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August 26, 2012

How Long Will You Live?

-- by Dave Johnson

Any "science" story that begins like this probably isn't worth reading, because the very first sentence gets it just wrong,

SINCE 1900, the life expectancy of Americans has jumped to just shy of 80 from 47 years. This surge comes mostly from improved hygiene and nutrition, but also from new discoveries and interventions: everything from antibiotics and heart bypass surgery to cancer drugs that target and neutralize the impact of specific genetic mutations.

The implication is that people generally died at 47 years old then, and 80 now. But what really happened is fewer babies die now, so at birth the average would be 47 then and 80 now. But people then and now can live to about 80 if they aren't killed by something like childhood illness, war, etc.

Note that this is the same fallacy that propels people to think Social Security is a problem, because life expectancy at birth is greater now. This tricks people into thinking that we pay out Social Security longer...

NY Times: How Long Do You Want to Live?

Posted by Dave Johnson at August 26, 2012 5:17 PM


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