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Dogs, Mountain Lions, and COVID-19

Summary:
How dangerous are mountain lions? The data tell an interesting story. Since 1980, there have been only 13 attacks in all of California (where David and Charley live) and three people have died as a result. Compare this with attacks by dogs. Each year in California, about 100,000 dog attacks cause their victims to get medical attention. This means that California residents are approximately 180,000 times as likely to be seriously attacked by a dog as by a mountain lion. But to really compare dogs and mountain lions, we need to check our base, because there are a lot more dogs than mountain lions. With so many more dogs running around, a reasonable person would expect more dog attacks. With about 8 million dogs and 5,000 mountain lions in California, we see that

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Dogs, Mountain Lions, and COVID-19

How dangerous are mountain lions? The data tell an interesting story. Since 1980, there have been only 13 attacks in all of California (where David and Charley live) and three people have died as a result. Compare this with attacks by dogs. Each year in California, about 100,000 dog attacks cause their victims to get medical attention. This means that California residents are approximately 180,000 times as likely to be seriously attacked by a dog as by a mountain lion. But to really compare dogs and mountain lions, we need to check our base, because there are a lot more dogs than mountain lions. With so many more dogs running around, a reasonable person would expect more dog attacks. With about 8 million dogs and 5,000 mountain lions in California, we see that there are approximately 1,500 dogs for each mountain lion. Once we check our base and correct for the numbers of dogs and mountain lions, we see that dogs are still more dangerous, and in fact, the risk of serious attack from an individual dog is about 120 times that of the risk from an individual mountain lion. Mountain lions present a daunting and ferocious image, but with so few attacks, they must have very little interest in attacking people.

This quote is from David R. Henderson and Charles L. Hooper, Making Great Decisions in Business and Life, Chicago Park Press, 2006.

The picture above is of me at the entrance to Stanford University yesterday. It reminded me of maps I saw of Germany divided into 4 zones after World War II. My friend and co-author Charley Hooper and I walked on the campus and notice a whole lot of 20-somethings walking around wearing masks even though they were typically walking alone and were not closer than 30 feet to anyone else.

They seem to fear COVID-19 the way some people fear mountain lions. My guess is that it’s a mixture of their fear and the fear of the administrators of Stanford, who seem to have taken an extremely anti-intellectual approach to the issue.

Either way, the risk to the young is extremely low. Here are data from the Centers for Disease Control as of November 12, 2020. They are for the number of deaths between February 1, 2020 and November 7, 2020. (The CDC notes that there is a lag because death counts are somewhat delayed.)

The number of Americans of age 15 to 24 who have died of COVID-19 is 410.

The number of Americans of age 15 to 24 who have died of all causes is 26,662.

Watch out for dogs, not mountain lions.

If you’re young, watch out for deaths from other causes, not COVID-19.

Postscript: What brought us to Palo Alto is my 70th birthday, which I celebrate on Saturday. Because it’s impractical right now to do what Governor Newsom did but tells the rest of us not to do, I’m not having a 70th birthday party. Instead, I’m seeing individual friends for outdoor lunches and conversation. Charley, Jay Bhattacharya, and I had a wonderful almost 3-hour outdoor lunch and conversation.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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