STUMP » Articles » Having Fun with Mortality: The Day Nobody Died, the Oldest People Keep Dying, and Don't Drink and Walk » 10 August 2018, 17:52

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Having Fun with Mortality: The Day Nobody Died, the Oldest People Keep Dying, and Don't Drink and Walk  


10 August 2018, 17:52

Sorry guys, I just love doing these things.


Maybe I could have gone with Longevity instead of mortality (because most of what I have below is fun), but hey. I’m not big on headlines.


The paper MacLean works at is in Prince Edwards Island, which has a population of only 150,000. The death rate for all of Canada is about 7.5 per 1,000 annually.

That works out to about 1,148 expected total deaths for PEI, which is about 3.15 deaths per day.

For something that (relatively) low, and you can have only whole numbers of deaths, we generally use a Poisson distribution to model the number of deaths in a short period of time.

If I assume a Poisson distribution and an average 3.15 deaths per day, I get this probability distribution:

Okay, a 4% chance. But there are 365 days a year, so you’d expect about 15 days where nobody died.

The thing is, we know more people die in the winter than the summer, so let’s try an average of 2 deaths per day:

Anyway, under either situation, 0 deaths isn’t a huge probability, but it’s non-zero. One would expect this to come up from time to time.

The other thing is, it takes time to put an obituary together for a family member, not everybody who dies gets an obit, etc. So something else may have happened. Also, some obits may be for people who used to live in PEI and moved away, blah blah blah.

Still, it’s not that unusual for a place where you usually see 1 – 4 obits per day that you see none. It happens.

But maybe something else is going on…


Is a 150-year-old human possible?

It’s possible that someone reading this column now, on the second weekend of July 2018, will be alive to see the resolution of a $1 billion bet between Jay Olshanksy, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of public health, and Steven Austad, chairman of biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Eighteen years ago, the two friends began their discussion on an issue that long has intrigued scientists and laymen alike: What is the limit of the human life span? Given that advances in medicine and nutrition dramatically lengthened average life expectancy over the 20th century, where is the ultimate horizon? Will the longevity record — now held by Jeanne Calment of France, who was 122 years old when she died in 1997 — keep getting broken?

Austad, whose research focuses on aging, had made a bold prediction at an academic conference: In the year 2150, he said, there will be a 150-year-old human.

Olshansky, also an expert on aging, wasn’t having it.

They decided to make it interesting. They each put $150 into an investment fund and signed a contract specifying that the heirs of the winner will cash it out in 2150.

Early published reports on the wager said the payoff would be from $200 million to $500 million given good market returns, but the men have since doubled their initial investments and they now estimate the final jackpot at roughly $1 billion.

I hope I live to see the bet pay out. (I would be 176 years old at that time).

But let’s do or find a graph — how old is the oldest person?

From 538: Why The Oldest Person In The World Keeps Dying (oh, that poor person)

Now here’s something to consider (from 538):

Robert Young, a guy with a remarkable name considering he’s the senior claims researcher for the Gerontology Research Group and the senior gerontology consultant for Guinness World Records, refers to this phenomenon as the “rectangularization of the mortality curve.” People are getting older on average, but the oldest are still dying around the same age as ever. Thus, when one of them does take over as the oldest, she doesn’t have much time left. The average age of the oldest-ever people has increased over the past 40 years from around 112 to around 114.

Young’s work is far from done. He points out that most verified supercentenarians come from Japan and the U.S. While much of that geographical specialization may come from what he terms “lifestyle differences” between those places and the rest of the world, he thinks that as data collection gets better, we’ll start to discover more and more supercentenarians in other countries, most of which only started systematically keeping records of their citizens in the mid-20th century.

In fact, although Talley is one of only three people left in the world who Young has verified to have been born before 1900, he believes there are perhaps five others scattered across China, India and Brazil. (Strangely, the 20th century is considered to have started Jan. 1, 1901, so there are a handful of other, verified women still alive who were also born in the 19th century.)

A big part of the issue is whether births are recorded. Plenty of people have claimed to have been much older than they really were, and in a time when people did not have birth certificates, it becomes difficult to check. In the case of one of the people profiled, they found a Census record and a marriage certificate that helped determine the woman’s age.

So the 150-year-old bet isn’t looking fabulous, but who knows?


This one isn’t as fun, but look — if you shouldn’t drive, you should probably not be trying to walk home, either.

Thousands of inebriated pedestrians die each year in traffic accidents

Whether they’re emptying out of bars, going home from football watch parties or trying to get across the highway, drunk walkers are dying on the roads in alarming numbers nationwide.

A third of pedestrians killed in crashes in 2016 were over the legal alcohol limit for drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s nearly 2,000 people — up more than 300 since 2014.

Being drunk can affect your judgment and reaction time and result in poor decision-making and risky behavior, such as crossing an intersection against the light or cutting across a road midblock, safety experts say. You may not even be thinking about whether drivers can see you.

And while there are lots of programs designed to reduce drunken driving and improve pedestrian safety, there’s little out there aimed at impaired walkers.

“We’ve done a good job of educating people about drunken driving and the dangers,” Adkins said. “But we haven’t reminded people that if you’re too hammered to get behind the wheel, you may be too hammered to walk home in the dark.”

Drunk walkers

Pedestrian deaths jumped 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, even as other U.S. traffic deaths dropped.

Drivers often don’t see drunk pedestrians until it’s too late, Cicchino said, especially at night, when most deaths occur. The victims, typically men ages 21 to 59, are not crossing at an intersection, research shows.

“If your reflexes are impaired, you might be stumbling into the road and not able to act as quickly,” Cicchino said.

In Austin, where a dozen drunk walkers died in 2016 and seven died in 2017, many crashes were on a stretch of Interstate 35, an eight-lane, high-speed highway divided by a concrete barrier, said Pat Oborski, a police detective. The highway is lined with fast-food restaurants on one side and low-cost motels on the other.

Drunk pedestrians cross the highway, going back and forth between the motels and restaurants on frontage roads, Oborski says. While there’s a bridge over the highway about a quarter-mile away, some people figure it’s easier to run across than to walk to the bridge.

Adkins said that while drivers and pedestrians have a shared responsibility to minimize risks, roads should be re-engineered to include pedestrian medians, barriers and bridges to create a safe system for pedestrians and drivers.

“We want to help everyone get home safely,” he said. “Humans are always going to make an error. It shouldn’t cost them their life.”

Well, some errors are extremely stupid, and you can pay for it.

It does make sense to make some roads more walkable – for instance, I came across a lot of drunk walkers in NYC when I lived there… but there are big sidewalks, lots of light, and short enough blocks that usually cars can get going only so fast and jaywalking isn’t as attractive. I have been “hit” by taxis and even a bus in NYC (that’s a stupid story), but because they were going so slow (they generally hit me at the corner, because they were doing a right on red) that I mainly got pushed back… not even a bruise. (note: these were in broad daylight, and I was sober) In Manhattan, it was the cyclists you had to watch out for.

That was Manhattan — in Queens, we had lots of pedestrian deaths on Queens Boulevard, because the distance between lights was too far, so many people would jaywalk. These weren’t drunken walkers, but people just trying to get from the subway to their apartments on the other side of the boulevard. Again, most of these accidents were in daylight hours, when there were lots of cars and lots of pedestrians.

Anyway, get a ride, even if it’s short. I live really close to the train station, and even though I could walk home from the station, when I’ve been partying a bit too hard in the city, I get a ride. Of course, part of that is because I don’t want to deal with the deer along the way from the station to my house (and there may be coyotes and bears to deal with now, too). Just a safer way to go.

Party responsibly, y’all!

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