A really old spreadsheet

There’s a lovely piece in Pieria about a data visualisation exhibition at the British Library, positing John Graunt’s analysis of London deaths as an early spreadsheet.

And yes, there were some errors in it.


Are boom periods bad for us?

Apparently, in the USA at least, death rates rise during periods of economic expansion and fall during economic downturns. I don’t know whether this holds in the UK as well. One possible reason for this is that when people feel well off they eat and drink more (and more unhealthily). Another is that people drive more, so there are more car accidents.

Yet another, according to a recent study, is that in good times nursing homes find it more difficult to hire care assistants because of the low wages.

Modelling future mortality rates is seriously difficult.



Following the micromort, a 1-in-a-million chance of sudden death, we now have the microlife, which is 30 minutes off your life expectancy.

Both micromorts and microlives are good units for comparing risks:

Here are some things that would, on average, cost a 30-year-old man 1 microlife:

  • Smoking 2 cigarettes
  • Drinking 7 units of alcohol (eg 2 pints of strong beer)
  • Each day of being 5 Kg overweight

The full article, which is well worth reading, explores the relationship between microlives and micromorts, and points out that different branches of the UK government appear to place similar values on them.


Cause of death

Cause of death statistics are notoriously unreliable, for several reasons. Most notably, most of the information comes from death certificates, which only have space for a single cause. Often, there are a number of factors which together resulted in the death, and it’s rather random which cause is chosen, and which manifestation of it: proximate, ultimate, or something in between.

You might think that an autopsies would help, but comparatively few of them are performed, and in any case they might not produce accurate results: around one in four are of miserable quality, apparently. Autopsies are done the old fashioned way, with scalpels, but it appears that using scanning technology might be quicker, cheaper, and possibly as accurate.

Actuarial Uncertainty

Getting rates in a mess

Another good blog post from Understanding Uncertainty: for once not based on a howler from the British press. Instead, it’s based on a howler from the German press – High suicide rate in German forces serving abroad – every fifth soldier takes his own life. They actually meant to say one in five of deaths among soldiers serving abroad.

The post goes on to discuss whether the suicide rate is higher or lower than would be expected, and along the way gives some explanations of the concepts behind exposed to risk (without actually using the term). A great example of how to explain something that can get pretty technical in an uncomplicated way. If only most actuaries could do the same.