Why is the website’s counter sometimes down?

The three reasons the Population Project's counter can be down?


Antoine Bello · December 23, 2023

It is the star of the Population Project: our counter of living humans is never idle for long. Most of the time, it’s ticking up as we process new public lists. Sometimes thought, it’s inching down. Before explaining how it is possible, it’s worth remembering that the Population Project’s counter reflects the number of LIVING humans in the database. But we also host 152 million records of deceased people at last count. The overall number rises pretty much all the time, it’s the breakdown between living and deceased that fluctuates.

So what can cause the counter to inch down?

First, we might have recalled a list after noticing it contains erroneous data or wrongly-labeled columns (for instance “date of death” instead of “date of birth”). This recently happened to us in Great-Britain where we decided after review that the quality of millions of overseas birth records we had previously imported was simply too poor. 

Second option, we might be importing death records. If the deceased person’s record already existed, we “close” it by adding its date of death. Importing voluminous obituary archives can result in the closure of hundreds of thousands of records, a process currently at work in the USA.

Last possibility, some records may have been quietly removed in the background. Whenever our servers are not busy importing new lists, they’re looking for records that no longer meet our ever-tightening unicity criteria. In Senegal for instance, Famara Madiop Goumbala and Famara M. Goumbala will be merged provided they share the same birthday. This cleaning up alone accounts for tens of thousands or removals every day.

All this to say that a declining counter is not necessary cause for concern.