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Scientists ignored over Iraq October 19, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq, Iraq mortality, Media Criticism.

Two competing mythologies on Iraqi deaths:

  1. Mass media (particularly in US): “A few thousand American soldiers died, plus several thousand Iraqis, but we don’t talk about them”.
  2. Alternative media: “Over a million Iraqi deaths, and anyone who questions this figure is probably a supporter of the war”.

The problem with “mainstream” coverage is obvious; the problem with “alternative” media only becomes apparent when you research the science. And by research, I don’t mean read the alternative media – I mean check out the source material, the scientific studies, the views expressed by the leading researchers themselves (as opposed to “alternative” journalists working for Alternet or whatever).

Here’s a start. You’ve probably read the views of the Lancet study authors (since they are often quoted on alternative media sites). Here’s some material by other leading epidemiologists/demographers, which you probably haven’t read, and which presents a different view from the “alternative media” consensus:

The ignored perspectives

Debarati Guha-Sapir and Olivier Degomme, from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, Brussels, have written:

The Burnham [Lancet 2006] estimates of deaths in the post invasion period are much higher than any other estimate. Even the lower limit of its 95% CI is higher than the highest estimate from any other source (Table 1). Further, weaknesses cited earlier as well as several inconsistencies in their published work undermine the reliability of their estimates. […]

While IBC is undoubtedly missing some deaths in Baghdad, it is unlikely that they would miss an average of over 100 violent deaths a day, given the level of media coverage in the city. We therefore conclude that their Baghdad mortality estimate is close to complete, further corroborated by the ILCS estimates […]

Our re-estimation of total war-related death toll for Iraq from the invasion until June 2006 is therefore around 125,000.

Leading epidemiologists Mohamed M. Ali, Colin Mathers and J. Ties Boerma from the World Health Organisation / Iraq Family Health Survey have written:

Both sources [IFHS & IBC] indicate that the 2006 study by Burnham et al [Lancet] considerably overestimated the number of violent deaths. To reach the 925 violent deaths per day reported by Burnham et al [Lancet] for June 2005 through June 2006, as many as 87% of violent deaths would have been missed in the IFHS and more than 90% in the Iraq Body Count. This level of underreporting is highly improbable, given the internal and external consistency of the data and the much larger sample size and quality-control measures taken in the implementation of the IFHS.

Beth Osborne Daponte (the renowned demographer who produced authoritative death figures for the first Gulf War) has recently written:

Perhaps the best that the public can be given is exactly what IBC provides – a running tally of deaths derived from knowledge about incidents. While imperfect, that knowledge, supplemented by the wealth of data of the Iraq Living Conditions Survey and Iraq Family Health Survey (which have their own limitations), provides enough information in the light of the circumstances. At a later date, additional surveys can be conducted to determine the impact and/or do demographic analysis. But for now, the Iraq Body Count’s imperfect figures combined with the date of the ILCS and IFHS may suffice. […]

The estimates from [the Lancet studies] students have been lauded but also questioned, partially because the researchers have misinterpreted their own figures but also because of fundamental questions about the representativeness of the achieved survey sample.

Mark van der Laan, an authority in the field of biostatistics (and recipient of the Presidential Award of the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies) has written, with Leon de Winter, on the Lancet 2006 study:

“We conclude that it is virtually impossible to judge the value of the original data collected in the 47 clusters [of the Lancet study]. We also conclude that the estimates based upon these data are extremely unreliable and cannot stand a decent scientific evaluation.” http://tinyurl.com/4txbpw