Bogus Numbers, but a Legitimate Point
Trolling the blogosphere this morning, I came across an Andrew Sullivan post featuring the following poster:
Were this statistic true, it would be a great boon to health care reform advocates such as myself. No sense in allocating $708 billion in the 2011 budget for defense spending, I would be inclined to argue, when lack of health insurance poses a threat to the population dramatically greater than that of terrorism.
Unfortunately, however, the 58-to-1 number is factually inaccurate. From the footnotes at the bottom of the image (in fine print of course), we learn that the statistic was obtained by pairing two sources: a Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance study linking 45,000 deaths annually to lack of health coverage, and a US Department of State statistic attributing 774.7 deaths annually to global terrorism. The first statistic, it turns out, is correct. Yet, averaging the Department of State numbers for “people worldwide killed as a result of terrorism” between 2005 and 2008, I come up with a much larger number: 18,325.25. Taking the first number and dividing it by the second, I then come up with 2.45 health care related deaths in the US per every person killed as a result of worldwide terrorism. Which is considerably fewer than the 58 deaths cited in the poster.
The revised number is nevertheless significant, given that it compares US apples to worldwide oranges and still manages to discover more apples than oranges. Moreover, if we compare apples to apples, there are 45,000 annual deaths in the US due to lack of health care, and not a single fatality due to a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. (The State Department tells us that 75% of the 235 high-casuality terrorist attacks in 2008 occurred in the Near East and South Asia.) Surely, Dick Cheney would argue that the US has George Bush to thank for this absence of post-9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet the Iraq War seems to have inspired, rather than quelled, Islamic extremism — that, at least, is what a declassified government intelligence report claimed in 2006.
There is, in short, still very good reason to invest more US dollars on health care and fewer dollars on defense spending. The “Invade a Hospital” poster is a bizarre breed of propaganda: using bogus numbers, it makes a legitimate point.
Update: I have responded to Jake Lewis, and discussed the Department of State numbers at much greater length here.