But as usual, life goes on for Planet Earth. Between the drugs, the internet and reality television, Americans have plenty to keep them preoccupied. After all, who wouldn't rather watch the season premiere of the Bachelor, than obssess over impending disaster.
Apparently, a 1-in-40 chance is not enough to ruffle the general public. As a result, reports of the asteroid have been limited to scientific circles and geek blogs. Why? For most of us, it's too far off, too big to wrap our mind around and we're too numb to care. In technical terms, this is called Risk Perception. The theory states that societies attach certain levels of risk or indifference to specific threats. More recently this has been called, the Dread Factor. The more potentially dreadful, devestating or personally threatening a risk appears, the more we take notice.
And this is where our affinity for statistics kicks in. Americans love to play the numbers. So let's do that, shall we?
The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has compiled in-depth statistical data on causes of death. (Oh, goody!) Listed below are the chances you have of dying from a specific risk in your lifetime.
- Chance of being murdered - 1-in-15,440
Chance of drowning - 1-in-64,031
Chance of being struck by lightening - 1-in-4,478,159
Chance of being killed in a bicycle accident - 1-in-376,165
Chance of contracting Alzheimers - 1-in-5752
Chance of getting terminal cancer - 1-in-511
Chance of dying of heart disease - 1-in-397
Chance of dying in a bioterrorist attack - 1-in-56,424,800
Since I'm on a roll: Gambling experts tell us that the odds of getting a royal flush are, 1-in-649,739, the chances of winning the California SuperLotto is 18,009,460 to 1, and the chances of the L.A. Lakers winning the title this year are 1-in-35. (Much less if they play the Miami Heat.)
So let's put this in perspective. The chances that earth will be struck by asteroid 2004 MN4, are a lot greater than the chances of you dying of heart disease, being murdered, getting a royal flush, being killed by anthrax or winning the state lottery. Hmm...
Apparently, we have developed a high tolerance for the Dread Factor. Earthquakes, terrorist attacks and bird flu don't seem to phase us. That is, until they're on our doorstep -- at which point we berate the government for not airlifting us to safety (think Katrina). Americans live in a type of inebriated tecnological daze, hypnotized by our iPods and spinning hubcaps, a pollyanna-ish dreamworld as detached from reality as Oz was Kansas. Within this media-induced cocoon, the Dread Factor is seldom an issue.
But, if you're into numbers, let me give you the mother-of-all numbers: One out of every one dies. This painful bit of info has been called the ultimate statistic.
Chances of us getting thwumped by an asteroid in 2029 is slim. Not impossible, just remote. But the chances of you dying some day, is absolute. You can take it to the bank. Scripture puts it this way:
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Heb. 9:27)
You've got an appointment. You might get there through cancer, anthrax or a lightening strike. Heck, you might drop dead from winning the lotto. But it's an appointment you can't reschedule or refuse. It's the ultimate statistic.
If only the Dread Factor kicked in sooner, death might not take so many of us by surprise. Oh well, as long as we've got the TV changer and text messaging, asteroids are of no concern. Of course, a mini-series might help...