View Full Version : Iraq Casualty Study in The Lancet

Sergeant T
01-05-2008, 03:09 AM
A long and thorough debunking of the controversial study was just published in National Journal (http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/databomb/index.htm).

Published by The Lancet, a venerable British medical journal, the study (http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/journals/lancet/s0140673606694919.pdf) [PDF] used previously accepted methods for calculating death rates to estimate the number of "excess" Iraqi deaths after the 2003 invasion at 426,369 to 793,663; the study said the most likely figure was near the middle of that range: 654,965. Almost 92 percent of the dead, the study asserted, were killed by bullets, bombs, or U.S. air strikes. This stunning toll was more than 10 times the number of deaths estimated by the Iraqi or U.S. governments, or by any human-rights group.

01-05-2008, 04:28 AM
A long and thorough debunking of the controversial study was just published in National Journal (http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/databomb/index.htm).

That's a really interesting article that raises a lot of important issues. Thanks for posting it.

03-27-2008, 04:14 PM
I started to read this to see if it could shed any light on discrepancies between the various estimates. I then continued to the bottom with a view to launching an attack on a crap bit of jouranlism, but it does not warrant the effort and I regret the time I have wasted.

Ken White
03-27-2008, 06:27 PM
less than stellar or accurate. Garbage in, garbage out.

03-27-2008, 09:46 PM
Ken, I would be interested in why you think that.
I read it at the time and followed the arguments - not here but in mainly in the MSM and scienceblogs. I did not have a problem with the paper, sample size or methodology - but always wondered how accurate a picture that kind of survey would give in the midst of a war and what compromises it would be forced to make on the choice of sample sizes or sites. I still think it is likely to be a better guesstimate than counting morgue stats or deaths that made it to the media etc.

A couple of threads recently have been discussing 'accounting' and 'cost calculation' with regard to military operations and I (being me) look at this from a rather un-military perspective. A very high priority for me would be 'can we do this without killing (or destroying the livelihoods of) vast numbers of civilians in the country we are about to attack and if not what right do we have to start this war?'. My concern is that US (and UK) planners are much more interested in their own $ and casualty costs and the fact that the vast majority of those adversely effected are not on anyone's side (at least at the outset) gets a very low weighting.

My bete noir in this regard is Somalia. I do not believe Ethiopia invaded without getting the nod from the US and the interactions at the time between the US and its principal allies in the region - Ethiopia & Kenya - seem to point to a high level of co-ordination (what on earth is the US doing in bed with these two anyway? not exactly shinning examples of democracy or 'freedom'). The unfolding humanitarian disaster was very predictable. My question is - assuming someone in Washington thought about this operation and did some kind of planning - what did they expect to gain and what did they think the costs were going to be. My fear is they thought they might bag a couple of people on their wanted list and did not think it would cost much in $ or Americans and did not really care about the rest. If they thought in the long term it was likely to produce a stable, and more US friendly Somalia, than trying to talk to the UIC then they must have been sipping Rumsfeld's cool-aid.

All of that rambling is really an explanation of why I was reading this old thread to see if there was any serious discussion here on the costs to those being trampled underfoot rather than the tramplers.

Ken White
03-27-2008, 10:36 PM
but like you read and followed the original Lancet article and the later one also. Let me start by stating that I also essentially have no problems with the sample size or the methodolgy. I had and have three problems with the studies overall:

While I agree with the sample size, I strongly disagree with the location of the sampled households; predominately urban, major roads which were known trouble spots and a couple of other things to me indicate a biased selection.

Anyone with any experience in the ME knows that in such an exercise, you are going to get either the answer the respondent thinks you want to hear or the answer the respondent wants you to hear. They are not lying, in the western sense, they live in a different culture where politeness and concern for family, tribe and group transcend objectivity in conversation. The authors of the report may not have been aware of that but the survey crew certainly was. IOW, the authors got suckered.

Both the Editor of the Lancet and the report authors acknowledged they rushed the effort and timed the release to affect the US elections in the case of both reports. That is 'unscientific' and a biased political approach to a true problem that effectively in the eyes of too may discounted the effort; they ruined their own effort by so doing.

Ergo, to me the reports were totally bogus.

Add to that the common sense quotient. If the reports are to be believed, a year or so of transitory and very low key warfare killed more civilians than were killed in western Europe in WW II. That simply does not track.

All of that rambling is really an explanation of why I was reading this old thread to see if there was any serious discussion here on the costs to those being trampled underfoot rather than the tramplers.I can share your concern but I fear that while there may be discussion on that score here, I strongly doubt that there will be much in either Whitehall or the Pentagon, at No 10 or the White House. As Lord Palmerston said; “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” the world is not a nice place, no matter how much we wish it were.

In fairness to those locations I mentioned, I'm really pretty sure they'd be more willing to not only discuss the issue but ameliorate the problem IF they knew they could rely on others to be as humane. They cannot.

Maybe someday the world will eschew war, it certainly is one of mankind's most stupid endeavors and needs to disappear -- I'm afraid that won't happen in our lifetime or even that of our children. Nor, I'm afraid will a lack of concern in many cases for the many innocents who get trampled...

03-27-2008, 11:05 PM
Thank you, very helpful.
I did not know what the civilian casualty figures were likely to be for other wars so had no comparison.
The timing of the release to coinside with a political event definately concerned me as I am used to reading hard science papers and that kind of thing is just not done.
I did not follow your logic on the sample sites this seemed OK to me but it did not seem to allow for rural sampling, which I assumed was a limitation impossed but the security situation rather than a deliberate effort to skew results.

As a first stage of sampling, 50 clusters were selected
systematically by Governorate with a population
proportional to size approach, on the basis of the 2004
UNDP/Iraqi Ministry of Planning population estimates
(table 1). At the second stage of sampling, the
Governorate’s constituent administrative units were
listed by population or estimated population, and
location(s) were selected randomly proportionate to
population size. The third stage consisted of random
selection of a main street within the administrative unit
from a list of all main streets. A residential street was
then randomly selected from a list of residential streets
crossing the main street. On the residential street, houses
were numbered and a start household was randomly
selected. From this start household, the team proceeded
to the adjacent residence until 40 households were
surveyed. For this study, a household was defined as a
unit that ate together, and had a separate entrance from
the street or a separate apartment entrance.