Consider the following list of odds by various causes of death. Which ones would be less likely to happen than the odds indicated, and which ones would be more likely?  Heart disease:  1 in 7. Choking on food: 1 in 3,409. Airplane and spaceship incidents: 1 in 9,738. Animal attack or accident: 1 in 30,167. Bus, train, or streetcar: 1 in 160,487. Shark attack: 1 in 8,000,000.

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The odds listed are presumably calculated by taking the number of each type of death and dividing by the size of the population. So if there are 350 million people in the US and 10 are killed by gerbils, the odds of dying by gerbils are 1 in 35 million.

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The odds listed are presumably calculated by taking the number of each type of death and dividing by the size of the population. So if there are 350 million people in the US and 10 are killed by gerbils, the odds of dying by gerbils are 1 in 35 million.

Note that the list is presumably using a colloquial definition of the term "odds." Odds and probability are related, but they are different in a few ways. The probability of an event is the ratio of the number of elements in the event space (the number of times it has happened, for instance) to the size of the sample space (the total number of possible events). So P=(number of successes):(total possible outcomes), where successes is the number of outcomes with the attribute we are interested in. Odds are given by O=(number of successes):(number of failures). If the probability is 1 in 100000, then the odds are 1:99999.

As you scan the list, note that some of the ways to die do not apply to everyone. My chance of dying by shark attack is zero, as I do not go to the ocean. A golfer is far more likely to get struck by lightning than a person who rarely ventures outside. The well-known author Isaac Asimov had virtually no chance of dying by an airplane mishap as he never flew and rarely left his apartment.

As you scan the list, look for methods of dying that require special circumstances, including shark attack, airplanes, rare diseases, and other circumstantial or low-probability deaths. These will have lower odds for most people as they do not have behaviors that put them at risk. On the other hand, professional divers or surfers have a higher risk of dying by shark attack. Similarly, people with certain conditions have a higher likelihood of dying by them than those without it (but don't always die due to the condition).

Those risk factors that are fairly universal will have slightly higher odds in the general public. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, automobile accidents, and other common incidents are far more likely causes of death for most people than shark attacks or the like.

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