The Lancet Study, Mach 2: Revenge Of The Bullspit

You may recall, if you’re the type to torture yourself with such things, a pretty widely debunked study that appeared in The Lancet that overstated the Iraqi civilian casualties after the first 18 months of the Iraq War by 300% or more, according to other widely respected and nonpartisan estimates, including those of human rights groups.

Now the same organization is back with a study that inflates the most widely held casualty count by over 1,000% – and they’re using the same ‘scientific’ methodology:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred. The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq’s government. It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group. The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq’s mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war. Of the total 655,000 estimated “excess deaths,” 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country. The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet. The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then — a finding likely to be equally controversial.

Yes, I suspect it will, at that. As a public service the Lancet team has examined some other events in history and provided up to the minute ‘scientific’ estimates of losses:

Gettysburg: 4.78 million dead, 18.9 million wounded

Hiroshima: 1.93 billion dead, every living soul wounded

The recent Israeli/Hezbollah conflict: 450,000 dead, curiously, only 3 wounded….

65 comments to The Lancet Study, Mach 2: Revenge Of The Bullspit

  • Brock

    I can’t help but wonder how skeptical you all were when Bush was pushing the war, and said that Saddam had killed half a million or so of his own people. Did you demand to know his sources? Did you debate the credentials of the authors of the estimate? Did you roll your eyes and ask where all the bodies were? By the way, where are they? The only “mass graves” they found after the invasion had a few hundred people in them.

    Somebody said that anybody who believes this scientifically conducted, peer-reviewed survey is a fool. What does that make the people who still support Bush, after he has proven to be wrong time after time?

  • only me

    I say again, WHO CARES?

  • Endo, apparently you don’t understand why confidence intervals are done or you wouldn’t make that statement. A wide confidence interval has consequences. A 95% confidence of interval of 8,000 to 194,000 is not the same as one from 94,000 to 106,000. In the latter case, we might say 100,000 had some statistical weight, in the former we cannot.

    As to the death certificates, are you saying that people fabricated them (LOL)?

    Yes! This happens all the time, even here in the U.S., for all kinds of reasons. You think insurgents who saw people’s heads off are above trying to skew a study?

  • I assume, he doesn’t mean bootstrapping in the technical statistical sense

    Yes, in fact I do. IIRC from the discussion at the time, the technique used is not uncommon, but inherently makes the sample somewhat less reliable.

  • It was widely reported by our troops during the siege of Fallujah, for instance, that insurgents were issuing all sorts of documents claiming atrocities committed by Americans from the hospitals and municipal offices they had taken over. The deaths claimed actually exceeded the local population.

    Also, remember Iraqis are often compensated for accidental injury/death or damage to property. There is a financial incentive to claim higher losses than actually happened.

    And of course AQ as well as the Saddamists are well-versed in the media battle. Part of their mission, as stated in internal memos. is to discourage public support for the effort to democratize Iraq.

  • Please give some credable source for your 83,000 number Saddam killed per year

    You can check wikipedia or any other source. Saddam is conservatively estimated to have killed — directly, not by “excess deaths” — some 2 million people (who knows how much higher the excess deaths number would be using the Lancet method — 10 million? 20 million?) over the course of his 24-year reign in the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, and various civil wars. UN estimates would actually be higher.

    By sampling a tiny, relatively peaceful portion of Saddam’s reign, they skew the comparison and give a misleading result. It would be as though they sampled only the most peaceful month of the occupation.

  • Tom

    I’d like to point out that calling people stupid or evil is not an argument. The simple fact of the matter is, these numbers are FAR higher than anyone who has followed the war in Iraq considers plausible. Iraq Body Count, very much an anti-war organization, has tabulated 48,693 deaths in Iraq – and they REALLY look for them. IBC syas that they believe the numbers are actually higher than this, but even they expressed surprise at the Lancet numbers. It simply beggars belief that a committed organization like Iraq Body Count would have somehow missed 93% of all deaths in Iraq, along with the International media and everyone else. As I noted above, I do not have a closed mind on this issue – the study MIGHT be true – but if it is, there is something going on in Iraq that all major pro and anti war organizations in Iraq have missed. Applying Occam’s Razor, it seems much more reasonable to believe that the data used was taintd, especially given the situation in Iraq at the time.

  • To illustrate the importance of the interval, consider that you have just built a bridge. You tell everyone “I’ve done a study, and this bridge can support 100,000 tons.” A few days later, the bridge collapses under the weight of only 50,000 tons. You scratch your head and say “Well, I don’t understand. The 95% confidence interval was 8,000 to 194,000, so 100,000 was the most likely number.”

    Your engineer slaps you and says “You fool! That meant there was a 95% probability it wouldn’t collapse at less than 8,000 tons! There was no statistical weight to your 100,000 number. ”

    100,000 was basically a guess.

  • [...] Most of the blogosphere has weighed in on the new report, which estimates that there have been 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since April, 2003. Commentators, left and right, have weighed in predictably, uncritically accepting it and sternly dismissing it, respectively. [...]

  • Chaos

    Whoever that idiot whining for proof that 500 people aren’t dying a day…

    Ever heard of burden of proof? Apparently not. It is the responsibility of those who conducted and wrote the study to account for the apparently unnoticed 500 deaths a day. It is not the responsibility of the people who express skepticism to prove a negative: that 500 people aren’t dying, unnoticed, a day in Iraq.

    Whatever happened to simple logic?

  • The information you are reading on this web page is false. The public has been misinformed as to what the data shows. Please visit the following link for more accurate information.

  • Edward

    News just in:(no not really)
    Bush’s War Blamed for 6 Billion Deaths

    A new study by Joes’ Pizza and Deli(open 7AM-9PM est/4AM-6PM pst) Mon-Sat, recieved by The Lancet proves 6 billion people will die within the next 250 years from varied causes. Bush’s Iraq war blamed for detracting from solving the rising death from old age pandemic. The exhaustive study was conducted by asking 2 of the 22,000 people alive now in his town if they expected to be alive in 250 years. To be fair, 18 dead people were also asked if they were going to still be dead in 250 years. The results were extrapilated to show that the entire population of Earth is going to die.
    No film at 11.

  • Tom

    #25 said: Dominion, how could such a large number of deaths occur every day and no one notice? Iraq is full of people who are against the war: NGOs, human rights groups, Iraqi groups, journalists – no one has ever claimed such an incredible level of carnage…

    Actually, journalists report the carnage all the time but right-wingers consistently dismiss the reports as the work of a “liberal media that never reports the good news.” Reporter Jane Arraf recently wrote: “I don’t know a single family here that hasn’t had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there’s been all-out fighting going on, I’ve interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.”

    #46 said: By the way, the Primary Investigator in this study has described the Iraq War as a “fiasco”. That it may be, but those are hardly the words of a dispassionate scientist…

    Ummm, I think they are the words of any human being who has been paying attention to what’s happening in this war. Just because someone is a scientist does not mean they give up their right to an opinion, especially one that is so patently obvious.

    When are you right-wingers going to start holding your leaders accountable? Or is that “personal responsibility” credo you espouse just meant for people other than yourselves?

  • Yes, and when will you men of straw learn to accept the wisdom of the progressives?

  • [...] Mark at Decision ‘08 also examines the Lancet study, and uses history as a guide to the Lancet’s authenticity. Hilarity ensues. [...]

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