Census of the dead, in infographic form


Appfrica has a great infographic that looks at the number of Earth's dead humans and the causes of their deaths, and creates comparisons between the population of the dead and that of the living.

"How many people have ever lived?" The numbers in this piece are highly speculative but are as accurate as modern science allows. It's widely accepted that prior to 2002 there had been somewhere between 106 and 140 billion homo sapiens born to the world.

One interesting fact he digs up: There are more people currently alive in Asia, Africa and Latin America than the total number of people who died—anywhere, and for any reason—during the entire 20th century.

Appfrica: Population of the Dead

(Thanks, Maria Popova!)


  1. Could anyone PLEASE finally teach people how to make diagrams?

    Try to ask yourself the following question: How many of the red circles fit into the big white circle?

    If the red circle represents 7 billion and the white one 105 billion, then 15 red circles (and no more) should fit into the white one. In fact, it should be much less than 15 circles because there would be some empty space around each of the 15 circles.

    The red circle in *this* diagram doesn’t represent 6.8 out of 106, but roughly 45 out of 11200. Which is a ratio of about 1:225 instead of 1:15.

    Do the math please. You’re misleading people, even if you thought you did everything right.

    Hint: What counts in this diagram is not the radius of the circles, but the area, which is the radius squared. Use radii that correspond to the square root of the number instead of the number itself and it works out.

    If you ever use boxes or spheres to make a diagram, use the cube root instead of square root of your number to make them the right size.

  2. “Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.

    Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this universe, there shines a star.”

    (from Clarke’s foreword in 2001, A Space Odyssey, 1968)

    1. Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.

      The singularity will happen when the ratio rises to 42.

  3. Dharma: Which are more numerous, the living or the dead?
    Yudhisthira: The living, because the dead are no more.
    [“The Mahabharata”]

  4. Thank you tp1024, you saved me a lot of work.

    All the energy invested in graphic design,
    And a fundamentally cool idea,
    Completely screwed up by not understanding a bit of geometry.

  5. Charts like these, especially with the deceased further classified by cadaver integrity, are essential for governement agencies calculating how to defend against zombie attack.

  6. I once read somewhere that the majority of humans that have ever died throughout history, died of malaria.

    Wonder if it’s true?

    1. I imagine not. In recorded history you don’t find that many people dying of malaria, and while history-makers aren’t a representative sample, I’d be surprised if they differed so completely from everyone else. In pre-recorded history, you run into the worse problem that many areas didn’t have malaria yet.

  7. Well, this is what happens when people do things without thinking.

    People are fundamentally lazy and in fact this is a good thing. What we call “understanding” is in fact the brain minimizing the amount of thinking it does, while still getting the same result. Unfortunately the process isn’t perfect. Sometimes we only *seem* to get the same or at least a reasonably equivalent result. And the fallacy in this diagram is one of the more pronounced results.

    Also, people aren’t just lazy. They are consistent in being lazy. If you have been lazy in one situation, you’re more likely to be lazy the next time as well.

    And people who don’t give a damn about math, but think of themselves as artists representing numbers (BAD IDEA), are very likely to be lazy when thinking about their representation of numbers. They are very consistent in not thinking through if their representation of numbers is a crumulent one, which in this case led to the embiggenment of the circle.

    Well, really, what I want to say with that is that whatever you do, at least every once in a while go through the following checklist:

    1) What is the goal of what I’m doing here?

    If you can’t come up with one, either stop doing it, or at least stop calling it work.

    2) Can I test if what I did satisfies my goal?

    If you can’t, go back to 1) and find a goal that you can test. If your test involves concepts that you are not familiar with or feel uncomfortable with (like math, quantum physics or thermodynamics), you haven’t found a test.

    3) How can I change what I did to achieve my goal?

    If this involves changing your test, you’re doing it wrong. Because then you’re no longer testing whether you achieved your goal, but something else entirely that you probably can’t see and even a genius will take a long time to figure out. Instead: change your goal, then go back to 1).

    3) How often did I do this thing wrong? Are other people likely to do this wrong as well? Where else do I or other people do similar mistakes and what does that mean in terms of our perception of reality?

    And here it gets interesting. Here is where you find out that North Korea and Iran have little choice *but* to build nuclear weapons, if we continue to threaten them with our vastly superior armies. (For example.)

  8. @tp1024, @pheidole;

    Information design tends to be difficult for some people, and while I appreciate the effort put forth by the author of image (pie charts are so damn boring) he/she needs to work on it a little more.

    But you could look at it this way, most clients would not care that the ratio is off (as they would not check the ratios & assume they were correct), only that it looked cool and conveyed the idea.

  9. Circles may look nice but they’re pretty lousy at representing numbers. People just aren’t that good at comparing round areas, especially of similarly sized circles.

    Use circles for sizes of stars and such like. What’s wrong with a nice bar?

  10. To me, it looks like a drawing of the center of a vinyl LP record, with a white label and the spindle hole rendered in red.

    Maybe that would make a great modern sculpture version of this infographic!

  11. To me, it looks like a drawing of the center of a vinyl LP record, with a white label and the spindle hole rendered in red.

    Maybe that would make a great modern sculpture version of this infographic!

  12. Uneducated guess, but wouldn’t death by childbirth for women be quite common? At least, that’s what I gather from the Brontës.

    1. More women have died from childbirth in this country than the combined total of deaths from every war in which we participated.

  13. “When Ishtar reached the gate of the Land of No Return,
    She said to the gatekeeper:
    “O gatekeeper, open thy gate,
    Open thy gate so I may enter!
    If thou openest not the gate so that I cannot enter,
    I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt,
    I will smash the doorpost, I will move the doors,
    I will raise up the dead eating the living,
    So that the dead will outnumber the living.”

    Oh yeah, Epic of Gilgamesh, first recorded allusion to zombie survival horror(that I know of).

  14. It seems like the line gets cut off. (Didn’t preview, sorry.)

    Again: O – living people. = Dead people.

    What the truth looks like:


    What the picture turns the truth into:

  15. @TP1024 people are not fundamentally lazy. People work hard every day. People are fundamentally try to be efficient. That is do the necessary amount of work to complete a task. People also make mistakes. In fact almost everything you do has a mistake in it. Some of them stand out more than others.

    1. You can be lazy and still work hard every day. If a backer keeps kneading his dough for half an hour every day of the year for 20 years, because that’s the way he was taught, without *ever* realizing that he could just as well make do with 25 minutes or 20 minutes. He is working hard every day, but in fact he is just too lazy to find out how much kneading he really has to do.

      You can find this sort of useless toil in many places. All because people are too lazy to find out how much work to do in what way in order to do stuff more efficiently.

      Just look at finance. Lots of toil there, lots of stress, but it all goes to naught because the US has a finance industry large enough for 4 billion people, but only 300 million to offer its services to.

      Pure toil is not the absence of laziness.

  16. There’s no sharp line between Homo sapiens and its predecessor – the parent of the first true one would have been 99.99% true, by whatever standard of true you care to measure. I wonder how the chart and Sagan decided the cut-off, or if there were simply so few people at the time that it doesn’t matter much.

  17. You hear the 106 billion figure tossed around a lot (and I’m sure it’s mighty impressive) but should we trust it? Have the bodies been counted, or is this figure just a guess? Did you know that 106 billion bodies would fill a cube over a mile in height, width, and breadth? Where are they all supposed to be buried? Look for my new book Did 106 Billion Really Die? coming to a revisionist conference near you.

  18. If the ratio of the living to the dead is 1:15 today, what was it in the time of Gilgamesh? Is it going up or down. Someone should plot a graph.

    year ratio
    1AD 1:1572
    1200 1:1639
    1650 1:1730
    1750 1:113
    1850 1:74
    1900 1:58
    1950 1:40
    1995 1:18
    2002 1:17

    Commonsense tells us that the number will have to rise at some point. Or else the Earth is going to get very crowded with the living.

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