Your probability of dying from a firearm (or, how to manipulate statistics)

probability of dying from a firearm

The above is a line chart of your probability of dying from a firearm each year from 2003 to 2010 (it would have included more years, but finding death statistics is a pain for some reason). I made it to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate numbers in order to tell a specific story. The numbers work out – I found the probability of dying in the United States, found the probability of dying of a firearm given you died, and multiplied them together. 

The chart would lead you to believe that your chances of dying from a firearm have fallen. The problem is that this chart doesn’t include anywhere near enough information to tell a full story. You have to look at the actual year-by-year statistics to see the full story. That means looking at the number of deaths, the number of firearm deaths, and the probabilities involved.

When you look at the actual numbers, the number of gun deaths per year had indeed fallen from 2003 to 2010. However, the difference to the final probability of dying from a firearm was in reality negligible, falling from 0.0038% to 0.0032%.

(Also, the number of deaths from firearms last year was higher than in 2003, so the trend didn’t continue.)

Keep this in mind when looking about statistics and graphics about political issues.