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    Which Science Kills More People?
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | March 25th 2011 02:21 PM | 26 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Which science kills the most people each year?  Prompted by a quote-- "guns don't kill people-- physics kills people." ('3rd Rock from the Sun') -- it's time we look at which science really is the deadliest.

    So let's set up the big three: Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  In a Hollywood movieland world, Physics would be the clear winner on early deaths.  Car crashes, gunshot wounds, bicycle accidents, falling down, people hitting each other, and that biggie called 'war' are all physics-driven deaths.

    Pulling out real world statistics, we look to the Center for Disease Control (CDh).  In 2007 (their most recent complete survey), we find that the bulk of the 2,423,712 US deaths were due to three causes: heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

    Damn, looks like Biology takes an early lead.  Those 3 causes alone cover over half of all deaths (54.2%)  In fact, of the 15 leading causes, 9 of them are simple biology, causing 68.2% of all deaths.  Disease and infection rule the land of the dead.
    this is apparently a real UK sign!
    Aren't there more interesting ways to die?  And by more interesting, I of course mean via Physics or Chemistry.  The remaining top killers include accident (5.1%, a quick lead for Physics), alcholism (3.1%, a win for Chemistry), assault and homicide (0.8%, tipping the scales back to Physics), and "all others" (18.6%).  Given that 'all others' is almost 1/5th of all deaths, this deserves exploring further.

    But before we get to science, a quick shout out to the field of Law.  Apparently 'legal intervention' resulted in 0.1% of the country's deaths.  Sure, I know what it means, but I still like to see it as being caused by lawyers.  Back to Chemistry and Physics.

    What is death by Chemistry?  Sure, there are the headline disasters-- acid, romantic poisoners, toxic spills, giant waves of molasses suffocating a city-- all chemistry in action.  But we can also count alcohol poisoning and drug-induced death.  Immersion in H2O (aka drowning) is also a chemistry kill.

    Naively, we can assign Physics 5.9% (accidents + assault&homicide) and Chemistry 4.5% (alcoholism + suicide).  But these 'top killer' categories do not map precisely to each science.  So we will instead look at a specific subtable called 'injury-related deaths'.

    The subset of 'injury-related deaths' covers 7.5% of all deaths in 2007.  In this category, there were 23,199 alcohol-induced deaths in 2007, 38,371 drug-induced, and 22% of the 182.479 injury-related deaths were due to poisoning.  That adds up to just over 100K Chemistry deaths, or about 4.2% of the total 2007 death tally.

    Physics gets to dominate the injury-related category, having the trio of 'motor vehicle', 'firearm', and 'fall' to give it just over half of all injuries (52.9%).  That gives it just under 100K deaths (96531), putting it below Chemistry with a bare 3.99%.  Sorry, Physics, you've lost that killer edge.

    As a nod both to Sociologists and to the 'correlation equals causation' crowd, we can define Marriage as a death-bringer.  917,839 people died in 2007 due to being married, as defined by this passage: "The number of deaths in 2007 among persons who were married was 917,839; widowed, 879,173; divorced, 313,863; and never married, 260,281."

    However, since they do not break down the stats of how many married people died by Physics vs Chemistry vs Biology, we cannot explore this further.  Perhaps it's due to the Chemistry of love?

    As we take our tally of the grim reaper's science team, it seems clear that physics and chemistry, interesting as they are, simply are not able to kill large numbers of people efficiently in today's world.  Based on this rigorous statistical analysis, then, I suggest we make Biology illegal.  Doing so will prevent the deaths of millions.

    Ultimately, you could argue that Mathematics is the deadliest science.  After all, Statistics show that 100% of all people will die.

    Until next week (assuming I live),
    Tuesdays at The Satellite Diaries and Friday at The Daytime Astronomer (twitter @skyday)

    p.s. here is a link to the 2 minute '3rd Rock from the Sun' vid that started me thinking.


    Gerhard Adam
    After all, Statistics show that 100% of all people will die.
    That is impressive, especially since you don't even have to believe in statistics to be a victim of it. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    but I still like to see it as being caused by lawyers

    Q)What do you do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

    A) A good start!

    But I think you miss-classified War and gunshot deaths as physics, those bullets aren't falling out of the gun killing anyone.

    Lastly, I keep telling my kids, they will most likely have the chance to live forever, well as long as physics or chemistry doesn't get them first.
    Never is a long time.
    Now, if you ask the related question, "Which science kills the most scientists?" I feel sure the nod would go to chemistry. In particular, organo-metallic chemistry. I remember a materials science prof pointing out that he'd never met a metal-organic chemist over 40.


    Physics wins hands down.

    Chemistry exists only because atoms unite according to the laws of physics.

    On the other hand - linguistics has a lot to answer for.  Everyone who ever spoke Thracian is now dead.  Avoid Thracian: 100% kill rate!  ;-)
    Physics wins hands down.  Chemistry exists only because atoms unite according to the laws of physics.
    I am a chemist – so TAKE THAT!

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Ouch!  That Hertz!
    I think its physics...
    nice fact. :)

    Make biology illegal, lol!! I don't know about "simple biology", though...
    Awesome post!!!!!!!
    Patrick,according to chemistry ,Heisenbergs uncertainty principle says because of human error of observation in particle mechanisms[atomic theory]we are looking at something moving [particles]with something moving[particles in our eyes] so we can't be sure of what we see..I beleive chemistry wins hands down then and it's abuse is at the root of all evil and its good use could cause us to live forever so since old age must be the main cause of death chemistry wins by default as well.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...human error...
    Heisenberg says nothing about human error.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Heisenberg says" because of the error of observation".The only thing that can be "observing"is human.

    Gerhard Adam
    You might want to review Heisenberg.
    Mundus vult decipi
    E Wikipedia*, fonte sapientiae omnis;

    Published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the principle implies that it is impossible to determine simultaneously both the position and the momentum of an electron or any other particle with any great degree of accuracy or certainty. This is not a statement about researchers' ability to measure the quantities. Rather, it is a statement about the system itself. That is, a system cannot be defined to have simultaneously singular values of these pairs of quantities. The principle states that a minimum exists for the product of the uncertainties in these properties that is equal to or greater than one half of the reduced Planck constant (ħ = h/2π).

    * with a long a, since it is here in the ablative case.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is a principle in quantum mechanics.  That's physics, not chemistry.

    If I fill my house with 1 part of oxygen and 2 parts of hydrogen then any ignition source whatosever will render my house most egregiously uninhabitable.  That's chemistry 101 and there is no uncertainty about my resulting need to purchase a tent.  :-)
    Gerhard Adam
    Hmmm .. I think he's uncertain about Heisenberg (at least in principle).
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hmmm .. I think he's uncertain about Heisenberg (at least in principle).

    There's one thing we can be certain of - death, taxes or Occam's Razor.  ;-)
    Sorry Patrick it's chemistry according to the curiculum i studied in U.K.anyway in mechanisms of reactions.The more sure you are of the position of an electron ,the less sure you are of its momentum and the more sure you are of it's momentum the less sure you are of it's position.It's called Heisenburg"s uncertainty principle[not a theory].Love your sense of humour though.

    Science teaching in the UK is all muddled, and has been getting progressively worse over the decades I have been around.

    I don’t want to make Gerhard explode, but might I suggest that our national stupidity is a judgement from God for our ancestors having believed that He is an Englishman.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm sure Heisenberg would be surprised to learn he was a chemist.

    Werner Heisenberg (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Couldn't guns split the difference between physics and chemistry. Without gunpowder, the very most you would have is an annoying kid throwing bullets at you. It takes chemistry to make bullets lethal.

    My take on guns-- it's what damages, not what starts it. So a chemical explosion that shoots a piece of metal into your body counts as a Physics kill. Likewise, a biology-based mammal stepping on you counts as Physics (just so we don't ignore the elephant in the room).


    More Heisenberg (It’s that man again)!

    Last night Jim Al-Khalili gave a presentation on BBC4, the second of his two-parter Everything and Nothing.  Here he gave what he admitted is only a rough way of picturing the Uncertainty Principle, but it’s perhaps the best I’ve ever seen.

    Imagine a memory stick – it has limited storage.  You are trying to capture a game of pool (why not snooker, with which we Brits are more at home?)

    You could go for the highest resolution picture possible, in which you can pinpoint the positions of the balls accurately, but you can’t get any information about their momentum.  Or you could make a movie, same filesize, with the motion well pictured and measurable, but with low resolution frames where it is impossible to pinpoint the balls.

    He emphasizes that this is a property of the system itself, not of our measurement.  The limited filesize is part of nature, not a limitation of our apparatus. 

    In addition, it is not due to our having disturbed the system by measurement (so alas, Mr Tompkins gets it wrong in George Gamow's book.)

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Awesome article Sandy! But as you might have noticed I have a diametrical opposite point of view - [hard] Science saves lives. hehe

    And if anything kills it is the humanities and social sciences we safely can blame....;-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    SB needs a 'like' button :)  So what's the tally, lives saved vs lives taken, I wonder?
    Deciding to emulate Galileo's famous Pisa experiment, I took some 500 scientists from each of three branches to the top of the Petronas towers - and dropped them on unsuspecting pedestrians.

    Number of pedestrians hit:
    Biologists - 10
    Chemists - 7
    Physicists - 324

    The experiment is easily replicated - apply to the Tea Party for a grant!
    Ah Patrick,you are a knockout with your humour where would we be without you.Our self confessed"badly educated" english bob has made Heisenburg as confusing to me as he made Charles Darwin's christianity .I always get confused when i get sucked into the hard scientists area.I think I'll leave it to them.