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Implications of the Lancet death estimate for Iraq
Posted by: McQ on Monday, October 16, 2006

Iraq Body Count has issued a press release summarizing their reaction to the Lancet estimate of 650,000 Iraqi violent deaths since the US invasion in 2003.

IBC says that if taken at face value, the study implies the following:
1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;

2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;

3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;

4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;

5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.
Another point to be made is that the ratio of wounded to killed usually runs about 3:1, which means also not seen or detected are about 1,950,000 wounded Iraqis.

IBC then says that if 1 through 5 above are true, they further assert the following:
* incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;

* bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;

* the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;

* an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.
I'll let you defenders of the numbers sort out and answer IBC's points, but suffice it to say they raise enough questions to put the efficacy of that study in serious doubt (for a second time).

You can read the entire IBC response here.

Oh, and for you who are wondering out there, IBC is no friend of the invasion:
In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.
 
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I notice that they estimate 44,000, which is approximately 60% higher than the true count of 30,000, so I am not sure that their methodology is to be trusted either.
 
Written By: william
URL: http://
Number four caught my eye immediately after the report came out. One of the justifications that the Lancet uses for the reliability of their estimate is that they had (I think) a 90% confirmation of the survey using death certificates. Yet, they claim we cannot trust the statistics of the Iraqi government because they are missing most deaths. Cognitive dissonance warnings went off in my head immediately since according to their own methodology the government had accounted for almost all the deaths they found.

Thus if we take the Lancet’s survey seriously we should assume that The Iraqi government has accounted for at least 90% of the deaths and adjust actual recorded fatalities accordingly. I do not believe the media will report this as hard, but hopefully I am wrong.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
Number four caught my eye immediately after the report came out.
Mine too. In fact it was the initial basis for me questioning the results.

Then there was the probable wounding of civilians which seems to have never been considered (that 3:1 ratio). Data should be available to support that as well.

Lastly, the conspiracy it would take to ensure that while the certificates were issued, they were never recorded throughout the country.

This is a government that can’t even keep the lights on all night and it is going to successfully do that? And for what purpose?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
This whole study and it’s critique have been rather silly. The whole study, it’s critique and then the rebuttal by supporters has reminded me of Zeno’s Paradoxes. We focus on ever smaller and arcane issues and statistics...whilst ignoring a GLARING OBVIOUSNESS.

We KNOW what it takes to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. We did it in the Second World War. It takes an 8th, a 15th Air Force and a Bomber Command, dropping several MILLION tons of bombs on Germany. The result is the Dresden, Darmstadt, and Hamburg firestorms, plus the square kilometers of rubble that were Essen, Berlin, Koln, and all the other cities of Germany.

Now the Lancet has it that absent those efforts and those obvious signs, that 650,000 civilians died in three years in Iraq. The whole assertion was patently false, on the face of it. Sorry I don’t need to examine cluster sampling, or the method of cluster sampling, or the matrix of covariance, or discuss heteroskedaticity, or a host of other quantitative/statistical terms. The evidence on the ground simply meant the study had to be untrue.

Remember, the terms "Valid" and "True" are NOT homonyms, they are synonyms. Something can be VALID, but untrue...
All Bloggers are Communists
McQ is a blogger
Therefore, McQ is a Communist.

A valid syllogism, but not true. The Lancet study may or may not be valid, it’s validity is irrelevant. It was, on the face of it, untrue.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I went ahead now that IBC put out there own response my own post on the issue of the bizarre confirmation number, which I will update with some thoughts on the odd way this debate has moved forward in some quarters later on.

Joe,

I agree that it seemed absurd Jane Galt had some nice posts on just that aspect, but I do think it is important to know why. Sometimes the absurd ends up being true for one thing, and also so we can recognize such things when it isn’t obvious.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
off-the-cuff rebuttal to the IBC:

1. IBC’s numbers, by their own account, represent only the irreducible minimum of violent death. The incredulity argument, of which this is a more sophisticated version, contends that it is not possible that 90% of deaths are not reported.

Why not? I’d be astonished if American newspapers published more than 10% of excess deaths on a daily basis. Before IBC can make the incredulity claim, it needs to examine and report on the weaknesses of its own system.

2. Given that reported Iraqi-on-Iraqi killings tend to state that the victims were helpless (ie, all the torture reports) at the time of their death, I see no reason to apply ratios of killed to wounded developed from military combat. Also, only a small fraction of Iraqis injured in car bombings and the like receive medical care from Americans. Given the number of reports on the collapse of the medical system, we might expect very high mortality rates among the injured.

Also, the Lancet report wasn’t asking about injured.

3. 10% dead. So? This is another version of the incredulity argument. If the country is in an active but under-reported civil war, these casualty rates are not beyond the realm of possibility. Rwanda anyone?

4. As the Christian Science Monitor has pointed out, just because a local official is issuing a death certificate doesn’t mean that the central government has a copy. Also, there are substantial credible reports that various health and interior ministries are grossly under-reporting Sunni deaths.

5. I don’t believe this is a fair statement to make as to the conclusions which may be drawn from the Lancet paper, but I lack the time and expertise to challenge the IBC’s criticism.
 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
IBC’s numbers, by their own account, represent only the irreducible minimum of violent death. The incredulity argument, of which this is a more sophisticated version, contends that it is not possible that 90% of deaths are not reported.
IBC’s numbers aren’t the subject here. Lancet’s are. When one looks at the sheer numbers Lancet is asserting and the total lack of any evidence of them within the multiple institutions within Iraq at numerous locations which would have to deal with deaths of that magnitude (not to mention the proportional number of wounded) you can’t help but question the numbers.
As the Christian Science Monitor has pointed out, just because a local official is issuing a death certificate doesn’t mean that the central government has a copy. Also, there are substantial credible reports that various health and interior ministries are grossly under-reporting Sunni deaths.
Someone has a copy. Were they validated? If it was issued, you’d have to believe it was recorded (you know, where’d they get it ... point it out to me and let me go check). I mean, if it was recorded, how difficult would it be to check?

If it was recorded, how difficult would it be for the government to compile the stats?
Given that reported Iraqi-on-Iraqi killings tend to state that the victims were helpless (ie, all the torture reports) at the time of their death, I see no reason to apply ratios of killed to wounded developed from military combat. Also, only a small fraction of Iraqis injured in car bombings and the like receive medical care from Americans. Given the number of reports on the collapse of the medical system, we might expect very high mortality rates among the injured.
But most of the deaths and injuries have come from attacks on masses of people thus the ratios are certainly applicable. And, I was very conservative and applied the WWII ratio (no body armor, few armored vehicles, medical support not as good or fast). The present ratio for combat wounded to dead for American forces is of 9:1. Applying that number would make the wounded count 5,850,000.
3. 10% dead. So? This is another version of the incredulity argument. If the country is in an active but under-reported civil war, these casualty rates are not beyond the realm of possibility. Rwanda anyone?
There was physical evidence in Rwanda. Is it too much to ask for the same in Iraq?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The incredulity argument, of which this is a more sophisticated version, contends that it is not possible that 90% of deaths are not reported.
...to the authorities. They are correct.
Also, there are substantial credible reports that various health and interior ministries are grossly under-reporting Sunni deaths.
Please cite one or two.
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
IBC’s numbers aren’t the subject here. Lancet’s are.

piffle. The core argument from incredulity made here, at Jane Galt’s site and elsewhere, is that IBC cannot possibly have counted only 10% of excess deaths.

and I still ask, why not?

put it this way. In 1972, what did American people believe was the excess death rate in Vietnam? What was the basis for that number? Did the organizations feeding the press have incentives either to exaggerate or minimize death rates? How close are the reported numbers from then to what is now believed?



sitting here in the nice safe USA, we have no ability whatsoever to answer this question. But the evidence we have suggests both (a) there has been a tremendous breakdown in the ordinary operations of civil government; and (b) the national government lies on a regular basis.

There was physical evidence in Rwanda. Is it too much to ask for the same in Iraq?

The physical evidence does exist; it’s the death certificates. Also, Iraq is a very big country; there’s plenty of room for that many graves.
 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
The physical evidence does exist; it’s the death certificates.
That evidence supports IBC’s count, not Lancet’s.
Also, Iraq is a very big country; there’s plenty of room for that many graves.
Great. Where are they?

You realize that Lancet only counted 547 deaths, and then projected from there, right?
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
Pablo, american pollsters can predict presidential elections by polling 1,000 people, so long as the sampling is done properly. There is ample evidence that sampling works.

As to the death certificates, something like 90% of the houses were able to produce the certificate. Lancet, not IBC, is supported by that physical evidence.
 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
Nobody knows how many people have been killed in Iraq. Iraq Body Count doesn’t know. The UN doens’t know. The Iraqi government doesn’t know, and I find it very credible to assert that it has very little interest in knowing. Various bits of it have been tied to large quantities of the killing. The US government has very little interest in knowing the true answer, either.

The Lancet study doesn’t know for certain, either. They did a statistical correlation similar to that used for political polling in the U.S. I’ve defended that study as a basically methodologically sound attempt to estimate, and I’d continue to do so.

I’m not impressed with IBC’s arguments - agreeing with Francis - but I’m not certain that they’re wrong, either. There is zero serious debate that IBC’s, 50K is a casualty floor, not a total, and the the real number is a multiple of that. The Lancet is the first study of this type to try, and I won’t throw it out until I see another valid statistical study come up with different results.

If you tell me which one, 400-800K, or 50K, I’m more certain is wrong, it’s 50K.

Casualty estimates are an inexact science, but for every other Western war in modern history, they happen, and 99 percent of the time the estimates are higher than the total of deaths reported in specific incidents by the media.
Darfur is an estimate. Rwanda was an estimate until years after the fact.

This is the first war in anyone-can-remember that no one even tries to make a real estimate. GWB’s 30K does not count. It’s flatly ridiculous.

If someone wants to make a strong, evidentiary case for 200K, I’d listen, but most of Lancet’s objections would still apply. (What, only 25% of the deaths reported by the media? What kind of conspiracy is this?)


Lastly, the conspiracy it would take to ensure that while the certificates were issued, they were never recorded throughout the country.

McQ, It doesn’t take one slickly-organized, central conspiracy. It takes hundreds of minor conspiracies. You think Interior ministry brigades *aren’t* dumping bodies in the Tigris instead of reporting them to the morgues? You think 100% of them are being fished out? You think there aren’t cleverer ways of disposing bodies? You think the Health Ministry isn’t laughably easy to bribe and intimidate?

Not only that, there’s a booming false documents argument in this country.
Now *that* might be a possible source for an estimate that ends up being too high. By a fraction.


On the other hand, I’ll take the Lancet over the Iraqi government.

Please cite one or two.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/09/07/africa/ME_GEN_Iraq_Violent_Deaths.php
The ABC News blog "From The Frontlines" reports that they received a phone call from an official at the Baghdad morgue who said the official toll of violent deaths in August nearly triple the figure originally reported by officials.
And this is in Baghdad count only, the place with the most Western connections and coverage and coverage of all non-Kurdish areas.

I’m not going to bother finding the follow-up story about the morgue official fleeing to Syria to avoid death in retribution for this phone call.

The Health Ministry, which tallies civilian deaths, relies on reports from government hospitals and morgues. The Interior Ministry compiles its figures from police stations, while the Defense Ministry reports deaths only among army soldiers and insurgents killed in combat.

The United Nations keeps its own count, based largely on reports from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry. A U.N. official said it would be announcing August figures later.

"It is impossible to get accurate casualty figures due to the chaos of the fighting, the malfunctioning of institutions and the politicization of the numbers," said Fred Abrahams, a researcher at Human Rights Watch
I’m not going to bother pointing out the holes in these systems. They should be self-evident.

But most of the deaths and injuries have come from attacks on masses of people thus the ratios are certainly applicable. And, I was very conservative and applied the WWII ratio (no body armor, few armored vehicles, medical support not as good or fast). The present ratio for combat wounded to dead for American forces is of 9:1. Applying that number would make the wounded count 5,850,000.

You should be even more conservative. Summary exections have a killed-wounded ratio of 1:0. Not only that, but we have absolutely no idea how many people are wounded in Iraq. There could be 10,000 or 1,500,000. We have no idea. There’s no reason to believe we would have any way of knowing about them. Western reporters are not roaming Iraq.




 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Lancet only counted 547 deaths
I am always amazed when so many people like Francis put their brains into logical pretzels to support their beliefs. Almost like some strange cult.
There is ample evidence that sampling works.
But sampling only works if done correctly. The last lancet study was cut to ribbons precisely because the sampling was incorrectly done.




 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
I have to ask...

Why the hell is the US government NOT keeping track of this?

When we invaded and occupied, we became legally responsible for the internal security of Iraq, how can we possibly even pretend to take that responsibility seriously when are not even making ANY official effort to determine the levels and affect of the violence?

IBC has about 50,000 deaths.

I figure that is probably low but a lot closer than the Lancet report.

Who is really better off?

Iran
al Qaeda
Syria
North Korea


Who is worse off

Saddam Hussein
US
Iraqi people
global security
US military


Cap
 
Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
Sometimes facts aren’t as important as "the cause".
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
But sampling only works if done correctly. The last lancet study was cut to ribbons precisely because the sampling was incorrectly done.

Not exactly. It was criticized because the sample was so small that the predicted range varied so widely between upper and lower bounds (8K - 190K), thus appearing to a layman that we hardly knew anything at all. If the people doing this were hacks, they would have fudged their ratio. They could have guessed how that spread was going to play in the media. But it was they best they could do, so they rolled with it.

This does not equal incorrect.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Again, we KNOW what kills hundreds of thousands...where is the evidence of that? Oh and Francis Iraq COULD hold a lot of graves, but the only ones we keep finding ARE FILLED WITH SADDAM’S VICTIMS. IF the Lancet was right don’t you think we’d find a few more graves with folks who WEREN’T his enemies? Oh and was it you that mentioned Rwanda? If so, the dead were floating down the rivers and clogging the waterways, no one doubted that a mass murder/pogrom was underway. Just don’t see it in Iraq.

Again show me the burned out villages, the smashed cities, the firestorms and 1,000 plane raids and I’ll start buying into the Lancet study. Until then I really don’t cae what the statistics say...

Though to be fair the stat’s aren’t lying, I’ll bet that the 95% Confidence Interval is HUGE in this study. It was in the last study they released, IIRC the CI for 95% ranged from several tens of thousand to over 100,000. As a measure that had a whole lot of utility it lacks. If the 95% CI was from 640,000 to 655,000 the study would have more utility.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Who is worse off
We are. We get to read your parc.

Too bad the "Written By:" tag isn’t on the top of the posting.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
The ABC News blog "From The Frontlines" reports that they received a phone call from an official at the Baghdad morgue who said the official toll of violent deaths in August nearly triple the figure originally reported by officials.
And that’s a credible source? Ummmmmm..... NO.
I’m not going to bother pointing out the holes in these systems. They should be self-evident.
Right, they’re all screwing it up and landing about the same place. Various Iraqi entities and the UN and an anti-war website. Meanwhile, Lancet’s wild ass guessing strikes you as solid work based on your perception of their mad extrapolation skillz.

Yeah, right.
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
Captain Sarcastic,

The US military probably DOES keep track of the deaths using similar means as the Lancet study. However, they would not reveal this because it would smack of body counts ala Vietnam.

This would pose a PR problem on one hand (reminding people of Vietnam) and also it’s not a very good metric for military purposes.

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
I should have screenshot an AP headline I saw earlier today...

Alas, I give you the BBC instead: New surge of violence hits Iraq
A series of six bomb attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk has killed at least 10 people and injured dozens of others, police say.

And police found at least 40 corpses in the town of Balad and close to another 30 in Baghdad, in an apparent fresh wave of sectarian killings.


The AP headline ran something along these lines Death Toll climbs to 91 in Mondays Sectarian Violence.

Well now, if the Lancet survey is to be trusted, then Mondays death tolls are actually... significantly less than average, not a surge but in fact a substantial reduction - not a climbing but a falling death toll.

So lefties, what is it, a bogus Lancet Survey, or an incredibily biased media?


 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
The US military probably DOES keep track of the deaths using similar means as the Lancet study. However, they would not reveal this because it would smack of body counts ala Vietnam.
I’d like to believe that, and perhaps it is true, but wouldn’t it make sense to just say that (they could skip the Vietnam part), but the government could say that they are tracking all of the data and insuring integrity of data because it is our responsibility, however we are not going to release any numbers accept as historical information after we leave.

Instead they repeatedly and adamantly say they are simply not counting.

Cap
 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
Who is worse off
We are. We get to read your parc.

Too bad the "Written By:" tag isn’t on the top of the posting.

Written By: Mark A. Flacy
WRITTEN BY CAP...

It must be incredibly dull for you in that you seem to find everything you disagree with to be waste of your time.

I prefer to have discussions with people that disagree with me. When I have a valid point, I’ll know it here, but I wouldn’t if I were having a discussion with a bunch of people who agree with me. And if my point is shot down by intelligent argument, I’ll revise, refine, or reverse.

Of course your commentary, missing the elements of both intelligence and argument, are useless to me, and I daresay anyone looking for more than driveby potshots.

But thanks for playing.

Cap
 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://

 
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