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Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 1) October 19, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens.

I’ve listed (most recently in a ZNet article) errors in Medialens’s articles (from their campaign against Iraq Body Count). But the most embarrassing Medialens material was posted to their message board, and has long since disappeared (no doubt to their relief).

I saved some of it to disk, however. It’s worth presenting (in installments – there’s a lot of it) as it shows how poorly-researched – and often hypocritical – Medialens’s campaign was.

On 24 March 2006, David Edwards (Medialens co-editor) signalled the latest “phase” of the campaign by posting a message titled: ‘The IBC “amateurs”‘. It claimed that a “world’s leading epidemiologist” had told them that IBC “is run by amateurs”. When asked for the identity of this epidemiologist, the Medialens editors replied:

“Our source has chosen to remain anonymous – that’s his decision. Our concern is that this important information be made public.” (Medialens editors, 24/3/06)

Well, they certainly milked this “important information”. Their “amateurs” theme ran and ran, and the Medialens editors seemed anxious to tell journalists about it:

Dear Steve

It baffles me that you would take IBC more seriously than you would the peer-reviewed Lancet report, which after all appeared in a major science journal. One of the world’s leading epidemiologists told me the IBC is run by “amateurs”… (email from David Edwards to BBC’s Steve Herrmann, 24/3/06)

Fast forward to the present to get a sense of Medialens’s hypocrisy. When it suits their position, it seems that Medialens favour “amateur” studies over peer-reviewed science. For example, in their recent article, Propping up Propaganda, they write that “the probable death toll exceeds one million”. Their sources for this? Just Foreign Policy and Opinion Research Business – both “amateur” studies (they’re not recognised in the scientific literature – see below for more details on the lack of scientific credentials for these studies*). And the sources that Medialens ignores (and which contradict their “one million” figure)? At least five peer-reviewed studies conducted by “world’s leading” experts such as Beth Duponte Osborne, Mohamed M. Ali, Mark van der Laan, etc. (More detail on these studies here).

Anonymous epidemiologists

Medialens didn’t rely on just one anonymous expert. They claimed that several “leading epidemiologists” supported their criticisms of IBC. But when asked for a list of names, they went silent. When asked a further time (on 30/4/06), they replied: “The experts have made an appearance – we have a list of names. We hope to have more on this before too long.” It’s now over two years later, and they still haven’t produced the list (they’ve been asked often enough that it’s turned into a running joke among Medialens’s critics).

(Iraq Body Count published a thorough response to Medialens’s campaign, which comments on the “amateurs” slur, among other things – eg see p47).

* “Amateurs”

The “amateur” operations that Medialens apparently now favours over peer-reviewed science:

*Just Foreign Policy (JFP), ironically, uses IBC figures to “extrapolate” from the Lancet 2006 estimate to the present day. JFP personnel appear to have no qualifications in the relevant fields (eg biostats, epidemiology, demography). JFP’s Iraqi Death Estimate is very much an “amateur” operation in the sense that Medialens have used the term in this context.

Opinion Research Business (ORB) is a market research company which publicised the “over a million” estimate cited by Medialens. ORB’s Iraq poll wasn’t peer-reviewed science. It doesn’t appear to be recognised in the scientific literature. The person conducting ORB’s poll, Munqith Daghir, began his polling career in 2003, with little in the way of formal training or field experience (according to ORB’s publicity literature).