Monday, February 23, 2009


Murder and Medicine

Comparing murder rates across 50-year times periods is misleading, this blog post tells us:

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman pointed out in his book On Killing, the aggravated assault rate serves as a close proxy statistic for attempted murders. And the aggravated assault rate has increased dramatically since the 1950s even if the murder rate has not. Criminologist Anthony Harris estimates today's homicide rate would triple if medical and rescue technologies had not improved since the 50s. Grossman was kind enough to email me an excerpt from his new book On Combat when I asked him for more detailed source citations for his writing on this topic. He argues that in comparing today's homicide rate with the 1930s and before we ought to multiple today's rate by ten for a true comparison:

Since 1957, the U.S. per capita aggravated assault rate (which is, essentially, the rate of attempted murder) has gone up nearly five- fold, while the per capita murder rate has less than doubled. The reason for this disparity is the vast progress in medical technology since 1957, to include everything from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to the national 911 emergency telephone system, to medical technology advances. Otherwise, murder would be going up at the same rate as attempted murder.

In 2002, Anthony Harris and a team of scholars from the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, published a landmark study in the journal, Homicide Studies, which concluded that medical technology advances since 1970 have prevented approximately three out of four murders. That is, if we had 1970s level medical technology, the murder rate would be three or four times higher than it is today.

Furthermore, it has been noted that a hypothetical wound that nine out of ten times would have killed a soldier in World War II, would have been survived nine out of ten times by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. This is due to the great leaps in battlefield evacuation and medical care technology between 1940 and 1970--and we have made even greater progress in the years since. Thus, it is probably a conservative statement to say that if today we had 1930s level evacuation notification and medical technology (no automobiles and telephones for most people, and no antibiotics), then we would have ten times the murder rate we currently do. That is, attempts to inflict bodily harm upon one another would result in death ten times more often.

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