Industries in Depth

And the winner of the international statistic of the year is...

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Kim Kardashian's tweet highlighted how many more Americans are killed by fellow citizens with guns, than by terrorists. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

John McKenna
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United States

Kim Kardashian is an unlikely champion of statistics, but a tweet from the reality TV star in January 2017 contained a startling figure that has been named International Statistic of the Year.

She shared a table showing a range of violent or unexpected ways people meet their deaths annually in the United States. Kardashian’s aim was to highlight how many more Americans are killed by fellow citizens with guns, than by terrorists.

The table also revealed that lawnmowers are actually more deadly than terrorists.

According to the table below, first published by the Huffington Post, an average of 69 people are killed every year in accidents involving lawnmowers. By comparison 14 people are killed each year by terrorists. The killers in this category include Muslims inspired by jihadist philosophy as well as white, far-right extremists. Both categories include American citizens.

Death statistics may challenge perceptions Image: Huffington Post

Lawnmower trend

The statistic of 69 lawnmower deaths a year was named International Statistic of the Year for 2017 by the UK’s Royal Society of Statistics.

Liberty Vittert, a member of the Royal Society’s judging panel, said: “Everyone on the panel was particularly taken by this statistic and its insight into risk - a key concept in both statistics and everyday life.

“When you consider that this figure was put into the public domain by Kim Kardashian, it becomes even more powerful because it shows anyone, statistician or not, can use statistics to illustrate an important point and illuminate the bigger picture.

”The killer lawnmower statistic was sourced from the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) database. The CDC analyzed death statistics from 2005 to 2014. It found there were 689 deaths involving lawnmowers during this 10-year period.

More recent data show death by lawnmowers is a growing trend: Between 2006 and 2015 there were 723 lawnmower deaths, an average of 72 per year.

And in the 10 year period between 2007 and 2016 there were 758 deaths caused by lawnmowers, an average of 76 per year.

During the same period the CDC recorded eight deaths in total related to terrorism, an average of less than one death per year. This is far lower than the figure in the Huffington Post’s table that shows an average of 14 year, which is based on 15-year data since 9/11.

Deaths from lightning averaged out at 30 per year. Falling out of bed can prove exceptionally dangerous. An average of 802 people meet their deaths this way every year.

Perception gap

This disparity between terror-related deaths and everyday accidents like falling out of bed highlight a gap between reality and people’s perceptions.

Chapman University’s 2017 Survey of American Fears reveals that 43.3% of Americans are either afraid or very afraid of a terrorist attack.

Far fewer - just 28.1% - are afraid of a random mass shooting, and just 18.3% are afraid of being murdered.

Let’s compare those fears with reality. Americans are 14,381 times more likely to be killed by a firearm held by a fellow citizen than they are to be killed in a terrorist attack.

CDC data show a total of 115,053 deaths in the US caused by firearms between 2007 and 2016, an average of 11,500 per year.

But the US isn’t the only country where there are large gaps between perception and reality.

In fact, according to Ipsos MORI’s latest Perils of Perception Index, the US has only the 15th largest perception gap in the world.

On issues ranging from murder rates to teen pregnancies, survey respondents from South Africa were likely to give the least accurate guesses of where the figures stood.

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