountains. See this comic for a more humorous explanation: http://xkcd.com/795/

    • You’re absolutely right, Matt. You can put yourself in scenarios that increase your risk substantially, and that’s something you need to consider whenever you do something potentially dangerous, but these are the top 5 ways that average, every day folks worry about dying. I found that comical and somewhat enlightening, so I thought this would be a fun way to bring some awareness to it.

  4. flip says:

    love the graphics…

    ur right,live life to the fullest… all of us are bound to die anyway :-) and it’s just a fact of life…

  5. Joel says:

    yes yes yes :). Only a matter of time until you start your own Riskology.co edition of XKCD :) Love it Tyler

  6. Paul says:

    Well Tyler, there goes Valentine’s Day! If you waited until tomorrow then my sweetheart and I would feel much safer about going out tonight. Not now! LOL.

  7. Mars Dorian says:

    What can I say, Tyler ?
    I FUCKING luv it.

    1 in 200,000 gets crushed by an asteroid ? That’s a actually more possible than dying in an airplane crash ? Jeez, I’m impressed. And it sounds cooler as well !
    Here’s to maximum living, then !

  8. Personally, if I had to go, I think I’d prefer the astroid.

  9. I think the worst way to go would be to hit by a train. Ouch

  10. I find this very interesting but I’m calling BS on that astroid factoid ;). Where did you find it?

    Can you imagine the pandamonium if we heard about that risk on the nightly news like we hear about terrorism? I can hear the new headline, “War On Astroids”.

    The terrorism stat is just genius. I could go on about it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Odds of asteroid death were obtained from Live Science and based on long-term data:

      http://www.livescience.com/3780-odds-dying.html

      And, actually, we’ve already started a “war on asteroids” as NASA is actively working to establish an asteroid defense department:

      http://www.space.com/8826-nasa-panel-calls-asteroid-defense-office.html

      Last I heard, the operation is being given the codename “Atari.” Ha!

      • Well, I guess if in the rare event it happens, it will take a good number of us down.

        I must confess to thinking about this post last night as the LAPD helicopter flew over my house. In a Los Angeles suburb, you can live in a decent neighborhood and have this happen occassionally. It can be quite alarming, especially when the spotlight is scanning your street!

        Anywho, fear set in, as usual about some convict about to break into my house but I thought about the murder stats and I felt better (sort of).

    • George says:

      http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/06/reported-deaths.html

      This link seems to list all known “asteroid fatalities” and given the tens of billions of people who have lived on this earth I don’t suspect the 1 in 200,000 or 1 in 500,000 stat is true Tyler. But interesting article and my fast messy math has the asteroid stat at about 1 in 3 million which still astounds me.

      Fucking asteroids. I think we do need a federal panel to investigate this, lol.

  11. Luke says:

    One of the most useful things someone helped me with in my own life was to ask “What are you afraid of?” Then they kept asking, “So, what would that mean if that happened?”

    The more you extrapolate fear, the stupider it becomes. For example:

    I was afraid of losing my job.
    Because I was afraid of not paying rent.
    Because I was afraid of being homeless.
    Because I was afraid of dying.

    Wait, did I just say I was afraid of losing my job because I might die? That’s stupid.

    Nice job on this graphic, by the way. I especially like the shark sign.

    • Working backwards is the best way to get to the bottom of anything, whether it’s a fear or other problem.

      Step by step, you start to see where the train starts to go off the rails.

  12. Wendy says:

    2 out of the 5 are on my list – plane crash and shark attack. Can’t say I am really worried about the others.

    I used to work at an aquarium and there was a statistic about the number of sharks killed by humans each year, which puts things into perspective. They should be more fearful of us.

    I have met a person who has survived a deadly plane crash and another who survived a very well known shark attack in the Bay Area, so while the odds are not high, it still happens and stays in the back of your mind.

    • Hey Wendy, sounds like you suffer from a “fear via proximity.” You were close to incidents that actually occured, so they’re regularly on your mind.

      Like Matt mentioned above, if you’re exposed to a risk more often than others, then your conditional probability goes up.

      If you don’t go in the water more than average or fly more than most other people, then you’re at no more risk than anyone else even though you have bad memories from others’ experiences.

      • Wendy says:

        “Fear via proximity” would only apply to my job. I work for a company that manages speakers – one of our speakers happened to survive a DC-10 plane crash and another that I went to go hear speak survived a well known shark attack. I have also met Everest Climber, Astronauts, etc. My favorite speakers are the adventurers, the ones testing the limit of what we believe is possible.

  13. Laurie says:

    LOL! Thanks so much Tyler, I really needed that. :) My thing is being overly wary of people, even though I know that only one in some enormous number might actually try to hurt me. This helped me gain some much-needed perspective!

  14. Kyra says:

    My philosophy is, you’re going to die someday, so why waste your life worrying about it? Fear isn’t any kind of magic shield of immortality—at best it talks you out of doing something (be that something smart or stupid) and directs you to remain in the realm of more mundane risks.

    You get much better mileage out of making sure you get something worthwhile out of your life.

  15. Cara Stein says:

    This is awesome! It was still in the back of my mind when I stumbled on the following relevant and hilarious video, which I now must share:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1GHrvjUR0I (NSFW!)

    Enjoy!

  16. Joe says:

    I remember reading somewhere that in a survey of Americans about their #1 fear, more people listed “public speaking” than “dying”.

    • I recall seeing that statistic a few times, too. Fortunately, public speaking carries an incredibly low probability of death. Unless you’re standing under an asteroid. :)

  17. Love it. Great post. And all so good to put in perspective. Don’t let unfounded fears get in your way. Get out there and live!!
    Thanks!
    Lisa

  18. Lies, damn lies and statistics ;-)

    According to Wikipedia the number of shark attacks a year is about 60. The highest year recorded was 2000 with 79 reported attacks, of which only 11 were fatal.

    Darkly amusing to me is around 150 people per year are killed by falling coconuts.

    This page has some nice comparison statistics:
    http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/attacks/relarisk.htm

    There were 10 shark fatalities in the last decade and 263 dog attack fatalities. Forget the sharks, watch out for Lassie!

  19. Seems I have just perpetrated my own lie about the coconuts.

    http://www.sharks.org.au/quotes.html

    Unintentional as I am sure are most false stats quotes. These stats become so widely spread and ‘known’ we tend to believe them by familiarisation.

    Cheer
    Richard
    (from a game farm in Africa)

  20. Elisa says:

    I wish I knew the source, but I remember distinctly from a radio quiz show this one: More people die every year from getting hit on the head by coconuts than shark attacks.

    Apparently gravity, hard coconutty shell with full milky contents and a 100+ foot drop out of a palm tree onto someone’s head all add up to big owies for the equatorial regions of the world!

  21. That fear of falling gets me now and then. Three times I’ve gone up in one of those gondola rides like at a zoo or ski area. Each time we landed safely just so I could read about one that fell the next day in the same ride. Maybe I am charmed and others aren’t but I don’t want to chance it and avoid those rides now.

    I have a fear when in any car of the driver not stopping in time for the stop sign, light or whatever. It’s a real phobia and as stupid as I know it is, I can’t seem to shake it. All I can do is laugh at my silliness and hope someday my brain catches on! Fun post!

  22. Joe says:

    @Richard Howes & Elisa:
    It’s common in the South Pacific for kids to play with sharks.
    http://vimeo.com/13632641

    @Timaree (freebird):
    Considering the number of automobile accidents in the U.S. each year, a phobia of poor drivers is much more sensible than a phobia of flying, lightning, or spiders.

  23. [...] 5 Miserable Ways You Could Die. The violent deaths we often fear are statistically much less likely to happen than you’d think. I wonder what else in life we seriously under or over-prepare for? [...]

  24. Harriet May says:

    Thank you!! My boyfriend unnecessarily worries when I walk my dog alone at night.

    But he’s a smoker.

  25. Forrest says:

    So, if I don’t smoke, it’s statistically impossible for me to be murdered. I’m liking this.

  26. Evita says:

    Luke brings up some really interesting points. Sometimes just unearthing those details is enough to release the fear, but most fears are not rational at all, and the subconscious part of out brain that is in charge of our fears can not judge or reason.

    The subconscious will ALWAYS win over the conscious, rational mind if there is a conflict.

    This is why one can not be talked out of a phobia.

    Rational thinking does not stand a chance against that all powerful subconscious mind!

    Fear of death is also an interesting thing. Once you start to really dig a bit deeper into that fear, there is usually not the death itself that is feared.

  27. [...] if you are prepared for a whole heaping load of consequences to come falling down on your head. Maybe it won’t. But you need to think about it and take it like a grown-up if you get [...]

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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