jump to navigation

Final falsehoods from Medialens October 29, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
comments closed

(See my Comment Factory article for more on Medialens’s
dishonest attempts to discredit Iraq Body Count)

Before I discontinue Medialens-related content (I’ve exhausted the topic), let me record a comment made yesterday by Medialens:

My point is that Shone repeatedly misrepresents Dougherty as a “scientist”. He’s not; he’s a guitarist. (Medialens editors,  Oct 28 2010)

This is either a malicious fabrication or the mistaken conclusion to some specious reasoning (see context below). It’s difficult to know which. Dougherty (Josh) is a researcher with IBC who has authored peer-reviewed scientific research, but who isn’t a “professional” scientist. Contrary to Medialens’s assertion, I’ve never once labelled Josh a “scientist” (never mind “repeatedly”).

(I emailed Medialens in response to their false claim, but they wouldn’t publish my email – contrary to their claim of guaranteeing “the right of a published reply” to their publicly-made accusations. So much for courtesy).

Context: What reason did the Medialens editors give for their assertion? Well, they pointed to my article, Scientists criticise Lancet 2006 study on Iraqi deaths, which compiled published material, mostly from scientists, including all the letters from a particular issue of the Lancet (one letter was by Josh). Nowhere in my article do I refer to Josh as a “scientist”, so I presume the sole “basis” for Medialens’s wild accusation is the article’s title. So: is it possible they’re that dimwitted, or were they maliciously fabricating?


*Update (10 Nov 2010)

Medialens repeated their “guitarist” nonsense in a very dishonest ‘alert‘ (read here about why it’s dishonest). They asked people to email the Guardian’s Michael White. So I did:

Dear Michael,

Medialens is currently prompting people to write to you: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/.

Here are some things they won’t want you to hear:

1. They comment on something you wrote (in the Guardian, 25/10) about the Wikileaks war logs:

We have seen many foolish comments from journalists over the years, but this truly numbs the mind […] the war logs record an unknown portion of violent deaths reported by US troops in the field […] They cannot conceivably be considered comprehensive, complete, or in any way scientific.

Foolish? In that case, Science journal must also have been foolish to publish this:

Taking the WikiLeaks data into account, IBC now estimates that at least 150,000 have died violently during the war, 80% of them civilians. That falls within the range produced by an Iraq household survey conducted by the World Health Organization – and further erodes the credibility of a 2006 study published in The Lancet that estimated over 600,000 violent deaths for the first 3 years of the war (Science, 18 January 2008, p. 273). [Clipping of Science article]

Science journal quotes an expert on conflict studies who worked with Wikileaks and IBC on the leaked data:

“…with such a huge overlap [between IBC and Wikileaks data], it does not seem very likely that there are a large number of civilian deaths missed by both sources”

2. Medialens’s attempt at “media analysis” was bizarre:

“UK Broadsheets
‘Wikileaks’: 103 mentions
‘Wikileaks’ and ‘Iraq Body Count’: 17
‘Wikileaks’ and ‘Lancet’: 0″ [etc]

Medialens want us to find this shocking, but it’s exactly what one would expect given that IBC worked with Wikileaks on the data, that IBC’s John Sloboda was on the panel at the Wikileaks press conference, that the Wikileaks data is at an individual level, like IBC’s, and that the Wikileaks data has nothing to do with epidemiological surveys (eg the Lancet-published studies).

3. Medialens frame the issue as a battle between the Lancet studies (“science”) and IBC (who they label as “amateurs”, etc) – but if they gave a full account (or even an accurate summary) of the science to date, it would completely undermine (in fact reverse) their argument. So they leave scientific research out of it, while claiming to be on the side of science. For example, they never once refer to the WHO survey (mentioned in the Science article quoted above).

4. It’s also rather dishonest of Medialens (given the “amateur” IBC sub-theme of their alert) to fail to point out that the critique of the ORB study (co-authored by IBC researcher Josh Dougherty) was peer-reviewed scientific research (published by Survey Research Methods [2010] Vol.4, No.1). Medialens also failed to mention that this study’s findings were recently echoed by epidemiologist Francesco Checchi, who is a colleague of Lancet study author, Les Roberts. Checci stated in an interview with the BBC that he thinks the ORB figure was “implausible”, that the poll had a “major weakness” and that the Iraq death count is “likely to be between 200,000 and 500,000″ (BBC World Service, 27 Aug 2010).

This scepticism (or outright criticism) towards Medialens’s favourite studies (Lancet/ORB) is fairly typical of the views one hears among researchers in the field at present, due to a string of critical studies appearing in the scientific literature. But Medialens never reports these views, or studies, since they undermine Medialens’s ‘Lancet vs IBC-amateurs’ framing. Another example is researcher Patrick Ball, whom Medialens often quote approvingly (current Medialens ‘alert’ included). But Medialens forget to mention that Patrick Ball recently wrote the following on the Lancet 2006 study:

First, I want to be clear that I have no interest in defending the Burnham et al. [Lancet 2006] estimates. The flaws in that study are now well known. (Patrick Ball, 28/4/10)

Thanks for your time.

Robert Shone
[Sent 9 Nov 2010]

• Follow up email to Michael White (10 Nov 2010):

Medialens quotes this from John Tirman:

No war has produced more than about a 10 to 1 ratio of displaced to dead, and in most wars the ratio is about 5 to 1 or narrower. The 5 to 1 ratio would translate into at least 700,000 deaths in Iraq.

Completely false of course*. Does Medialens bother to check this stuff? I doubt it. As long as it fuels their anti-IBC smear campaign, they include it.

Best wishes,


* Kosovo ratio: approx 75 to 1 (12,000 dead, 900,000 displaced)
Bosnia ratio: approx 25 to 1 (100,000 dead/missing, 2.5m displaced)
Darfur ratio: approx 33 to 1 (60,000 deaths due to violence, 2m displaced)

Applying the ratios for Bosnia and Darfur to the figure quoted by Medialens for Iraqi displaced (“between 3.5 and 5 million”) would give you figures very much in line with what IBC is saying (approx 150,000 violent deaths – civilian plus combatant). So much for Medialens’s “analysis”.


BBC News publishes my response to Les Roberts October 28, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
comments closed

After a prompt from an advocacy group, BBC’s Paul Reynolds added comments from epidemiologist Les Roberts to a BBC News piece on the WikiLeaks Iraq war logs. I complained to Paul that Roberts was using the space to reheat his old attacks on Iraq Body Count (IBC), and that his comments (with one exception) had little relevance to the subject matter of the article.

I also pointed out (with examples) that most of Roberts’s claims were either misinformed, unsubstantiated or simply false. Paul, to his credit, immediately published my comments on the BBC News page. But what he published was an edited version of comments which I’d already whittled down (to get the basic points across to someone who wasn’t already familiar with the studies/background). Here is the original version of my comments:

[Les Roberts] “A) It is likely that the IBC and Wikileaks reports tend to have the same lens (many reports coming from the Government of Iraq, oversampling of Baghdad, oversampling of the largest events and missing single killings).”

Robert Shone: On the previously unknown 15,000 deaths, IBC point out that: “The majority of these new deaths come from small incidents of one to three deaths”. If the WikiLeaks report had the same “lens” as IBC on size of incidents, as claimed by Roberts, this wouldn’t be the case.

[Les Roberts] “B) We have shown that most violent deaths in the press over the first 4 years of the war are not in IBC because they (cautiously) required multiple press reports and (unavoidably) used a few search terms that did not capture all events. (see attached)”

RS: Roberts hasn’t “shown” this anywhere (unless the “attached” which Roberts mentions contains something new and previously unpublished – what was this “attached”?). I suspect he’s making similar unfounded claims to the ones he makes in C), which I’ve already shown is false.

[Les Roberts] “C) In Baghdad where we believe the press coverage was by far the best, we showed that most violent deaths reported in phone and Skype interviews were not in IBC.”

RS: That’s false. Roberts’s study found that “38%” of deaths “were absolutely not in the [IBC] database”. The majority (62%) were included by IBC or can’t be ruled out as not included by Roberts’s Mickey Mouse study (which used a truly massive, comprehensive sample of only “18 primary interviewees”! – see my blog post for more details). The only way Roberts can make the above (false) claim is by ignoring the records in IBC’s database which came from morgues, etc (and which therefore Roberts couldn’t match, due to lack of detail). It’s very dishonest. Les Roberts’s study: http://pdm.medicine.wisc.edu/Volume_23/issue_4/siegler.pdf (page 3)

[Les Roberts] “D) There are just so many things that are not consistent with 120,000 deaths! The ORB 11/07 and BBC (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/19_03_07_iraqpollnew.pdf ) polls that are completely at odds with the IBC implication that 1 in 20 or 1 in 25 Iraqi households have lost someone to violence. The ORB implication that 1 in 4 households have lost someone matches all the ground reports I hear. You cannot have the Iraqi Ambassador reporting half a million new war widows or UNICEF speculating that there are a million orphans if there are 120,000 war deaths.”

RS: The comment about widows is completely bogus, as around 490,000 women would be widowed over a seven year period regardless of war (making a pro-rata population comparison to rate of widowhood in the US, for example – an over-simplistic comparison, to be sure, but it does underline the basic point that other things than war create widows). This issue has been debated a lot, and the conclusion among the informed seems to be that there’s currently no way of knowing how many of the widows are due to the recent conflict, to previous conflicts (80s & 90s), other factors, etc. As for the rest of Roberts’s comment here, this is where some real “balance” would come in useful. For example, the ORB study has recently been convincingly demolished in a peer-reviewed study published in Survey Research Methods [2010] Vol.4, No.1. Even Les Roberts’s colleague, Francesco Checchi, thinks there are serious problems with it (he was quoted as saying so in a recent BBC report*). So it might be better to use a more credible study, such as IFHS, as a comparison. So much for “balance”.

*Checchi said the ORB figure was “implausible”, that it had a “major weakness” (echoing the Survey Research Methods study findings). He added that the Iraq death count was “likely to be between 200,000 and 500,000”. (BBC World Service, 27 Aug 2010)


Published 8.43am October 28 2010

Media relies on WikiLeaks October 24, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
comments closed

“…the deaths of some of 109,000 people are documented
including 66,000 civilians… Working with Iraq Body Count,
we have seen there are approximately 15,000 never previously
documented cases of civilians who have been killed…”

– Julian Assange (WikiLeaks)

It’s been widely reported (particularly by The Guardian), so it would be redundant to repeat the details here. Apparently the media (in the UK at least) is willing to report this kind of thing, even if it doesn’t do the investigative or analytical work (in this case it relied on WikiLeaks and Iraq Body Count).

Here’s some BBC coverage of the WikiLeaks Iraq War Log press conference, with Julian Assange and IBC’s John Sloboda:

Here’s more video footage of the WikiLeaks press conference.
Guardian article by Hamit Dardagan and John Sloboda.
Article from Science journal (clipping/image version)

Quotes to cogitate on… October 17, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
comments closed

Or even to masticate over…

“If an instrument similar to a geiger-counter could be invented that counted moral judgements instead, we would learn to duck as people became increasingly ‘moral’, since lethal force is usually imminent. So far from moral fervour being an alternative to force, it is frequently the overture, the accompaniment and the memorial to it.” — Charles Hampden-Turner

“[The self-righteous person] presupposes his own moral values and his own righteousness as a condition of conversation. The effect of this is that anyone talking to a self-righteous person must either agree with his moral values and act equally self-righteous, or face being put in a morally inferior position in the discourse.” — George Lakoff (Moral Politics)

“Any interesting ideas or realisations I have had have originated in my heart” — David Edwards (Hallmark Greetings cards & Medialens )

“Only do what your heart tells you” — Princess Diana

“My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will, never, never surrender to what is right” — Dan Quayle (former US Vice President)

“The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental” — Robert Anton Wilson

[Source of saccharine David Edwards quotes]

“I’m going to ask you to exercise glands you never knew existed.”
J.R. “Bob” Dobbs

Feedback — just in:

Hey Robert, that’s funny. Were you aware that David Edwards’ cogitation is basically a rehash of Eckhart Tolle (a New Age “spiritual teacher”)? I actually saw Tolle speak live a few years ago he was quite impressive if you’re into that kind of talk. Edwards is eager to see “personality types” in his critics but slow to apply those insights to himself it appears. He talks about how people “come to identify so closely” with their ideas, but forgets about the dogma which defines him, and from which he will not deviate! But he’s got the Tolle bug alright. Whether it makes him more, or less, of a self-important fool remains to be seen. [Steve, via email]

Thanks, Steve – I’ve heard of Tolle. His books have apparently been mega-sellers due to promotion by Oprah (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). As for Medialens, I think I’ve now exhausted the subject. It’s a pity they refuse to engage with what I (and many others, including journalists such as George Monbiot, etc) consider to be important points raised here (eg their errors/omissions over Iraq mortality studies, issues of censorship, hypocrisy, etc). The side of Medialens I’ve seen is not at all like the one presented in David Edwards’s “sweetness & light” piece. I see more of the narrowness, intolerance and childish polemic that’s been pointed out by Monbiot, Steven Poole, Stephen Soldz and others, as previously documented in this blog  — RS.

Here are a few other comments I’ve received, published with permission of the correspondents…

Sadly, I think it’s diminishing returns with criticisms of the Davids, even funny ones. They’re always complaining that certain people “blank” them, but they don’t seem to realise that they themselves are doing a lot of the “blanking” (by only responding to criticisms when it suits them, and only in terms that negate the very possibility that they might be in the wrong). The Lakoff quote really is very apt … I’ve felt myself being “pushed” by force of rhetoric into that “morally inferior” position several times. [George]

“Thinking is of the ego, feeling is of the heart”? The old guru routine? He’d be better advised to stick with the institutional analysis – the ‘spiritual teacher’ scene is over-crowded and has a bad reputation. Nice RAW quote, btw. [BD]

I don’t understand the relevance of the “exercise glands” or Dan Quayle quotes, I’m afraid. I came here from the Cif link but I already knew about MediaLens. [Roz]     [Nothing hugely relevant, Roz, they just seemed funny to me – RS]

Just to add to the comments you’ve already published…. that “cogitation” by Edwards just underlines the strangeness of Medialens. How quickly they flip from sniping at Monbiot to claiming they have the “answer” to the “dehumanising effect of excessive intellectuality” and other pomposities. Let’s just replay their latest intellectual joust with Monbiot, who had written of the government’s “cowardice” over the Green issue. Medialens replied that “the notion of government ‘cowardice’ is a classic liberal herring – the problem has always been the government +alliance+ with corporate power, not its ‘cowardice'”. But Medialens are so identified with their own intellectual games, that they don’t see the obvious: – that Monbiot was probably referring to the cowardice which *causes* the government to yield to corporate power. I really miss those discussions at Media Hell where this type of thing was gone over, and then Medialens (as “Woofles”) would attempt, unsuccessfully, to defend itself. 😉 [Greg]
[Links added by me – RS]

Freedom of Information Act request: 35,000 pages on Iraqi & Afghan casualties October 16, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
comments closed

“We have summarised and released over 35,000 pages of records. We currently have one more set of documents we are working to summarise.”Nasrina Bargzie (attorney, for ACLU)

Perhaps this is how Full Employment can be achieved: declare everything of international importance secret. The amount of work required to request its release (via Freedom of Information Act), to legally demand it (when denied), and then to unravel, interpret and publish (in a form that’s understandable), etc, would surely keep the world’s “unemployed” in work for decades.

Of course, the work ends up being done by volunteer groups dependent on donations – eg Amercian Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Iraq Body Count (IBC).

So, over 35,000 pages of internal US government documents on civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan – released following ACLU-initiated Freedom of Information Act requests, lawsuit and lengthy negotiations. Records which should always have been in the public domain. The latest batch of records was released by ACLU earlier this year. IBC has been working to integrate the records on Iraqi civilian deaths into its database since the first release in 2007.

A separate FOIA request by Professor Michael Spagat (of Royal Holloway University) led to the release of another set of data on civilian casualties (Basra police records held by the UK Ministry of Defence). This has also been integrated into the IBC database. (There’s a misconception in some circles that IBC excludes casualties which aren’t reported in “Western” media. In fact, IBC has used data from NGOs, Iraqi hospitals and morgues, records obtained from UK and US governments using FOIA requests – and non-“Western” media).

Unrelated: I’ve written a new piece for The Comment Factory: Counterproductive antiwar arguments.