You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist

If you are worried that ISIS might strike the United States and want to prevent the loss of American lives, consider urging Congress to invest in diabetes and Alzheimer’s research.

Terrorism is effective in doing what its name says: inspiring profound fear. But despite unremitting coverage of the Paris attacks, an objective examination of the facts shows that terrorism is an insignificant danger to the vast majority of people in the West.

You, your family members, your friends, and your community are all significantly more at risk from a host of threats that we usually ignore than from terrorism. For instance, while the Paris attacks left some 130 people dead, roughly three times that number of French citizens died on that same day from cancer.

In the United States, an individual’s likelihood of being hurt or killed by a terrorist (whether an Islamist radical or some other variety) is negligible.

Consider, for instance, that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been no more likely to die at the hands of terrorists than being crushed to death by unstable televisions and furniture. Meanwhile, in the time it has taken you to read until this point, at least one American has died from a heart attack. Within the hour, a fellow citizen will have died from skin cancer. Roughly five minutes after that, a military veteran will commit suicide. And by the time you turn the lights off to sleep this evening, somewhere around 100 Americans will have died throughout the day in vehicular accidents – the equivalent of “a plane full of people crashing, killing everyone on board, every single day.” Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus at Princeton University, has observed that “[e]ven in countries that have been targets of intensive terror campaigns, such as Israel, the weekly number of casualties almost never [comes] close to the number of traffic deaths.”

No one in the United States will die from ISIS’s —or anyone’s — terrorism today.

What accounts for the fear that terrorism inspires, considering that its actual risk in the United States and other Western countries is so low? The answer lies in basic human psychology. Scholars have repeatedly found that individuals have strong tendencies to miscalculate risk likelihood in predictable ways.

For instance, individuals’ sense of control directly influences their feeling about whether they are susceptible to a given risk. Thus, for instance, although driving is more likely to result in deadly accidents than flying, individuals tend to feel that the latter is riskier than the former. Flying involves giving up control to the pilot. The resulting sense of vulnerability increases the feeling of risk, inflating it far beyond the actual underlying risks.

When people dread a particular hazard, and when it can harm large numbers at once, it’s far more likely that someone will see it as riskier than it is–and riskier than more serious hazards without those characteristics. For instance, people have been found to estimate that the number killed each year by tornadoes and floods are about the same as those killed by asthma and diabetes. But the latter (diabetes, in particular) account for far more deaths each year than the former. In fact, in the year that study was conducted, actual annual diabetes deaths were estimated in the  tens of thousands while fewer than 1,000 people died in tornadoes.

Islamist terrorism has all three of these characteristics, inspiring excessive fear — surely by design. For instance, the Paris attacks harmed large numbers; its victims could have done very little to escape it, since the timing and location of such attacks are unpredictable; and the idea of being shot or blown up by a mysterious set of masked extremists is incredibly dreadful.

When we miscalculate risks, we sometimes behave in ways that are riskier than those we are trying to avoid. For instance, in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, millions of Americans elected not to fly. A significant proportion decided to drive to their destinations instead. Driving is more dangerous than flying. And so one scholar of risk, Gerd Gigerenzer, calculated that more people died from the resulting automobile accidents than the total number of individuals who were killed aboard the four hijacked planes Sept. 11.

Kahneman believes that the news media’s disproportionate focus on cases of Western terrorism reinforces such mistaken perceptions. As he explains in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” “extremely vivid image[s] of death and damage” resulting from terrorist attacks are “reinforced by media attention and frequent conversation,” leaving us with highly accessible memories of such events. When people who have been exposed to such coverage later assess how likely more terrorism is, such events come readily to mind — and so they are likely to assign probabilities biased upward.

America’s panicked obsession with Islamist terrorism is understandable but may skew public policies in costly ways. In particular, a serious public policy problem emerges when unsubstantiated fear fuels excessive public spending. More than a decade after the Sept. 11  terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has committed trillions of dollars to fighting the war on terror. Certainly, some – perhaps even most – of this funding is warranted.

Consider, however, that federal spending on improving vehicular safety and research for Alzheimer’s and diabetes pales in comparison. Yet traffic deaths, Alzheimer’s and diabetes account for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year in the United States.

Whether diverting counterterrorism funding to research in Alzheimer’s and diabetes research would save more American lives depends on the respective marginal benefits. But our government is unlikely to objectively evaluate its investments as long as most Americans have outsized fears of the threat of Islamist terrorist attacks.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the United States and other Western countries are facing no risk of more terror. Quite the contrary: We will almost certainly be attacked by terrorists again during the coming years and decades.

But people will also die from other unlikely events during this same period: a number of unlucky individuals will die after falling out of bed. Others will die of head injuries from coconuts falling from trees. The likelihood that you or those you love will be directly affected by any of this in your lifetime is exceedingly small.

And so perhaps the best way to counter terrorists is to do just as the French pianist who played “Imagine” in public outside the Bataclan did after the attack, or as did the widower whose wife died in the attack, and whose open letter to the terrorists included this: “I will insult you with my happiness.” We can refuse to give them the fear they so desperately want from us.

Health-Care Reform Won’t Fix What Really Hurts American Health

The public-health crisis we’re facing won’t be solved by access to health insurance.

these charts may actually understate the extent of “deaths by despair.” The obesity epidemic is carrying with it increases in chronic health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, and make no mistake — obesity is exploding in the United States.

.. “If it weren’t for addicts,” he says, “I wouldn’t have a job.”

.. They’re killing themselves, and the best health care and the most luxurious “Cadillac” health plans won’t stop their slide into oblivion.

.. It’s too simple to say that health insurance and the current debate in Washington doesn’t matter to public health. It obviously does. But it’s fair to say that it may well matter less than healthy marriages, strong families, decent jobs, and a vibrant faith.

.. the plight of the white working class well: “Your family life has fallen apart, you don’t know your kids anymore, [and] all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all.” And so, to “soothe the beast,” you turn to substances, to food, and — sometimes — ultimately to death itself.

.. there is no simple solution to this crisis, there is no simple explanation. For every attempt at a short summary — it’s about jobs; it’s about marriage; it’s about welfare and dependency — there’s an answer that complicates the picture.

.. “African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole

Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of Royal Tradition

While vacationing in the south of France, Prince bin Salman spotted a 440-foot yacht floating off the coast. He dispatched an aide to buy the ship, the Serene, which was owned by Yuri Shefler, a Russian vodka tycoon. The deal was done within hours, at a price of approximately 500 million euros (roughly $550 million today), according to an associate of Mr. Shefler and a Saudi close to the royal family. The Russian moved off the yacht the same day.

.. His seemingly boundless ambitions have led many Saudis and foreign officials to suspect that his ultimate goal is not just to transform the kingdom, but also to shove aside the current crown prince, his 57-year-old cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, to become the next king. Such a move could further upset his relatives and — if successful — give the country what it has never seen: a young king who could rule the kingdom for many decades.

.. Many young Saudis admire him as an energetic representative of their generation who has addressed some of the country’s problems with uncommon bluntness. The kingdom’s news media have built his image as a hardworking, businesslike leader less concerned than his predecessors with the trappings of royalty.

Others see him as a power-hungry upstart who is risking instability by changing too much, too fast.

.. The crown prince has diabetes, and suffers from the lingering effects of an assassination attempt in 2009 by a jihadist who detonated a bomb he had hidden in his rectum.

.. His younger cousin, meanwhile, has worked to remain in the spotlight, touring world capitals, speaking with foreign journalists, beingphotographed with the Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg and presenting himself as a face of a new Saudi Arabia.

.. the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which since it was begun last year has failed to dislodge the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies from the Yemeni capital. The war has driven much of Yemen toward famine and killed thousands of civilians while costing the Saudi government tens of billions of dollars.

.. Although all agreed that the kingdom had to respond when the Houthis seized the Yemeni capital and forced the government into exile, Prince bin Salman took the lead, launching the war in March 2015 without full coordination across the security services.

.. Prince bin Nayef, who won the respect of Saudis and American officials for dismantling Al Qaeda in the kingdom nearly a decade ago and now sees it taking advantage of chaos in Yemen

.. This is part of what analysts say is Prince bin Salman’s attempt to foster a sense of Saudi national identity that has not existed since the kingdom’s founding in 1932.

“There has been a surge of Saudi nationalism since the campaign in Yemen began, with the sense that Saudi Arabia is taking independent collective action,”

.. “His main message is that Saudi Arabia is a force to be reckoned with,” Mr. Katulis said.

.. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies, which means that Prince bin Salman was given all of his powers by a vote of one: his own father.

.. Prince bin Nayef was the first of the founder’s grandsons to be put in line. Many hailed the move because of the prince’s success at fighting Al Qaeda and because he has only daughters, leading many to hope he would choose a successor based on merit rather than paternity.

.. Read in one way, the documents are an ambitious blueprint to change the Saudi way of life. Read in another, they are a scathing indictment of how poorly the kingdom has been run by Prince bin Salman’s elders.

.. Read in one way, the documents are an ambitious blueprint to change the Saudi way of life. Read in another, they are a scathing indictment of how poorly the kingdom has been run by Prince bin Salman’s elders.

.. Many members of the royal family remain wary of the young prince’s projects and ultimate ambitions. Some mock him as the “Prince of the Vision” and complain about his army of well-paid foreign consultants and image-makers.

.. Many members of the royal family remain wary of the young prince’s projects and ultimate ambitions. Some mock him as the “Prince of the Vision” and complain about his army of well-paid foreign consultants and image-makers.

.. Personal relationships have long been the bedrock of American-Saudi relations, yet the Obama administration has struggled to find someone to develop a rapport with the prince. The job has largely fallen to Secretary of State John Kerry

.. In September 2015, dinner at Mr. Kerry’s house ended with Prince bin Salman playing Beethoven on the piano for the secretary of state and the other guests.

.. His desire to reimagine the Saudi state is reflected in his admiration — some even call it envy — for the kingdom’s more modern and progressive neighbor in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates.

.. “If the king’s health starts to deteriorate, Mohammed bin Salman is very likely to try to get Mohammed bin Nayef out of the picture,” said Mr. Riedel, the former C.I.A. analyst.