How Would Last Century’s Deaths Shape Our Concerns for this Century? The Beautiful and Deadly Information of Mortality

Nov 26, 2013


Discussion by: Zeuglodon

A while ago, I stumbled upon a visualization showing the major causes of most, if not all, the deaths in the 20th Century, which total at around five and a half thousand million deaths. That's an almost unfathomable number of lives born and then snuffed out over the course of a hundred years, and it's sobering enough to consider one's own mortality when put on this scale: of the seven billion people alive today, almost all of us will be laid low by the army of accidents, killings, diseases, and disasters that claimed the previous generations, and inevitably one of them will come to claim your life at an unknown moment.

 

Getting back to the topic at hand, the piece comes from the aptly named Information is Beautiful website, and pools data from various sources to make "a companion piece to the London Exhibition" of last year, entitled "Death: A Self-Portrait". You can see it here in all its glory:

 

  • 20th Century Death from Information is Beautiful (www.informationisbeautiful.net). You can see their sources for data here.

 

Granted, there are provisos and cautions to go along with it: some deaths are double counted, the numbers rely on estimates and can't be anything but approximate, and some information is omitted from the presentation for elegance's sake. With that in mind, however, it's well worth seeing the finished piece, and that's because it's an entrance to a dark if deeply relevant topic.

 

Looking at the display, the first thing you notice is that the overwhelmingly largest cause of death in the previous century was disease, be it infectious, cancerous, or non-communicable. A quick bit of rough maths shows that the diseases combined make up roughly three quarters of the total number of deaths all by themselves, and even considered on their own, they dominate the page practically unrivalled.

 

By comparison, if you take the number of people estimated to have died due to suicide, homicide, genocide, ideological killings, and war, you end up with roughly 450 million of the deaths, or about 8% of the total deaths. That barely makes up half of the deaths listed under "Humanity", nearly a third of which are due to everyday accidents, and it is far outstripped by the number of deaths caused by cancer (approximately 530 million). There are quite a few other unexpected discoveries as well, and maybe it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that there will be something on the list to surprise everyone.

 

Now, with those surprises in mind, I want to lead in to another talking point. Assuming for the moment that we can expect similar proportions to ensue in this century – which is something worth contesting in itself, but bear with me for a moment – this raises quite a few questions:

  1. What is a cause worth putting our effort and resources into when it comes to death?
  2. Should we take this as a sign that the tackling of disease is our top priority, or do we focus specifically on those causes of death that can be traced back to human agency?
  3. What are we trying to accomplish: pushing the number of deaths in a certain direction (for instance, towards painless diseases or "acceptable" causes of death), and/or would we one day be daring or foolhardy enough to consider death itself something to minimize?
  4. How shall we take stock of our current fears, ideas, and assumptions in the face of this splash of reality?
  5. What else can this data tell us about death (and life) in this century?

 

To pre-empt an anticipated point, if I might be so bold, I would point out that there are other factors that influence our choice of cause beyond what kills the most people, and I am not simplistically saying that death is the only decider of a cause's worthiness. The welfare of people while they are still alive is one such issue, informed as it is by information as varied as national indexes for psychological and economic health and prosperity, the rates of non-lethal crimes such as torture and human trafficking, and perhaps broader ethical, philosophical, and legal issues. If you wish to discuss these issues and to what extent they weaken the point I'm making here, I'm all for it! However, death is certainly a large enough topic to lend considerable weight to such discussions, and I might go so far as to argue that, short of such extreme things as torture, it's probably the most important when it comes to deciding what cause is worth following.

 

This might seem to be an onslaught of points to consider, but if you take nothing else from this, then at least go and see the visualization itself. I found it quite exciting to see the information and find a few surprises here and there. Maybe it will give you pause for thought too, or even make you reconsider this dark side of life in a new way. In this way, it is a good example of how science can make us rethink our positions on such weighty topics.

24 comments on “How Would Last Century’s Deaths Shape Our Concerns for this Century? The Beautiful and Deadly Information of Mortality

  • Every reduction in death should be offset by a reduction in birth rate. Otherwise, all you are doing is condemning someone else to early miserable death.

    Also have a look at Age distributions

    It shows age distribution by country 1954 — 2100.

    Projections are showing for every country we are heading to 0 deaths between births and age 70. I think the figures are overly optimistic, ignoring climate change. Bahrain is very strange in sex distribution.



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  • Should we take this as a sign that the tackling of disease is our top priority

    Not necessarily. You have to look at the cost/benefit ratio. Further, I think it more important to nail diseases of infants and children than diseases of those over 90. In theory, avoiding wars should have negative cost, if we only knew how to keep those who love them out of power.

    Diseases like ALS and Huntingdon’s are nightmarish. I would far sooner die of a heart attack. Some diseases are socially costly, like HIV with the cost of drugs, and care for orphans.

    Some diseases are cheap and easy to fix – those that can be handled with a jab. Those should be pushed up in priority. Ditto vitamin deficiency diseases.

    There are a number of genetic defects that could in principle be detected in the womb. With genetic screening and abortion, such diseases could be eliminated without ever having to discover a cure. Religion wants to condemn these kids to misery in the name of placating a god. We should think of genetic defects more like communicable diseases with a limited population that can contract it. The notions of quarantine should apply.



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  • Surprises: how small HIV was. It is smaller even than syphilis. There must be some error.
    How large lung problems is.
    How small illegal drugs is.
    That homicide is bigger than war.



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  • In reply to #4 by Roedy:

    Surprises: how small HIV was.

    I think HIV deaths are usually recorded as death by some opportunistic infection.

    I have an electronic AIDS quilt on my website. The family of a friend who died of HIV demanded I remove his name from the listing. They were very angry with me by tarnishing the family reputation by suggesting he had AIDS. Octavio was always completely open about his sexuality starting a week after I first met him. They threatened me if I did not remove the listing.

    So I suspect the deaths by HIV are under-reported.



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  • The doctor has to put a cause of death on your certificate. ‘Old age’ doesn’t sound very medical, does it? Yet, in developed societies the major cause of death is going to be the deterioration of the internal organs through the aging process. So, I’m not clear, how many of the deaths from heart disease, for example, are to be regretted or to be accepted with resignation as part of our biological fate.



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  • 8
    Stuart Coyle says:

    There is no error. HIV has only become prevalent since the 1970s. Syphillis is a very serious disease and before
    modern antibiotic treatment would most likely have been a death sentence.

    In reply to #4 by Roedy:

    Surprises: how small HIV was. It is smaller even than syphilis. There must be some error.
    How large lung problems is.
    How small illegal drugs is.
    That homicide is bigger than war.



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  • 9
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #1 by SaganTheCat:

    couldn’t find curiosity. still alive. interesting

    Pardon?

    In reply to #2 by Roedy:

    Every reduction in death should be offset by a reduction in birth rate. Otherwise, all you are doing is condemning someone else to early miserable death.

    Of course. I haven’t forgotten the balance between birth rate and death rate.

    Also have a look at Age distributions

    It shows age distribution by country 1954 — 2100.

    Projections are showing for every country we are heading to 0 deaths between births and age 70. I think the figures are overly optimistic, ignoring climate change. Bahrain is very strange in sex distribution.

    Firstly, that is a fascinating resource, and thank you for sharing that with us. Secondly, I also think the projected figures are a bit optimistic, but I don’t think you need to invoke climate change to explain why. The projection assumes that all countries will be on par with European and Australian ones in terms of welfare and general standard of living, since both are needed to buttress a low death rate. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but I doubt most countries in Africa, the Middle East, parts of West and Southeast Asia, and Central America will be reaching those levels of comfort and security in that time frame.

    In reply to #6 by aldous:

    The doctor has to put a cause of death on your certificate. ‘Old age’ doesn’t sound very medical, does it? Yet, in developed societies the major cause of death is going to be the deterioration of the internal organs through the aging process. So, I’m not clear, how many of the deaths from heart dise…

    To be fair to the doctors, old age by itself doesn’t deliver the death blow, but weakens the body enough to make it susceptible. Moreover, I agree: given that ageing is a complicated problem involving the deterioration of every body system gradually shutting down, there won’t be a cure for it in the works for a long time, assuming such cures could even exist. I think the best we can hope for at this stage is simply to reduce the incidence of other causes of death and try to get as many people into the “death by old age” category as possible.

    In reply to #7 by mmurray:

    Quality of life is also worth bearing in mind. No point in living to 90 if you have a couple of decades with Alzheimers.

    Agreed, but I already said as much in the OP.

    In reply to #3 by Roedy:

    Should we take this as a sign that the tackling of disease is our top priority

    Not necessarily. You have to look at the cost/benefit ratio. Further, I think it more important to nail diseases of infants and children than diseases of those over 90. In theory, avoiding wars should have negative cost…

    I think, on balance, it depends on which category of disease we’re talking about, and I should have qualified it originally in the OP. The non-infectious diseases are, as previously mentioned, probably the inevitable results of the ageing process (and so, in a perverse sense, a good sign that some people are living to a ripe old age), but it’s hard to tell based solely on the data provided, since many of the deaths could be those of much younger people. Cancer and infectious diseases may well be worth tackling, though. I’d imagine they have more young people in their ranks.

    Actually, I should add that I think old people deserve just as much right to be treated as people of other ages, and I would not lower them on the priorities list until they show signs of organ failure or otherwise are clearly at a point where their bodies are “too far gone”, so to speak.



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  • 10
    Seraphor says:

    As someone who works in Clinical Coding (although I deal with morbidity I’m aware of mortality coding) I think understanding the process involved in recording causes of death is very important here.

    While I haven’t looked over the full piece, the largest categories, Non-communicable Diseases, Infectious Diseases, Cardiovascular and Cancer, could easily account for the majority of “old age” deaths, as Stuart Coyle rightfully pointed out.

    So I don’t think any definitive conclusions can be made from this very simplified diagram. As Roedy states, cost-benefit calculations would probably be a greater factor in deciding the actions to take.

    As for numbers, I’m not at all surprised. This is over a century, a far longer time than most people will live, so it’s entirely expected that the number of deaths will be comparable to the average population. 5.5 billion deaths is to be expected.

    Actually there is something that puzzles me. How is the Ideology category separated from War?



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  • Classification is always going to be a very rough estimate.

    Heart disease is a chronic debilitating condition, associated with cardiovascular disease. All kinds of problems develop when the arterial linings gradually stiffen and degrade. Plus there’s atherosclerosis and overall reduced efficiency and residual capacity. Many people might think heart disease is really heart failure, something more like arrhythmia or the many other things that can cause relatively sudden death, normally quite late in life and often without any significant impact on quality of life right up to the point of death. Actual death experience may be more like fainting.

    But heart disease, as a consequence or aspect of cardiovascular disease, impacts on quality of life from a relatively early age. There’s research indicating the onset of the preliminary vascular disease is detectable in Sydney children around the age of 12. (Not like to yet be smokers, though this isn’t an indication that smoking probably isn’t the major cause of heart disease. But it does indicate that smoking probably isn’t the only major cause of heart disease.)

    There’s a long term study under way in Sydney where it’s believed that people who will suffer from heart attacks can be very cheaply and easily identified even at this early age. Basically via iridology. (Though technically it’s retinology.) This technique may prove to be the most effective at diagnosing heart disease of any technology yet invented. While also being the absolute cheapest – based on computer image analysis of retinal photographs. Technology already exists for retinal security identification. So it’s just a matter of adapting retinal scans for good rather than evil.

    I suspect that most people who suffer from what eventually becomes heart disease start suffering relatively youngish, probably early middle age. And it just gets worse until failure from heart attacks etc. Quality of life can be greatly impacted.

    As an example of how 20th century stats can be misleading in the mid 20th century epidemiology analysis in Japan once sparked misdirected research into why Japanese people didn’t suffer from heart disease compared to Western Europeans. Something to do with sushi and rice perhaps? Turns out that they smoke like chimneys, drink heavily, work long hours, have a highly stressful social hierarchy (where women don’t really feature) etc. All the bad things for heart disease. But culturally it was considered extremely poor form to be known as a relative of someone who died of failure of the heart – the heart being the centre of one’s personal strength and integrity. Tantamount to being deemed a failure of good personship and integrity. Possibly indicating a hereditary or contagious condition. So cause of death medical certifications (to the extent they even existed) were very much more likely to indicate failure of the brain – something that was associated with intellectually and morally gifted people, presumably with overdeveloped and overworked brains. (Which probably triggered even more research into the nutritional ’causes’ of so many Japanese stroke deaths.) What someone dies of can have some cultural relevance. Maybe similar to the idea of kamikaze and hari kari. I heard that Viking warriors were claimed to be afraid to die in their sleep.

    You could possibly reclassify to include heart disease deaths in the ideology section. Basically because it’s pretty much entirely preventable. But there’s been a lot of related ideology kicked up over the years, to some extent this might have been something of a conspiratorial smokescreen (to conceal the major cause of heart disease – being the actual smoke!)

    In reply to #6 by aldous:

    The doctor has to put a cause of death on your certificate. ‘Old age’ doesn’t sound very medical, does it? Yet, in developed societies the major cause of death is going to be the deterioration of the internal organs through the aging process. So, I’m not clear, how many of the deaths from heart dise…



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  • 12
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #10 by Seraphor:

    Actually there is something that puzzles me. How is the Ideology category separated from War?

    I’m not sure. I had a quick look at the sources, and as far as I can tell, I think Ideology is more about civilian deaths and purges, as opposed to the deaths of soldiers. Still doesn’t make it clear to me why Ideology is separate from Genocide, and it’s one of the things I’d ask the originators if I could.

    As for numbers, I’m not at all surprised. This is over a century, a far longer time than most people will live, so it’s entirely expected that the number of deaths will be comparable to the average population. 5.5 billion deaths is to be expected.

    Well yes, but that wasn’t what I thought would surprise people. I was rhetorically referring to the fact that such large numbers are difficult for human minds to fully fathom. The surprises come when you look at individual causes. For instance, I was surprised to find that, of the seven million deaths by animal attacks, six million of them were caused by snakes. I’d have expected animal attacks to be more evenly distributed among the various land species. Also, I was surprised to find more people were killed by jellyfish than by sharks; as much as I think sharks are demonized, I would have gambled the other way.

    As someone who works in Clinical Coding (although I deal with morbidity I’m aware of mortality coding) I think understanding the process involved in recording causes of death is very important here.

    While I haven’t looked over the full piece, the largest categories, Non-communicable Diseases, Infectious Diseases, Cardiovascular and Cancer, could easily account for the majority of “old age” deaths, as Stuart Coyle rightfully pointed out.

    So I don’t think any definitive conclusions can be made from this very simplified diagram. As Roedy states, cost-benefit calculations would probably be a greater factor in deciding the actions to take.

    Maybe so, but this does rely on the exact ratio of old age deaths to premature deaths, and even excluding the diseases, that still leaves a sizeable number of human-related causes of death. A cost-benefit analysis is essential to any practical attempt to address these issues, naturally, but by the same token, a statistical appreciation of the problem of death rates would inform such analyses.



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  • 13
    foundationist says:

    I don’t think that the total number of deaths caused by something is in itself a good measure for the urgency of a problem. Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are mostly “dying from old age” events. The work of the doctors and scientists trying to improve the chances for these folks is of course vitally important, but as long as there is no cure for age, we’ll eventually succumb to some of these effects. The same goes for at least some of the infectious diseases. You’re more likely to die from pneumonia when you’re old than when you’re young.

    A ninety-year-old dying from a heart attack is different from a three-year-old dying from war or easily preventable diseases.

    I think the importance of a cause, in particular the importance of activism for a cause should rather be measured in how preventable and pointless suffering or death is. A good warning system for Tsunamis is cheap, so let’s do it! Helping out refugees and offering them a new chance elsewhere is cheap, so let’s do it!

    As a side note, I don’t understand some of the figures: WW2: 63 million, Nazi genocide 16 million, but deaths caused by Nazism 21 million? So 59 of the 63 million WW2 victims were not caused by Nazism?

    Also, why is “famine” considered to be caused by “the natural world”? Most of the big famines were due to bad politics (North Korea, China’s “Giant Leap Forward” famine) or even consciously engineered forms of genocide (the Holodomor).



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  • 14
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #13 by foundationist:

    I don’t think that the total number of deaths caused by something is in itself a good measure for the urgency of a problem. Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are mostly “dying from old age” events. The work of the doctors and scientists trying to improve the chances for these folks is of course vit…

    I don’t disagree with most of your points by any means, but allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. You mention that the priority should go to preventable or pointless suffering and death when it comes to deciding which causes are more urgent. I think that is fair enough, but I also think that view is not so simple:

    1. How do we decide which causes are preventable or not? For instance, at one end of a continuum of preventability, there are diseases which can be cured cheaply and easily, and which nobody has an excuse not to use or deploy. At the other end is the total organ collapse of even the healthiest and longest lived individuals who succumb to old age, something which no one can even begin to cure because of how complicated a full-body ageing process is. Taking the causes mentioned here, how would we rank them? Is murder more preventable than accidents? Are some famines easier to control than others? Could a bit of education lower the death toll for victims of natural disasters, or would it require expensive overhauls of infrastructure? My main point here is how exactly to compare preventability across these major causes of death.

    2. Preventability isn’t a stable property, so that requires a judgement call when it comes to future campaigns. To stick with diseases for a moment, some illnesses that are nigh incurable today may be curable tomorrow, perhaps even wiped out within a century. Smallpox killed 400 million people last century, but it’s unlikely that it will be such a devastating disease this century. Wouldn’t we have to trade off cures with research into developing future cures? If one institution had to choose between researching a cure for stomach cancer and stocking up on currently existing malaria cures, for instance, which would be better in the long run?

    Again, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you here. But I think these are points worth bringing to the table, if only to flesh these ideas out a bit.



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  • 15
    OHooligan says:

    Fascinating. Thanks. Just a couple of observations: these things do not seem to be worth being overly concerned about:

    • air crashes
    • drugs other than alcohol and tobacco
    • bears



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  • 16
    Stuart Coyle says:

    You don’t live in the land of Drop Bears.

    In reply to #15 by OHooligan:

    Fascinating. Thanks. Just a couple of observations: these things do not seem to be worth being overly concerned about:

    air crashes
    drugs other than alcohol and tobacco
    bears



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  • 19
    OHooligan says:

    In reply to #17 by Stuart Coyle:

    Forgot the link: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Drop-Bear

    As far as I know they only prey upon air crash survivors who have become incapacitated due to trying to survive on the contents of the booze trolley. Nice distribution map, must remember to avoid overflying those areas. Not related to the jagular? (ref: Winnie The Pooh).



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  • 20
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #11 by Pete H:

    Heart disease is a chronic debilitating condition, associated with cardiovascular disease… But heart disease, as a consequence or aspect of cardiovascular disease, impacts on quality of life from a relatively early age. There’s research indicating the onset of the preliminary vascular disease is detectable in Sydney children around the age of 12. (Not like to yet be smokers, though this isn’t an indication that smoking probably isn’t the major cause of heart disease. But it does indicate that smoking probably isn’t the only major cause of heart disease.)

    According to the diagram, smoking is largely a cause for pulmonary diseases, especially lung cancer. But I wonder: cardiovascular diseases may be largely caused by lifestyle choice, such as overeating and lack of exercise. Given how it dominates the graph, could that indicate that the obesity issue has been around for longer than we thought? In which case, probably not enough attention has been given to it today, and it should be a bigger priority than cancer treatments?

    There’s a long term study under way in Sydney where it’s believed that people who will suffer from heart attacks can be very cheaply and easily identified even at this early age. Basically via iridology. (Though technically it’s retinology.) This technique may prove to be the most effective at diagnosing heart disease of any technology yet invented. While also being the absolute cheapest – based on computer image analysis of retinal photographs. Technology already exists for retinal security identification. So it’s just a matter of adapting retinal scans for good rather than evil.

    I’m guessing this is to monitor the condition of the blood vessels at the back of the eye. That seems a little tortuous. Why not take a blood sample? Wouldn’t that be cheaper?

    As an example of how 20th century stats can be misleading in the mid 20th century epidemiology analysis in Japan once sparked misdirected research into why Japanese people didn’t suffer from heart disease compared to Western Europeans. Something to do with sushi and rice perhaps? Turns out that they smoke like chimneys, drink heavily, work long hours, have a highly stressful social hierarchy (where women don’t really feature) etc. All the bad things for heart disease. But culturally it was considered extremely poor form to be known as a relative of someone who died of failure of the heart – the heart being the centre of one’s personal strength and integrity…

    Thanks for sharing that. What a peculiar attitude for them to take, though. I’d have thought most myths about the heart would have been settled after the scientific insights into human anatomy gained during the Victorian era.

    Maybe the ones who compiled the data were aware of this going on in Japan, and adjusted their estimates accordingly. Or maybe not. Where did you learn that, by the way?

    You could possibly reclassify to include heart disease deaths in the ideology section. Basically because it’s pretty much entirely preventable. But there’s been a lot of related ideology kicked up over the years, to some extent this might have been something of a conspiratorial smokescreen (to conceal the major cause of heart disease – being the actual smoke!)

    I think this is stretching the definition a bit. Ideological deaths, as far as I can tell, strictly include deliberate killings, not self-induced lifestyle choices. Then again, the diagram is a little unclear as to what the difference is between deaths by genocide and deaths by ideology.



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  • 21
    Promethean Entity says:

    ‘Information is beautiful’. Then don’t repeat lies. 65 million dead because of communism in China? It’s sad when people have to trumpet the crudest and most disgusting anti-communist lies as though they were foregone facts, just to keep on an even keel with their liberal conscience that casts a distasteful eye on the concrete struggles of masses of people emerging from centuries of semi-feudal oppression while standing on the sidelines and sanctimoniously denouncing the violence and retribution that such things entail. Seems that people of ‘conscience’ – i.e liberals and other ‘leftists’ – squander no opportunity to slander, denigrate and cast into irrelevance the titanic saga of the Chinese revolution – a revolution that doubled life expectancy, brought literacy to hundreds of millions, wiped out numerous diseases, liberated women from archaic and oppressive customs and social norms, organised industry and economic life under the banner and ethos of serving the people, developed and greatly expanded heavy industry to meet the country’s needs, instituted nation-wide water conservancy, brought the virtues of science and investigation into the minds of hundreds of millions in place of superstition and obscurantism, organised worker’s representation in the factories, and inspired millions of young people to live among the poorest and most disadvantaged and to learn from and assist them in their struggles. Liberals want ‘want nothing to do with’ such a revolution because they don’t want to be sullied by the communists’ bloodied hands, but will tail the Democratic Party, an organisation with a long history of shedding the blood of workers and peasants all over the world in the service of capital.

    Shit’s fucking ridiculous.



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  • Yes, the obesity issue is literally bigger than it seems. Though I think obesity is a mitigating response to the underlying harmful causes (of all the other chronic metabolic problems). We need to look more closely at what causes lack of exercise and overeating. Becoming obese might be a good thing compared to the alternative of chronic sugars over-exposure but not becoming obese.

    Re retinal analysis: blood samples wouldn’t be useful because blood is very dynamic. You’d pretty much need to continuously monitor the blood. The retinal photos can directly assess the accumulated damage, instead of forecasting the possible impact. (Which isn’t really quantified yet.) There are blood sample approaches measuring glycated haemoglobin I think. But even blood cells are relatively short lived compared to the actual dimensions of the retinal arteries. Plus a retinal photo can be taken with nil expertise and no trepidation by the kids. Equipment is trivially cheap compared to blood analysis. And you only need to do it infrequently to detect long term improvement or deterioration.

    People who get regular exercise can tolerate higher blood sugar exposure. This is because they can sink glucose into glycogen – a safe form of sugar storage. As well as diverting sugars to adipose tissue. So just measuring blood sugar directly isn’t very useful. You really need to measure the actual impact on body tissues. Retinal arteries may be a good proxy for the entire cardiovascular system.

    Re the Japanese death stats: the main problem is that they didn’t actually have a death certification system until recently. Possibly there may have been a semi sinister reason for this. And not just so no one would know the impact of nuclear weapons radiation! E.g. Only a few years ago a bunch of young Japanese physicians did an exchange visit to our local hospital. One noticeable difference they remarked on comparing similar Japanese hospitals compared to Australia was the obvious prevalence of hopelessly ill, incontinent, and demented Australian geriatrics taking up most of the available bed capacity. Back where the Japanese student physicians came from old people know their place and would normally be expected to have taken the appropriate and honorable preventative action to avoid becoming such a burden to their family and community. So the Australian patients were regarded with some slight puzzlement and contempt for their rudeness and affrontery in merely staying inconveniently alive.)

    I heard about these distorted death stats, strangely enough, from a homeopath. But who is extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and exercise. (Motivated presumably by the need to address the flaws in epidemiological research that conclude more or less the opposite to what he’d measured in the lab.) I’d recommend him as a source, except he’s got stuck on the idiotic autism link to vaccinations issue. Other than that he’s actually an excellent physiologist. Now retired. I don’t think he ever practised homeopathy in the traditional sense that most people sneer at. More of a marketing angle: many people with serious problems do approach homeopaths and he presumably feels it’s useful to directly assist those he can. He’s got a YouTube channel: Search on Greg Ellis. (Warning: contains traces of credibility destroying homeopathy – though not very much!)

    Re ideology: I think I can argue that a major proportion of early or preventable deaths in the 20th century are ideological. Though most people might find the particular form of ideology surprising, being in the area of politics and economics. An aspect of all this is that without various major financial and military misfortunes during the 20th century then there possibly may not have been quite so many people alive during the century. (A response for many people in difficult circumstances is to have many more kids rather than fewer.) Therefore not nearly as many people would have died from any cause as they wouldn’t have been born in the first place. Kind of interesting in that you can have a high death rate, but as long as the birth rate is even higher you are maximising potential human life experience and happiness.

    In reply to #20 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #11 by Pete H:

    Heart disease is a chronic debilitating condition, associated with cardiovascular disease… But heart disease, as a consequence or aspect of cardiovascular disease, impacts on quality of life from a relatively early age. There’s research indicating the onset of the preli…



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  • 23
    Stevehill says:

    I guess the very high prevalence of “disease” as a cause of death is because medical professionals feel obliged to put something on a death certificate other than “got old” or “wore out”.



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  • I actually participated in an entire class on the sociology of death (Thanatology). I think it is apt that you posted this on an atheist website because I am of the theory that the avoidance of death is exactly what is at the heart of religious beliefs. As you so articulately illustrated, it is also inevitable … death, that is. Questions of whether to live a life in terror management knowing that death is eminent and trying to avoid it, or even conduct research into figuring out ways to cheat death, which is going on right now; or to be poetic about it and simply live a life as joyful as one can, and perhaps leave the world a little better off for those who survive us when we’re gone is too complex. And as an atheist, morality is up to the individual. If you are a psychopath or sociopath (that would be our 3 – 4% of human cohorts who find torture to be an easy pastime to stomach … even perhaps take pleasure in it) talking about ethics and morals is even more pointless. With a suppressed limbic system and an amygdala that is sluggish at best, they feel neither disgust nor horror when perpetrating atrocities on other human beings. Every morning, each of us wakes up with the decision of whether to live a joyful life and to make life joyful for others, or to wreak havoc upon others, perhaps if some of us have had havoc wreaked upon us. The unavoidable point here is that we are all going to die someday. Many of us won’t have a say in how we meet our end. Someone once said that dying was easy, and that it was living that was the real challenge. It takes courage to live because I believe that everyone, whether they are in denial or not, knows that their life will come to an end, and yet we think it takes courage to die. That’s just the end of the line. I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid of the accompanying pain or terror that might come with it. We know that science builds knowledge upon itself. If someone wants to use it to make dying an easier process, great. If someone else uses it to create weapons that cause death and suffering on innocents, not so great. But until the sun’s hydrogen fusion burns out, billions of generations of people (and whatever we evolve into in that time) will follow, discovering, suppressing, empowering, enslaving, giving, stealing, healing and killing. It’s up to each of us.



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