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Iraqi Death Rate May Top Our Civil War: Deaths in Iraq: How Many, and Why It Matters
October 19, 2006 9:23 PM   Subscribe

...Would it surprise you to learn that if the Johns Hopkins estimates of 400,000 to 800,000 deaths are correct -- and many experts in the survey field seem to suggest they probably are -- that the supposedly not-yet-civil-war in Iraq has already cost more lives, per capita, than our own Civil War (one in 40 of all Iraqis alive in 2003) ? And that these losses are comparable to what some European nations suffered in World War II ? You'd never know it from mainstream press coverage in the U.S. "Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied," Leonard Cohen once sang. The question the new study raises: How many will go down with the ship, and will the press finally hold the captain fully accountable ?
Iraqi Death Rate May Top Our Civil War -- But Will the Press Confirm It ?
See also Debating the Body Count in Iraq
See also Deaths in Iraq: how many, and why it matters
See also The Science of Counting the Dead
See also How the Media Covered The Lancet’s Iraqi Casualty Study
See also More deadly than Saddam
posted by y2karl (80 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Riverbend on the Lancet study.
posted by homunculus at 9:36 PM on October 19, 2006


damn good post. with leonard cohen t'boot. the press is a lapdog.
posted by punkbitch at 9:36 PM on October 19, 2006


Iraq Body Count on the Lancet study.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:46 PM on October 19, 2006


Surely the flag burning, baby killing, liberal media would not forgo the chance to undermine our Dear Leader's efforts to keep us safe!
posted by wfrgms at 9:50 PM on October 19, 2006


Iraq Body Count on the Lancet study. Ah, the classic "I don't like the implications, therefore I reject the premise" logical fallacy argument.
posted by delmoi at 9:51 PM on October 19, 2006


This is really going to hurt the Democrats.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:56 PM on October 19, 2006


Iraq Body Count on the Lancet study.

From the third link, above:
At a glance and for a lay audience, the contrast in these figures suggests that science must have gone wrong. The reaction of an intelligent sceptic might be to dismiss both figures and ask for additional homework. Moreover, any attempt to reconcile these sharply opposing tallies would only add to the statistical confusion and shift the political debate from the legitimacy of a conflict to the legitimacy of its metrics.

However, as the power of numbers rarely escapes political influence in the context of human conflict and suffering, it is necessary to elaborate a coherent statistical language that might help to answer the two essential questions raised by war: that of the jus ad bellum (whether entering into a war is justifiable), and the jus in bello (whether a war itself is conducted justly).

When thousands have already perished, it could be argued that it is in principle too late for the former (even though retrospective studies can still be done) and too technically challenging for the latter; and that as a result, to invoke numbers to support a case is morally irrelevant. Paul Farmer expresses it well in his 2005 Tanner lecture: "Where, in the midst of all of these numbers, is the human face of suffering."

...For the Johns Hopkins study, a civilian dies in Iraq every three minutes from a war that has long perverted the meaning of both the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello. That civilian would not have died if the coalition had not come. For Iraq Body Count, the same story is told almost twice per hour. How much of a difference does it make? That is the political question these two statistics convey to the world, even if statistics themselves cannot answer it.
posted by y2karl at 10:12 PM on October 19, 2006


Great, depressing post.
posted by knave at 10:14 PM on October 19, 2006


I once spoke with a woman who said that she did not "believe" in statistical analysis. She was convinced it was nothing more or less than guesswork and that it was physically impossible to derive the composition of a large group from a random sample. I can see how that point of view can exist, statistical analysis is counterintuative and a large number of people tend to dismiss anything counterintuative as impossible.

But the fact is that statistical analysis is real, does work, and works amazingly accurately. A random sampling of around 2,000 Iraqi families should produce a margin of error in the range of 2% or so. The only people intent on denying the study are those with a political stake in continuing the US presence in Iraq.

We in the reality based community may be shocked by the figures (I certainly was, I'd been assuming that the numbers from the Iraq Body Count site were roughly accurate, and they are higher than the warmongers want to talk about), but we cannot deny them.
posted by sotonohito at 10:42 PM on October 19, 2006


I love how people who enjoy the deaths of iraqis suddenly trumpet the Iraq Body Count as being the standard bearer of Iraq death numbers. Krrlson, shouldn't you be happy about the 600k dead? Isn't that 600k less people to destroy Israel?
posted by cell divide at 10:44 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I love how people who enjoy the deaths of iraqis suddenly trumpet the Iraq Body Count as being the standard bearer of Iraq death numbers. Krrlson, shouldn't you be happy about the 600k dead? Isn't that 600k less people to destroy Israel?

cell divide, shouldn't you be out desecreating Jewish cemetaries and firebombing synagogues? While we're on the subject of objective debate and all.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:51 PM on October 19, 2006


Ah, the classic "I don't like the implications, therefore I reject the premise" logical fallacy argument.

It's a valid technique, at least sometimes. If we were talking about something rigorous, like math, it'd be a proof by contradiction. In logic, it's a reductio ad absurdum. Of course, it hinges on the conclusions being impossible or highly improbable, and we're not certain this is the case here.
posted by knave at 10:54 PM on October 19, 2006


I love how people who enjoy the deaths of iraqis suddenly trumpet the Iraq Body Count as being the standard bearer of Iraq death numbers.

Ironically, it was these same people who trumpeted a happy, carefree picture of Iraq before the Lancet study, giving the Iraq Body Count group the same agenda-fueled, vitriolic disregard they now give the Johns Hopkins team. If the numbers don't fit your agenda to stick around in a situation getting worse by the day, choose a different study.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 PM on October 19, 2006


IBC’s apologia talks about the Iraqi Living Conditions Study...

The ILCS is a perfectly good study, if you want to learn how many Iraqis own washing machines or what the Iraqi wage gap is (working women make twice as much as working men per hour; however, women are only 16% of the labor force). What it does not give is death rates after the war, except for infant and maternal mortality...

The ILCS doesn’t have any figure for the total death rate, so it’s really incomparable with the Lancet study. But even if it were, IBC’s claim that the ILCS must take precedence betrays ignorance of statistical testing. The meaning of 'the 95% confidence interval of the 650,000 figure is 400,000-900,000' is 'If the real figure is between 400,000 and 900,000, then the Lancet study’s methodology gives a 95% confidence interval that includes 650,000.'

In other words, the Lancet study may have a large error margin, but it also has high enough a figure that it doesn’t matter. From the above formulation, if some group releases a study that says 400,000 Iraqis died, then the Lancet’s figure is within its margin of error, so we can’t conclude the group is wrong. But if a group claims that 40,000 Iraqis died, then the Lancet’s figure is well outside its margin, so the Lancet contradicts it.

When we have two contradictory studies, we can’t ever assume that the one with the larger sample size is wrong. We can only assume that if we have some discrepancy that lies within the margin of error. If the discrepancy is this big, we need to investigate the methodologies and see who’s doing a mistake; it’s possible neither side is, but the probability of that is vanishingly small. In this case, we have a study of Iraqi death rates that uses a standard epidemiological methodology, versus a compilation of media reports that not only neglects deaths not reported to the authorities but also neglects deaths not mentioned in the media.
Iraq Body Count’s Distortions
Gilbert Burnham , lead author of the controversial Johns Hopkins University study that finds vastly higher civilian casualty toll than other research, joined washingtonpost.com World Opinion Roundup columnist Jefferson Morley online... to discuss the study's conclusion that more than 600,000 Iraqis may have died since March of 2003.
Transcript
Two experts told The Washington Post's David Brown last week that they found the article's methodology to be sound. The British science site, Nature.com (by subscription), also found merit in the study, saying the death toll "withstands scrutiny."

"The numbers do add up," said Daniel Davies, a stockbroker and blogger for the Guardian. He argued that the sample of 1,849 households interviewed by Iraqi doctors working for the JHU research team was as large as that used by political pollsters.

"The question that this study was set up to answer was: as a result of the invasion, have things got better or worse in Iraq? And if they have got worse, have they got a little bit worse or a lot worse... The results speak for themselves," Davies wrote. "In the 18 months before the invasion, the sample reported 82 deaths, two of them from violence. In the 39 months since the invasion, the sample households had seen 547 deaths, 300 of them from violence."
Is Iraq's Civilian Death Toll 'Horrible' -- Or Worse?
posted by y2karl at 10:57 PM on October 19, 2006


Nice post. In the other thread, I was skeptical about the discrepancies betweent he two studies -- but empirically it does seem civilians are dying there at an astonishingly sad rate. The Iraqi Body Count report does raise at least one question I haven't seen answered: the origin and reliability of the pre-war Iraqi death rate. Nonetheless the sampling procedure and extrapolation seems to be not objectionable. I'm never happy to be wrong especially when being wrong forces the realization hundreds of thousands more people are dead, but there you go.

And yes, even the IBC numbers are appalling and it is morbidly fascinating to see right wingers who gave no credence to IBC now seizing on it as it apparently is now the new means to conceal the truth.

Thanks y2karl
posted by Rumple at 10:57 PM on October 19, 2006


Tim Lambert's science blog Deltoid has been on top of the coverage of the John Hopkins Study with several excellent posts on the topic already. Among others:

Flypaper for innumerates: WSJ edition

Nature: Iraqi death toll withstands scrutiny

Iraqi bloggers on Lancet study
posted by y2karl at 11:10 PM on October 19, 2006


Double.
posted by LarryC at 11:28 PM on October 19, 2006


It's an important distinction that the IBC is attempting to tally documented deaths whereas the new Lancet study is trying to estimate total deaths. Props to the IBC for their knowledge of the subject but they ought to try their hand at estimating total number of deaths themselves before they make such a scathing criticism of the Lancet study. Does the IBC believe they've got the majority of deaths covered in their estimate? One out of every three, or five, or what?

Another rather salient point would be the degree of correspondence between the sample used for the Lancet study and the IBC database - how many of the 300 documented deaths from the Lancet study's sample of 12,000-odd households are also in the IBC database? If both IBC and the Lancet study are accurate, that would make the ratio of documented-to-undocumented deaths between one-in-ten and one-in-twenty, which would mean that, if the Lancet sample is representative, between fifteen and thirty of the accounts ought to match up with entries in the IBC database. But the remarks on the "Conclusions" page of the IBC press release seem to indicate that none of them correlate, that all 300 deaths mentioned in the Lancet study were news to the IBC.

So it seems to me that the IBC guys need to explain how, if the numbers in the Lancet study are so hyperbolic and impossible, were they able to find such a very large number of deaths (based on the sample size) that aren't in the IBC database?
posted by XMLicious at 11:36 PM on October 19, 2006


I approve of any post that quotes Leonard Cohen.

But then, this is the kind of post I wish was representative of Iraq/Bush/media fpp's in general.
posted by dreamsign at 11:57 PM on October 19, 2006


It's a valid technique, at least sometimes. If we were talking about something rigorous, like math, it'd be a proof by contradiction. In logic, it's a reductio ad absurdum.

There is a difference between "don't like" and "provably impossible". The IBC's inital implications don't even seem impossible at all.

Of course, it hinges on the conclusions being impossible or highly improbable, and we're not certain this is the case here.

Exactly.

The IBC's response is absurd. The method used to estimate casualties is the same as casualty counting in almost any conflict. To deny it is to deny every single statistic for every single war. (excepting things like the holocaust where the Nazis actually documented every death)

Anyway, let's pick apart one of the IBC's "implications"

They state: (we'll call this IBC2)
"# Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;"
They further state (We'll call this IBC7):
[it implies] bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
They don't exactly say what implies IBC7, but we can assume that it is implied by IBC2. That is, because
"people suffering injuries usually make strenuous efforts to receive appropriate treatment, or if they are severely incapacitated, others see to it that they do so."
We'll call this IBC2a, and it's actually a premise of their argument.

So does IBC2 ∧ IBC2a ⇒ IBC7?

Actually no it doesn't, why not? Because we don't know if it was possible or safe for these people to go to the hospital. Given the fact that insurgent groups have been using hospitals as bases, holding hostages there, and shooting patients, and that Iraq is filled with rouge check points where you can be killed if you don't belong to the right tribe, it seems reasonable that people might not want to go the hospital.

It also seems reasonable that hospitals might not even be operating. In fact three of these statements imply that Iraq has working hospitals in every region. (in other words ∀x ∈{IBC2, IBC2a, IBC7} x ⇒ "working hospitals in all parts of Iraq" )


In fact, their final "implications" (We'll call IBC6-IBC9)
(IBC6) incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;
(IBC7) bizarre and self-destructive behavior on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
(IBC8) the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
(IBC9) an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.
In fact, it's easy to imagine that IBC9: (the failure of the media) and IBC6 (massive failure of government) are true, invalidating the need for any of their other final "absurd" implications to be true.

From what I understand, reporters can't leave Baghdad, and Iraqi government isn't functioning at all.

The IBC arguments are really ridiculous. Their detailed analysis is logically disgusting. It's just assumption after assumption. For example (again from IBC2)
Of course, death/injury ratios vary according to the weapons being used. Bombs and air strikes leave more wounded than does gunfire, but even the latter may cause widespread injury when it is indiscriminate, as it often is in gun-battles or in "defensive" fire by US troops who come under attack. By far the lowest proportion of injured are produced in the execution of captives, whether by guns or other means.

We might therefore calculate a much more conservative estimate of wounded associated with the Lancet findings...We assume 3 wounded for every explosive- or air strike-caused death, but only 1 wounded for every 2 gunfire deaths, and no wounded from the "unknown" and "accident" categories.
Assume? Assume based on what? It's entirely flawed logic, built on nothing but idiotic assumptions. None of their premises are supported or obvious. The whole thing is an exercise in intellectual wank.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 AM on October 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


...and the moral is:

Bush needs to go.

What else can we do to let the rest of the world know we have a conscience?
posted by slickvaguely at 1:45 AM on October 20, 2006


Double.

Nope. Different links, different point of view. News media analysis of how story is being covered is not the same as the story.
The peer-reviewed study's named authors include three researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University -- one of them is Gilbert Burnham, co-director of the school's Center for Refugee and Disaster Response -- and a professor from Baghdad's al-Mustansiriya University. Funding for the project was provided by MIT. These are not shabby credentials.

...Even if you assume that the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the war began is at the very low end of the study's range, that's still a quantum leap from earlier estimates. We now have reputable evidence -- not proof, I'll allow, but science-based evidence from respected scholars, published in one of the world's most prestigious medical journals -- that the humanitarian tragedy in Iraq is much, much worse than anyone had suspected.

If the study's findings are flawed, then its critics should demonstrate how and why. But no one should dismiss these shocking numbers without fully examining them. No one should want to.
Counting The Iraqi Dead

...no one should dismiss these shocking numbers without fully examining them. No one should want to.

Especially not if they are evidence of war crimes.

See also
...When I was doing my own field research a few decades ago in another place devastated by violent death – Hiroshima – I found that the most valuable and chilling moment of all came on virtually the first day, when I climbed a hill overlooking the rebuilt city. It resides in a natural bowl formed by the hills, and I found it all too easy to imagine nearly everything spread out below me, including all the people, dead and gone.

Here is a list of 12 American cities with a populaton of just under or just over 600,000. Think of them disappearing -- and imagine the U.S. one-tenth its current size. Then you've got the possible toll in Iraq:

Austin
Baltimore
Denver
Boston
Seattle
Milwaukee
Memphis
Washington, D.C.
Ft. Worth
Portland
Las Vegas
Will Media Finally Count the Dead in Iraq ?

Greg Mitchell, by way of illustration, invokes Hiroshima. The upper range of estimates for deaths there is around 200,000. The John Hopkins study gives a figure more than three times as large.

More. Than. Three. Hiroshimas.

The topic is far from exhausted.
posted by y2karl at 1:47 AM on October 20, 2006


speaking of the IBC, who are these people and what are their qualifications? They seem pretty incapable of logic.
posted by delmoi at 2:27 AM on October 20, 2006


The IBC refutation was written by a psych professor (who studies the "psychology of music"), a "freelance researcher" with no apparent credentials Jazz Guitarist with a masters degree in "Jazz Studies"

And these guys are calming that the preeminent epidemiologists, in a paper published in the top medical journal, using sound, standard, tested, scientific techniques are wrong.

Okay...
posted by delmoi at 2:40 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows that the good guys lost.

posted by EarBucket at 3:58 AM on October 20, 2006


Yeah, I also remember the brave lads of the keyboard platoon constantly claiming Iraq Body Count was liberal propaganda. I love to see them relying on it now.
posted by Jimbob at 5:33 AM on October 20, 2006


IBC root beer is my favorite. Also, Leonard Cohen does in fact, rule. Good post.
posted by DesbaratsDays at 5:35 AM on October 20, 2006


Thanks y2karl, at usual your post are at least interesting.

On the topic : are the numbers truthful ,at least in identifying the range of casualities ? I still don't know enough statistic to test it myself and I would rather collect the sample myself, but let's start from the hypothesis they are truthful.

Who is going to take them in consideration and what will happen because of this revelation ? Will this affect U.S. & allies foreign policy , and if so how ? What will be the effect, if any, on voting public opinion ?I guess that if the media go obsession mode about this, turning tables, we will see yellow ribbons supporting dead iraquis and iraqui fries.

More likely, if we look in the past at Vietnam War, U.S. suffered more or less 200,000 casualties between dead and wounded. In the same time-range the U.S. population was an estimated 200 million which by easy math implies one 1 out of 1000 americans was directly and violently affected by vietnam war, which is a mere 0,1% of population. So far the Iraq war produced only 3500 casualties, a far cry from 200,000 and there is no draft on the horizon.

Nope, I think the problems must be felt as a lot closer and imminent by a greater part of us/coalition population , they need to care and deeply feel they're the next to take troubles.
posted by elpapacito at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2006


At least Iraq Body Count has outed themselves now as dishonest statistics providers.

Their methodology is terrible: count deaths that are reported in the newspapers. In New York City today, at least 200 people will die (national death rate times the NYC population). The New York Times will mention maybe 20 of them, between its obituaries and general coverage. Thus we can conclude that only 20 people died in NYC? Authoritatively? That's in a city with no disorder in the streets, no open warfare, no reporters being killed, functioning electricity (Baghdad gets electricity about 2 hours per day currently), etc.

If someone gets shot in Iraq and there isn't a reporter standing there, it isn't reported. If a bomb goes off and it isn't big enough for a reporter to visit the location, it isn't reported.

It's extremely clear that Iraq Body Count MUST be a huge underestimate of the deaths. Exactly how huge we do not initially know. If it reported 10% of the deaths it would be doing as well as the New York Times does in New York City. So probably Iraqi newspapers report rather less than 10% of the deaths.

Consider it the other way: almost every U.S. military death in Iraq is not "reported" - no independent reporter was on hand to write about it. Almost all of those deaths are mentioned based solely on counts and brief statements of the circumstances obtained from the U.S. military publics relations office. If the U.S. military wasn't providing those counts and blurbs about the circumstances, almost all U.S. deaths would go unreported.

I don't find the slightest contradiction between the IBC numbers and the Lancet numbers.
posted by jellicle at 6:33 AM on October 20, 2006


Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the Post, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.

Frank Harrell Jr., chairman of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press the study incorporated "rigorous, well-justified analysis" of the data.

Richard Garfield, a public health professor at Columbia University who works closely with a number of the authors of the report, told The Christian Science Monitor: "That's exactly wrong. There is no discrediting of this methodology. I don't think there's anyone who's been involved in mortality research who thinks there's a better way to do it in unsecured areas. I have never heard of any argument in this field that says there's a better way to do it."

The sampling "is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets," said John Zogby, whose polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began. "It is what people in the statistics business do." Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Congo.

I recall seeing on The Daily Show that when Bush got done playing around with Suzanne Malveaux and her fashion statement that day, she asked him about the study. He replied that "their methodology has been pretty well discredited." This is a bald-faced lie, of course. But here's my question. Were there any follow-ups? Or was the purpose of the question merely to get the president on the record without holding him responsible for anything at all, even the unnecessary murder of hundreds of thousands of people? What the hell kind of society kills all these people and cannot be bothered to care? Cannot be bothered to count them and when someone does, risking their lives in the process, lies to discredit them -- and no one cares about that either?
How to Make Hundreds of Thousands of Dead Iraqis Disappear
posted by y2karl at 7:44 AM on October 20, 2006


Excellent post. Thanks y2karl.
posted by googly at 8:12 AM on October 20, 2006


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office has instructed the country's health ministry to stop providing mortality figures to the United Nations, jeopardizing a key source of information on the number of civilian war dead in Iraq, according to a U.N. document.

A confidential cable from the United Nations' top official in Baghdad, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan, said the Iraqi prime minister is seeking to exercise greater control over the release of the country's politically sensitive death toll. U.N. officials expressed concern that the move threatens to politicize the process of counting Iraq's dead and muddy international efforts to gain a clear snapshot of the scale of killing in Iraq.

Qazi warned in the cable that the development "may affect" the United Nations' ability to adequately record the number of civilians killed or wounded in the Iraq war as it endures a bloody new phase of sectarian violence. He said U.N. human rights workers would have "no guaranteed means to corroborate" figures provided by the government.
Iraq Aims to Limit Mortality Data

More. Than. Three. Hiroshimas.

But only, to evoke another number, only 10% of one Holocaust. Only 10%. So far.
posted by y2karl at 9:19 AM on October 20, 2006


When we say 600,000 deaths, we aren't talking about one person dying 600,000 times. We're saying 600,000 people each died one death. The same death we're all going to die. In other words, if you're one of the dead, it's no worse for you if 10, 20, or 6,000,000 people died in the same war, of the same cause, at the same time. You're not 600,000 times deader because of it. If only one person died in this war, he or she would be just as dead as if 1,000,000,00 died in this war.

In short, we get caught up in this numbers thing, we might forget every individual death is a tragedy, each death extinguishes a universe, and that from the victim's point of view, one murder might as well be genocide for all the effect its being solitary has on his or her being dead.

There's no such thing as collateral damage. (And Leonard Cohen only has about four good songs, and "Everybody Knows" is one of them.)
posted by Faze at 9:33 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I already said all I need to about this study.

However, it's important to note that all the pundits blasting the method have no problem accepting similar statistical methods when it comes to things like thier insurance carriers calculate rates or how the Bush administration calculates how many people to give Katrina relief money too, etc.
posted by tkchrist at 9:39 AM on October 20, 2006


From the first link:

The sad truth is: People who don’t want to face this sort of death toll won’t ever want to face it.
posted by taosbat at 9:42 AM on October 20, 2006


I hate to say it, but I'm one of those who thinks that the 600,000 number seems to fail too many consistency checks. The most troubling problem, to me, is how far it deviates from the UNDP survey, which also used sampling (with a much larger sample size) and which found that during the first year of the war, casualties were approximately 24,000. The Lancet studies both found casualties for the same period to be around 100,000. Apparently, though, the UNDP survey originally got crazy-low results for infant mortality, so they sent their teams back out to reinterview all the families, and which yielded more believable ones. I'm not sure what would cause the initial undercount, but perhaps a similar effect lowered their overall mortality results.

In addition, while the Lancet authors assert that media reports typically undercount casualties by a factor of 5, in this case, they're being undercounted by a factor of 10, and there's reasons to believe that media coverage in Iraq ought to be more accurate than in most crisis areas (Iraq has had massive media coverage, and still has better communications and transportation infrastructure than places like the Congo and Rwanda).

Another check: if the first survey's data collection was to believed, something like 40% of the population of Fallujah must have died in the first year of the war, which I just can't believe... someone in the media would have reported on that. They threw the Fallujah data point out of their analysis, but they still collected it, and it may be an indicator of some as yet unexplained sample bias (although as a single cluster, it could also be statistical noise).

I haven't had a chance to read all the links above though, so am still willing to be convinced.

It seems like one easy way to check the Lancet study's results would be to interview many of the government officials who hand out death certificates. Even if the central government isn't recording them, someone is still handing out the pieces of paper, and some doctors are making the cause of death determinations. Hopefully someone will do this.
posted by gsteff at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2006


But only, to evoke another number, only 10% of one Holocaust.

Didn't 60 million people die during World War 2?
posted by bobbyelliott at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2006


...Even the wildly fluctuating official death counts are a stark reminder that Iraqi, and by association U.S. officials, are attempting to minimize a problem getting worse by the day. Earlier this year, the figures released by the government following the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, a Shia holy site, which has been cited as the spark that started the current round of killings, were suspiciously lower than numbers provided by morgue officials. But as for the overall picture, a September report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq paints a grim picture: civilian deaths reached a record high for July and August with 6,600 civilians killed.

Still, even these figures don't tell the whole story. For that, a visit to Medical City is in order. The Ministry of Health has instituted a strict policy for journalists, requiring them to seek permission before visiting the facility. Those allowed in get only a truly sanitized tour; more often than not reporters are barred from entering. But at the gate, guards who have worked at the facility tell a chilling tale. "Last year, I saw maybe 1,000 bodies a month coming into the morgue," says one man who, fearing for his life, requested his name not be published. "Now we're getting nearly 1,000 a week."

...While he describes the bodies, a dump truck pulls out of the facility. The guards open the gate, holding back a rush of people from all over central Iraq hoping to get in to look for loved ones. As the truck passes, the smell of decomposing flesh fills the air. "That's just the clothes from bodies pulled from the Tigris over the past few days," says the first guard.
Iraq's missing dead
posted by y2karl at 11:01 AM on October 20, 2006


y2karl, the Iraq's missing dead link gives me this: java.lang.NullPointerException
posted by taosbat at 11:10 AM on October 20, 2006


gsteff: The Science Of Counting The Dead

See also
...The more excitable fringes of the US blogosphere have come out with some interesting stuff. Let’s look at criticisms that don’t hold water first.

Firstly, the turnout is unbelievably high. The report suggests that over 98% of people contacted agreed to be interviewed. For anyone involved in market research in this country the figure just sounds stupid. Phone polls here tend to get a response rate of something like 1 in 6. However, the truth is that - incredibly - response rates this high are the norm in Iraq. Earlier this year Johnny Heald of ORB gave a paper at the ESOMAR conference about his company’s experience of polling in Iraq - they’ve done over 150 polls since the invasion, and get response rates in the region of 95%. In November 2003 they did a poll that got a response rate of 100%. That isn’t rounding up. They contacted 1067 people, and 1067 agreed to be interviewed.

Secondly, people have been understandably confused by the mention of death certificates. Whenever possible interviewers asked if they could see the death certificate of people reported dead during the study. In 92% of cases those asked produced the certificate. This presents an apparant discrepancy - if over 80% of the deaths had been officially recorded, how come official Iraqi estimates of the dead were so low? The explanation given by the report - which seems perfectly reasonable - is that hospitals have continued to issue death certificates, but the system of collating the figures centrally has broken down to a large extent. In other words, a doctor in Iraq may still be giving out the paper certificates, but the figures are not necessarily passed on or registered with any higher authority.

Thirdly, some people have pondered whether Iraq’s mortality rate from before the invasion as determined by the study seems unfeasibly low at 5.5 per 1000. This compares to mortality figures of 10.1 for the European Union, a group of far more developed countries with better nutrition and health care. If Iraq’s pre-invasion mortality figure is artifically low, then it would wrongly inflate the number of excess deaths. However, the difference is actually because Iraq has a far younger population than the EU. Apart from countries in Southern Africa where AIDS is endemic, developed countries tend to have a higher mortality rate because they have more elderly people in proportion to young people, and an old person in a “safe” country is still more likely to die than a young fit person in an “unsafe” country...
UKPollingReport - Deaths in Iraq
posted by y2karl at 11:22 AM on October 20, 2006


Iraq's missing dead
posted by taosbat at 11:25 AM on October 20, 2006


Ironically, it was these same people who trumpeted a happy, carefree picture of Iraq before the Lancet study, giving the Iraq Body Count group the same agenda-fueled, vitriolic disregard they now give the Johns Hopkins team.

Since I made the only comment in your frenzy of agreement, I assume this pertains to me. I challenge you to link to a single comment where I give IBC "the same agenda-fueled, vitriolic disregard" I now give the Lancet study (despite the fact that all I did here was link to another source without any commentary of my own). Alternatively, you can shut up. Whatever works.

If the numbers don't fit your agenda to stick around in a situation getting worse by the day, choose a different study.

Yes, the "highest number is always correct" approach is an excellent way to establish facts. And hey -- if the numbers aren't climbing fast enough, choose a different study.

It's quite telling to see the barely contained glee at the number of deaths coming from some of the supporters of this study, especially when they try to insinuate how bloodthirsty its detractors are.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:27 AM on October 20, 2006


What an insufferable prick you are. The only "telling" thing is your constant projection on the liberal boogeystrawman. Do you have any views that aren't just the opposite of whatever you imagine "liberals" think? I haven't noticed any in your comments.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:38 AM on October 20, 2006


I assume this pertains to me

If you had any reading comprehension skills, I was responding in a general way to the subject matter in another's comment, but if it fulfills your grudge quota and soothes your bitter soul, assume whatever position is necessary.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:03 PM on October 20, 2006


they're not dead, you know -- they're hiding out with Saddam's doomsday WMD arsenal
posted by matteo at 12:06 PM on October 20, 2006


And the Saddam look-alikes.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:27 PM on October 20, 2006


Yes, the "highest number is always correct" approach is an excellent way to establish facts. And hey -- if the numbers aren't climbing fast enough, choose a different study.

It's not "The highest number is correct" It's "the number provided experts in the field of mortality statistics is right, and the 'debunking' by a jazz musician, a 'freelance researcher' and a professor the psychology of music is logically incoherent"
posted by delmoi at 12:40 PM on October 20, 2006


In short, we get caught up in this numbers thing, we might forget every individual death is a tragedy, each death extinguishes a universe, and that from the victim's point of view, one murder might as well be genocide for all the effect its being solitary has on his or her being dead.

The above is reposted for all the people who fail to see why terrorism exists, or why violence begets violence, or why the Bush Administration's 'stay the course' ideology will result in hundreds of thousands additional deaths in our lifetime.

Shame on you if you're tired of hearing about it.
posted by NationalKato at 2:11 PM on October 20, 2006


I assume this pertains to me

No. You should assume any time the words "douche" and "bag", "slack" and "jawed" or "downs" and "syndrome" are strung together it pertains to you.
posted by tkchrist at 3:50 PM on October 20, 2006


What an insufferable prick you are. The only "telling" thing is your constant projection on the liberal boogeystrawman. Do you have any views that aren't just the opposite of whatever you imagine "liberals" think?

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

It's not "The highest number is correct" It's "the number provided experts in the field of mortality statistics is right, and the 'debunking' by a jazz musician, a 'freelance researcher' and a professor the psychology of music is logically incoherent"

Don't confuse credibility with logical coherence. From everything I read, it is the Lancet study that is logically incoherent, although it draws credibility based on the source.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:58 PM on October 20, 2006


Science magazine is reporting a new line of criticism, "main street bias." Apparently, the interviewers selected the households from those along main roads, and main roads are areas more likely to be targetted for car bombs, drive-by shootings and kidnappings, etc. than less accessible areas.
posted by gsteff at 8:11 PM on October 20, 2006


From everything I read, it is the Lancet study that is logically incoherent

Citations, please. Ideally from peer-reviewed journals and not FOX News, if you would be so kind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:39 PM on October 20, 2006


Science magazine is reporting a new line of criticism, "main street bias."

The method may be sound, but several critics question the way it was carried out in this study. Madelyn Hicks, a psychiatrist and public health researcher at King's College London in the U.K., says she "simply cannot believe" the paper's claim that 40 consecutive houses were surveyed in a single day.

Argumentum ad ignorantiam: I don't believe it, therefore it is not true.

Co-author Roberts is no stranger to such controversy. He led a smaller study of Iraqi casualties, published in The Lancet in 2004, that estimated 100,000 deaths. That work was criticized for relying on too few samples. This time, he says, "we took enough samples, and if anyone wants to verify our results, it's easy."

Cluster sampling is a standard statistical procedure. The data and results are on the record. If there is legitimate reason to doubt the results, let it come from rigorous analysis of the data, not from partisan attacks on the scientists.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 PM on October 20, 2006


blazecock, you're ignoring the main criticism given in that article. It's impossible for us, or even the scientists quoted supplying the "main street bias" argument, to verify whether it was a factor or not without having the street data available, but the fact that it's being printed in Science, and that the critics quoted are from Oxford (though admittedly, they're physicists) should be a sign that it's not completely out of left field. More here.
posted by gsteff at 10:06 PM on October 20, 2006


Citations, please. Ideally from peer-reviewed journals and not FOX News, if you would be so kind.

Citations from peer-reviewed journals ten days after the date of publication of the original article? Reality continues to evade you.

But, if you insist, the IBC piece is actually a good place to start. Some of their assumptions are questionable, but others are fairly reasonable, e.g.:

Lancet estimates 150 people to have died from car bombs alone, on average, every day during June 2005-June 2006. IBC's database of deadly car bomb incidents shows they kill 7-8 people on average. Lancet's estimate corresponds to about 20 car bombs per day, all but one or two of which fail to be reported by the media. Yet car bombs fall well within the earlier-mentioned category of incidents which average 6 unique reports on them.

As for why the results are off, it has been suggested that the number of clusters is too small for this sample size:

For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. ... A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711 -- almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size.

Yeah, the source appears biased, but the assertion is not implausible -- cluster sampling may yield poor results if the clusters are not representative of the sample space but happen to be similar. A small number of clusters increases the chance of this occurring.

The UNDP study is the best example here, in my opinion. With a larger sample size and a greater number of clusters, they produced an estimate several times lower than the 2004 Lancet study.

Now, since you've made a big deal before about "refusing to do my research for me," go forth and explore on your own.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:29 PM on October 20, 2006


blazecock, you're ignoring the main criticism given in that article.

The article begins to criticize the results by claiming the PIs falsified their data or misrepresented the procedure ("I can't believe 40 houses were visited in a day"). That's about the most serious accusation you can make against another scientist — people's careers are destroyed over that kind of irresponsible rhetoric.

Shame on Science for even adding that quote without some basic journalistic work (i.e. independent sources) into whether the data collection method is being misrepresented by the primary investigators.

At least the second claim is more realistic. Sample bias is always a problem, but it is measurable with standard MANOVA tests, which could go a long way to backing up the critics' position — if it was done at all, however.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 PM on October 20, 2006


And finally, if you want to argue that the exact number of deaths is irrelevant, that's perfectly all right with me. Just don't recite the Lancet study as gospel truth and use it for "10% of the Holocaust" shock value benchmarks.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:34 PM on October 20, 2006


How do we judge the health of a free society? How do we distinguish the appearance of democracy from the reality?

There are no hard and fast rules, no scientific methodologies. But as a rule of thumb it is safe to suggest that we can learn much from a society's willingness to address the humanitarian crimes for which it is responsible.

In a totalitarian society, we would expect such a discussion to be absent in any meaningful sense. But in a genuinely free society, we would expect a thorough, detailed and unrestrained debate. Although this second expectation is itself based on an important assumption: namely, that individual freedom implies moral concern, a sense of responsibility for the suffering of others. We assume that to be a free human being means, also, to be free from the bonds of selfishness and indifference.

October 11 and 12 were significant dates, then, for anyone seeking to establish something of the truth of our own society...

In sum, a free press in a free society would simply +have+ to investigate this study in depth, if only to resolve the confusion of a bemused and concerned public in response to an inherently credible report...

Where are the articles and programmes examining US-UK responsibility under international law, as occupying powers, for the catastrophe in Iraq ? Where the discussions of the abject failure of modern democracy to offer either the British or American people any semblance of meaningful choice on foreign policy ?

We have been monitoring and reporting media performance for five years, since July 2001. The current media response to a credible report that our government is responsible for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis is the most shocking and outrageous example of media conformity to power we have yet seen.

The implications are clear - no crimes of state are too monstrous or extreme for mainstream journalism. There is no limit to their willingness to obscure the depredations of power. The corporate media, the liberal media very much included, is a grand lie - an apparent source of reason and hope that betrays the people it serves at every turn.
MediaLens: Democracy and Debate - Killing Iraq
posted by y2karl at 10:36 PM on October 20, 2006


And finally, if you want to argue that the exact number of deaths is irrelevant, that's perfectly all right with me.

If you want to continue your discussion with your strawman, that's perfectly all right with me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:44 PM on October 20, 2006


Ask for citations, ignore the response, reply with a non-answer. Rinse, repeat.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:48 PM on October 20, 2006


Citations from peer-reviewed journals ten days after the date of publication of the original article? Reality continues to evade you.

At the very least, the original research itself needed to be passed before many outside eyes before being published. If the number of clusters and size of the sample space within-cluster was still an issue, and clearly these variables was adjusted upwards by the lead author as a response to criticism of prior research, it would have been raised in the review process, let alone in the (federal) grant application process. Those processes in themselves speak more clearly to me than the politically-led speculation shown to date.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 PM on October 20, 2006


Ask for citations, ignore the response, reply with a non-answer.

What, something like this answer I had for you awhile back, you mean? I'd wait on your cogent, informed repudiation of recorded American history, but perhaps your irony-rich diet has caused too much brain damage to respond in a timely manner.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 PM on October 20, 2006


s/was/were
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 PM on October 20, 2006


But only, to evoke another number, only 10% of one Holocaust.

Didn't 60 million people die during World War 2 ?


Six million is the common baseline for those who died in the Holocaust--not the total numbers for dead in World War II but those who died in the Nazi Genocide. Six hundred thousand is ten percent of six million, is it not ? Ten percent and not one percent, no ?

Six hundred thousand is somewhere between a third and a half of one and a half million, the number commonly given for the Armenian genocide.

The figures given for the Rwandan genocide are eight hundred thousand dead. Six hundred and fifty thousand is more than three quarters of that number.

The most common number given for the deaths so far in Darfur is four hundred thousand and even George Bush calls that genocide. The numbers for excess Iraqi deaths given by the Johns Hopkins study is half again as many as that.

The shock value is in the number itself--not in pointing it out. If ten percent of six million is not shocking, the figure of six million is diminished by association. Six million, six hundred thousand, what's the difference ? Would three hundred thousand be OK ? Two hundred thousand ? Is that insignificant enough ? How flawed can the study be ?

Either the study is fraud, flawed or true. And if even possibly true, this number should matter very much, be taken very seriously and not dismissed out of hand. In an ideal world. But good luck on that in the so to speak real one.
posted by y2karl at 11:30 PM on October 20, 2006


If the number of clusters and size of the sample space within-cluster was still an issue, and clearly these variables was adjusted upwards by the lead author as a response to criticism of prior research, it would have been raised in the review process, let alone in the (federal) grant application process.

Your faith in the review process (and especially in the bureaucratic wonderland of federal grand applications) is admirable, but meaningless. It is the question of whether the study is inaccurate or not that decides whether the review process did its job.

At any rate, the number of clusters was a potential explanation for the inconsistencies connected with the study, which you did not address. Explain why, of the 20 car bombings the Lancet claims occur every day, 1-2 receive several unique reports and the rest zero reports? Explain the discrepancy between the UNDP report, with a larger sample size and number of clusters, and the 2004 Lancet report which is consistent with the 2006 report.

Those processes in themselves speak more clearly to me than the politically-led speculation shown to date.

Some claim that the timing of the study is politically motivated and point to the political affiliations of some of the surveyors, authors, and publishers. I don't see why their insinuations are any more or less valid than yours.

I'd wait on your cogent, informed repudiation of recorded American history, but perhaps your irony-rich diet has caused too much brain damage to respond in a timely manner.

It surprises you that a steady stream of insults makes me unwilling to engage you in honest debate?
posted by Krrrlson at 11:32 PM on October 20, 2006


Even one man dead over a lie is a crime.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:54 PM on October 20, 2006


>>Didn't 60 million people die during World War 2 ?

>Six million is the common baseline for those who died
> in the Holocaust...


It's interesting to note, since we're now talking about these historical numbers, that it seems it's generally regarded as impossible to make accurate estimates of the number of Vietnamese who died during the Vietnam war, or so I've found when I've gone looking.
posted by XMLicious at 6:15 AM on October 21, 2006


The study by Burnham and his colleagues provides the best estimate of mortality to date in Iraq that we have, or indeed are ever likely to have.

We urge open and constructive debate, rather than ill-informed criticism of the methods or results of sound science. All of us should consider the implications of the dire and deteriorating health situation in Iraq.

Professor James A Angus, dean, faculty of medicine, dentistry and health sciences, University of Melbourne

Professor Bruce Armstrong AM, director of research, Sydney Cancer Centre; professor of public health and medical foundation fellow, University of Sydney

Dr Jim Black, head of epidemiology, Victorian Infectious Diseases Service

Professor Peter Brooks, executive dean, faculty of health sciences, University of Queensland

Professor Jonathan Carapetis, director, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin

Dr Ben Coghlan, medical epidemiologist, Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute

Professor Mike Daube, professor of health policy, Curtin University

Associate Professor Peter Deutschmann, executive director, Australian International Health Institute, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Trevor Duke, Centre for International Child Health, department of pediatrics, University of Melbourne

Professor Adele Green AC, deputy director, Queensland Institute of Medical Research

Associate Professor Heath Kelly, head, epidemiology unit, Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory

Professor Stephen Leeder AO, co-director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy; professor of public health and community medicine, University of Sydney; chairman, Policy and Advocacy Group, Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine

Professor Alan Lopez, head, School of Population Health; professor of medical statistics and population health, University of Queensland

Professor John Mathews AM, professorial fellow, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne

Professor A. J. McMichael, director, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU

Dr Cathy Mead PSM, president, Public Health Association of Australia, Canberra

Professor Rob Moodie, chief executive, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation

Professor Kim Mulholland, infectious disease epidemiology unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK

Professor Terry Nolan, head, School of Population Health, Melbourne University

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne; president, Medical Association for Prevention of War

Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, school of public health, University of Sydney

Dr Tony Stewart, medical epidemiologist, Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute

Professor Richard Taylor, professor of international health; head, division of international and indigenous health, School of Population Health, University of Queensland; director, Australian Centre for International and Tropical Health and Nutrition

Associate Professor Mike Toole, head, Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute

Associate Professor Paul J. Torzillo AM, University of Sydney; senior respiratory physician, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney; clinical director, respiratory and critical care services, Central Sydney Area Health Service

Dr Sue Wareham OAM, immediate past president, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Canberra

Professor Anthony Zwi, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, associate dean (international), faculty of medicine, NSW University
The Iraq deaths study was valid and correct

Upon review:

It's interesting to note, since we're now talking about these historical numbers, that it seems it's generally regarded as impossible to make accurate estimates of the number of Vietnamese who died during the Vietnam war, or so I've found when I've gone looking.

In a subsection of his Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, Matthew White compiled the 30 Worst Atrocities of the 20th Century--the subject of this post--where, upon reviewing the various casualty estimates he could find for what he names the 2nd Indochina War, he came up with 2,800,000 dead.
posted by y2karl at 7:37 AM on October 21, 2006


Aunt Najma has a few words for Omar.
posted by taosbat at 9:31 AM on October 22, 2006


It surprises you that a steady stream of insults makes me unwilling to engage you in honest debate?

To answer your question: No, it does not surprise me that your steady stream of insults ("coward", "sheep", "bloodthirsty", "anti-Semite", etc.) make you unwilling to engage anyone here — myself included — in honest debate; indeed, you have demonstrated adequately that you have little time or capacity for substantive commentary, otherwise.

I gave you a respectful response to your initial insulting behavior off-site, via email, which was returned with yet more spittle-filled vitriol. When you're prepared to treat me like a human being, I'll be happy to return the courtesy. Until then I'll meet the substance of your comments with the same disregard as that which you've shown to me so far. Good luck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:48 AM on October 22, 2006


No, it does not surprise me that your steady stream of insults ("coward", "sheep", "bloodthirsty", "anti-Semite", etc.) make you unwilling to engage anyone here...

Firstly, putting something in quotes when I did not saying is a form of lying. Secondly, in those cases where you aren't lying about what I said, I was responding to insults thrown at me first... in many cases, by you.

I gave you a respectful response to your initial insulting behavior off-site, via email, which was returned with yet more spittle-filled vitriol.

I will say this once again -- you sent me a hostile, passive-aggressive non-message under an assumed name, and then informed me I am "sad" and have a "tiny mind." I refused to acknowledge your bait. Now, by all means, keep lying about it.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:01 PM on October 22, 2006


you sent me a hostile, passive-aggressive non-message

Given this was the body of my email to you, in response to your behavior:

note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand — not at other members of the site.

I'll let the public decide if this is a hostile or passive-agressive non-message.

As far as "assumed name" goes, you don't exactly have much personal information on your profile. If I'm a fraud for deciding (rightly, as has been demonstrated on Metatalk) to withhold my personal information, so are you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:54 PM on October 22, 2006


The public can't decide, only the Decider can do that.
posted by homunculus at 8:58 PM on October 22, 2006


When called on your BS in the thread, you emailed me the text below the posting box instead of defending your argument (a wise decision in some sense, since your position was untenable, as always). When called on your BS in the email, you said:

"Is everything in your tiny mind as black and white as this? Sad."

The lengths you go to in order to avoid defending an absurd statement are impressive indeed. It's too bad no one bites.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:51 PM on October 22, 2006


When called on your BS in the email

Apparently being called a sheep and a spamming troll, as well as insinuating I'm an anti-Semite, is your definition of "calling me on my BS". Hmm.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:17 AM on October 23, 2006


You're a little confused -- trolls are what you call other people when you have nothing to back up your "arguments."
posted by Krrrlson at 6:38 PM on October 23, 2006


Krrrlson, I don't know who you are, nor do I know what your problem is or why you keep following me around, derailing threads.

Either way I'm not biting on your hook, sorry, so if you don't want me here, go to the administrators or to Metatalk and air out your difficulties there; I'm sure you'll get many a sympathetic ear.

Either way please sort out your personal issues with someone else. Thank you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2006


Time-tested tactic #37: After starting and losing an argument, claim your opponent is stalking you and "derailing" threads.

Do you actually think anyone is going to buy that?
posted by Krrrlson at 5:28 PM on October 24, 2006


Please sort out your personal issues with someone else. Thank you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:45 PM on October 24, 2006


The President said something else striking, while taking up the banner for 30,000 dead Iraqis. He certainly meant it to be the highest compliment he could bestow. "I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence," he commented at his press conference. "I am amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to -- that there's a level of violence that they tolerate."

In fact, there's no evidence whatsoever that Iraqis "tolerate" levels of violence that would horrify any society. For most Iraqis, life under such conditions is obviously hell on Earth. It's our President who "tolerates" such levels of violence in the pursuit of his policies, so perhaps he should simply applaud himself.

The fact is that the Lancet figures have largely been avoided because most Americans, including most reporters, can't entertain the possibility that our country might actually be responsible for a situation in which almost 400,000, or around 655,000, or possibly 900,000+ "excess" Iraqis have died. At the top end of that continuum, you would have to think of the recent wars and serial slaughters in the Congo or the Rwandan genocide. At 655,000, you're talking about slightly more than the dead of the American Civil War. With the bottom figure, you're already at well over one hundred times the dead of September 11, 2001, almost seven times the American dead of either the Korean or Vietnam Wars, and over three times the dead of atomized Hiroshima. And let's keep in mind that any of these figures are purely provisional, since George Bush has over two years to go in office and has sworn not to pull American forces out of Iraq before he departs, even if, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, only his wife and dog still back him on the subject.

The Vietnam analogy, never far from American consciousness, has been back in the press recently, but here's an apt Vietnam quote that seldom seems to rise to memory any more. General William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, offered the following explanation for similarly staggering Vietnamese body counts (an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died in that country's French and American wars): "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

It's hard to avoid the thought that a similar attitude toward Iraqi lives and deaths is at work in our government and in the media. After all, the kinds of denatured discussions now taking place about Iraqi deaths would be inconceivable if American deaths were at stake. Just consider, for instance, that the recent discovery of scattered human remains ("some as large as arm or leg bones") overlooked at Ground Zero in New York City has raised a furor and demands that all construction at the site be halted while it is thoroughly searched. Try to put that sort of concern for the dead back into the Iraqi situation or into perfunctory, daily, inside-the-newspaper passages like:
"In addition, about 50 bodies were collected Sunday around Baghdad, the capital, a figure considered high weeks ago but now routine. An Interior Ministry official said many of the victims had apparently been shot at close range and bore signs of torture."
How, then, do you even begin to grasp such losses in a war of "liberation" launched by your own country? How do you even begin to imagine such levels of suffering, death, and destruction, or the increasingly chaotic and degraded conditions in which so many Iraqis now live and for which we are certainly responsible?
Playing the Numbers Game with Death in Iraq
posted by y2karl at 8:22 PM on October 25, 2006


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