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Robert Naiman corrects error over Iraqi dead
Posted by ALP on October 1 2007, 09:28 » Uploaded 01/10/07 10:32  

Robert Naiman is one of the people behind the new counter which somewhat crudely combines figures from Iraq Body Count (IBC) and the Lancet study.

It doesn't inspire confidence to see Naiman making basic errors on this issue, but he isn't alone in making such errors (eg John Pilger repeatedly - and incorrectly - described the Lancet figures as representing "civilian" deaths. Others have incorrectly described the Lancet study as the "only" scientific study of its type on Iraqi mortality, thereby consigning the larger UNDP study to the memory hole).

Naiman at least (unlike others) has made a token attempt to correct one or two of his errors. For example, he initially wrote (incorrectly) in the Huffington Post that Iraq Body Count "tally individual deaths reported in Western media". The false implication is that IBC ignore non-western media (an implication apparently disseminated by poorly researched writings from the media-criticism website, Medialens).

In fact, IBC monitor 72 major "non-western" sources on a daily basis, along with 120 "western" sources. Naiman added a footnote to his article after this was pointed out to him:

[1] Note, 9/23: A reader points out that this mis-characterizes IBC. IBC monitors "non-Western" sources. The issue is not that IBC is ignoring "non-Western" sources, which I did not mean to claim. The issue is, what is the size of the gap between the IBC tally, which counts individual, reported deaths, and the true death toll. IBC acknowledges that its tally undercounts the true death toll, as, being a tally, it must. The question is the size of the gap. I regret the mis-characterization.


COMMENTS Post comment


Comment 01 – David Storr October 01 2007, 12:01

With this latest "counter", I get the distinct impression that it's not about establishing the truth concerning the numbers killed, but is about presenting the highest possible number that can be reached by crudely mixing together results of selected studies.

I understand, of course, that there's a sincere and heartfelt reaction against the attempts by politicians to avoid talking about the scale of murder in Iraq. But surely this type of approach is counterproductive, as it can easily be dismissed by the pro-war camp as being badly researched.

No matter how much it's dressed up with the website's fancy title, "Just Foreign Policy", and an apparently minimal amount of research, the actual basis for the count still appears very shaky - an extrapolation of an extrapolation.

We know the scale of death in Iraq is massive. The best approach for those against the war (and against future such wars) must be, I suggest, to base their arguments on accuracy, precision and real evidence, not on reaching for the highest numbers that can be conjured from a hat.

Comment 02 – Jay October 01 2007, 18:28

Well, yes, it is a flawed, very "rough" estimate, but you can see why they did it. The Lancet study gave a one-off figure, which by its nature you can't really make a live feature at the top of your website. So they're ripping off the IBC idea, but using bigger figures. It's more about PR and getting the message out than accuracy and science.

Comment 03 – sonny October 02 2007, 00:15

ALP writes that "Others have incorrectly described the Lancet study as the "only" scientific study of its type on Iraqi mortality, thereby consigning the larger UNDP study to the memory hole).. "

Actually this is not "others". Naiman does this too. This is enough to tell you they aren't after anything having to do with "truth". They are after cherry-picking whatever will produce the answers they want, in this case Lancet 2006.

If you used the UNDP with IBC to extrapolate violent deaths you'd get one number (about 160,000), if you used 2004 Lancet with IBC you'd get another (about 240,000). But if you cherry pick Lancet 2006 you get ther "1 million" slogan. All produce different numbers, and all would be highly uncertain.

So why does JFP go with the "1 million", the least plausible of the three by far? This can perhaps be gleaned partly from an exchange between someone named Stephen and the editors of Media Lens:

"Would you agree with me that honesty remains a premium?"

"Thanks, Stephen. It's important but it's not the most important thing, in my opinion. The most important thing is whether our words and actions harm or help others. It's sometimes acceptable to subordinate honesty to concern for others. If we knew where a Jewish person was hiding in Germany in 1944, say, we wouldn't be honest about our knowledge if asked by the SS."[...]

So lies are good when they are issued out of concern for others, when they help people. And what do high estimates do in the minds of Media Lens, JFP, Les Roberts etc? According to JFP/Naiman/Roberts:

"Realization of the daunting scale of the death and suffering inflicted on Iraqis should add urgency to efforts to end the occupation and to prevent such "pre-emptive" invasions or "interventions" in the future. "

It follows that the more "daunting" one could make that "scale" appear, the more "urgency" gets added, and the more you can help lead to these desired ends. Inflating the numbers therefore shows the greatest "concern for others", and trumps less important concerns such as honesty which would produce less "daunting" numbers that don't lead as quickly or strongly to the desired outcomes.

Under these assumptions/rationalizations, honesty actually becomes immoral. If inflating numbers adds that "urgency" which helps people, then NOT inflating the numbers is just like pointing out the Jew to the SS.


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