Sunday, January 02, 2011

Something you've probably heard and believed turns out to be wildly wrong

You've probably heard something along the lines of "There are as many people alive today as have ever lived in the past." This turns out not to be true, not even close.

The claim is that the total number of people who have ever been born is over 100 billion. In other words, the current population is only about 6% of the total.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the best guess for the number of people who had been born by 1 A.D. is 50 billion. (The comparative slowness in growth since then is attributed, in large part, to the bubonic plague.)

(h/t: George Johnson, speaking about his NYT article on cancer incidence throughout the ages. NB: In that video clip, he says "trillion" when he means "billion," and later acknowledges misspeaking.)

1 comment:

Substance McGravitas said...

Philip José Farmer's Riverworld was a science-fiction series about everyone ever being reincarnated on a large planet with an endless river. He had 36 billion for his number at the time of writing.