Reported Causes of Death and Public Perception

By Jennifer Ha, Head of Editorial and Publications, Insurance Information Institute

This capstone project, entitled, “Death: Reality vs. Reported,” prepared by four students for their Data Science in Practice course at the University of California, San Diego, bases its premise on an old study that compared the disparity of the number and causes of deaths reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and those reported in the media. In this case, the students have given the thesis an update: they have also included Google Trends Search Volume, but limited deaths reported by media to two sources: The Guardian, and The New York Times.

The students looked at the top 10 largest causes of mortality, as well as terrorism, overdoses, and homicides, three other causes of death they believed to receive a lot of media coverage. They did take some liberties (which they detail), but overall the findings were as follows:

“The most striking disparities here are that of kidney disease, heart disease, terrorism, and homicide. Kidney disease and heart disease are both about 10 times underrepresented in the news, while homicide is about 31 times overrepresented, and terrorism is a whopping 3,900 times overrepresented…This suggests that general public sentiment is not well-calibrated with the ways that people actually die. Heart disease and kidney disease appear largely underrepresented in the sphere of public attention, while terrorism and homicides capture a far larger share, relative to their share of deaths caused.”

Click on the gif below to see actual causes of death vs. what we worry about and what’s in the media:

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