While researching the data of death, I’ve found it easy to identify the similarities between the computational and humanistic approaches in quantifying death.

RevisitingPhil Karlton’s famous observation about computer science:

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.

– we can find examples of how naming things and cache invalidation are also hard problems for coroners and obituary writers:

Naming things: The New York Times found that accidental shooting deaths of children likely occur at twice the rate indicated by public records, because of how inconsistently authorities classify accidents versus homicides. And in the real of “regular” homicides, cities have been known to overreport “justifiable homicides” to reduce the homicide rate that is reported to the FBI.

Cache invalidation: Despite the fact that the Times had prepped 4,700 words of obit material for Justice Antonin Scalia 2 years ago, it took the Times more than an hour to post online a full obituary “because of the need for updates”. And even then, the obit didn’t make into East Coast print copies the next day.

The Times had also prepared for the event of Steve Jobs’s death, which allowed it to post 3,500 words within an hour of the official announcement. The beginning of that obituary began in 2007, 4 years prior.

Here’s is a glimpse of the kind of content cached for an obituary:

Steven P. Jobs, a child of Silicon Valley and a college dropout who reshaped the world’s culture around personal computing and digital media, died X and the age of X. The cause of death was X according to X.