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After being alerted by Paul Bradshaw’s tweet that Wikipedia has a fascinating list of people who have had their obituary published erroneously or prematurely, I thought i would take a closer look at the data.

First off, the caveats: it’s Wikipedia. Trust with care. The list is subjective, west-orientated and certainly incomplete.

However, it is fascinating. The headline is that there are far fewer hoaxes and pseudocides then you would think. Most premature obits are basic errors, human and mechanical. News agencies report rumours as facts, other news outlets repeat. And although we might think this is getting worse and worse in the blog-twitter-newswebsite world, it’s not really – this is as old as the hills. There are incidents dating back centuries.

Out of the 180 incidents, faking death and hoaxes accounts for only 41 cases, while accidents and misunderstandings together are just shy of 50 per cent.

The full data is here in a google document.

Accidental publication 52
Brush with death 34
Hoax 30
Impostor 2
Land theft victims 5
Misidentified body 9
Missing in action 7
Misunderstandings 12
Name confusion 18
Pseudocide 11
total 180