Donald Trump Jr tweeted a rather old (and idiotic) meme the other day, sparking conversation about refugees. There are many, many things wrong with that meme, but others far smarter than I have covered them. Instead, I want to focus on the bad math and conversation about risk contained therein.
In the meme it shows a bowl of Skittles, which I estimate holds probably two bags, so about 100 candies. Assuming Junior Trump’s statement correct, 3 of those would kill you. That would put the risk of death at 3 in 100, or 3%. Rather high. But the true risk of death from refugees is not 3 in 100. It’s 1 in 3.64 billion. In other words, 0.00000003%. Effectively zero. Whereas the risk of dying from food poisoning is 0.00006%. You are far more likely to die eating actually poisoned Skittles then by refugees represented by Skittles.
But it is also important to remember risk is a part of everyday life. If you get out of bed in the morning, you are taking a risk. If you get in a car, you are taking a risk. If you enter a high-rise building, you are taking a risk. Let’s put some risks into perspective using the same candy metaphor:
Killed by Cancer: 1 Skittle in 540 is poisoned
Killed by Car Accidents: 1 Skittle in 8,200
Homicide (non-terrorist related): 1 Skittle in 22,00
Drowning in the Bathtub: 1 Skittle in 950,000
Killed by Home Appliances: 1 Skittle in 1.5 million
Killed by Deer: 1 Skittle in 2 million
Commercial Aviation Accident: 1 in 2.3 million
Notice that all of these have significantly higher risks of death than refugees. So, let me flip the script: Mr. Trump, Jr: if I had you a bowl of Skittles, and just 1 in 8,200 of them are poisoned, do you take a handful?