What you are actually likely to die from differs greatly to what you may think you will die from and what the media thinks you will die from.
That’s according to a study from Our World in Data, which compiled an interesting side-by-side comparison of the actual sources of death compared to Google searches and media reports. Using statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google search trends, and databases of articles from The New York Times and The Guardian, the organization was able to discover the disconnect between how we think we will die and how we might actually die.
“For each source the authors calculated the relative share of deaths, share of Google searches, and share of media coverage. They restricted the considered causes to the top 10 causes of death in the US and additionally included terrorism, homicide, and drug overdoses. This allows for us to compare the relative representation across different sources,” the organization wrote.
Here's what they found:
- around one-third of the considered causes of deaths resulted from heart disease, yet this cause of death receives only 2-3 percent of Google searches and media coverage;
- just under one-third of the deaths came from cancer; we actually google cancer a lot (37 percent of searches) and it is a popular entry here on our site; but it receives only 13-14 percent of media coverage;
- we searched for road incidents more frequently than their share of deaths, however, they receive much less attention in the news;
- when it comes to deaths from strokes, Google searches and media coverage are surprisingly balanced;
- the largest discrepancies concern violent forms of death: suicide, homicide and terrorism. All three receive much more relative attention in Google searches and media coverage than their relative share of deaths. When it comes to the media coverage on causes of death, violent deaths account for more than two-thirds of coverage in the New York Time sand The Guardian but account for less than 3 percent of the total deaths in the US.
One of the most interesting things OWD found was that Americans’ Google searches related to causes of death were much closer to actual causes of death than media reporting.
The authors of the study point out that the study is limited to deaths in America, raising the question of whether media coverage was in line with global deaths. Nope. Causes of death in America are “reflective of the global average,” OWD reported.
The organization suggests it is not exactly bias that the media overreports deaths related to terrorism or homicide — it’s simply the nature of the news business. News “focuses on events and stories,” OWD reported. The problem, then, is “our compulsion for the latest unusual story” and the 24-hour news cycle.
The organization suggests media outlets provide more context in stories relating to the causes of death it covers more frequently, such as including statistics about how likely someone is to actually be affected by the tragedy.