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The Politics of Body Counts  
Posted by ALP on January 4 2008, 15:34 » Uploaded 04/01/08 16:00  

Someone has kindly emailed the following link to me. I think it'll be of interest to all those following the Lancet/IBC discussions:

http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/databomb/index.htm

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Comment 01 – Several Famous Epidemiologists January 04 2007, 16:41

From the article:

Even Garfield, a co-author of the first Lancet article, is backing away from his previous defense of his fellow authors. In December, Garfield told National Journal that he guesses that 250,000 Iraqis had died by late 2007.

Only 250,000? Who is this guy Garfield? A war crimes apologist? No. He's a co-auther of the 2004 Lancet survey who took his name of the second (2006) Lancet study, because:

"The study in 2006 suffered because Les [Roberts] was running for Congress and wasn't directly supervising the work as he had done in 2004," Garfield told NJ.

Uh-oh. Trouble ahead. I can aleady feel the rumblings of outrage from my amateur-epidemiological colleagues at Medialens.

Comment 02 – Anita January 05 2007, 08:52

It is of concern to see Garfield (essentially a member of the Lancet team?) distance himself from the publicised estimate. It's a pity the reasons why aren't given. It is quite big difference unfortunately when you take into account the deaths since the 655,000 in 2006. THe Just Foreign Policy group's counter puts the figure, based on the lancet estimate at well over 1 million, so that's what we should compare the 250,000 Garfield figure with. Between a quarter and a fifth of his colleagues' figure.

Comment 03 – JMT January 05 2007, 10:32

Let's talk about the politics of body counts. In fact, let's waste our and everyone elses time and talk about anything except the lies, disinformation and evasions of the criminals that are responsible and that have surrounded this illegal and immoral war right from the very beginning. Far better to smear anyone who is trying to get to the truth, however "flawed" their methods may be. And some think that Media lens is anal? The phrase about the mirror and take a good look at it springs to mind.

Comment 04 – sonny January 05 2007, 17:02

Lot's of interesting material in these articles. The Lancet study is looking awfully shaky, to say the least. But here's something else _remarkable_ from the 'Counting Corpses' sidebar article:

"One advantage of surveys, compared with body counts, is that they can also track the number of lives saved by the removal of a despotic government, by better medical care, and other factors. In Iraq, this effect is likely to be smaller than in Afghanistan, where improved medical care is saving an estimated 89,000 infants per year, according to a recent survey managed by Gilbert Burnham, the Johns Hopkins professor who managed the controversial Lancet surveys. This figure far exceeds the estimates of people reported dead in the fighting between the government and the Taliban -- which means that the war in Afghanistan is, at least by one count, producing more lives than deaths."
http://news.nationaljournal.com/[...]

My, what wonderful news. We now know that Afghanistan was really a "good war" after all, at least according to these highly credible epidemiological findings from top expert world's leaders in the field, using tried and true methodology that is always correct. Those genocide denying "passive surveillance" counts like those from Marc Herold would have never told us how many lives Western military intervention has "saved" here.

Comment 05 – Jon January 05 2007, 20:02

Thanks for the link. Some interesting things, eg:

An Iraqi polling company reported, for example, that an August 2007 survey of households showed 1.2 million dead, including 264,126 car bomb victims. The company's owner told National Journal that he began polling to help drive U.S. forces from Iraq and that he timed the release of his estimate to coincide with Gen. David Petraeus's September testimony before Congress.

I didn't understand that. Does he mean the ORB poll? An "Iraqi" polling company? Shome mishtake? Also, does it mean that the polling company ran the poll for its own purposes (non-commissioned)? That's not how a polling business works, is it?

And this, on death certificates, was interesting:

When a body arrives at the morgue or hospital, relatives and government agencies receive copies of a death certificate. Conditions in Iraq are so dangerous, however, that it is difficult for Baghdad officials to stop local authorities from selling fake death certificates

The Lancet report claimed a ludicrously high level of death certificate presentation (from the Iraqi interviewees) as I recall.

Comment 06 – sonny January 05 2007, 21:57

Jon says:
I didn't understand that. Does he mean the ORB poll? An "Iraqi" polling company? Shome mishtake? Also, does it mean that the polling company ran the poll for its own purposes (non-commissioned)? That's not how a polling business works, is it?

I think Munro is referring to something he'd published in his last NJ article:

ORB's survey was actually conducted by the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, a company formed by an Iraqi, Munqeth Daghir. In an October interview, Daghir said he conducted his first poll in 2003 with the aid of his students "as a patriotic job that could help in putting more pressure of the government, or the invasion forces to withdraw." ... Since 2003, Dahgir said, five of his relatives were killed by U.S. forces in Falluja and two more were killed by Shia miitia. He said his September death estimate was timed for release as Gen. David Petraeus gave his congressional testimony on September 10 and 11.

So it appears ORB hired this other firm to do it, and chose to trust the data they were given.

I also recall that ORB first asserted they had a "nationally representative sample" in their Petraeus-timed press release from September (which I recall somehow Gabriele Zamparini had a copy of, and had up on the Media Lens message board an hour or two before ORB made it public anywhere), while not providing any detail at all on any kind of sampling methodology. Then they came back out some days later with a quasi-retraction that said their sample basically measured urban areas (no "rural" coverage, however they might have defined that), and that they were supposed to do new polling and release updates by last October (it's now January).

David Kane's blog has some interesting quotes on Daghir too. Apparently he's a self-trained pollster who started doing polling in 2003. Describing his early polls, he says, "I knew that Baghdad is distributed into nine different areas, and how many citizens lived in each one. But to tell the truth, I didn't know anything about the real random systematic sample. We did it randomly by going to any house we wanted to go to. So it wasn't a perfect sample."
http://lancetiraq.blogspot.com[...]

It's anyone's guess how he might have done it this time. ORB just assures us their results are "nationally representative" (and then come back a few days later to tell us they aren't, but assure us of future updates, which then don't materialize.)

Comment 07 – ALP January 06 2007, 11:50

I agree with JMT in one respect - that time would be better spent in evaluating facts, data, etc, than in casting doubt on people based on their political views. The media often refer to Iraq Body Count as "anti-war", as if that in itself is a good reason to be suspicious of their figures.

JMT attempts to defend Medialens, but Medialens play the very game that JMT objects to. For example, what is Medialens's response to the Neil Munro article (which has now come to their attention)? Do they attempt to refute Munro's arguments or question his data? No. Their response is to post a 2001 article by Munro which gives an indication of his political leanings.

If one is interested in "truth", one can't have the luxury of ignoring inconvenient facts (of the type that Munro presents). There is enough time and space to campaign against the massive slaughter caused by the illegal invasion/occupation of Iraq and to take into consideration any material which cast doubts on the "truth" of a big estimated number (eg as provided by the ORB or Lancet studies). The two actions aren't mutually exclusive, except to those who use their brains as blunt objects.

The antiwar movement doesn't depend on any given number from any study. Around 80% of the UK population were against the illegal invasion of Iraq before March 2003. To be taken seriously, research into the true scale of the calamity (particularly the application of epidemiological techniques to war zones - a new, tentative, imperfect area of research) requires that the kind of issues raised in Munro's article (the problems with methodology, unverifiable data, etc - not the political views of the studys' authors) are taken on board and answered, not dismissed with the wave of a hand which says "I don't have to listen to the criticisms of war apologists".

The latter reaction reveals only insecurity and defensiveness - which is not what the antiwar movement needs. So what if the Lancet study is shown to be fatally flawed, with the true figure revealed as 250,000 (or whatever)? Would that be a big blow for the antiwar movement? I suggest not. Or at least it shouldn't be.

Comment 08 – Several Famous Epidemiologists January 06 2007, 15:05

JMT writes:

'Far better to smear anyone who is trying to get to the truth, however "flawed" their methods may be. And some think that Media lens is anal?'

Who is smearing whom? Is it a smear to point to problems with data and report that fraud is one possible explanation among others. Most of our scientific colleagues would emphatically not call that a smear.

Science involves criticising. That's how you approach (but never reach, absolutely) "truth", by allowing research to be criticised, refuted, challenged, updated.

If you're going to redefine "smear" to include what that article contains, then you'd better be prepared to deal with the consequences. Because by that redefinition, Les Roberts of the Lancet survey certainly smeared the researchers of the much larger United Nations survey (ILCS), which used similar cluster sampling techniques. And largely as a result of that "smearing" by Roberts, most commentators over at Medialens have completely forgotten, or ignore or dismiss, that UN study. So much for your "truth".

Comment 09 – Several Famous Epidemiologists January 06 2007, 15:42

I'd also add that the Lancet team's decision to share their data with some, but not others (most notably a few of their critics in the scientific community) is not the behaviour of "truth"-seekers.

It's anti-scientific. And almost unheard of. Stephen Fienberg, one of the most respected statisticians on the planet, said that as an editor, he would not publish a study for which the data was withheld in this way. (Source).

Comment 10 – JMT January 06 2007, 19:11

"The antiwar movement doesn't depend on any given number from any study."

So what's with all the petulant mudslinging at Medialens or anyone who apparently "defends" them? Pointing out the 'flaws' would have been sufficient but no, you have to join in the mudslinging and accusations like a petulant 2 year old.

"JMT attempts to defend Medialens, but Medialens play the very game that JMT objects to"

This is not about Medialens, defending them or otherwise. It is the politics that is played. Defend yourself by all means but do us all a favour and spare us the bullshit.

"Who is smearing whom? Is it a smear to point to problems with data and report that fraud is one possible explanation among others. Most of our scientific colleagues would emphatically not call that a smear."

So it's acceptable to start your own smearing because someone else is doing it - this is your idea of getting to the truth!? Pointing out flaws is one thing - the petulant mudslinging and finger-pointing that all sides in this "argument" have joined in with gusto would put a 2-year old to shame.

Comment 11 – JMT January 06 2007, 19:21

"The latter reaction reveals only insecurity and defensiveness - which is not what the antiwar movement needs. So what if the Lancet study is shown to be fatally flawed, with the true figure revealed as 250,000 (or whatever)? Would that be a big blow for the antiwar movement? I suggest not. Or at least it shouldn't be."

So what does your petulant reaction reveal? Truth, honesty and integrity? I dunno about you but I have always believed that the pot calling the kettle black is not only a waste of time but does the exact opposite of what you say you are trying to achieve.

Comment 12 – Julie January 06 2007, 21:17

I've read the above comments carefully, and the only real mudslinging I see is coming from you, JMT (you used the word "petulant" 4 times for example). Sorry, but I think you're overreacting.

Comment 13 – JMT January 06 2007, 22:36

Sorry but I would suggest that you don't know very much about or have chosen to ignore the whole Medialens v those who think they know better "debate", Julie (and I would not blame you if you did ignore it - it has not been a very pretty sight to watch)).

I however, have followed this for a long time and have become thoroughly dismayed and sickened by the narrow, petulant arguments (and that is exactly what it is) that both sides have succumbed to in order to make a point. Both sides may have valid arguments but both of them have reduced an important issue to an "I know better than you" egotistical argument while presuming to lecture the rest of us what the truth is. And the petulant rejoinder that "they started it" which I have seen on this particular forum from people whom presume to tell me how bad the other side is while ignoring their own stupidity, cuts no ice with me either.

All the best
Jay

Comment 14 – Julie January 07 2007, 09:44

Jay, you say you object to both sides, and yet none of your objections appear on the Medialens board. Why is that, if you're so "sickened" by what you see there?

Comment 15 – JMT January 08 2007, 13:10

"Jay, you say you object to both sides, and yet none of your objections appear on the Medialens board. Why is that, if you're so "sickened" by what you see there?"

I made one comment to Medialens when they first criticised the IBC figures. I have not become involved since because the politics of the numbers of dead do not interest me.

Jay

 

 

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