In this chapter 37, THE RISK FACTOR, taken from in "Notes from a bog country", Bryson is comparing living in the United States as a dangerous place than living in The Great Britain. There are two factors of being killed: the untimely and the accidental.
- The untimely death is the kind of death that happens normally such choking, heart attacks, and many more.
- The accidental death is the death caused by car accidents, gun shots, etc.
- Bryson labeled America as an outstandingly dangerous place.
He supports this by saying, “Every year in New Hampshire a dozen or more people are killed crashing their cars into moose.” These deaths are cause by not paying attention on the roads, not wearing seat belts (40% of the people in this country don’t use a seat belt), and constantly busy with accessories such cell phones, food, etc. (...) Yet everybody that is living in this country is being alarmed by all the wrong things.
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22 interesting expressions where he deals with FIGURES!
(37) THE RISK FACTOR by Bill Bryson
Now here is something that seems awfully unfair to me. Because I am an American it appears that I am twice as likely as an English person to suffer an untimely and accidental death. I know this because I have just been reading something called The Book of Risks: Fascinating Facts About the Chances We Take Every Day by a statistical wonk named Larry Laudan.
It is full of interesting and useful charts, graphs, and factual analyses, mostly to do with coming irremediably a cropper in the United States. Thus, I know that if I happen to take up farm work this year I am three times more likely to lose a limb, and twice as likely to be fatally poisoned, than if I just sit here quietly. I now know that my chances of being murdered sometime in the next twelve months are 1 in
11,000; of choking to death 1 in 150,000; of being killed by a dam failure 1 in 10 million; and of being
35 fatally conked on the head by something falling from the sky about 1 in 250 million. Even if I stay indoors, away from the windows, it appears that there is a 1 in 450,000 chance that something will kill me before the day is out. I find that rather alarming.
However, nothing is more galling than the discovery that just by being an American, by standing to attention for "The Star-Spangled Banner" and having a baseball cap as a central component of my wardrobe, I am twice as likely to die in a mangled heap as, say, Prince Philip or Posh Spice. This is not a just way to decide mortality, if you ask me.
Mr. Laudan does not explain why Americans are twice as dangerous to themselves as Britons (too upset, I daresay), but I have been thinking about it a good deal, as you can imagine, and the answer-very obvious when you reflect for even a moment-is that America is an outstandingly dangerous place.
Consider this: Every year in New Hampshire a dozen or more people are killed crashing their cars into moose. Now correct me if I am wrong, but this is a fate unlikely to await anyone in the United Kingdom.
Nor, we may safely assume, is anyone there likely to be eaten by a grizzly bear or mountain lion, butted senseless by bison, seized about the ankle by a seriously perturbed rattlesnake, or subjected to an abrupt and startling termination from tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, rock slides, avalanches, flash floods, or paralyzing blizzards-all occurrences that knock off scores, if not hundreds, of my fellow citizens each year.
Finally, and above all, there is the matter of guns. There are 200 million guns in the United StatesGenerated by ABC Amber LIT Converter, http://www.processtext.com/abclit.html
and we do rather like to pop them off. Each year, 40,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds, the great majority of them by accident. Just to put that in perspective for you, that's a rate of 6.8 gunshot deaths per 100,000 people in America, compared with a decidedly unambitious 0.4 per 100,000 in the United Kingdom.
America is, in short, a pretty risky place. And yet, oddly, we get alarmed by all the wrong things. Eavesdrop on almost any conversation at Lou's Cafe here in Hanover and the talk will all be of cholesterol and sodium levels, mammograms and resting heart rates. Show most Americans an egg yolk and they will recoil in terror, but the most palpable and avoidable risks scarcely faze them.
Forty percent of the people in this country still don't use a seat belt, which I find simply amazing because it costs nothing to buckle up and clearly has the potential to save you from exiting through the windshield like Superman. (Vermont, which is one of the few states to keep careful track of these things, reported that in the first ten months of 1998, eighty-one people were killed on the state's roads-and 76 percent of those people were not wearing seat belts.) Even more remarkably, since a spate of recent newspaper reports about young children being killed by airbags in minor crashes, people have been rushing to get their airbags disconnected. Never mind that in every instance the children were killed because they were sitting in the front seat, where they should not have been in the first place, and in nearly all cases weren't wearing seat belts. Airbags save thousands of lives, yet many people are having them disabled on the bizarre assumption that they present a danger.
Much the same sort of statistical illogic applies to guns. Forty percent of Americans keep guns in their homes, typically in a drawer beside the bed. The odds that one of those guns will ever be used to shoot a criminal are comfortably under one in a million. The odds that it will be used to shoot a member of the household-generally a child fooling around-are at least twenty times that figure. Yet over 100 million peo-ple resolutely ignore this fact, even sometimes threaten to pop you one themselves if you make too much noise about it.
Nothing, however, better captures the manifest irrationality of people toward risks as one of the liveliest issues of recent years: passive smoking. Four years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report concluding that people who are over thirty-five and don't smoke but are regu larly exposed to the smoke of others stand a 1 in 30,000 risk of contracting lung cancer in a given year. The response was im-mediate and electrifying. All over the country smoking was banned at work and in restaurants, shopping malls, and other public places.
What was overlooked in all this was how microscopically small the risk from passive smoking actually is.
A rate of 1 in 30,000 sounds reasonably severe, but it doesn't actually amount to much. Eating one pork chop a week is statistically more likely to give you cancer than sitting routinely in a roomful of smokers.
So, too, is consuming a carrot every seven days, a glass of orange juice twice a month, or a head of lettuce every two years. You are five times more likely to contract lung cancer from your pet parakeet than you are from secondary smoke.
Now I am all for banning smoking on the grounds that it is dirty and offensive, unhealthy for the user, and leaves unsightly burns in the carpet. All I am saying is that it seems a trifle odd to ban it on grounds of public safety when you are happy to let any old fool own a gun or drive around unbuckled.
But then logic seldom comes into these things. I remember some years ago watching my brother buy a lottery ticket (odds of winning: about 1 in 12 million), then get in his car and fail to buckle up
(odds of having a serious accident in any year: 1 in 40). When I pointed out the inconsistency of this, he looked at me for a moment and said: "And what are the odds, do you suppose, that I will drop you four miles short of home?"
Since then, I have kept these thoughts pretty much to myself. Much less risky, you see.