Good News for Zombies!

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That old factoid about how there are more people alive today than have ever lived, throughout history, is being challenged by a populations professor.

To calculate how many people have ever lived, Haub followed a minimalist approach, beginning with two people in 50000 B.C.—his Adam and Eve. Then, using his historical growth rates and population benchmarks, he estimated that slightly over 106 billion people had ever been born. Of those, people alive today comprise only 6 percent, nowhere near 75 percent. "[It is] almost surely true people alive today are some small fraction of [all] people," says Joel Cohen, a professor of populations at the Rockefeller and Columbia Universities in New York City.

For this myth ever to be valid there would have to be more than 100 billion people living on Earth. "How cozy," Cohen says. "It just doesn't seem plausible," he adds.

Maybe overpopulation die-hards can hold a raffle to pick their new trope?

(Via Majikthise.)

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  1. I don’t recall having ever been exposed to this “old factoid”. Where did you encounter it, David?

  2. That old factoid about how there are more people alive today than have ever lived, throughout history

    I don’t think that was the trope. I could be wrong, but I thought the trope was there are more people alive today at one time than at any other time in history.

  3. How is this good news for zombies? Our foodstock is dangerously low, and we’re already competing with the CHUDs!

  4. I did think that was the trope that the total alive today was more than before. I think it goes back to the 70s.

  5. Whatever. Just glad this isn’t a meme.

  6. I remember seeing it in the movie Waking Life (2001)…I think Judy Delpy was questioning how reincarnation could be true if there were more people alive today than had ever lived before.

  7. Shelby: quick living under a rock. This is a well-known old wives’ tale

    Smacky: (1) stop using words like “trope.” Please. (2) you’re wrong, “at one time” was never included in the old wives’ tale

    I heard this crap in high school from a biology teacher I respected–up until that point. It’s just a stupid thought. (BTW, I had the stupid bitch fired.)

  8. Passim,

    Dave used “trope” in his post.

  9. I guess I cannot call myself a libertarian anymore, since I favour making the words “trope” and “meme” illegal, the use thereof punishable by death (by burning).

    I love liberty and all that, but some things are just beyond the pale.

  10. People who are alive today qualify as people who have ever lived. Therefore, it’s impossible that that there are more people alive today than have ever lived.

    If you count zombies as people who are still alive then the two quantities might be equal. Except some zombies have had their brains destroyed.

  11. Straight Dope column from 1987…

    http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_085.html

    “Demographers have come up with estimates ranging between 69 billion and 110 billion humans. That gives us a spread of 41 billion, a pretty formidable margin of error.

    Still, these numbers should put to rest the line of baloney put out years ago by the zero-population-growth alarmists, namely that the majority of humans who have ever lived is alive today. That’s flat wrong no matter what your assumptions.”

  12. But Passim, words like “trope” and “meme” are terms of art for the milieu of political policy discourse. It’s part of the current paradigm of the marketplace of ideas.

  13. for which he should be burned

  14. I think Judy Delpy was questioning how reincarnation could be true if there were more people alive today than had ever lived before.

    Off-topic, but I suppose that depends on the type of reincarnation she’s thinking of. For something like transmigration, where souls are moving up the ladder of species, it wouldn’t matter.

  15. “People who are alive today qualify as people who have ever lived. Therefore, it’s impossible that that there are more people alive today than have ever lived.”

    THANK you, Ammonium!

  16. Ammonmium makes the point I would have made if I had been faster.

    this is the kind of saying where the details are easy to screw up, and result in an incorrect statement, as smacky points out an alternate saying. which is the original?

  17. More people are alive today than all the people who have ever died.

  18. (BTW, I had the stupid bitch fired.)

    Note to self: do not repeat any “factoids” to Passim without thoroughly researching them first.

  19. Passim – just file those words with the word “shenanigan”.

  20. since, as so ably pointed out by NH4+, the saying doesn’t make sense in the formulation present by David Weigel, it seems likely that smacky’s formulation is the correct, original saying.

  21. Passim,

    “quick living under a rock” sounds like a pretty cool book title, but a bit long for a band name. And how is it that “never heard this particular lie” counts as “living under a rock”? Does it mean that my high school was under a lie-proof rock, or what?

  22. Oh, man. Tell me y’all aren’t ruining trope?

    Meh.

  23. Trope is a word that is necessary for describing the metanarrative.

  24. I thought the trope was there are more people alive today at one time than at any other time in history.

    Smacky, but that’s just another way of saying that the world’s population is on the rise, and I don’t think there’s any dispute over that. So there’d be no reason for it to be a “trope” (or any other funny sounding rarely used word!!).

  25. The “trope” was indeed more alive today, than had been alive in all of prior history.

    I think it stems from an oversimplification of populations doubling in recent generations.

  26. Well while the population is on the rise, it should top out soon, as nearly every country’s birthrate is declining.

  27. In fact, it is commonly used in the “end of days” math to suggest that with an exponentially growing population, then chances are you would be born in the “last generation” or so. Therefore the world will end in your lifetime.

    Unless, of course, the population plateaued indefinitely.

  28. Maybe the next trope should be based solely on experiences we all share of “overpopulation”: grocery store lines, driving to work, DMV, etc. I think it will really drive home the fact that too many brown people are being born.

    (Birth rates among whites continue fall; overpopulation concerns are therefore directed at the third world, right?)

    Besides, overpopulation is last generation’s environmental scare tactic, along with pollution. Once we reverse global warming (I like seeding the ocean with iron filings), what’s next? Continental Drift is funny, but I’m sure they’ll think of something. Death, taxes, and scolds.

  29. smacky, biologist: I think the truly true saying was, “half of all people ever born are alive today.” That’s the way I heard it back in the 80’s.

    There was, at the time, reason for the pessimism about population. One sociologist I talked to I spoke to at one point was this real conservative old guy who had fought in the Navy in WW2 and spent a lot of time working in the Marshall Islands. He said that when the Germans took over the Marshall Islands in the 19th Century, they took a census and found that there were about 50,000 Marshallese. When the Japanese got the islands after WW1, they also took a census and found about 50,000 people.

    When the US took over the islands after WW2, they took their own census and discovered 50,000 people, too. By the 1970’s, when this fellow went back to the islands for research, there were a quarter-million marginally employed people subsisting largely on US remittances (for using the islands as a military test area). When the Americans came they immunized everyone, DDT’d the swamps, built hospitals, and introduced dairy products.

    Certainly they were better off, but as the number of mothers and the live birth rate increased, and the death rate decreased, it was possible to see a potential crisis. As it turned out, the worldwide live birth rate fell unexpectedly, much faster than historical experience predicted, which ruined their calculations. At least some of the contempt is out of place.

    It’s also worth nothing that HIV is reducing the rate of population growth in sub-Saharan Africa. From 2.6 percent per year to 2.2 is estimated from 1995 to 2015, resulting in an absolute loss of 91 millions in population and ten percent drop in final population. Since population grows like interest, a slowing of growth in the initial stages has a big impact on the final result.

  30. I could be wrong, but I thought the trope was there are more people alive today at one time than at any other time in history.

    That’s been true at almost every point in human history, though; all that says is that population has been rising for a while without ever declining.

  31. I think it will really drive home the fact that too many brown people are being born.

    A-ha!!

    I was right about you people over in the abortion thread!

  32. Obviously Weigel is a shill for Big Zombie.

  33. I think Judy Delpy was questioning how reincarnation could be true if there were more people alive today than had ever lived before.

    It could be than Mimbari souls are being reincarnated as humans.

  34. Thanks, James B. I was just thinking that same thought.

  35. why can’t I get subscript and superscript tags to work?

  36. crimethink,

    Now that was funny. (no sarcasm)

    Caveat: I’ll say right now that this is not directed at you to drag the abortion debate into this thread, just as a allied comment about the racial motives behind overpopulationists…

    I’ve always wondered how much of the support for outlawing abortion would evaporate if abortions were outlawed only for white women.

  37. “Oh, man. Tell me y’all aren’t ruining trope?”

    I much prefer the classic “MacGuffin.”

  38. Oh, and Passim, a word of advice:

    Don’t set anyone on fire if they’ve already turned into a zombie.

    Because all you end up with is a zombie who’s still trying to eat you, and is now on fire to boot.

  39. ‘Meme’ is an awesome word. I use it as often as possible. Also ‘memetics’, which is super-double-secret-awesome.

    I don’t like ‘ludology’ though, because it’s stupid. But maybe that’s only a common annoying word in my particular subculture.

  40. Is the meme “There are more pretentious words used today than have ever been used.”

    Or is it “half of all pretentious words ever used are being used today.”

    I can’t figure it out.

  41. I, for one, am whelmed by this thread. Not overwhelmed, or underwhelmed. Just plain whelmed.

  42. I, for one, am whelmed by this thread. Not overwhelmed, or underwhelmed. Just plain whelmed.

    How does that feel?

  43. David,

    It doesn’t really feel like…anything at all. Thanks for the inquiry.

  44. I’ve heard this “factoid” before, but only by people who were also trying to refute it.

  45. James Kabala,

    I guess that makes it a falsehoodoid…

  46. How does this factoid relates to overpopulation concerns?

    That 106 +/-40 billion people have lived on Earth over the past 50,000 years has little to do with the carrying capacity of the ecosystem to support a certain number of people at any one point in time. Certainly, no one really knows how many people the Earth can support, and certainly it’s a problem that will take care of itself (too many people == starvation and death until equilibrium), but as far as using it to prove or disprove overpopulation concerns is just wrongheaded.

  47. I was wondering how long it would take for somebody to break down such pseudoscientific nonsense with his or her own pseudoscientific nonsense.

  48. Shouldn’t we be starting about 4,000 BC, times before that being prehistoric?

  49. If you start at 10,000 years BC you get to include fallen angels and Babylon. The whore, not the city.

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