Understanding Large Numbers:  Looking at Death Toll Comparison Breakdown

Humans are inherently poor at deciphering statistics and large numbers.  “Scale” is difficult to visualize in the human mind.  On paper or on a screen, visual aids can help the concept make sense, but often, once the numbers get so large, we begin to lose the sense of the magnitude of the numbers we’re trying to understand.  The logarithmic scale, for example, is a very handy, non linear scale that is used to represent the earthquake strength, sound loudness, light intensity and pH of solutions.

But it’s not necessarily intuitive.  Using earthquake intensity as an example, as you increase by one integer on the Richter Scale, you are actually describing an increase in earthquake intensity by a factor of 10. In other words, a 6.0 earthquake is 10 times more intense than a 5.0 earthquake.  A 7.0 earthquake is 100 times more intense than a 5.0 earthquake.  An 8.0 earthquake is 1,000 times more intense than a 5.0 earthquake.

So how do we represent the magnitude of, say, the death tolls of events on Earth?  It’s not easy, but Tim Urban from Wait But Why took on challenge.  He noted:

… for a crowd so interested in death, humans know surprisingly little about the actual numbers of people that died in key moments throughout history. Most of us know that 3,000 people died on 9/11, but how many Americans know how many Katrina victims there were, or how many people died in the American Revolution. Did the Christian Crusades kill 100 times as many people as the Vietnam War? Or were they identical in their death tolls? Given how much we talk about historical human tragedies, it seems like something we should have a better handle on.

And so, with data on his side, Tim created the death toll comparison breakdown, starting with an important legend to classify “events”:  general statistics in grey, war/conquest/genocide/democide in blue, terrorism in purple, natural disasters in green, and everything else in orange.

It’s fascinating and shocking at the same time.  Without spoiling the “winner of the largest death toll”, and without further adieu, here’s the breakdown:

 

Death Legend

Death Toll Comparison Breakdown Part 1/3

Death Toll Comparison Breakdown Part 2/3

Death Toll Comparison Breakdown Part 2/3

Source:  WaitButWhy.com

 

Focusing In:  World War II’s Death Toll

If we dive deep into just one of the bubbles – World War 2 – then you need to spend the next 18 minutes watching this video by Neil Halloran. It is an animated data-driven documentary about war and peace. Titled, “The Fallen of World War II“, it looks at the human cost of the second World War and compares the numbers to other wars in history, including trends in recent conflicts.

For the interactive version, ticket payments, and more: http://fallen.io

An animated data-driven documentary about war and peace, The Fallen of World War II looks at the human cost of the second World War and sizes up the numbers to other wars in history, including trends in recent conflicts.

Written, directed, coded, narrated by https://twitter.com/neilhalloran
Sound and music by https://twitter.com/Dolhaz