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Journal of Peace Research award December 15, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
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The Journal of Peace Research Article of the Year Award has gone to Neil F. Johnson, Michael Spagat, Sean Gourley, Jukka-Pekka Onnela & Gesine Reinert for ‘Bias in Epidemiological Studies of Conflict Mortality’ (Journal of Peace Research 45(5): 653–663).

This is the “main street bias” (msb) research which highlighted problems with a variant of cluster-sampling methodology used to estimate mortality from the Iraq war/occupation (in the study by Burnham et al, published in the Lancet journal, 2006).

According to the jury who awarded the prize, the peer-reviewed study on msb:

…provides an important advance in the methodology for estimating the number of casualties in civil wars. The authors show convincingly that previous studies which are based on a cross-street cluster-sampling algorithm (CSSA) have significantly overestimated the number of casualties in Iraq.

Several of my friends and colleagues have been (over-)protective of the Lancet study ever since George Bush ignorantly declared that its methodology was “not credible”. I hope they’ll come to realise that the business of importing epidemiological techniques into conflict-zone research on violent deaths (for which they were not originally designed) has a long way to go. And that research such as the above should be seen as part of the much-needed scientific progress in this area, not as another “enemy” of the antiwar cause.

Full reply to Medialens December 5, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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The following is my reply to the editors of Medialens, after their “Alert” [of 4/12/08] attacked this blog. [See, also, George Monbiot’s reply to Medialens]

Dear David and David,

The way I read your Alert [4/12/08] is as follows: you start with an attempt at character assassination, then you target George Monbiot with a guilt-by-association line. And this is in response to a one-line question posed by George on your message board? The whole alert reeks of defensiveness.

You also state that I’m “wrong on every level”, but in fact you refute none of my points (the best you can manage is your assertion that I “misrepresent” you at one point – which I dispute). More on that below.

At the top of your alert, before providing any argument, you set the tone by writing of me: “he has smeared us whenever and wherever he can across the web”. That’s a serious charge, but you provide no examples, no evidence of these “smears”. Instead, you mention my piece which criticises your alert on Nick Davies and his book, Flat Earth News. But you provide no direct link – you link instead to your own forum, which has a link to another message board, on which my piece can be found. (So, with some effort, your readers can check whether I’m really “smearing” you or just criticising you).

My blog contains a lot of criticism of Medialens (although not as much as Medialens’s rather obsessive criticism of Monbiot). If it’s true that I “smear” you “whenever and wherever” I can, then presumably my blog should be full of those “smears”. It’s odd, then, that you cite none, particularly as you seem to use my blog as part of your guilt-by-association attack on Monbiot.

You first attempt a “substantial” criticism with the following:

“In other words, Shone’s claim that we ‘stress that journalists should “subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism”‘ in the alert is simply false – we said no such thing. He misrepresented what we wrote. In our experience, this is a standard Shone tactic. It is also something you could easily have checked.”

This is pretty staggering given that the words “subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism” are a direct quote from your alert. And that elsewhere you’ve written: “What we’ve said is that we think dissident journalists can and should do more to draw attention to the failings of their host media in those media and outside.” That’s fairly typical of your output. Of course, you often qualify such remarks (as you qualified the above) by adding that there are taboos and constraints which make “criticising the host media” risky and difficult. But you don’t argue that journalists shouldn’t *try* (even though it might ultimately be unsuccessful). It seems a bizarre, and rather defensive, overreaction, therefore, for you to describe my statement as “simply false” and as a “misrepresentation”. (I note that someone has made a similar point on your message board).

You’ve previously accused George Monbiot of being “unwilling to criticise the Guardian’s role in limiting public understanding of our government’s responsibility for crimes against humanity” (Alert, 10/12/02). Is that not a way of saying that you think George *should* be more willing to criticise the Guardian (in a more “serious and sustained” way)? Or are you playing some semantic game, in which you don’t actually mean what you appear to say?

Moving on, you don’t attempt to refute my claim that “in a single Guardian article (The Lies of the Press), Monbiot wrote more words criticising the Guardian than Medialens wrote criticising the New Statesman in their entire run of NS columns.”

Instead, you write “We did criticise the New Statesman while we were writing for them (2003-2005) both in the magazine and in media alerts”.

But the example you provide is one of the two that I’d included in my word-count comparison. There are only two cases of your NS column being critical of the NS. I cited both. You quoted the longer one (brief though it was). The other is as follows: “The fallout from the Hutton report, John Kampfner notes in the New Statesman, is ‘a tragedy for investigative journalism’ as, pre-Hutton, the BBC was ‘beginning to ask searching questions’. Nothing could be further from the truth”. (NS, 23/2/04)

And that’s it for your entire run of NS columns. It’s not surprising then that you’d concentrate on your alerts instead, even though they were largely irrelevent to the points I made (the one exception being my observation that you didn’t issue an alert over the NS’s Iraq special edition). The comparison in my blog was between your NS column and Monbiot’s Guardian column. This was for the very good reason that your criticisms of Monbiot mostly concern his Guardian column.

An interesting part of your alert is where you claim that your NS columns, although not directly critical of the NS (except for the above two exceptions) are “implicitly criticising almost everything the magazine said” (since they were about “corporate media propaganda”). Of course, you could use the same logic to claim that almost every Monbiot column “implicitly” criticises the Guardian, since they address aspects of the power structure of which the media is an integral part. In fact, this perspective would save you a lot of trouble, as you wouldn’t have to criticise Monbiot so much. Unfortunately, however, the bottom line for Medialens is your own narrow criteria and your own particular semantic interpretations, which you seem to dictate that everyone else must accept.

It’s great, by the way, that you issued a few alerts critical of the NS while you were writing for them (although irrelevant to the particular points in my blog entry, as I’ve noted). And it’s interesting that you think your May 2005 alert may have been “the last straw” as far as the NS was concerned (you state that Kampfner rejected your next submission). Have you checked this interpretation of events with Wilby and Kampfer? Could there not be other reasons for your regular column coming to an end?

At this point in your alert, you quote me as saying: “In other words, Medialens were concerned about holding onto their column. Direct ‘full-frontal’ criticism of the NS would endanger that.”

What you fail to mention is that I was commenting on your own remark concerning your NS column, “one might get away with the kind of full-frontal assault you’re suggesting once, but probably not more than once” – given by you in February 2005 as one of the reasons for not devoting a NS column to criticism of the NS Iraq special edition.

If you now say that you weren’t concerned about holding onto your column, then I accept this “in good faith”, but it doesn’t change the fact that in February 2005 you stated, as a reason for not launching a “full-frontal assault” on the NS, that you would probably lose the column as a result.

You also stated at the time (immediately after your NS “full-frontal” comment) that, “By contrast, when appearing in the Guardian we felt it was important for us to draw attention to the Guardian’s failings no matter what the consequences were”.

This clearly demonstrates that you were concerned about the “consequences” of criticising the NS too strongly from within your NS column. Or at least that’s how you felt at the time.

Talking of your Guardian piece, it’s at this point in your alert that you describe my actions as “shameful” (which at least provided some unintended humour to lighten the otherwise defensive tone of your alert). You wrote:

“It is telling, in fact shameful, that Shone, who claims to be so meticulous, forgot to mention the far more pertinent example (certainly from your point of view): our record of criticising the Guardian in and out of the Guardian.”

Of course this is completely irrelevant to any points I made in my blog. Your Guardian piece was strictly a one-off. It was never intended to be a column, as far as I’m aware. So how is this remotely comparable to the risk of losing a regular column – which is the underlying issue touched upon in my blog?

Finally, you refer to my comment: “One wonders why Medialens were so hostile towards Milne”. You quote this out of context. It wasn’t referring just to your NS comment about Milne (about his “gall”, etc), but also to the various comments you made about Milne on your message board at that time (a few of which I noted in the footnotes of my blog).

It’s also interesting that you again present yourself in a heroic light over the fact that the Guardian (I assume you mean Milne or Rusbridger or both?) stopped returning your emails. It’s as if we’re meant to infer that this was due to your “risky” action of criticising the Guardian from within a Guardian article (after you’d agreed with Milne on this), when obviously it could be for other reasons.

To conclude, you’ve not really addressed my main points, let alone refuted them. The best case you can make is that I “misrepresented” you over the “subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism” line. That’s not much of a case, with respect.

Your character assassination looks to have been more successful though, judging from the amount of abuse I’m receiving on your message board. One post states that I’m a “jumped up little amateurish twerp”. I thought that your board guidelines required posters to be civil and respectful. If you’re looking for real “smears”, look no further than your own message board whenever unapologetic critics of Medialens are discussed.

Since you don’t allow me to post on your message board, I’d be grateful if you would be courteous enough to post this email in its entirety. I’m copying it to George Monbiot, and hoping that George will gently prompt you to post it if you’re reluctant to do so.

Best wishes,

Robert Shone