In an earlier post on the IBC I wrote:
We’ve always said our work is an undercount, you can’t possibly expect that a media-based analysis will get all the deaths. Our best estimate is that we’ve got about half the deaths that are out there.
OK, then why does the IBC page say “Iraq Body Count: Max 38661″? That’s not really the maximum possible number of deaths, is it? Why not report their estimate that the true number of deaths is 70,000 or so?
IBC’s Josh Dougherty responded with:
No. It’s the maximum number of reported civilian deaths, as is stated on their homepage, counters, database..etc., and based on the methodology posted openly on their site.
But the number that people are interested in is the actual number of civilian deaths, and that is how the IBC number is described the vast majority of the time. I took a sample of 36 of the press mentions of the IBC in 2005 from the IBC’s page on press coverage. In only five of these was the IBC described as an undercount and as just the number of deaths reported in the media. One of these wasn’t press coverage at all but Milan Rai’s report that the IBC criticised. Then we have Socialist Worker, a student newspaper and the World Socialist Website. The only one in major media was Carl Bialik in the Wall Street Journal. A further
seven ten mentioned that it was compiled from media reports so a reader had some sort of chance of figuring out the relation between the IBC number and the actual number of deaths. The other 24 21 just reported it as the number of deaths with the IBC maximum often reported as an upper bound on the number of deaths. The full results are in a table below the fold.
Now I’m sure that no matter how hard they tried, some of the press would misreport what their number means, but they don’t even seem to be trying. This has been going on for years and they must be aware of it because they compiled the list of press reports of their work. Why not say on the front page that they think the total number of deaths is twice as high? Why not contact reporters who get it wrong and set them right?
|IBC number reported as number of deaths||Mention that IBC is compiled from media reports||Mention that IBC is an underestimate|
|“The Iraq Body Count website calculates that the total number of Iraqi civilians killed by military intervention could be as many as 17,721.” The Independent – 28 January||“The campaigning group Iraq Body Count says it recorded 11,163 civilian deaths using media reports over the same period.” Channel 4 News (UK) – 30 October 2005||“Careful and conservative work by IBC principal researchers Hamit Dardagan, John Sloboda, Kay Williams and Peter Bagnall, showed that there had been 24,865 civilian war-related deaths, almost all of them as a direct result of violence, reported between 20 March 2003 and 19 March 2005.” Milan Rai (Iraqmortality.org) – 14 October 2005|
|“Iraq Body Count, an organisation that tracks civilian deaths, indicates that 26,000 to 30,000 civilians have died since the war started.” Irish Independent – 31 October 2005||“In one count, compiled by Iraq Body Count, a United States-based nonprofit group that tracks the civilian deaths using news media reports, the total of Iraqi dead since the American-led invasion is 26,690 to 30,051.” New York Times – 26 October 2005||“The most quoted is Iraq Body Count (www.iraqbodycount.net). This currently gives a figure of between 26,092 and 29,401 civilians killed and is regularly updated. This figure is based on media reports, and those who produced the figure accept that it underestimates the real number of deaths.” Socialist Worker – 01 October 2005|
“Visit any anti-war website and you will see an Iraq Body Count counter with a ticking toll of the civilians killed over the previous 24 hours.” Spiked-Online – 28 October 2005
|“Nearly 25,000 civilians have been reported killed in the first two years, according to the U.K. group run by John Sloboda and Harmit Dardagan.” The Village Voice – 21 July||“As of the middle of March of this year, 37 percent of all non-combatant deaths were caused by U.S.-led coalition forces — compared to 9 percent caused by insurgents. I’ll repeat that: caused by U.S. forces. According to Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group, the two independent researchers behind the study, the figures in the report should be regarded as the “baseline of the minimum number of deaths.”" Purdue Exponent – 24 August 2005|
“IraqBodyCount.net estimates Iraqi civilian casualties at between 26,000 and 30,000″ Antiwar.com – 27 October 2005
|“The report, based on analysis of civilian casualties reported in the news media, states that 24,685 civilians were killed and about 42,500 wounded.” New York Times – 20 July||“For example, the widely cited number last month of about 25,000 counts only violent deaths that have been reported to the media.” Wall Street Journal – 05 August|
|“The Iraqi Body Count website says that as of today a minimum of 26,690 and a maximum of 30,051 Iraqi civilians have been killed.” Media Monitors Network – 26 October 2005||“Nearly 25,000 civilians have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a US-British non-governmental organisation said, based on survey of media reports.” Financial Times – 19 July||“The dossier examines 24,865 civilian fatalities and 42,500 injuries in Iraq between March 19, 2003 and March 19, 2005. The study’s methodology was meticulous but conservative, meaning the figures underestimate the extent of the carnage inflicted on the Iraqi people. Only deaths that were reported by at least two out of 152 English-language news sources have been counted.” World Socialist Web Site – 26 July|
|“No one knows an exact number of Iraqi deaths, but there is some consensus — including from a U.S. military spokesman and outside experts — that an independent count of roughly 30,000 is a relatively credible tally of Iraqi civilian deaths.” Associated Press – 26 October 2005||“As many as 17,721 civilians have been killed as a result of the invasion and subsequent violence, according to Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that opposes the war and compiles its casualty toll from media reports.” Bloomberg – 27 January|
|“The price that the Iraqi people might have to pay for this venture, now more than 25,000 civilians according to Iraq Body Count, a U.S. and British civilian organization, was apparently not of sufficient concern.” Cavalier Daily – 12 September 2005||“The number of dead Iraqis is sometimes estimated at over 100000, of which 14000+ are estimated to be civilian deaths; that you can check here- http://www.iraqbodycount.net/” The Washington Dispatch – 03 January|
|“some 25,000 Iraqi civilians and 2,000 American and British troops have since been killed in chaos that may yet wreak civil war.” The Economist (book review) – 01 September 2005||“Iraq Body Count, an organisation that tracks civilian deaths through news reports, indicates that 26,000 to 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the war started in March 2003.” Daily Telegraph (London) – 31 October 2005|
|“At press time, the organization reported a minimum of 22,850 and a maximum of 25,881 Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from the invasion and occupation of Iraq.” American Journalism Review – August/September||“Some news outlets cite estimates compiled by the website Iraq Body Count based on press reports, which are consistently lower (17,000 to 20,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since the invasion) than the Lancet study’s findings. ” Inter Press Service – 22 April|
|“A study released last week put a figure to the disturbing images: 25,000 Iraqi civilians have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.” North Jersey Media Group – 25 July||“Iraqbodycount.net, an anti-war Web site which catalogues the number of Iraqi civilian casualties reported in the media, gives the number as somewhere between 17,061 and 19,432.” UCLA Daily Bruin – 21 March|
|“Almost 25,000 Iraqi civilians have died since US and British troops invaded the country, an average of 34 every single day, a British study said Tuesday.” Agence France-Presse – 23 July|
|“It reveals a total of 24,865 civilians were killed and 42,500 injured between 20 March 2003 and 19 March 2005.” Daily Mirror – 21 July|
|“Lord Ramsbotham makes a cogent case for putting the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion at 24-25,000.” Times (London) – 02 August|
|“US-led forces, insurgents and criminal gangs have killed nearly 25,000 civilians, police, and army recruits since the war began in March 2003, according to a survey by Iraq Body Count” ABC News (Australia) – 20 July|
|“Nearly 25,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the two years since US and British troops invaded Iraq – an average of 34 people a day – according to figures published yesterday by British academics.” Daily Telegraph – 21 July|
|“The nonprofit Iraq Body Count Web site on Friday said it was between 21,523 and 24,415 – which reflects uncertainty whether some of the dead were civilians or insurgents.” Philadelphia Inquirer – 15 May|
|“The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war remains unclear. Data compiled by the Web site iraqbodycount.org suggests that between 21,000 and 25,000 civilians have been confirmed killed.” CNN – 09 May|
|“According to the independent website Iraq Body Count, between 21,000 and 24,000 civilians have been killed as a result of fighting since the start of the war.” Agence France-Presse – 30 April|
|“A different figure comes from an independent team of researchers running the website Iraq Body Count, which counts only civilian deaths, and only those confirmed by press reports or hospital and morgue officials. Yesterday it was between 16,069 and 18,339.” Sydney Morning Herald – 24 February|
|“An independent project Iraq Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.net/) estimates that more than 17,000 civilians have been killed by military intervention in Iraq. ” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – 13 April|
|“According to recent figures announced by academics and peace activists broadcast on the Internet site www.iraqbodycount.net based on two media institutions, between 17,053 and 19,422 civilians have lost their lives since the beginning of the US occupation in Iraq.” Zaman Online – 18 March|
Methodology: I visited every fourth link on the IBC’s list of press coverage links starting at the first one. I stopped when I got to the ones from 2004, so that I had one quarter of the links from 2005. I ignored broken links.
Correction and Clarification: Anna Plurabella has identified a few errors in the table. I placed three of the stories in the first column when they should have been in the second one because they mentioned that the IBC number was compiled from media reports. I’ve fixed this, as well as an incorrect link and giing the total number as 37 instead of 36. Note that if I missed these ones despite actually looking for them, what chance does the average reader have?
There are also four stories in the first column that eventually get around, several paragraphs later, to mentioning that the IBC number is compiled from media reports. I put them in the first column because I didn’t read that far. And they belong there — readers often won’t read that far either and even if they do, they are unlikely to go back and reassess the IBC number in the light of the new information.