It’s not the data, it’s how you present it…

The BBC managed the spectacular headline “US army suicides hit 26-year high”. The BBC go on to add some colour relating to psychology and the like. What they don’t mention is that “the overall suicide rate for the United States was 13.4 per 100,000 people. It was 21.1 per 100,000 people for all men aged 17 to 45, compared to a rate of 17.8 for men in the Army.” (CNN)

In other words, the average US male of age to serve in the military is more likely to kill himself than those who actually serve. So, a big non-story to put on the BBC front page with accompanying dramatic headline.

The BBC also report that “The highest number recorded was 102 in 1991, the year of the Gulf War – but more soldiers were on active duty then, meaning the rate per 100,000 soldiers was lower than in 2006.”

Helpful explanation you’d think, except that the 1st Gulf war only lasted about 6/7 months and involved very little ground combat. So not such a helpful comparison after all. The BBC, as usual, can’t resist an anti-American story.

(main data, thrust of argument, and headline, via this site. )

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14 Responses to It’s not the data, it’s how you present it…

  1. Ralph says:

    The US Army during time of war has a lower suicide than the general populations of 19 countries including Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, and the BBC utopia of Cuba. Those figures are based on both sexes combined, if you look at men only the US Army rate is lower than aroung 40 countries including such hell holes as the Seychelles and Australia.


  2. Effing and Blinding says:

    [Ef&B – interesting claim if true, but you’ll need to substantiate it before we’re interested. Generally, swearing that a source is “honest and reliable, guv” is not sufficient. The Moderator]


  3. tom atkins says:

    compare and contrast with Russia’s announcement that it will resume cold war style dumby nuclear bomber attacks on the UK down the North Sea, that will necessate resumed RAF interception flights.

    – Their doing that “because they can now afford the oil” and “they’re involved in a diplomatic spat with the UK” (but they’re good blokes really you know because they’re not killing babies in Iraq)


  4. Effing and Blinding says:

    Moderator – apologies, can I rephrase:

    My question is this: has the annual death rate in the British military risen or fallen since 2003. All I said was that I know a bloke in the MoD who says the latter – the deaths in combat have been offset by reductions in suicides and accidents.

    Has anyone heard anything along these lines or has my mate got it wrong?

    I would imagine this information is publicly available (??) and accurately measurable (i.e. it isn’t a figure that lends itself to margin for error – they are either dead or not dead).

    Anyone know? If my mate is right, it puts the BBC report in a new light (though of course, I am not attempting to make light of the combat deaths that have occurred).


  5. andycanuck says:

    They also don’t define whether “active duty” means the same thing as actual “combat duty”.


  6. dave t says:

    My own regiment has had three suicides all of them outwith combat tours and all of them after the soldier left the Army. Over a period of 33 years that’s one per 11 years.

    In fact asking around it would appear that the suicide rate is dropping within the coalition Armies as the lads and lasses are doing what they trained for – it gives them something to live for rather than get all fed up and depressed, turning to booze or drugs and then sadly taking their own lives. Any suicide is sad but for the BBC to try and use this to make a silly little point is truly low.


  7. dave t says:

    Mudville Warrior has a counterargument

    “I will argue statistics –

    Suicides of Military Personnel are essentially statistically unchanged since 2002, 119 suicides/million active duty personnel.

    Full Stats

    Click to access Death_Rates.pdf

    In 2004 there were 4,316 Suicides in the 15-24 Age Group of the General population.CDC out of a total 15-24 Age group population of 38 Million Source

    for a rate of 113 Suicides/million population.

    The military has a slightly higher suicide rate than a statistically similar age group. The military also is disproportionately male, and males are 7 to 8 times more likely to commit suicide. (Woman tend to make poor attempts)

    If TNR wants to do a story a story on an alarming crisis in Suicide rates they should start here.

    “Women who receive implants for breast enhancement are three times more likely to commit suicide, according to a new report that offers a sobering view of an increasingly popular surgery.”


    DT: So it depends on where you take your stats from. CCN are not exactly fair and balanced either, indeed they might almost be the equivalent of the BBC as far as the Yanks are concerned which is why their forces turn CNN off in many bases in Iraq! No wonder the Beeb used this story!


  8. dave t says:

    CNN report top link:

    # In 2006, 101 soldiers committed suicide, up from 88 in 2005, report says
    # 101 includes two deaths in which there has not been a final ruling

    So CNN/BBC claim 101 deaths despite that NOT being the true figure as it may change!

    Fake but accurate…..


  9. Ralph says:

    The bigger story, one which would involve some actual investigation rather than rehashing AP reports, is why so many countries have a suicide rate that is higher than a military force in active service.


  10. dave t says:

    Meanwhile Fox News give you the report and what the authors said:,4670,ArmySuicides,00.html

    Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, told a Pentagon press conference that the primary reason for suicide is “failed intimate relationships, failed marriages.”

    She said that although the military is worried about the stress caused by repeat deployments and tours of duty that have been stretched to 15 months, it has not found a direct relationship between suicides and combat or deployments.

    “However, we do know that frequent deployments put a real strain on relationships, especially on marriages. So we believe that part of the increase is related to the increased stress in relationships,” she said.

    “Very often a young soldier gets a ‘Dear John’ or ‘Dear Jane’ e-mail and then takes his weapon and shoots himself,” she said.

    DT: Check the difference between the balance shown by Fox in this report (giving opposing views etc) with that of CNN/BBC which omits rather a lot which would undermine their story’s unbalanced view looking only at one side.


  11. Rob says:

    Interesting that those suicide rates on Wikipedia show that Communist/ex-Communist paradises like Cuba, Hungary, Slovenia etc are at the top of the list. Bad news for the Beeb there – you can’t get a more thorough refutation of a world view than someone killing themselves rather than live through it.

    As for Scotland…!


  12. dave t says:

    Well…whiskey, fat women and BBC Scotland “news” bulletins as well as the ridiculous Scottish Noosnite are enough to push lots of us over the edge…. but Biased BBC and the glorious countryside up here keeps me sane!


  13. ed says:

    Dave T- nice to hear the site has some utility! Thanks too for your comments. CNN are indeed not fair and balanced, but on this occasion included some useful details- with disclaimers though.

    Actually, I think in a way the most annoying thing is that the BBC is bothered about this- I can understand an internal US debate about this story, but for an international audience it’s just anti-US, “US-in-Crisis blah blah blah” porn. Without any workable foundation, I might add.


  14. Wolf Pangloss says:

    Funny that if you read the background material it turns out that the real cause of the increased suicides is wives and girlfriends breaking up with soldiers. Does the drumbeat of negative and anti-war editorializing contribute to the decisions of wives and girlfriends to give up on their husbands and boyfriends? If so, how much guilt do anti-war activists bear?