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Tim Lambert's muddled account  
Posted by ALP on January 22 2008, 14:49 » Uploaded 23/01/08 12:20  

In a recent National Journal article on the Lancet 2006 study on Iraqi deaths, Neil Munro wrote:

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. That total requires an underlying casualty rate only one-quarter of that offered by Lancet II.

The Lancet-defending blogger, Tim Lambert responded:

I contacted Garfield and this is a misrepresentation of his views. He told me:

I seem to have a special ability to make statements that lend themselves to misinterpretation.

I could not believe that 100,000 had died in 2004, but the best evidence made me believe it.

As a guess, out of the blue, I feel confident that at least a quarter million Iraqis have died due to violence since the 2003 invasion. But that is just a guess.

An estimate, based on field data, collected via good methods, is far better than a guess, even if there are some biases along with imprecision in it.

Presumably this is a muddled account by Tim Lambert. The other alternative is that Richard Garfield gave a muddled account to Lambert. Because it makes no sense for a serious scientist (such as Garfield) to provide a "guess, out of the blue" to a journalist (on such a hugely important issue) which he doesn't in fact stand by.

Is Garfield really such a gullible, delicate soul that a journalist can elicit from him, against his will (on a subject on which he's considered an expert), a figure he doesn't himself appear to endorse? (If he does endorse it, then Munro isn't misrepresenting him).

Read the above account by Tim Lambert closely. It makes no sense. Garfield has been thinking about these issues since at least as far back as 2004 when he conducted the 2004 Lancet study. He's had a lot of time to think about the factors which may affect estimates. He's had several occasions to give his informed, considered view on what he thinks the death toll may or may not be. If he's confident in the Lancet 2006 estimate (which he says he is, according to the above account), then why doesn't his "guess" reflect that confidence? You'd expect him to at least be confident in the lower figure from the L2 range, 393,000.

If he thinks that's "far better" than a guess, then what exactly does his "guess" represent? It's meaningless. Lambert says that Munro "misrepresented" Garfield on this. But from the above account, it seems more like Garfield misrepresented himself.

COMMENTS Post comment


Comment 01 – ALP January 23 2007, 13:17

Related Munro/Lambert stuff:

One point raised by Neil Munro in the National Journal article was:

"The survey teams failed to collect the fraud-preventing demographic data that pollsters routinely gather."

Tim Lambert's response to this (echoing Les Roberts):

"This is an obvious fabrication. Munro even provides a copy of the survey instrument, which tells the surveyor to record demographic data..."

Les Roberts and Tim Lambert have now admitted they were wrong about this, and that Munro was right. Steven Moore, in an earlier article, made the same claim as Munro, and was dismissed at the time by Les Roberts (who implied Moore was a pro-war liar). Moral: it's sometimes possible even for evil war-mongers to get facts right and for saints to get facts wrong.

In fact, close inspection of the John Tirman (commissioner of Lancet 2006) response to Munro's piece reveals as many basic errors by Tirman as by Munro. (Pointing this out doesn't mean I'm "singing the praises" of Munro's piece - far from it, I suspect Munro was going for a hatchet job regarding the Soros aspect).

Comment 02 – Julie January 23 2007, 20:07

I think this highlights the problem of a group of people (the ones furiously defending the Lancet study) reinforcing their own views by quoting each other all the time and not allowing contrary opinions to be seriously considered.

When Les Roberts dismissed the claim of Moore the first time (see above comment) I bet all the others in this group were quoting Roberts' dismissal until it became an object of unquestionable truth. And when you add up all these objects of truth you get a sort of religion based around it, and blasphemers are vigorously rejected.

I don't understand the quote from Garfield either, ALP. If he'd said "I feel confident that at least 20 Iraqis have died due to violence since the 2003 invasion" would it make his explanation any stranger?





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