Monday, April 10, 2006

The death clock

The Death Clock site predicts how long you will live given your gender, date of birth, smoking status, BMI (this will be calculated for you given your weight and height) and degree of optimism/pessimism.

I got this from from Cordeloia Fine, A Mind of its Own, which, among other things, discusses how the brain 'protects us' with vanity. The claim is that with respect to expected lifetime, we all believe we will live longer than we are likely to. This is similar to the view that we all believe we are better drivers than the next guy, but more specifically it relates to work in terror management theory showing how we deal with the prospect of inevitable death. According to Pyszczynski et al. (2004) a healthy brain is:

'...a protective shield designed to control the potential for terror than results from awareness of the horrifying possibility that we humans are merely transcient animals groping to survive in a meaningly universe, destined only to die and decay'.

My instincts are to claim that the death clock absurdly overpredicts the pace of my approach towards boot hill - so my own reactions accord with the theory. Note however that the Death Clock forecasts are not nationality-specific and place a lot of weight on BMI - moderate degrees of being overweight penalise your life expectancy strongly. As I have argued elsewhere this link is by no means firmly established. The Death Clock site carries weight-control advertising which raises suspicions.

I do however recommend Cordelia Fine's book - it is an interesting, non-technical read- she is at the University of Melbourne's Centre of Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.


Patrick said...

That death clock might be relevant to my grandmother's generation, except that she should already have died, apparently.

How anyone, let alone an economist, can think that current life expectancies calculated on the basis of the last generation are a useful guide to future life spans dependant on as-yet experimental or undeveloped medicine is beyond me.

A simple step to get something more useful would be to try and factor in GDP per capita growth and the positive effect that has on life-spans.

hc said...

I don't believe in it Patrick. Indeed, I point out that it ignores nationality and overemphasises the role of BMI.

The point was to verify Fine's claim that people exaggerate their forecast lifespan when confronted with any forecast. I forecast my date of death and immediately thought - that's too soon.

Life Tables can be constructed which extrapolate past reduction in mortality trends - I don't know if the Death Clock site does so.

By the way there are numerous sites on the web which do this calculation.