Thursday, January 10, 2008

So Everyone's Not Dead Then?

450000 Iraqis have come back from the dead. It seems that a new survey of Iraq has estimated a much lower death toll than the earlier much hyped Lancet study. I wasn't a knee jerk dismisser, see my comments over at Laban's at the time for example, of the John Hopkins/ Lancet study but the figures did seem ludicrously high. At the time I looked at the number of car bomb deaths it estimated and the daily amount of killings needed to accomplish that was vastly higher than what was being reported in the media, despite the fact that the media were reporting blasts in Baghdad that killed no one, so it didn't seem right. Given the level of corruption in Iraq it wouldn't have surprised me that researchers collecting data on behalf of a noisily anti war campaigner would just happen to find sky high death rates.

As I said at the time seeing as there was no alternative study to refer to the John Hopkins report could not easily be dismissed, no though there is an alternative report.

150000 people dead is still vastly more than I would have anticipated at the beginning of the war though so there is no reason for me to feel vindicated at all. However combined with the success of the surge, the decision to invade Iraq looks much better now than it did 12 months ago.

Update: Incidentally the Lancet report estimated that there had been 426,369 to 793,663 excess deaths over pretty much an identical period of which over 90% were caused by violence, so even the lower bound of their 95% confidence interval is more than double the estimate made by the World Health Organisation. In other words any attempts to spin these two reports as complementing each other is nonsense.

As the later report doesn't make a comparison to the level of violent deaths before the invasion, it doesn't purport to assess the number of 'excess' deaths which is by definition lower on account of the fact that there was plenty of bloodshed prior to the invasion.

8 comments:

alison said...

Hi Ross

I didn't know you had a blog. I enjoy your comments at ATW.

There was so much media around that Lancet report. I doubt any of those who fully believed those huge numbers will reconsider now. It was awful the way that was taken as the difinitive snapshot of Iraq. There is and was too much at stake in propaganda terms.

Ross said...

I think you're right about that, the earlier report set 650000 dead as the benchmark so no matter how many other studies contradict it from now on they will be met with incredulity.

dearieme said...

"As I said at the time seeing as there was no alternative study to refer to the John Hopkins report could not easily be dismissed". I disagree: when there is only one attempt to estimate a number and the result seems deeply implausible to you, your duty is to dismiss it and admit to ignorance. The moral hazard of entertaining the implausible answer is just too high.

Ross said...

Dearieme, my reaction to the Lancet result was what I think ought to be the response to any survey that produces startling results, it shouldn't be taken as gospel but it does make the case for further assessments of the result to be carried out.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Interesting that the Lancet is into death tolls.

dearieme said...

But there was a case for assessments anyway, insofar as useful assessments were possible. (Quite a caveat that, given the intrinsic difficulty of the task.) You learned nothing of the least value from that load of drivel; it should have gone in the same bin in which you file estimates from a bloke in the pub.

Squander Two said...

As I said at the time, there was absolutely no reason to doubt The Lancet's finding that there had been at least 8000 civilian deaths.

Ross said...

Yeah, the first Lancet report was, when you got away from the headline figure, actually a range of values that encompassed pretty much every plausible value.