Are you more likely to be killed in Iraq or Chicago, revisited

Back in May, the Huffington Post ran a headline that declared Iraq ‘hell’. With over 450 people killed that month alone, I thought that description was apt. But to put American gun violence in perspective, I also took the opportunity to point out that, adjusted for population, the rate of homicide in Iraq roughly mirrored the odds of being shot and killed in Chicago.

Back when I ran those numbers, Iraq was experiencing one homicide for every 73,000 citizens and Chicago was at one for every 75,000. For the mathematically-challenged among you, that meant Chicago was approximately one tick safer than Iraq.

The problem with a tick is that it is often followed by a tock and then another tick and then a big explosion. And that seems to be what’s gone on in Iraq ever since I published my article back in May. Indeed, a recent headline banner on the home page of Huffington Post declared that 2,720 people have died in Iraq since the end of April:

Iraq Huffpo

Or, at least, that’s what i thought it meant.

My first clue that something was off came when I considered the numbers: 2,720 over a period of 7.5 months (rounding down) comes out to only 363 Iraqi deaths a month, a rate that is actually far lower than the 450 who died in May, and based on a larger sample size to boot. In a population of 32,580,000 (2012 estimates lowered Iraq’s population by nearly half a million) that comes out to only one death per 89,834 people. Could it be that Iraq is actually marginally safer than it was back when HuffPo described it as hellish?

Meanwhile, Chicago is nearing the end of one of its safest years on record: 2013 that saw the city dethroned as murder capital of the United States, and last all the way until December 8 before recording its 400th homicide (three weeks better than last year!). In a population of 2,715,000 (population revised slightly upward since last year), 400 homicides over 11.5 months (rounding up from Dec. 8) comes out to one in 78,056. Again, marginally safer than my calculations from 2012.

On its own, this finding would be hardly remarkable. But if Chicago is having such a safe year and Huffington Post is busy trumpeting how dangerous it is to be an Iraqi, why do the numbers appear to suggest that Da Bears ought to pack for the Middle East to improve their safety? Time to strap on my Sherlock hat again.

Turns out, clicking on the Huffington Post’s claim of 2,720 dead takes you to an article titled A Wave Of Violence Sweeps Iraq. According to the article, “[t]he death toll in Iraq this year ranges from some 7,900 to 8,700 people so far, making 2013 the most deadly year for the country since 2008.” Even the mathematically-challenged among you probably noticed that 7,900-8,700 is considerably more than a tick higher than 2,720. So where did this smaller figure come from? And why was it chosen to portray the carnage over the far more compelling, considerably higher figure?

Easy answer: the headline writer couldn’t resist making a pun. 2,720, it turns out, is the number of Iraqis who have died since April 24 — if you only count bombings:

Iraq bombings

I should have known to check @HuffPoSpoilers before spending time on any of this.


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