You are very safe


in Canada, Daily updates, Rants, Science

Glancing through news stands and television reports, a person is likely to see all manner of terrible hazards highlighted: from kidnapping to toxic chemicals leached from Nalgene bottles. It is worth remembering – in the face of this onslaught – that we are about the safest people who have ever lived. Hunger and infectious disease kill hardly any Canadians. Violence kills some, but fewer than in just about any society ever. And yet, too many people live in fear.

Maintaining perspective is vital. Let your children play in the park, even though one or two children in the whole country get kidnapped from there annually. Let them build treehouses, even though some tiny subset of Canada’s population contracts tetanus.

Refusing strengthens the significant possibility that they will live sedate and uninteresting lives.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Litty March 10, 2008 at 12:19 am

Arguably, the issue here is bad prioritization.

Ladies: you are likely to be raped by your friends, lovers, and family members.

You are very unlikely to be killed by terrorists.

Litty March 10, 2008 at 12:40 am

Ladies: you are likely to be raped by your friends, lovers, and family members.

While true, this might be even more true for men, in a certain sense.

Women are much more likely to be raped; but they are also more likely to be raped by strangers.

If a man is going to get raped at all, it is probably going to be someone he knows, like a parent, teacher, or priest.

In any case, men should probably worry more about rape than terrorism.

Litty March 10, 2008 at 12:44 am

I know it’s weird to respond to my own comment, but I thought more about it.

:) and similar internet cuteness

Kerrie March 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Yeah, I’m going to be “that girl” and remind you that approximately 54% of Canadian women experience intimate partner abuse in their lifetime. I realize of course that your points about letting kids play outdoors and building treehouses are completely valid, but I think you would be much “safer” to say that adult men in Canada are better off than at any point we know of.

Milan March 10, 2008 at 12:03 am


I would never deny that there is an intolerable level of violence against women. That said, living in fear is not the solution. People should be aware of the dangers that exist, their relative prevalence, and effective countermeasures.

Milan March 10, 2008 at 12:05 am

Do you think there have been many societies between now and the emergence of Homo sapiens in which women have been safer?

Kerrie March 10, 2008 at 1:26 am

The most widespread rape/sexual abuse against men happens before they hit puberty. Boys and men are also victimized, directly and indirectly by a culture of physical abuse and “retard masculinity”, a term you can go ahead and shoot me for using, it’s totally true. Of course all of this pales in comparison to the risk of violence faced by girls and women their whole lives.

Groups of people in Canada are affected differently by gendered violence. Amnesty International recently released some disturbing data on violence against Aboriginal women in N.America. Domestic violence can happen to anyone but well-off people have more options in escaping it.


Yes, I believe there are/were societies less violent towards women. While I hesitate to get too carried away with anthropological accounts of anything, there is evidence that the Iroquois had reasonable family and governing structures in place that gave women a respected position and did not promote the gross imbalance of power that upholds abuse. The modern day Nordic countries are pretty decent too.

Canada may be better compared to the former cultures of “Western Civilization”, but I’m not about to lead a parade over it. Ok, we’re better than Ancient Greece. Slightly. Should I tell that to the women on the crisis line?

You are right in pointing out that a culture of fear is not the answer. A culture of truth-telling and accountability is the answer. Of course it would help if the courts didn’t explicitly blame women/girls for attacks that did occur on the streets too. Women’s relative safety in public does not negate the persistent dangers faced in private.

Kerrie March 10, 2008 at 1:27 am

The reason terrorism is a bigger perceived threat than rape is because terrorism is visible. Sexual violence remains an invisible, but nonetheless widespread, disease in Canada.

Anon March 10, 2008 at 7:40 am

“In any case, men should probably worry more about rape than terrorism.”

This calculation changes if you factor in the danger of terrorists and WMD. One successful chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological attack could change these statistics markedly.

Milan March 10, 2008 at 8:59 am

“A culture of truth-telling and accountability is the answer…

Women’s relative safety in public does not negate the persistent dangers faced in private.”

I agree. The argument I am making above actually dovetails nicely with yours. It is only when people think seriously and objectively about the risks that do exist in our society that we will stop focusing on the rare and trivial ones and focus our attention on pervasive but relatively invisible ones, such as rape and domestic violence.

Kerrie March 10, 2008 at 9:02 am

“The argument…dovetails nicely”.

Agreed. And I also share your opinion about the paranoia our culture has developed, especially around child safety.

Milan March 10, 2008 at 9:05 am

I think people are usefully shocked when told that they should be more concerned about domestic violence than terrorism. Saying something both unusual and true has the virtue of attracting attention.

. March 10, 2008 at 9:27 am

Next time you are told how a madman threatens the world remember the greatest threats have come from our own mad men.

. March 10, 2008 at 2:51 pm

America, Europe and the management of danger

A hazardous comparison

Feb 28th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Americans like the idea (though not always the reality) of risk more than comfortable Europeans do. To Russians, both lots seem hyper-cautious wimps

Kerrie March 10, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Good point, uh, Point!

Milan, looks like you got the discussion traffic you were looking for~!

. April 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

The Most Dangerous Person in the World?


A significant majority of Americans, polls repeatedly tell us, list terrorism as one of their greatest fears. Like most of our media-inspired interests and worries, however, this one has little basis in reality.

In actual fact, unless you’re serving in a war zone, the most dangerous person you’re ever likely to encounter – by several orders of magnitude – is the one you see in the mirror every morning.

Here are the hard facts.

The single greatest killer of Americans is the so-called “lifestyle disease”. Somewhere between half a million and a million of us get a short ride in a long hearse every year because of smoking, lousy diets, parking our bodies in front of the TV instead of operating them, and downing yet another six pack and / or tequila popper.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 310,000 and 580,000 of us will commit suicide by cigarette this year. Another 260,000 to 470,000 will go in the ground due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. And some 85,000 of us will drink to our own departure.

After the person in the mirror, the next most dangerous individual we’re ever likely to encounter is one in a white coat. Something like 200,000 of us will experience “cessation of life” due to medical errors – botched procedures, mis-prescribed drugs and “nosocomial infections”. (The really nasty ones you get from treatment in a hospital or healthcare service unit.)

The next most dangerous encounter the average American is likely to have is with a co-worker with an infection. Or a doorknob, stair railing or restaurant utensil touched by someone with the crud. “Microbial Agents” (read bugs like flu and pneumonia) will send 75,000 of us to meet the Reaper this year.

If we live through those social encounters, the next greatest danger is “Toxic Agents” – asbestos in our ceiling, lead in our pipes, the stuff we spray on our lawns or pour down our clogged drains. Annual body count from these handy consumer products is around 55,000.

After that, the most dangerous person in our lives is the one behind the wheel. About 42,000 of us will cash our chips in our rides this year. More than half will do so because we didn’t wear a seat belt. (Lest it wrinkle our suit.)

Some 31,000 of us will commit suicide by intention this year. (As opposed to not fastening our seat belts or smoking, by which we didn’t really mean to kill ourselves.)

About 30,000 of us will die due to our sexual behaviors, through which we’ll contract AIDS or Hepatitis C. Another 20,000 of us will pop off due to illicit drug use.

The next scariest person in our lives is someone we know who’s having a really bad day. Over 16,000 Americans will be murdered this year, most often by a relative or friend.

After that, it’s an overdose on “non-steroidal anti-inflammatories”, acetaminophen or aspirin. About 7,600 hundred a year, perhaps due to the aftermath of those tequila poppers.

Next most dangerous thing is going to work. About 5,500 of us will buy the farm due to “occupational trauma”.

If that’s scary enough to skip work, we might want to skip lunch, too. Next most dangerous thing is the food we eat. About 5,200 of us will hurl our lives away due to “foodborne agents”.

Another 4,000 of us will drown. A significant percentage will be fishermen found floating with a high blood alcohol content and an unzipped fly.

As the data clearly shows, the things that genuinely threaten us are the ones we are most likely to ignore or simply accept.

Matt April 7, 2009 at 1:45 pm

” “In any case, men should probably worry more about rape than terrorism.”

This calculation changes if you factor in the danger of terrorists and WMD. One successful chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological attack could change these statistics markedly.”

Wrong. Even if a successful terrorist attack bigger than 9/11 took place, which is probably pretty unlikely, it would pale in comparison to rape statistics. But why would we even want to compare the two? One doesn’t have anything to do with the other.

Is anyone else bored of hearing about ‘terrorism?’

. January 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm

It might be unrealistic to expect the average citizen to have a nuanced grasp of statistically based risk analysis, but there is nothing nuanced about two basic facts:

(1) America is a country of 310 million people, in which thousands of horrible things happen every single day; and

(2) The chances that one of those horrible things will be that you’re subjected to a terrorist attack can, for all practical purposes, be calculated as zero.

Consider that on this very day about 6,700 Americans will die…. Consider then that around 1,900 of the Americans who die today will be less than 65, and that indeed about 140 will be children. Approximately 50 Americans will be murdered today, including several women killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and several children who will die from abuse and neglect. Around 85 of us will commit suicide, and another 120 will die in traffic accidents.


Indeed, if one does not utter the magic word “terrorism,” the notion that it is actually in the best interests of the country for the government to do everything possible to keep its citizens safe becomes self-evident nonsense. Consider again some of the things that will kill 6,700 Americans today. The country’s homicide rate is approximately six times higher than that of most other developed nations; we have 15,000 more murders per year than we would if the rate were comparable to that of otherwise similar countries. Americans own around 200 million firearms, which is to say there are nearly as many privately owned guns as there are adults in the country. In addition, there are about 200,000 convicted murderers walking free in America today (there have been more than 600,000 murders in America over the past 30 years, and the average time served for the crime is about 12 years).

Given these statistics, there is little doubt that banning private gun ownership and making life without parole mandatory for anyone convicted of murder would reduce the homicide rate in America significantly. It would almost surely make a major dent in the suicide rate as well: Half of the nation’s 31,000 suicides involve a handgun. How many people would support taking both these steps, which together would save exponentially more lives than even a — obviously hypothetical — perfect terrorist-prevention system? Fortunately, very few. (Although I admit a depressingly large number might support automatic life without parole.)

Or consider traffic accidents. All sorts of measures could be taken to reduce the current rate of automotive carnage from 120 fatalities a day — from lowering speed limits, to requiring mechanisms that make it impossible to start a car while drunk, to even more restrictive measures. Some of these measures may well be worth taking. But the point is that at present we seem to consider 43,000 traffic deaths per year an acceptable cost to pay for driving big fast cars.

. January 12, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Odds of being a terrorism victim on a flight

Nate Silver of collected the data for this handsome infographic designed by Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo. It shows your odds of becoming an airborne victim of terrorism. Maybe the new TSA rules will decrease the odds of being a terrorism victim from 1 in 10,408,947 to 1 in 10,408,948. Let’s hope so!

. April 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

“There is a general agreement about risk, then, in the established regulatory practices of several developed countries: risks are deemed unacceptable if the annual fatality risk is higher than 1 in 10,000 or perhaps higher than 1 in 100,000 and acceptable if the figure is lower than 1 in 1 million or 1 in 2 million. Between these two ranges is an area in which risk might be considered “tolerable.”

These established considerations are designed to provide a viable, if somewhat rough, guideline for public policy. In all cases, measures and regulations intended to reduce risk must satisfy essential cost-benefit considerations. Clearly, hazards that fall in the unacceptable range should command the most attention and resources. Those in the tolerable range may also warrant consideration — but since they are less urgent, they should be combated with relatively inexpensive measures. Those hazards in the acceptable range are of little, or even negligible, concern, so precautions to reduce their risks even further would scarcely be worth pursuing unless they are remarkably inexpensive.


As can be seen, annual terrorism fatality risks, particularly for areas outside of war zones, are less than one in one million and therefore generally lie within the range regulators deem safe or acceptable, requiring no further regulations, particularly those likely to be expensive. They are similar to the risks of using home appliances (200 deaths per year in the United States) or of commercial aviation (103 deaths per year). Compared with dying at the hands of a terrorist, Americans are twice as likely to perish in a natural disaster and nearly a thousand times more likely to be killed in some type of accident. The same general conclusion holds when the full damage inflicted by terrorists — not only the loss of life but direct and indirect economic costs — is aggregated. As a hazard, terrorism, at least outside of war zones, does not inflict enough damage to justify substantially increasing expenditures to deal with it.”

. August 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

The curious case of the fall in crime

Crime is plunging in the rich world. To keep it down, governments should focus on prevention, not punishment

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