In an earlier post you may have discovered that 69 was the Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Year for 2017. Unless you Googled it, I’d be prepared to bet at very long odds that you didn’t predict that the reason for that choice was Kim Kardashian.
In January of 2017, the ‘American reality television personality, entrepreneur and socialite’ (job description stolen from wikipedia) sent the following tweet.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) January 29, 2017
As you can see, the ’69’ refers to the average number of people in the US killed per year by lawnmowers. The point of the tweet, which contained the single word ‘Statistics’ together with the table, was to contrast this and other mortality rates against the much lower death rate due to islamic terrorism. The context for this comparison is that the tweet was sent at around the same time Donald Trump had invoked the threat of islamic terrorism as a motivation for restricting travel to the US from several muslim countries. And the point is that, statistically speaking, lawnmowers are a considerably greater threat to the life of a US citizen than are islamic terrorists. In other words, yes, terrorism is awful and horrific, but the magnitude of the danger needs to be put in perspective, and not used as a smokescreen for xenophobic border controls.
To be fair, there’s been some discussion in the statistical literature about whether the table in Kim Kardashian’s tweet actually gives a proper assessment of the relative risk of being killed in a terrorist attack compared to other causes. The point seems to be that one can control one’s risk of death by lawnmower by simply not cutting the grass, but there’s little one can do to avoid being the subject of terrorism. Personally, I think that’s taking the depth of Kim’s argument a little too far. The point of the tweet – that the risk of death due to terrorist activity needs to be judged in the context of risk of death from other causes – is surely valid anyway. But if you’re interested, you can read more about the relative risks of lawnmowers and terrorists here.
As a footnote, if I’d been on the judging panel for 2017 International Statistic of the Year, I think I’d have been much more likely to award it to 737, the average number of US citizens who are killed annually through falling out of bed. Or maybe 11,737, the average number of Americans shot dead by other Americans. No, wait, the Smartodds loves Statistics International Statistic of the Year for 2017 goes to… ’21’, the average number of Americans killed annually by armed toddlers.