T Nation

That 100,000 Dead Iraqis Number

Is utter crap.

I keep seeing it bandied about on here that the U.S. is responsible for 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, and it’s utter hogwash.

Except for Iraq Body Count and a study recently published by the Lancet, the reputable estimates of civilian casualties have never exceeded 16,000 at the high end. And that includes people killed by the insurgents as well as those killed inadvertently by the U.S.

That number is high, but the new numbers increase it by 625%. Historically, only out-and-out carpet bombing, as in WWII or Vietnam, tends to have this kind of result. And one has to wonder how Western journalists failed to notice this alleged scale of destruction in Iraq.

And, of course, the new numbers are based on faulty methodology and out-and-out guessing.

With respect to the recently published Lancet study, please see this:

http://www.techcentralstation.com/110104H.html
[edited to remove a wrongly linked article]

Also on the Lancet study, see this:

http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/858gwbza.asp

and this:

http://www.chicagoboyz.net/archives/002543.html#more

With respect to the gibberish put together by Iraq Body Count, see this:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/554awdqo.asp?pg=1

and this series of posts:

http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_10_24_oxblog_archive.html#109860541027361911

http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_10_24_oxblog_archive.html#109860640355410670

http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2004_10_24_oxblog_archive.html#109894741346683398

So please, stop bandying about that 100,000 number. I may not be able to tell you what the precise number is, but I can tell you it’s much smaller than that one.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Is utter crap.
[/quote]

It’s about time somebody say something.

Thanks man!

The Lancet is one of the most respectected medical journals in the world. The weekly tech standard is slightly less reputable, as I understand.

[quote]DrS wrote:
The Lancet is one of the most respectected medical journals in the world. The weekly tech standard is slightly less reputable, as I understand. [/quote]

Do you have any rejoinders to the criticisms? Or do you just want to shoot the messengers?

BB,
You can’t have it both ways. You are quick to discount any articles that disagree with your agenda when they come from supposed biased sources (like moveon.org). His point is that the Lancet is generally considered non-partisan, and is the most respected medical journal in the world. They are respected because they have a very high standard on what gets published, and methodologies must be sound and face intense scrutiny.

I am not typing this to kill any messengers. I have heard of the Lancet study, but I have not personally read it or the refutes to their claim so I really don’t have anything to say on that issue. I think that is the point that DrS was trying to convey, just much more succinctly than I.

Although the Lancet is a highly credited medical journal, in the instance of the 100,000 dead figure, the decision was made to forgo their usual credibility by releasing a rushed report with statistically meaningless information.

Now, some have suggested that this was to influence the recent election of your President.

Highly probable in my opinion.

[quote]Roy Batty wrote:
BB,
You can’t have it both ways. You are quick to discount any articles that disagree with your agenda when they come from supposed biased sources (like moveon.org). His point is that the Lancet is generally considered non-partisan, and is the most respected medical journal in the world. They are respected because they have a very high standard on what gets published, and methodologies must be sound and face intense scrutiny.

I am not typing this to kill any messengers. I have heard of the Lancet study, but I have not personally read it or the refutes to their claim so I really don’t have anything to say on that issue. I think that is the point that DrS was trying to convey, just much more succinctly than I.[/quote]

Roy –

Firstly, the Lancet is a medical journal. This study is not a medical study. It’s an exercise in statistics. And, noting Joe Daley above, the Lancet didn’t rigorously peer review the study.

So, it’s outside the area of expertise, and wasn’t peer reviewed according to the normal standards.

The critiques are from academics who understand statistics, and are basing the critiques on the statistical methods employed.

Secondly, on your point, while in general you are correct, I don’t think it’s applicable in this case. When I am dismissive of “nutjob” articles, it is usually because they are asserting facts for which they are the only source – I am questioning both their reliability as a source and honesty as a source.

In the case of the critiques above, they are critiquing the methodology of the study – they don’t have to be reliable sources in that same respect. Of course, they are academics and well qualified to question the methodology, but that’s beside the point here. The point is you could go have a some researcher who utilizes statistical sampling verify these claims for you if you wanted to, whereas there is no one else to verify the nutjob factual claims, so the only “check” you have as to their validity is the reliability of the source.

BTW, here’s another critique of the methodology of the Lancet study:

http://www.chicagoboyz.net/archives/002549.html

All I can say for now is that the critiques you cite were not by statisticians, although one was by a professor of politics who has written a book entitled “The Right War” or some such tripe. For those of you not familiar with the process of peer review, if your statistical analysis is unsound, you don’t get published in The Lancet. I’ll get back to you when I read the study.

[quote]DrS wrote:
All I can say for now is that the critiques you cite were not by statisticians, although one was by a professor of politics who has written a book entitled “The Right War” or some such tripe. For those of you not familiar with the process of peer review, if your statistical analysis is unsound, you don’t get published in The Lancet. I’ll get back to you when I read the study.[/quote]

The last critique in my post above, as well as the last critique of the Lancet study on the original post, were from statisticians.

Can someone link the Lancet paper? I’ll be damned if I can find it on Pubmed or the subscription site.

[quote]DrS wrote:
Can someone link the Lancet paper? I’ll be damned if I can find it on Pubmed or the subscription site.[/quote]

This requires a registration, which I don’t have, but I assume you have access to one:

http://www.thelancet.com/journal/vol364/iss9445/full/llan.364.9445.early_online_publication.31137.1

BTW, FYI, that link was in the two critiques by the statisticians.

DrS –

Did you have time to read the study and evaluate the critiques? It’s been a little while, and I await your blessing on the evaluation of the statistics…

And, please, could you explain to me this whole “peer reviewed” thing…? Poor, simple little me, I had never heard of the concept, or of the Lancet, until you explained their significance.

I guess it’s kind of like that whole Lewis Latham thing in Harper’s you were so sure about, huh?

Very interesting.

[Jim Lindgren, May 15, 2005 at 2:01am] 1 Trackbacks / Possibly More Trackbacks
Are there 24,000 extra Iraq War deaths or 98,000?–

  1. These Different Estimates Can Be Reconciled.

There is a dispute over how to reconcile the recent published estimate of 24,000 extra war-related deaths in Iraq (Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004 http://www.iq.undp.org/ILCS/PDF/Analytical%20Report%20-%20English.pdf ) with the previous Lancet study, which estimated about 98,000 extra deaths from the Iraq War ( http://www.zmag.org/lancet.pdf ).

Tim Lambert has argued ( http://elgar.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/2005/05#lancet34 ) that these numbers are really fairly close when you recognize that the 24,000 figure represents only war-related deaths, while the Lancet study involved extra deaths from all sources. He criticizes the reporting of the Times of London:

Unfortunately, the Times reports the ILCS results like this:

[i]The 370-page report said that it was 95 per cent confident that the toll during the war and the first year of occupation was 24,000, but could have been between 18,000 and 29,000. About 12 per cent of those were under 18.

The figure is far lower than the 98,000 deaths estimated in The Lancet last October, which said that it had interviewed nearly 1,000 households. But it is far higher than other figures. [/i]

This makes a misleading comparison between the Lancet number for all excess deaths (which includes the increase in murder, accidents and disease) and the ILCS number for deaths directly related to the war (which just includes deaths caused by the coalition and the insurgents). It also misses that the time periods were different.

The authors of the ILCS report (page 55 http://www.iq.undp.org/ILCS/PDF/Analytical%20Report%20-%20English.pdf ) seem to have been confused themselves on this point, which makes the resulting confusion of commentators and journalists fully understandable (tip for the quote to Tim Blair http://timblair.net/ee/index.php/weblog/iraqs_dead_counted/):

[i]The ICLS data indicates 24,000 deaths, with a 95 per cent confidence interval from 18,000 to 29,000 deaths. The confidence level was estimated using a linearisation technique (using SPSS Complex Samples, version 12).

Another source (Roberts et al 2004) [Lancet] estimates the number to be 98,000, with a confidence interval of 8,000 to 194,000. The website ?Iraq Body Count? estimates that between 14,619 and 16,804 deaths have occurred between the beginning of 2003 and 7 December 2004.[/i]

I think that Tim Lambert is basically right (and he should be commended for sorting this out)( http://elgar.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/2005/05#lancet34 ). The number of violent deaths in the Lancet report is not that much higher than the number of war-related deaths in the more recent ILCS study, and the period is slightly longer in the Lancet study. The 98,000 figure covers deaths from all sources (including accidents and disease), while the new ILCS study’s 24,000 estimate excludes deaths from non-War related sources of death, such as accidents or disease.

  1. Further Thoughts on Counting Deaths in Iraq.

But one should note that the 24,000 estimate includes all war-related deaths and disappearances of household members in the 24 months before being surveyed (most ILCS surveys were done in April and May 2004, a small % were done in August 2004). Thus, the 24,000 figure covers both most of the year before the March 2003 War and the year after. Any deaths of those in the Iraqi military before the War or anyone who disappeared in the year before the War would have been included in this 24,000 figure, if the household members treated these as War-related (though I doubt that deleting these pre-War deaths would cause large reductions in the estimates).

There is also the problem with both of these studies that people may be more likely to remember more recent events than earlier ones, and may be more likely to consider some people as a member of the household, people who lived with them recently more than people who lived with them two years ago (household size averaged about 7.5-8 persons in the Lancet study).

For example, the Lancet study distinguishes between the 14.6 month period before the War and the 17.8 months after the War. I find it somewhat odd that heart attack and stroke deaths are up 64% in the later period, and accidental deaths are up more than 3-fold. And live births are up 33% in the later (War & Post-War) period, even though post-War pregnancies would not lead to live births until 9 months had passed, so the rate of having children would likely have to have jumped substantially more than 33% in the last half of the later period. Further, household size jumps from 7.5 in the earlier period to 8.0 in the later period.

None of these changes is impossible, and some of these differences might be expected to some extent. But taken together, they give me pause before concluding that people are reporting deaths and who is a household member with the same reliability for before the War as for the post-War insurgency period, which is fresher in their minds.

Actually, there are some fancy statistical techniques to explore whether undercounts are more of a problem in one period than another, so-called capture/recapture techniques. If the researchers independently took the same information from multiple sources (such as more than one person in the same household interviewed separately on different days, or a next-door neighbor asked about their neighbor’s family and deaths, or a police or coroner?s list of deaths), the researchers could compare the various lists to see if they overlapped for the recent period more than for the earlier period. If they did, then the methodology would adjust the total death count more for undercounts in the earlier period than in the later period.

Personally, I wonder how much of the substantial differences between the earlier and later period (eg, number of births, household size, cardiac deaths, accidental deaths) are the result of differences in remembering events and household composition. But Tim Lambert is correct that the Lancet and ILCS studies tell roughly similar stories on violent death rates from the Iraq War itself and the post-War insurgency period.

One of the encouraging things about the blogosphere is that puzzles like the death estimate discrepancy can be sorted out.

Shooting the messenger…well the standard is of a similar ilk as nro and we all know how “well it was going in Iraq” totally dead wrong article. I’d compare motivations of sources, and most likely avg results leaning to a higher number (hell there finding 50 bodies at a pop just about every damn day) I don’t understand how 100,000 matters to the standard though?

note: I meant all sources in my average.

BB I don’t know why you still bother. It long ago became clear to me that most of the participants on this forum are closed minded, bigoted individuals who obstiantely refuse to see the other side and just want to argue rather than have a meaningful discussion of the pro’s and cons.

There is a group of posters on this forum who didn’t think we should have gone into Iraq and now that we are there they look for all the bad news they can find while ignoring any good news.

When you hear that a billion people around the world watch the Super Bowl, you know where they get that number? They guess. That’s right, they pull it out of their ass.

Unfortunately this is too common an event. All the statistics we hear are a mix of very accurate statistical analysis, low level extrapolation, and wild guesses. Too often the wild guess is used when politics is involved. People want to make a point, and just guess at some big number.

I have heard a person giving a speech on tv and told everyone that guns are the biggest killer of children, which is absolutely not true. Then the number of homeless in America is often sited quoting a person who also pulled the number out of his ass, and is 2 to 3 times the real number.

This is why when I have posted links to statistics, I try to get them from the government, or a more accurate source. Unlike those that like to post there unbiased links from, “GeorgeBushIsTheDevil.com”. Yeah, you can trust that website.

If I understand right, the real numbers are dwarfed by the numbers found in mass graves that we are still finding over there, but interestingly don’t make the news.

[quote]Sifu wrote:
BB I don’t know why you still bother. It long ago became clear to me that most of the participants on this forum are closed minded, bigoted individuals who obstiantely refuse to see the other side and just want to argue rather than have a meaningful discussion of the pro’s and cons. [/quote]

Didn’t you just act the same way with this post? How many opposing ideas have you accepted from this forum that didn’t originally match your own? But wait, this was your attempt at seeing another side?