Sunday, March 27, 2011

Which Science Kills More People?

Which science kills the most people each year? Prompted by a quote-- "guns don't kill people-- physics kills people." ('3rd Rock from the Sun') -- it's time we look at which science really is the deadliest.

So let's set up the big three: Physics, Chemistry and Biology. In a Hollywood movieland world, Physics would be the clear winner on early deaths. Car crashes, gunshot wounds, bicycle accidents, falling down, people hitting each other, and that biggie called 'war' are all physics-driven deaths.

Pulling out real world statistics, we look to the Center for Disease Control (CDh). In 2007 (their most recent complete survey), we find that the bulk of the 2,423,712 US deaths were due to three causes: heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Damn, looks like Biology takes an early lead. Those 3 causes alone cover over half of all deaths (54.2%) In fact, of the 15 leading causes, 9 of them are simple biology, causing 68.2% of all deaths. Disease and infection rule the land of the dead.

this is apparently a real UK sign!
Aren't there more interesting ways to die? And by more interesting, I of course mean via Physics or Chemistry. The remaining top killers include accident (5.1%, a quick lead for Physics), alcholism (3.1%, a win for Chemistry), assault and homicide (0.8%, tipping the scales back to Physics), and "all others" (18.6%). Given that 'all others' is almost 1/5th of all deaths, this deserves exploring further.

But before we get to science, a quick shout out to the field of Law. Apparently 'legal intervention' resulted in 0.1% of the country's deaths. Sure, I know what it means, but I still like to see it as being caused by lawyers. Back to Chemistry and Physics.

What is death by Chemistry? Sure, there are the headline disasters-- acid, romantic poisoners, toxic spills, giant waves of molasses suffocating a city-- all chemistry in action. But we can also count alcohol poisoning and drug-induced death. Immersion in H2O (aka drowning) is also a chemistry kill.

Naively, we can assign Physics 5.9% (accidents + assault&homicide) and Chemistry 4.5% (alcoholism + suicide). But these 'top killer' categories do not map precisely to each science. So we will instead look at a specific subtable called 'injury-related deaths'.

The subset of 'injury-related deaths' covers 7.5% of all deaths in 2007. In this category, there were 23,199 alcohol-induced deaths in 2007, 38,371 drug-induced, and 22% of the 182.479 injury-related deaths were due to poisoning. That adds up to just over 100K Chemistry deaths, or about 4.2% of the total 2007 death tally.

Physics gets to dominate the injury-related category, having the trio of 'motor vehicle', 'firearm', and 'fall' to give it just over half of all injuries (52.9%). That gives it just under 100K deaths (96531), putting it below Chemistry with a bare 3.99%. Sorry, Physics, you've lost that killer edge.

As a nod both to Sociologists and to the 'correlation equals causation' crowd, we can define Marriage as a death-bringer. 917,839 people died in 2007 due to being married, as defined by this passage: "The number of deaths in 2007 among persons who were married was 917,839; widowed, 879,173; divorced, 313,863; and never married, 260,281."

However, since they do not break down the stats of how many married people died by Physics vs Chemistry vs Biology, we cannot explore this further. Perhaps it's due to the Chemistry of love?

As we take our tally of the grim reaper's science team, it seems clear that physics and chemistry, interesting as they are, simply are not able to kill large numbers of people efficiently in today's world. Based on this rigorous statistical analysis, then, I suggest we make Biology illegal. Doing so will prevent the deaths of millions.

Ultimately, you could argue that Mathematics is the deadliest science. After all, Statistics show that 100% of all people will die.

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