Why were we actually taught arithmetics?

Or: how to make headlines nowadays on the basis of absolute numbers and thus spread fear and terror unnecessarily.

On 23 February, in typical American dramatic Hollywood style, the newly-appointed Joe Biden and his First Lady went to the White House to commemorate the victims of the Corona pandemic. 

One of the things that stood out was the statement that more Americans have now fallen victim to the Corona virus than there were American deaths in the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War combined. [1 ] This statement seemed so immense to us that we really wanted to take a closer look at these figures. Particularly because this sentence was diligently quoted in the social media in the days that followed, which of course always led to quarrels and escalation, a behaviour that we unfortunately have to observe too often as soon as two different approaches to the Corona virus meet.

Since our concern is, as we know, that of de-escalation, we are – as always – playing the ball, and not, as is the case in a society where defamation is almost considered a peccadillo, the man. The ball in this case is the bare figures.

The Two World Wars and the Vietnam War

In the First World War, which raged from 1914-1918, around 18.5 million people lost their lives, 117,465 of whom were Americans. [2] (Missing persons are not counted; this is one of the reasons why one finds many contributions that estimate the number of victims of World War I much higher). In order not to give the critical reader any reason for doubt, we will simply adhere to the lower figures, accepting that this tragedy can obviously never be recorded exactly in figures, since people were not recorded statistically as precisely back then as they are today.

In the Second World War in 1939-1945, 60-70 million people lost their lives, about 418,500 of whom were Americans. [3]

The Vietnam War lasted from 1961-1975 and claimed 1,303,200 military lives, of which 58,200 were American soldiers [4]. There are no concrete figures on the total number of Vietnamese casualties, but since poison gas was used extensively in the warfare, the number of Vietnamese victims is estimated at 2-5 million people.

Laut Statista ist die Weltbevölkerung zwischen den Jahren 1900 und 1950 von 1.65 Milliarden auf 2.54 Milliarden Menschen angestiegen. Im Jahr 1970 lag sie bereits bei 3.7 Milliarden Menschen und heute beläuft die Weltbevölkerung sich auf etwa 7.790.000.000 Menschen.

In 1900 there were 75,994,575 Americans, in 1950 there were about 151,325,798 and by 1970 there were 203,211,926. Today the number of Americans amounts to approximately 330 million people.

We now come to Covid-19

As many of us know, it is often bemoaned that not all people who find themselves in these statistics actually died from the Corona virus. Sometimes the virus was indeed the cause, but sometimes it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, as age and/or comorbidities no longer allowed any additional leeway. And then there is this statistical “simplification” that all the deceased who tested positive were also included in the statistics. Things that really ought to be clarified, don’t you think? 

But let’s just assume that the official figure of Covid-19 fatalities is indeed correct, then we have the following official figures that you can find everywhere:

Worldwide, 2,593,230 deaths are attributed to the Corona virus, of which 524,652 are in the Americas (as of 8/3/2021).

You can already guess what comes next: in order to compare these figures with each other, we now have to put them in relation to each other. After all, we don’t want to compare apples and oranges. 

But for the sake of simplicity, let’s devote ourselves first to the absolute numbers, because in our sensationalist world this has obviously developed into a very modern tendency that is unfortunately all too rarely questioned. 

 World War 1World War 2VietnamCoronadifference
(as of 08.3. 2021)

As you can clearly see from these figures, even the daring look at the absolute numbers does not really make the American president’s statement seem accurate. If we now look at the relative figures, i.e. these deaths in relation to the world population, we get the following results:

The figures for world population on Statista and also other official sites are only documented in 50-year sections. In order not to give the critical reader any reason for concern, we have referred to 1900 for the relative figures in World War 1, 1950 for World War 2 and 1970 for the Vietnam War. This may result in small deviations in the percentage figures, but these are more likely to be in the critical reader’s favour.

Did Mr. Biden or his team of advisors add up the relative numbers to get above 0.159%??? In other words, the numerators (above) of fractions with different denominators (below)? We hope not!!! However, this error in thinking is not uncommon. The same thing was constantly done in the context of corona-positive statistics: one simply added up the positive PCR tests (numerators) (even those that were tested twice and three times) but always on the basis of different tests (denominators). At least, that’s not how we were taught it in maths class at school.

In the last 120 years, despite wars and countless other viruses, the world’s population has more than tripled (+372%). 0.03% (!) of the population worldwide have died from (or with) the corona virus; in America, the percentage is actually higher, at around 0.16%.

Since we are dealing with a pandemic, i.e. a virus that spreads worldwide and is therefore more or less identical almost everywhere at the same time, shouldn’t we rather ask the question WHY a virus strikes more in one region and less in another? Which brings us back to the topic of the general state of health of a population. With enormous differences in food quality, eating habits, the more or less pronounced natural environment and environmental pollution, exciting topics that are presented in great detail in Clemens G. Arvay’s great book “Wir können es besser”.

Then, finally, some statistics that you can find on the Statista website, among others:

“Worldwide, around 10.89 million diet-related deaths were recorded in 2017. In 1990, the number was still around 7.67 million deaths.” [5]


“The statistics show the share of the most common cancers in the global number of cancer deaths in 2020. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the global number of cancer deaths that year was estimated at around 9.96 million cases.” [6]


Not to mention the 8 million people who, according to the WHO, die every year as a result of their tobacco consumption.

These deaths are certainly not all more pleasant than death from or with the Corona virus, which in fact most likely affects those who may have previously accumulated quite a bit of just these pre-existing conditions, even if they are succinctly called societal diseases.

Finally, a look at the ongoing development of the world’s population, practically in real time: 

https://www.worldometers.info with two screen shots (8.3. 10:52) that are actually thought-provoking too, don’t you think?

Your Expressis-Verbis Team

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/22/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-more-than-500000-american-lives-lost-to-covid-19/

 [2] http://www.centre-robert-schuman.org/userfiles/files/REPERES%20-%20Modul%201-1-1%20-%20Notiz%20-%20Bilanz%20in%20Ziffern%20des%20Ersten%20Weltkrieges%20-%20DE.pdf

[3] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1055110/umfrage/zahl-der-toten-nach-staaten-im-zweiten-weltkrieg/

[4] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/264176/umfrage/gefallene-us-soldaten-in-vietnam/

[5] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1050039/umfrage/anzahl-ernaehrungsbedingter-todesfaelle-weltweit-nach-ursache/

[6] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/286575/umfrage/anteil-der-haeufigsten-krebsarten-an-der-weltweiten-zahl-der-krebstodesfaellen/