In early 2016, an image shown above began circulating on social media holding that Muslims account for 1% of the United States population, are responsible for 0.5% of mass shootings, and comprise 10% of America’s doctors. Like many such images, it included no citations documenting the information it displayed:
As we have noted in several previous articles, statistics regarding mass shootings vary quite widely due to the fact that there is no standard definition for what constitutes a “mass shooting” and vary depending upon whether such a classification includes victims who were shot but survived or incidents involving the shooting of large number of people that resulted in no fatalities. The fact that the image includes no parameters (such as timeframe) for its claims also makes verification difficult.
The progressive publication Mother Jones regularly updates a database of mass shootings (defined as cases in which a shooter took the lives of at least four people) from 1982 to the present that provides several fields of information for each recorded incident, but that resource includes no tab identifying the religions of mass shooting perpetrators. Religion is rarely if ever mentioned in official law enforcement reports on mass shootings, and in February 2016 the Washington Post broke down the math of mass shootings but also did not include religion as a listed metric.
Of the roughly 75 incidents listed in the Mother Jones database we found at least three instances (two shooters in San Bernardino and one in Chattanooga) in which other sources identified the perpetrators as Muslims, which would peg the percentage of Muslim mass shooters at 4% or more. And that percentage would be much higher if we included only statistics from mass shootings that took place within the last year rather than all such incidents occurring over the last 30+ years.
Another way to parse that data (even assuming the three incidents we identified were the only ones in which the shooters were Muslim) was by the number of fatalities. Out of 604 total fatalities in mass shootings included in the database, 32 of those deaths occurred in the three instances we identified involving Muslim perpetrators, accounting for 5% of mass shooting fatalities.
However, these numbers are still sketchy, as a December 2015 Washington Post article counted more than 300 mass shootings in 2015 alone, suggesting that Mother Jones data are incomplete. Moreover, there’s also no logical reason why this form of comparison should exclude acts of terrorism committed by Muslims that resulted in large numbers of deaths without the use of firearms.
Finally, the image claims that 10% of American doctors are Muslim. But a 2005 article on the religious characteristics of U.S. physicians published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine counted counted only 2.7% U.S. doctors as Muslim, and the numbers get shakier from there. A May 2008 Muslim Link article estimated that 10% of American doctors are Muslim, but the methodology it used was a highly questionable one based on assumptions made about religion relative to race and nationality:
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), as of 2006, there were 921,904 U.S. physicians. The AMA does not report on the religion of its members. However, it is known, that 113,585 or 12% of US physicians in 2006 were Asian and 32,452 or 3.5% of physicians were African American.
In addition, a 2006 Association of American Medical Colleges study entitled “Diversity in the Physician Workforce” indicates that Indians and Pakistanis account for the largest population of Asian physicians. And while many Indian physicians may be Hindus, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America boasts a membership of 7,000 current and retired physicians.
Looking at the African American population, the US Census bureau reports that there are an estimated 40.2 million African Americans. U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee testimony given on October 14, 2003 suggests that as many as 2.4 million Muslims are African Americans, 5.9% of the total African American population. Based upon this figure, one can extrapolate that there are approximately 2000 Muslim physicians who are African American.
An analysis of all the above data suggests that more than 10% of American physicians are Muslim, while Muslims make up less than 3% of the total U.S. population. “Thus, its safe to say there is number of Muslim physicians is above average,” says Dr. Salim Aziz, a prominent heart surgeon with offices in Maryland and the District.
Similarly, a rough 2001 estimate placed the number of Muslim doctors in the U.S. at approximately 20,000 out of about 900,000 physicians, a percentage far short of 10%. As with mass shootings, there seems to be no complete data set from which to hammer out even an approximately reliable estimate for this statistic.
Although it’s fairly safe to say that Muslims comprise about 1% of the U.S. population, claims about the percentage of Muslim mass shooters and doctors among the U.S. population base are impossible to accurately document due to a lack of reliable core statistics in those areas.
On 16 March 2016 Twitter user Jeremy McLellan contacted us to claim credit for the initial comment upon which the meme was based, describing the source remark as a “joke”:
— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) March 16, 2016