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Final falsehoods from Medialens October 29, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.

(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”.