Dead Men Left

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Lancet study

D-squared and Chris Lightfoot provide summaries and rebuttals of the assorted criticisms that have been made of the Lancet's mortality study of post-invasion Iraq. This suggested that around 100,000 excess deaths had resulted from the invasion, a staggeringly - really shockingly - high figure, and far worse than even the pessimistic estimate of Iraq Body Count.

The Lancet piece has been subjected to a barrage of attacks, ranging from the amateur statisticians of blogland, to the unfortunately equally amateur statisticians in the Prime Minister's office:

Firstly, the survey appeared to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count. Our worries centred on the fact that the technique in question appeared to treat Iraq as if every area was one and the same. In terms of the level of conflict, that was definitely not the case. Secondly, the survey appeared to assume that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq. Again, that was not true. It had been focussed primarily on areas such as Fallujah. Consequently, we did not believe that extrapolation was an appropriate technique to use.

Actually, the problem here isn't the general incomprehension of confidence intervals that seems to prevail amongst the pro-war fraternity. (He says knowingly: but come on, it's not that bloody difficult.) It's more that they just haven't read the damn paper: it was not based on the assumption that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq, and it explicitly excluded Fallujah. It's not as if No.10 haven't read academic papers before, either, having plagiarised one for their laughable "dossier" justifying the war.

(It was whilst grabbing these links off Shot by Both Sides that I noticed a truly spectacular example of what I suppose is the unarmed kamikaze approach to debate carrying on in the comments boxes. Not so much being savaged by a dead sheep, as seeing someone punch themselves repeatedly in the face. It is painful to watch.)