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calendar   Friday - January 04, 2008

Remember the Lancet Study that had a widely disputed High Count of Iraq Casualties?

Data Bomb

By Neil Munro and Carl M. Cannon, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, Jan. 4, 2008

Three weeks before the 2006 midterm elections gave Democrats control of Congress, a shocking study reported on the number of Iraqis who had died in the ongoing war. It bolstered criticism of President Bush and heightened the waves of dread—here and around the world—about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Published by The Lancet, a venerable British medical journal, the study [PDF] used previously accepted methods for calculating death rates to estimate the number of “excess” Iraqi deaths after the 2003 invasion at 426,369 to 793,663; the study said the most likely figure was near the middle of that range: 654,965. Almost 92 percent of the dead, the study asserted, were killed by bullets, bombs, or U.S. air strikes. This stunning toll was more than 10 times the number of deaths estimated by the Iraqi or U.S. governments, or by any human-rights group.

In December 2005, Bush had used a figure of 30,000 civilian deaths in Iraq. Iraq’s health ministry calculated that, based on death certificates, 50,000 Iraqis had died in the war through June 2006. A cautiously compiled database of media reports by a London-based anti-war group called Iraq Body Count confirmed at least 45,000 war dead during the same time period. These were all horrific numbers—but the death count in The Lancet’s study differed by an order of magnitude.

Queried in the Rose Garden on October 11, the day the Lancet article came out, Bush dismissed it. “I don’t consider it a credible report,” he replied. The Pentagon and top British government officials also rejected the study’s findings.

Such skepticism would not prove to be the rule.

CBS News called the report a “new and stunning measure of the havoc the American invasion unleashed in Iraq.” CNN began its report this way: “War has wiped out about 655,000 Iraqis, or more than 500 people a day, since the U.S.-led invasion, a new study reports.” Within a week, the study had been featured in 25 news shows and 188 articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

Editorials in many major newspapers cited the Lancet article as further evidence that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea, and the liberal blogosphere ridiculed Bush for his response. Prominent mainstream media outlets quoted various academics who vouched for the study’s methodology, including some who said they had reviewed the data before publication.

Within a few weeks a backlash rose, although the contrarian view of the study generated far less press attention than the Lancet article. In the ensuing year, numerous skeptics have identified various weaknesses with the study’s methodology and conclusions. Political blogs and academic journals have registered and responded to the objections in a debate that has been simultaneously arcane and predictable. The arguments are arcane because that is the nature of statistical analysis. They are predictable because that is the nature of today’s polarized political discourse, with liberals defending the Lancet study and conservatives contesting it.

How to explain the enormous discrepancy between The Lancet’s estimation of Iraqi war deaths and those from studies that used other methodologies? For starters, the authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll. Skeptical commentators have highlighted questionable assumptions, implausible data, and ideological leanings among the authors, Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, and Les Roberts.

Some critics go so far as to suggest that the field research on which the study is based may have been performed improperly—or not at all. The key person involved in collecting the data—Lafta, the researcher who assembled the survey teams, deployed them throughout Iraq, and assembled the results—has refused to answer questions about his methods.

Some of these questions could be resolved if other researchers had access to the surveyors’ original field reports and response forms. The authors have released files of collated survey results but not the original survey reports, citing security concerns and the fact that some information was not recorded or preserved in the first place. This was a legitimate problem, and it underscored the difficulty of conducting research in a war zone.

Each death recorded by the Hopkins surveyors in 2006 extrapolated to 2,000 deaths in the Iraqi population.

Over the past several months, National Journal has examined the 2006 Lancet article, and another [PDF] that some of the same authors published in 2004; probed the problems of estimating wartime mortality rates; and interviewed the authors and their critics. NJ has identified potential problems with the research that fall under three broad headings: 1) possible flaws in the design and execution of the study; 2) a lack of transparency in the data, which has raised suspicions of fraud; and 3) political preferences held by the authors and the funders, which include George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

Source and Rest of article
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Posted by Infinity   United States  on 01/04/2008 at 09:25 PM   
Filed Under: • Democrats-Liberals-Moonbat LeftistsIraqMiddle-EastMilitaryPolitics •  
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