Safety in Numbers: Our research team reviews 2016

Forget Brexit and Trump. David Bowie’s death was the low point of 2016. Safety in Numbers tries to make sense of the madness in what has been a tough year for superfans.

2016 has been a bad year for mankind. Maybe not bubonic-plague-killing-up-to-60-percent-of-Europe’s-population bad, but still bad enough to have been named by many as the “worst year ever”.

Exhibit A in the case for this argument has been the disproportionately high volume of celebrities heading to the green room in the sky. In April this year – before anyone could fathom of how much worse things would get – the BBC discussed the phenomenon in its number-crunching radio show More or Less. While it included admittedly crude calculations – based on BBC obituaries for the period January to March in the years 2012-2016, it did reveal that there had been more celebrity deaths in the first quarter of 2016 than in Q1 2015 and Q1 2014 combined.

The segment concluded that this phenomenon was most likely down to the advent of mainstream television and popular music in the 1960s, meaning that in the five decades since there has been a greater audience for fame than ever before.

Indeed, while measuring mortality rates is fairly straightforward, measuring ‘fame’ is much more nebulous. This means that (perhaps thankfully) there is no official data on celebrity deaths, so in an attempt to get some perspective Safety in Numbers has turned to the saviour of every student with a short deadline: Wikipedia.

Excluding non-human entries – from seven-year-old racehorse Vautour, who died in November, to the 180-year-old Shawshank Tree, famed for its appearance in The Shawshank Redemption, which ‘died’ in July – Wikipedia lists 5,942 celebrity deaths between January and November 2016 – an incredible 17.7 deaths every day.

However, over the same timeframe in 2015 a total of 5,832 celebrities were reported as deceased – an average of 17.5 per day (allowing for the fact that we have had to endure an extra day of 2016 due to it being a leap year). While this adds up to an extra 110 celebrities (a 1.9 per cent increase), in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t appear that there was any major change between 2015 and 2016.

Furthermore, The Death List, which sets out to correctly predict the 50 celebrities most likely to expire each year – has seen only nine of its 2016 cohort pass on, compared to 14 in 2015 and, indeed, the lowest total in five years.

While you may say that 2016 will be noted for the calibre of celebrity that was mourned (Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Rickman, Wogan. Wogan, for God’s sake!), it’s worth remembering that such celebrities as Leonard Nemoy, Sir Christopher Lee, Ben E King, Lemmy and Jimmy Hill were all notable casualties of 2015 too.

So does this mean that the curse of 2016 has simply been the surprise factor of the deaths reported this year? As Twitter was quick to point out, even Fidel Castro, survivor of 638 assassination attempts by the CIA, could not escape the curse of 2016.

So, having hopefully debunked the curse of 2016 to some extent, Safety in Numbers would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and a prosperous new year. Because, as The Metro recently pointed out, 2017 is only going to get worse…

Merry Christmas!

Written by Chris Jarvis, Head of Research

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