Patterico's Pontifications


It’s All in the Headline

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 3:44 pm

Cori Dauber has an excellent observation about the sensationalistic headline of this article in yesterday’s Dog Trainer. The story is about suicide rates among troops in Iraq, and is introduced with the headline “High Suicide Rate Among Troops Found.”

But the story reports:

The suicide rate for Army soldiers in the Iraq campaign in 2003 was 17.3 per 100,000. . . . That rate was still below the national rate of 21.5 suicides per 100,000 for men ages 20-34, the age range of most soldiers in Iraq.

Dauber notes:

So I could just as legitimately have written a headline reading “Army Suicide Rate Lower Than National Average.” I suspect the parents of American soldiers opening their morning paper might have preferred seeing that, don’t you?

The story also notes that the suicide rate among soldiers in Vietnam was 15.6 per 100,000 — hardly any different.

Dauber concludes:

This is designed for people skimming the paper, who will just glance at a headline, and it isn’t even outrageous anymore. It’s saddening.

I don’t think this is so much an example of liberal bias as a preference for sensationalism. But it sure doesn’t strike me as responsible.

8 Responses to “It’s All in the Headline”

  1. Take the number of suicides of soldiers and divide that by the total number of American soldier deaths in the current Iraqi operation. One gets a figure of roughly 4%. Using the number of suicides out of 100,000 model doesn’t say much.
    The national average is a population sample that is not in combat. Dividing the # of suicides from the national average sample by 100,000 and one gets 0.000215%. What is the number 100,000 supposed to represent? The number of living or dead? If out of 100,000 dead the number of suicides is 21.5,then the 4% figure is truly alarming.

    Hugo (888c90)

  2. I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. To the extent that I do, you are using different denominators.

    More people are dying in combat in Iraq per 100,000 people than are dying in this country per 100,000. (The death rate for people not in combat from age 15-44 is between 90 and 177 per 100,000.) If you divide 21 by 90 (on the low end) or 177 (on the high end) you get a much higher percentage than 4%.

    I don’t understand your point, but I’m not sure you do either.

    Patterico (f7b3e5)

  3. Number of American dead so far, 591. Number of those who are dead by suicide,21. Suicides represent 3.55% of total deaths.
    Number of American dead killed in action in the Vietnam War, 47,369. Number of known suicides, 379. Suicides among American Vietnam War soldiers represent .8% of dead. 4.44 times less than what we have in Iraq. I think there is reason to be alarmed.
    If I was a Four star general looking at the breakdown of numbers on the casualty lists, I would like to know the percentages. Why would I care about number of deaths per 100,000? Almost 4% are taking their own life!
    The national average of suicide for men 20-34 years of age is 21.5 per 100,000(living men I assume).
    Percentage: .0215%(my math was wrong in my earlier post).What would the percentage be nationally among dead men aged 20-34? I wonder if the % would be similar to the casualty % from the current war?
    My point is that the reporting might be perceived as sensationalism. But there might be something really worth worrying about regarding our soldiers safety.

    Hugo (90a2a5)

  4. I understand your point better, but dead men aged 20-34 is (as I already stated) roughly 100-150 per 100,000. That undercuts your point severely, I think.

    Patterico (f7b3e5)

  5. Huh? Dead men aged 20-34 is 100-150 per 100,000.
    100-150 suicides? out 100,000 deaths or 100,000 living people? Let’s assume 100,000 deaths/year
    Iraq theater: 591 deaths in a year, 21 suicides, I don’t know how many of them are in the 20-34 age group.
    21/591= 3.553299%

    The time frame is a factor too.
    Vietnam war lasted 90 months with 4.2 suicides on avg per month. thats 50 suicides avg per year out of 6315 deaths on avg. per year. Iraq situation is 21 suicides in the year out 591 deaths in the year.
    I guess Mr. Paulose would still throttle me, but I don’t see how the national average(which could be quite high) figures on suicide would be the best way to see the importance of the situation.
    The 100,000 are gone and 21.5 of them are gone by their own means.
    In Iraq 591 are gone but not forgotten(hopefully)
    and 21 of them gone by their own devices.
    Any body else besides Patterico out there to see where I may have a perceptual problem?
    I apologize for dwelling too long on this unpleasant subject.

    Hugo (90a2a5)

  6. Hugo,

    You said that suicides as a percentage of the number of deaths is higher in Iraq than in Vietnam. The most obvious answer is: no kidding. It’s called better body armor and better firepower. These things protect you from the other guy’s gun, not your own.

    Maybe if you said why you think this is a bad thing?

    Obviously, with a suicide rate of Iraqi soldiers – men and women on a dangerous deployment, separated from their families – lower than the civilian average, the military isn’t ignoring suicide.

    The deaths are sad. Those guys are my brothers and sisters. But it’s unavoidable. It happens in boot, it happens in garrison, it happens during training ops, and it happens during a deployment. The most the military can do is offer services, and as the article said, it needs to do a better job for the front-line troops.

    But the article also blew through the most signficant factor. Again, suicide rates in Iraq are lower than those of the general population.

    If anything, the correct headline would be, “Low Suicide Rate Among Troops Found.” (Well, not grammatically correct ..)

    I’m glad to hear that. I want to hear more of it. But leave it to the DT to express hopeful news about the military in the most pessimistic form possible.

    bob (63bac3)

  7. Thanks for the post. The news is sad, I just have questions about whether the methods used to calculate the statistics are applicable.
    I guess that if there were no casualties from enemy fire from now on, but only a few more suicides(hopefully not), then comparing that with the national avg. would give a different impression.
    I guess I may have given myself too bad a picture by seeing how many suicides there were by number of deployed troops in Iraq compared to Vietnam.
    May 2005 be less fraught with pain.

    Hugo (2fabc6)

  8. I can’t imagine going to war on this level without proper mental confidence. The war brings SHELL SHOCK, which causes depression and can lead to suicide. We need to fix this issue as it is hundreds of our troops are falling because of our damn predient, DONT RE-ELECT BUSH- Vote Kerry, the man who was born to lead our troops and a man who can bring peace to the Middle East!

    Robert (dee02a)

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