December 06, 2015
You're Much More Likely
to Be Killed
By Deer, Cows, Dogs,
Brain-Eating Parasites, Toddlers, Lightning,
Falling Out of Bed, Alcoholism,
Food Poisoning, Choking On Your Meal,
a Financial Crash, Obesity,
or "Autoerotic Asphyxiation"
than by Terrorists...
The terror threat is
greatly exaggerated. After all, the type of
counter-terror experts who frequently appear on the mainstream news
are motivated to
hype the terror threat, because it
business for them.
The same is true for government
As former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes
put it earlier this year:
If you're submitting budget
proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence
agency, you're not going to submit the proposal that "We won the
war on terror and everything's great," because the first thing
that's going to happen is your budget's going to be cut in half.
You know, it's my opposite of
Jesse Jackson's "Keep Hope Alive" - it's "Keep Fear Alive." Keep
Fearmongering also serves
FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, a top constitutional and
military law expert, Time magazine, the Washington Post and others
have all said that U.S. government officials "were trying to create
an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them
Indeed, the former Secretary of Homeland Security
admitted that he was pressured to raise terror alerts
to help Bush win reelection.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinski - also a top foreign policy advisor to President
Obama - told the Senate that the war on terror is a "a mythical historical narrative".
The government justifies its
geopolitical goals - including
seizing more power at home, and
overthrowing oil-rich countries - by hyping the terror menace.
So the government wants you to be
scared out of your pants by the risk of terrorism.
Even though there have been a
spate of terror attacks in Paris, California, London and elsewhere
recently, the levels of terrorism are still
much lower than
Government officials and counter-terror experts may
hype the terror threat to promote their agendas. But - as shown
below - your risk of being killed in a terror attack is actually
much lower than
being killed by virtually
any other cause.
Daniel Benjamin - the Coordinator for
Counterterrorism at the United States Department of State from 2009
to 2012 -
noted in January (at 10:22):
The total number of deaths from
terrorism in recent years has been
in the West.
And the threat itself has been considerably
reduced. Given all the headlines people don't have that
perception; but if you look at the statistics that is the case.
Time Magazine noted in 2013 that the
chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States from 2007
to 2011, according to Richard Barrett - coordinator of the United
Nations al Qaeda/Taliban Monitoring Team - was
1 in 20 million.
Let's look at specific numbers…
The U.S. Department of State reports
17 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as
a result of terrorism in 2011.* That figure includes deaths
in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other theaters of war.
* Note: Subsequent official reports - published in
- show that even fewer Americans were killed by
terrorists than in the previous year.
In contrast, the American agency which
tracks health-related issues - the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
rounds up the most prevalent causes of death in the United
Comparing the CDC numbers to terrorism
35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from
a terrorist attack
33,842 times more likely to die from cancer than from a
4,311 times more likely to die from diabetes than from a
3,157 times more likely to die from flu or pneumonia than
from a terrorist attack
2,091 times more likely to die from
blood poisoning than from a terrorist attack
1,064 times more likely to die as your lungs
swell up after your food or beverage
goes down the wrong pipe
(Keep in mind when reading this
entire piece that we are consistently and substantially
understating the risk of other causes of death as compared to
terrorism, because we are comparing deaths from various causes
within the United States against deaths from terrorism
notes that obesity is a a contributing factor in
100,000-400,000 deaths in the United States per year. That
23,528 times more likely to kill you than a terrorist.
The annual number of deaths in the U.S.
due to avoidable medical errors is as high as
100,000. Indeed, one of the world's leading medical journals -
reported in 2011:
A November, 2010, document from the
Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and
Human Services reported that, when in hospital, one in seven
beneficiaries of Medicare (the government-sponsored health-care
program for those aged 65 years and older) have complications
from medical errors, which contribute to about
deaths of patients per year.
That's just Medicare
beneficiaries, not the entire American public. Scientific American
noted in 2009:
Preventable medical mistakes and
infections are responsible for about
deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an investigation by
the Hearst media corporation.
And a new
study in the Journal of Patient Safety says the numbers may be
440,000 each year.
But let's use the lower - 100,000 - figure.
That still means that you are
5,882 times more likely to die from medical error than
The CDC says that some
80,000 deaths each year are attributable to excessive alcohol
use. So you're
4,706 times more likely to drink yourself to death than
die from terrorism.
38,329 Americans die each year from drug overdoses. That's
2,255 times more than from terrorists.
Wikipedia notes that there were
32,367 automobile accidents in 2011, which means that you are
1,904 times more likely to die from a car accident than
from a terrorist attack.
The Washington Post
In the months following the 9/11
terrorist attacks, millions of Americans elected not to fly. A
significant proportion decided to drive to their destinations
Driving is more dangerous than flying. And so one
scholar of risk,
Gerd Gigerenzer, calculated that more people died from the
resulting automobile accidents than the total number of
individuals who were killed aboard the four hijacked planes
Even President Obama
According to a 2011 CDC report,
poisoning from prescription drugs is even
more likely to kill you than a car crash. Indeed, the
CDC stated in 2011 that - in the majority of states -
your prescription meds are more likely to kill you than any
other source of injury.
So your meds are thousands of times
more likely to kill you than Al Qaeda.
The financial crisis has also caused
quite a few early deaths. The Guardian
reported in 2008:
High-income countries such as the UK
and US could see a 6.4% surge in deaths from heart
disease, while low-income countries could experience a
26% rise in mortality rates.
Since there were 596,339 deaths
from heart disease in the U.S. in 2011 (see CDC table above), that
means that there are approximately
38, 165 additional deaths a year from the financial crisis… and
2,245 times more likely to die from a financial crisis that a
Financial crises cause deaths in other
ways, as well. For example, the poverty rate has skyrocketed in the
U.S. since the 2008 crash.
For example, the poverty rate in
2010 was the
highest in 17 years, and more Americans numerically were in
poverty as of 2011 than for
more than 50 years. Poverty causes increased deaths from
hunger, inability to pay for heat and shelter, and other causes.
(And - as mentioned below - suicides have skyrocketed recently; many
connect the increase in suicides
to the downturn in the economy.)
The number of deaths by suicide has
also surpassed car crashes. Around
35,000 Americans kill themselves each year (and more American
die by suicide than combat; the number of veterans committing
suicide is astronomical and
2,059 times more likely to kill yourself than die at the
hand of a terrorist.
The CDC notes that there were
7,638 deaths from HIV and
45 from syphilis, so you're
452 times more likely to die from risky sexual behavior than
terrorism. (That doesn't include death by autoerotic asphyxiation… discussed below.)
Americans are some
428 times more likely to die from gun violence than terrorism.
The National Safety Council reports that
6,000 Americans die a year from falls… most of them involve
people falling off their roof or ladder trying to clean their
gutters, put up Christmas lights and the like. That means that
353 times more likely to fall to your death doing something
idiotic than die in a terrorist attack.
The same number -
6,000 - die annually from texting or talking on the cellphone
while driving. So you're
353 times more likely to meet your maker while lol'ing than by
5,000 Americans die each year from eating contaminated food.
294 times more than from terrorism. And
The agency in charge of workplace safety
- the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration - reports
4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011 within the U.S.
homeland. In other words, you are
271 times more likely to die from a workplace accident than
4,000 Americans drown each year…
235 times more than from terror attacks.
The CDC notes that
3,177 people died of "nutritional deficiencies" in 2011, which
means you are
187 times more likely to starve to death in American than be
killed by terrorism.
Americans' risk of death from
post-surgical complications is around
117,519 to 1. That's
170 times more than from terrorism.
2,200 Americans die each year from acute alcohol poisoning (i.e.
extreme binge drinking)…
129 times more than from terror attacks.
Americans' risk of death from falling
down stairs is approximately
157,300 to 1. That's
127 times more than from terrorism.
2,000 Americans die each year from heat or cold. That's
118 times more than from terrorism.
1,000 Americans die each year from autoerotic asphyxiation. So
59 times more likely to kill yourself doing weird, kinky things
than at the hands of a terrorist.
Americans' risk of death from cycling
340,845 to 1. That's
59 times more than from terrorism.
There were an average of
928 Americans killed by police officers in the United States
each year in "justifiable homicides". That means that you were more
55 times more likely to be killed by a law
enforcement officer than by a terrorist. That number does not
include unjustifiable homicides.
411 Americans are electrocuted each year…
24 times more than die from terrorism.
Nearly 400 Americans die each year due
to allergic reactions to penicillin. More than 200 deaths occur each
year due to food allergies. Nearly 100 Americans die due to insect
allergies. And 10 deaths each year are due to severe reactions to
There are many other types of allergies, but that
totals 710 deaths each year from just those four types of allergies
alone… making it
42 times more likely that you'll die from an allergic reaction
than from a terror attack.
450 Americans die each year when they fall out of bed,
26 times more than are killed by terrorists.
You might have toxoplasmosis, an
infection caused by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii,
which the CDC estimates has infected about
of Americans older than 12 years old
Toxoplasmosis is a brain-parasite.
CDC reports that more than
375 Americans die annually due to toxoplasmosis. In addition,
3 Americans died in 2011 after being exposed to a brain-eating
amoeba. So you're about
22 times more likely to die from a brain-eating zombie parasite
than a terrorist.
200 Americans are killed
each year when they hit deer…
12 times more than from terrorism.
100 Americans die a year
due to scalding hot tap water,
6 times more than due to terrorists.
58 Americans are killed
each year by bees, wasps and hornets…
3 times more than by terrorism.
34 Americans a year are killed by dogs… around
twice as many as by terrorists.
20 Americans are killed
each year by cows… more than by terrorists.
The Jewish Daily Forward noted in May
that - even including the people killed in the Boston bombing -
you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a
terrorist. And see
these statistics from CNN.
The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the
National Counter Terrorism Center notes that Americans are
just as likely to be "crushed to death by their
televisions or furniture each year" as they are to be
killed by terrorists.
And the Senior Research Scientist for
the Space Science Institute (Alan W. Harris) estimates that the odds
of being killed by a terrorist attack is about the same as being hit
by an asteroid (and
The odds are that being left-handed (in
a world where
equipment is built for right-handers) is also a lot
more likely to
kill you than terrorism.
[The risk of being killed by
compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in
19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000;
dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or
by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000.
In other words, in the
last five years you were four times more likely to be
struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist.
The National Consortium for the
Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just
Background Report: 9/11, Ten Years Later.
notes, excluding the 9/11 atrocities, that fewer than 500 people
died in the U.S. from terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2010.
reported in 2011:
John Mueller, a political scientist
at Ohio State University, and Mark Stewart, a civil engineer and
authority on risk assessment at University of Newcastle in
"a great deal of money appears to have
been misspent and would have been far more productive - saved far
more lives - if it had been expended in other ways."
Mueller and Stewart noted that, in
general, government regulators around the world view fatality
risks - say, from nuclear power, industrial toxins or commercial
aviation - above one person per million per year as "acceptable."
Between 1970 and 2007 Mueller and Stewart asserted in a separate
paper published last year in
Foreign Affairs that a total of 3,292 Americans
(not counting those in war zones) were killed by terrorists
resulting in an annual risk of one in 3.5 million.
Americans were more likely to die in an accident involving a
bathtub (one in 950,000), a home appliance (one in 1.5 million),
a deer (one in two million) or on a commercial
airliner (one in 2.9 million).
[Let's throw a couple more fun
facts into the mix…
The risk of
choking to death on
1 in 4,404, and the risk of dying by
falling out of
furniture (including couches, chairs and beds) is
1 in 4,238. So you're almost a thousand times more likely to
die from one of these rare causes of death than terrorism.]
The global mortality rate of death
by terrorism is even lower. Worldwide, terrorism killed 13,971
people between 1975 and 2003, an annual rate of one in 12.5
million. Since 9/11 acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim
militants outside of war zones have killed about 300 people per
This tally includes attacks not
only by al Qaeda but also by
"imitators, enthusiasts, look-alikes and wannabes," according to Mueller and
Defenders of U.S. counterterrorism
efforts might argue that they have kept casualties low by
thwarting attacks. But investigations by the FBI and
other law enforcement agencies suggest that 9/11 may have been
an outlier - an aberration - rather than a harbinger of future
Muslim terrorists are for the most part "short
on know-how, prone to make mistakes, poor at planning" and small
in number, Mueller and Stewart stated. Although still
potentially dangerous, terrorists hardly represent an "existential" threat on a par with those posed by Nazi Germany
or the Soviet Union.
In fact, Mueller and Stewart
suggested in Homeland Security Affairs,
counterterrorism procedures may indirectly imperil more lives
than they preserve:
"Increased delays and added costs
at U.S. airports due to new security procedures provide
incentive for many short-haul passengers to drive to their
destination rather than flying, and, since driving is far
riskier than air travel, the extra automobile traffic generated
has been estimated to result in 500 or more extra road
fatalities per year."
The funds that the U.S. spends on
counterterrorism should perhaps be diverted to other more
significant perils, such as industrial accidents (one in
53,000), violent crime (one in 22,000), automobile accidents
(one in 8,000) and cancer (one in 540).
"Overall," Mueller and
Stewart wrote, "vastly more
lives could have been saved if counterterrorism funds had
instead been spent on combating hazards that present
In an e-mail
to me, Mueller elaborated:
"The key question, never asked of
course, is what would the likelihood be if the added security
measures had not been put in place?
And, if the chances without
the security measures might have been, say, one in 2.5 million
per year, were the trillions of dollars in investment (including
overseas policing which may have played a major role) worth that
gain in security - to move from being unbelievably safe to being
unbelievably unbelievably safe?
Given that al Qaeda and al Qaeda
types have managed to kill some 200 to 400 people throughout the
entire world each year outside of war zones since 9/11 - including
in areas that are far less secure than the U.S. - there is no
reason to anticipate that the measures have deterred, foiled or
protected against massive casualties in the United States.
the domestic (we leave out overseas) enhanced security measures
put into place after 9/11 have saved 100 lives per year in the
United States, they would have done so at a cost of $1 billion
per saved life.
That same money, if invested in a measure that
saves lives at a cost of $1 million each - like passive restraints
for buses and trucks - would have saved 1,000 times more lives."
Mueller and Stewart's
analysis is conservative, because it excludes
the most lethal and expensive U.S. responses to 9/11.
attacks also provoked the U.S. into
occupying two countries, at an estimated cost of
several trillion dollars.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have
resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 Americans so far - more
than twice as many as were killed on September 11, 2001 - as well
as tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans.
In 2007 New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg said that people are more likely to be killed by
lightning than terrorism.
"You can't sit there and worry about
everything," Bloomberg exclaimed. "Get a life."
Terrorism pushes our emotional buttons.
And politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism out
of proportion. But as the figures above show, terrorism is a
very unlikely cause of death.
spending on anti-terrorism measures is
way out of whack… especially because
most of the money has been wasted. And see
this article, and this 3-minute video by professor Mueller:
Indeed, mission creep in the name of
countering terrorism actually makes us
more vulnerable to actual terrorist
attacks. And corrupt government policy is arguably
more dangerous than terrorism.
Sadly, the terrorism deaths Americans
have suffered were unnecessary… and were largely due to
corruption in our security agencies. And see
Even so - and even counting the
recent Islamic terror attacks - there are far fewer terror attacks
than there used to be.
As the Washington Post
noted in 2013 that the number of terror attacks in the U.S. has
plummeted since the 1970s: