The German Left has eagerly accepted the story of the one hundred thousand deaths in the Iraq war, as claimed by the British medical journal Lancet.
Our reader George Gooding presents a comprehensive evaluation of the the Lancet study's results. His bottom line conclusion:
(The Lancet scientists) managed to exclude almost all the safest provinces of Iraq from their sample, in the name of safety, and claimed that the pairings had similar levels of violence when most of them did not.
There are other interesting observations on a piece of biased research. Read it all.
UPDATE: And here is a piece Ray D. wrote earlier on Lancet and never published because he was working on too many other projects:
A Questionable Reality: Stern and the Lancet Study
For many in the media and among the anti-war crowd, it is already an established fact, an article of faith. Last October, not long before the Presidential election, the Lancet Study made headlines with the claim that 100,000 "additional" Iraqi deaths had been caused as a result of US-led military action in the country.
Not surprisingly, Stern magazine has jumped on the bandwagon. In a recent article entitled "Murderous Everyday Life", (which features two stereotype-filled photo galleries entitled "USA: The Divided Land" and "Iraq in Flames"), the magazine states:
"When the USA attacked Iraq two years ago, opponents of the war warned the invasion would cost hundreds of thousands their lives. What was once scolded as a dramatization has become reality. (...)
Among others, Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin had to take ridicule from German newspapers as a "Cassandra" as a result. He estimated 200,000 victims. What was once scolded as dramatization has long become reality."
Stern later goes on to mention that this so-called "reality" is based on the Lancet Study. The article provides no other sources to back up its version of reality, relying entirely on the Lancet Study to support its claim that US led military action in Iraq has "cost hundreds of thousands their lives." Stern conspicuously ignores other (left-wing) statistical sources such as the Iraq Body Count, mentioning only the obviously incomplete statistics of the Iraqi Health Ministry.
The Lancet Study, which arrived at its figure of 100,000 Iraqis dead as a result of the war based on an estimate derived from statistical sampling, has come under repeated fire, criticism and questioning in both the main stream media and elsewhere. The Washington Post, not exactly known as a conservative publication, described the study this way:
"The analysis, an extrapolation based on a relatively small number of documented deaths, indicated that many of the excess deaths have occurred due to aerial attacks by coalition forces, with women and children being frequent victims, wrote the international team of public health researchers making the calculations. (...)
Previous independent estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq were far lower, never exceeding 16,000. Other experts immediately challenged the new estimate, saying the small number of documented deaths upon which it was based make the conclusions suspect.
"The methods that they used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting," said Marc E. Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, which investigated the number of civilian deaths that occurred during the invasion. "These numbers seem to be inflated."
When Human Rights Watch analysts say your numbers "seem to be inflated," alarm bells should immediately begin to go off...
The Lancet Study: A Closer Look
Well, with all of the argument surrounding it, I decided to have a look at the Lancet Study myself. Here is what I concluded after reading it:
The Lancet Study is based on a survey conducted in 33 "clusters" throughout Iraq in which 988 households containing 7868 residents served as the basis for the study's findings. Each cluster contained 30 households and an average of 238.4 residents. One of the clusters just happened to end up in Falluja, where an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of deaths had occurred. For that reason it was not considered in the calculations that lead to the famous 100,000 figure because, according to the authors, "the Falluja cluster is an obvious outlier and might not belong with the others."
So for its findings the study relied on 32 clusters with (if we take the averages) 960 households and around 7630 residents. In these 32 clusters, 46 deaths were reported in a 14.6 month (or 442 day) period from January 1, 2002 to March 18, 2003 leading up to the war, which yields an average of 3.15 deaths per month. This period is referred to as the "pre-invasion" period by the study's authors. In the same clusters, 89 deaths (21 of which were violent) were reported in the 17.8 month (or 548 day) period from March 19, 2003 to September 16, 2004, which yields an average of 5 deaths per month. This period, which includes the major combat operations phase of the Iraq conflict, is referred to as the "post-invasion" period by the study's authors.
The numbers above serve as the fundamental basis for the Lancet Study's estimate of "100,000 excess deaths" in Iraq, which the study claims were mainly attributable "to coalition forces." Here is essentially how they used the numbers they provided to get that result:
First, because the two periods under consideration are different (14.6 months or "110,538 person-months of residency" versus 17.8 months or "138,439 person months of residency"), one has to adjust for time. One of the ways this can be done is by simply taking the average number of recorded deaths per month "pre-invasion" (3.15) and multiplying it by 17.8 months. That gives us right about 56 deaths. Remember for the "post-invasion" period, we had 89 deaths in 17.8 months. So now, after adjusting for time, we still have 33 "additional" deaths (89 minus 56) in the "post-invasion" period in our 32 clusters.
You may be scratching your head at this point and wondering...how did they get 100,000+ "additional" Iraqi deaths from 33? Well, this is how:
First you take the estimated population of Iraq: The survey uses 24.4 million. You divide the total population of Iraq by the overall number of people included in the 32 clusters surveyed (7630) for a result of 3198. Then you take your 33 "additional" deaths and multiply them by 3198...voila...there you have your 100,000+ "additional" Iraqi deaths. Of course there are numerous different ways one can plug in the numbers that will lead to slight variations, but the end result will always be right around 100,000. The study used then another equation to calculate its "confidence interval" of 8,000 to 194,000 "additional" deaths.
That's right ladies and gentleman, this entire study is based on a few dozen deaths. To be more precise the entire study and its 100,000 "additional" death estimate is based on 89 deaths in a 17.8 month period during and after the war versus 46 deaths in a 14.6 month period before the war in a 32 cluster sample group. In other words, if even one cluster was disproportionately affected by death (or a lack thereof) either before, during or after the war, the results of the study would be dramatically off base. If even just a few deaths were incorrectly recorded or invented, it also would have dramatically changed the study's results. If even just one or two of the surveyed families was the unfortunate victim of a particularly violent bombing incident or terror attack, the entire survey could be way off base and fatally skewed. In fact, a change of just 10 deaths for any reason would have the effect of throwing this survey off by around plus or minus 30,000 deaths.
Put another way, the sample group used in the study was clearly far too small to produce reliable, conclusive data. How then, could anyone claim that this sample group was large enough to be taken seriously when debating an issue of such enormous gravity? How could anyone rely on a survey that makes such heavy claims of 100,000 "additional" dead in Iraq when it is based on a difference of around 33 deaths (time adjusted)? This is explainable only if we consider the worldview and ideology of those who have exhibited a burning desire to believe the results, whether true or not.
To summarize, the "reality" Stern magazine and all of the other media sources now quote as gospel is based on a very flimsy, clearly flawed study that even left-wing pundits are criticizing as inflated and based on an inadequately small sample group. That is the sort of "reality" that is presented to the German public as established fact on a daily basis by ideologically driven media sources like Stern.
IBC and Lancet
The Iraqi Body Count is another left-leaning project aimed at recording the number of deaths in Iraq during and after major combat operations. Unlike the Lancet study, which relied on a mathematical estimate derived from a small sample group, the Iraqi Body Count is dependent primarily on the media for its casualty tally, but has also included information from the Iraqi government and in a few cases from NGOs.
Even assuming that all of the media sources and all of the other data sources the IBC relies upon are trustworthy and reliable (they include Al-Jazeera, Agence France-Presse, The Guardian), the maximum casualty count according to the site is currently just over 25,000, and at the time of the Lancet Study's publication, it was well below 20,000. That would mean that over 80,000 Iraqi deaths, caused "mainly by the coalition" have gone completely unnoticed by the international media, Iraqi authorities and NGOs from the time the war began till the study's publication date in October 2004 if we are to believe the 100,000 "additional" deaths estimate from the Lancet study is truly accurate. That is over four-fifths or more than 80% of the deaths the Lancet study estimates have occurred.
As Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun wrote shortly after the study was released:
"But take a closer look at the Lancet survey and you'll find its claims are unbelievable. Junk. Preposterous.
How could its claim of 100,000 deaths so easily have become the new gospel?
Just ask yourself: Have more than 180 Iraqis, mainly women and children, really died every day, on average, for the past 18 months, usually at the hands of the Americans?
If so, where are all the funerals? Where are the pictures? Where are the news reports from the Iraqi media, or pro-extremist outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC? And where are the American soldiers, reeling from the killing of so many children, to tell the TV cameras of their horror?
But few of the commentators who seized on the survey bothered to ask such basic questions, or even to heed Human Rights Watch, which warned: "The numbers seem to be inflated."
Infant Mortality and the Lancet Study
The "pre-invasion" infant mortality rate also derived by combining a inadequately small sample group with a flawed assumption. Here again, the study relies on a tiny number of actual recorded infant deaths to reach its reported "pre-invasion" infant mortality rate of 29 deaths per every 1000 livebirths. In fact, 8 actual infant deaths serve as the basis for this statistic that is purported to accurately reflect the infant mortality rate in a nation of over 24 million.
Here is how the authors came up with the figure: The study recorded 275 births and 8 infant deaths in the 14.6 months before the war. Using that figure, the authors came up with the 29 infant deaths per 1000 live births infant mortality figures.
The study defends the 29 figure by noting that "the preconflict infant mortality rate (29 deaths per 1000 livebirths) we recorded is similar to estimates from neighbouring countries." In so doing it blatantly ignores a number of key facts. First, other "neighbouring countries" were not subject to sanctions or Saddam Hussein's reign of tyranny in the same period. Secondly, a UNICEF study conducted in Iraq for the period from 1994 to 1999 came up with an infant mortality figure of 108 per 1000 livebirths. That would mean if the UNICEF numbers are accurate, the infant mortality rate would have had to drop by over three-and-a-half times within 3 years in an Iraq under sanctions and Hussein's rule.
The "58-Fold" Canard
Some particularly outspoken critics of the Iraq war have pointed with horror and outrage to the Lancet study's finding that: "Violence-specific mortality rate went up 58-fold during the period after invasion."
One problem with the 58 fold figure is that it is derived using all 33 clusters including the data gathered in Falluja. The authors came to the figure using this data: "After the invasion, 142 deaths (73 of them violent) were reported in 138,439 person-months of residency. Before the invasion, respondent households reported 46 deaths (1 of them violent) during 110,538 person-months of residency."
So again, you simply adjust for time by dividing 110,538 by 138,439. That gives you .79846. Then you multiply that by the ratio of the number of violent deaths "post-invasion" to the number of violent deaths "pre-invasion." That figure is 73. 73 multiplied by .79846 gives us 58.3. In other words, if even one more death had been reported for the "pre-invasion" period, it would have cut the 58-fold" figure in half to 29! In fact, the "58-fold" figure is dependent on just one reported death in the "pre-invasion" period.
Here again, the data is fatally flawed and rendered useless by the fact that the sample group is simply far, far too small to produce meaningful results.
Falluja Not a Risk???
In the "Methods" section of the Lancet study, the authors changed the locations of some of the clusters they planned to visit. The reason, according to them was the following:
"During September 2004, many roads were not under the control of the Government of Iraq or coalition forces. Local police checkpoints were perceived by team members as target identification screens for rebel groups. To lessen risks to investigators, we sought to minimise travel distances and the number of Governorates to visit, while still sampling from all regions of the country. We did this by clumping pairs of Governorates."
In other words, some of the clusters were moved in order to (in the words of the authors) "lessen risks to investigators." Yet the same study authors who were so worried about risks had no problem allowing their "investigators" to drive right into Falluja in September 2004 and conduct their survey while the city was still under the control of violent insurgents and subject to a Coalition siege featuring almost daily bombardment from the air and ground. Let's not forget about the kidnapping victims who ended up at Al-Qaeda headquarters in Falluja during this same period.
Now, how, exactly, is that consistent? If the study leaders were as concerned about safety as they claim they were, why would they allow their investigators to drive right into Falluja at a time like that? What could have possibly been their motivation? Does that not seem just the slightest bit contradictory? All things considered, one has to wonder about the logic that went into selecting the other 32 clusters chosen as well.
Saddam's Long Rule of Violence Not Accurately Reflected by Study
The study is also flawed because it samples a period in Saddam's regime (immediately before the war) that was relatively peaceful. It does not take into account the full extent of the mass murder of his more than two decades in office. For that reason alone, this study ought to have been junked...