January 14, 2008

Cookin' the Stats

From CounterPunch.org comes a very detailed and enlightening report on the latest "scientific" statistical report of Iraqi deaths compared to the much (unfairly) maligned Johns Hopkins study of 2004. To use the word "sloppy" for the NEJM study would be a gross understatement.
Andrew Cockburn is the author of Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy.
Gross Distortions, Sloppy Methodology and Tendentious Reporting
How the New England Journal of Medicine Undercounted Iraqi Civilian Deaths
[…] Now we have a new result complied by the Iraqi Ministry of Health under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization and published in the once reputable New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM) estimating the number of Iraqis murdered, directly or indirectly, by George Bush and his willing executioners at 151,000--far less than the most recent Johns Hopkins estimate.
[…] In particular, while Johns Hopkins reported that the majority of post invasion deaths were due to violence, the NEJM serves up the comforting assessment that only one sixth of deaths in this period have been due to violence.
[…] Among the many obfuscations in this new report, the most fundamental is the blurred distinction between it and the survey it sets out to discredit. The Johns Hopkins project sought to enumerate the number of excess deaths due to all causes in the period following the March 2003 invasion as compared with the death rate prior to the invasion, [whereas this report] sought to analyze only deaths by violence, imposing a measure of subjectivity on the findings from the outset. For example, does the child who dies because the local health clinic has been looted in the aftermath of the invasion count as a casualty of the war, or not?
[…] As the authors themselves admit, they did not visit a significant proportion of the original designated clusters: "Of the 1086 originally selected clusters, 115 (10.6%) were not visited because of problems with security," meaning they were inconveniently situated in Anbar province, Baghdad, and two other areas that were dangerous to visit, (especially for Iraqi government employees from a Shia-controlled ministry.) While such reluctance is understandable--one of those involved was indeed killed during the survey--it also meant that areas with very high death tolls were excluded from the survey.
[…] Les Roberts, one of the principal authors of the Johns Hopkins studies, has commented: "We confirmed our deaths with death certificates, they did not.

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