Taylor Owen at Oxblog on the reaction to the Lancet studies

“The principal question is why are we so surprised that this level of conflict would result in such levels of excess mortality?

I would argue it is a direct result of our sanitised view of war. We consider the costs of war to be limited to direct conflict casualties. Bombs killing our soldiers, bullets killing insurgents, end of story. This of course if only the beginning, excess death levels tell the other side. The failure to provide humanitarian protection has real human costs, far beyond those directly killed by munitions.


And here in lies the rub. Indirect costs of war are both incredibly difficult to measure and generally not considered part of the overall war calculus. Iraqi Body Count, for example, only measures specific killings, not excess mortality — a substantial difference. Particularly since it was their figures which most news accounts (as well as the President) compared to the Lancet totals. Yet they are measuring different things.

But are excess deaths the responsibility of the intervening country? I would emphatically argue yes. Particularly if there is even an iota of humanitarian rational for the occupation. More importantly, it is these very excess deaths that are both symbolic of the failures of the humanitarian component on the occupation, as well as a causal factor of the high levels of anti-occupation sentiment and outright insurgency support. The fact that the numbers would be dismissed wholesale, is in my view symbolic of the disconnect between many war proponents and the humanitarian realities of the mission.”

To be fair here, the IBC attempts to count the increase in violent deaths from murder and not just directly war-related ones. But they just count the deaths that are recorded by the media, which is obviously not all or even most of them.

Comments

  1. #1 Dano
    January 6, 2007

    Denial runs deep in some places. Especially in those places populated with people who don’t want to see.

    Or places with those who watched Pentagon propaganda on CNN, depicting how beautifully sanitary, powerful, and phallic ‘smart’ bombs are while sitting in a darkened room, furiously stroking, wishing for the wargasms to wash over them and fill their small, meaningless lives.

    Best,

    D

  2. #2 Jack Lacton
    January 6, 2007

    Cognitive dissonance reigns.

    To believe Lancet’s numbers is to say that every insurgent has managed to kill somewhere between 50 and 100 civilians – a number higher than a WWI or WWII infantryman.

  3. #3 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    Um, Jack – the most commonly quoted figure for the number of insurgents is 20-30,000.

    Oh and you might also want to consider the possibility that other people in Iraq – such as US and coalition troops; Iraq government forces; Shia death squads operating inside the the government forces; Kurdish peshmurga engaging in the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the Kirkuk region and common criminals.

    Finally, before complaining about “cognitive dissonance” you might want to reflect on the fact that the Lancet figure is for TOTAL excess deaths – including combatants on all sides – not just as you imply “civilians”.

    If we take into account the estimated 20,000 insurgents; the 150,000-odd US and coalition troops; the 150,000-odd Iraq police and soldiers and the 150,000 or so Iraqis believed to be employed in the so-called Site Protection forces, there are somewhere around 450,000 combatants in Iraq. So your “50-100″ figure is more like 1-2.

  4. #4 Ian Gould
    January 7, 2007

    The second paragraph in my previous post should have continued “…are also killing people.”

  5. #6 z
    January 7, 2007

    “To believe Lancet’s numbers is to say that every insurgent has managed to kill somewhere between 50 and 100 civilians – a number higher than a WWI or WWII infantryman.”

    And that nobody died of any other cause. Or else, that the deaths were distributed more evenly.

  6. #7 z
    January 7, 2007

    Again, the death rate in Iraq per capita is about the same as in Bosnia for the same length of time. Are we expected to believe that the Iraqi civil war has been a kinder, gentler war with 1/10 as many casualties as the Bosnian civil war?

    Of course, the same folks telling us that are the same folks who up to recently were denying that it was a civil war, and up to the first Lancet paper were denying the IBC numbers as being unrealistically high.

  7. #8 Donald Johnson
    January 11, 2007

    Here’s a link to Sloboda and IBC casting doubt on Lancet 2 again. But it’s good to see Sloboda opposing the troop increases–L2 and IBC are on the same side, ultimately, hard as it is to believe when reading the arguments about the numbers.

    http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0111-03.htm

    Sloboda also says there are probably 2 to 3 civilians killed for every insurgent killed in an urban setting. Which sounds reasonable to me, but since as of March 2005 they thought there were about 3000 civilians killed by the US in the post-invasion phase (including Fallujah), they must think that the number of insurgents killed by the US was comparable to the number of US troops killed at that time. Which doesn’t sound plausible.

  8. #9 Donald Johnson
    January 11, 2007

    Of course, Sloboda could claim that the number of insurgents killed by the US really is quite small, or else he could claim that most insurgents have been killed in rural areas where the civilian/insurgent death ratio might be very small.

    It’s been a mystery to me all along how much killing the US forces are doing. At least in Vietnam there were bodycounts of reported VC dead, and while those were often inflated by including civilians, or simply made up, it turns out they did give a rough ballpark figure on how much killing was being done. I don’t see much detailed discussion of fighting in the Iraq War at all–either there really isn’t much, except at a few rare times, or else the press isn’t able to say much. There are reports of a conflict of philosophies in the US military of people who favor a “kinetic” approach (meaning hunting down insurgents) vs. a more hearts and minds approach, with the implication that the kinetic approach was largely dominant up until 2006, but again, just how kinetic the kinetic approach has been is never explained.

  9. #10 Donald Johnson
    January 15, 2007

    Here’s an IRIN article (below) about Anbar Province. According to them, the number of people killed (civilians and insurgents) in Anbar in the past 3 years is over 30,000, out of a population of 1.2 million, which coincidentally is the 1 in 40 death rate of Lancet 2. Of course they also say that Anbar is the most violent province, so that would be a strike against Lancet 2.

    But I’ll cite it as evidence for my personal hunch that IBC figures are much too low and Lancet 2 numbers somewhat too high. Evidence of any sort is hard to come by.

    http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=57061&SelectRegion=Middle_East&SelectCountry=IRAQ

  10. #11 geoff
    January 16, 2007

    Ah the Lancet study. I stopped taking it seriously after I read Appendix B:

    Once in the clusters, the teams faced suspicion initially, especially at the first house selected in the random process. Lengthy explanations of the purposes of the survey–and that it would help the Iraqi people–were necessary to allay fears. In some areas, people were more welcoming, and all but a very few of the entire sample were eventually very cooperative.

    I’ll bet they were. If you were looking for a flaw in the methodology, not that you were, that’s it. They gave the interviewees a sales pitch, explained the benefit that would be derived from the right answers, and then asked the questions.

    That’s abysmally poor surveying methodology.

  11. #12 Kevin Donoghue
    January 16, 2007

    I stopped taking it seriously after I read Appendix B.

    I might take you seriously if the study had an appendix.

  12. #13 geoff
    January 16, 2007

    I might take you seriously if the study had an appendix.

    And I might take you seriously if you had . Don’t strain yourself.

  13. #15 Kevin Donoghue
    January 17, 2007

    Very good Geoff. Now try looking for the Lancet study – the one you stopped taking seriously after you read the appendix it doesn’t have.

  14. #16 geoff
    January 21, 2007

    Why are you so fearful, KD? The linked study was the same as the Lancet study. As is common in academia, a report from a sponsored study was also submitted to an academic journal.

    The MIT Center for International Studies paid $50K toward the study, so a report was submitted to them and posted on their site. Then the report was rewritten as journal article and published in Lancet. Since the report to MIT is more complete than the Lancet article, it is the more appropriate source.

    Your refusal to actually address the content of the appendix tells me exactly how seriously I can take you, as well. Clearly you’d rather shut your eyes and scream “it’s not true!” than actually weigh the evidence.

  15. #17 Robert
    January 21, 2007

    geoff wrote:

    Ah the Lancet study. I stopped taking it seriously after I read Appendix B:

    Once in the clusters, the teams faced suspicion initially, especially at the first house selected in the random process. Lengthy explanations of the purposes of the survey–and that it would help the Iraqi people–were necessary to allay fears. In some areas, people were more welcoming, and all but a very few of the entire sample were eventually very cooperative.

    I’ll bet they were. If you were looking for a flaw in the methodology, not that you were, that’s it. They gave the interviewees a sales pitch, explained the benefit that would be derived from the right answers, and then asked the questions.

    That’s abysmally poor surveying methodology.

    Then you must think that the way the US Census Bureau operates is equally abysmal. They, too, explain the purposes of their censuses and surveys to the suspicious, and emphasize that responding will help the American people.

  16. #18 geoff
    January 21, 2007

    I’ll let Robert’s comment stand on its own merits, though that may be thought cruel.

  17. #19 guthrie
    January 22, 2007

    *Shrug*
    geoff, its abysmally poor technique when attempting rational argument, to refer to something without specifying that you are in fact talking about a different version of it, one that as far as I can see has not been referred to on this page.

  18. #20 geoff
    January 22, 2007

    What is with this fey hair-splitting – is this what you rely upon when evaluating study results? The Lancet article and the study I linked are the same study. Same authors, same title, same funding source, same data, same interpretations. And I picked up the MIT link from liberal sites who were using the Lancet article and the MIT study interchangeably. Here is a link to a CNN article which refers to the MIT version as “the full report.”

    In fact, the name “Lancet study” is a misnomer: it is the MIT/Johns Hopkins study as published in Lancet.

    But what is stunning is that none of you seem to be aware of the MIT link. That suggests that you’ve done very little background reading on the subject. I’ve wasted my time here: last time I follow one of Lambert’s invites.

    one that as far as I can see has not been referred to on this page.

    The topic is the “Lancet numbers,” not “the exact text as published in Lancet sans any supporting text or original source data.” Any self-respecting researcher would demand to see the additional material, not deny its relevance.

    You’ll be happy, I’m sure, to hear that I won’t be checking back here. If anybody wants to seriously discuss these numbers and problems with the poll methodology, they’re welcome to do so at my site. Anybody who wants to pretend that the link I cited is not equivalent to the article in Lancet, well, I think you’ll be more comfortable staying here.

  19. #21 geoff
    January 22, 2007

    Correction: Not the same title.

  20. #22 guthrie
    January 22, 2007

    Lets see, this is getting a little familiar.

    You breeze in here, and familiarly slam the Lancet study for having its people explain to the interviewees what it was all about, presumably because you think, sans any other evidence, that that means they must then have made things up. When someone suggests you might be wrong, because the US censur bureau (I am not US citizen so dont know how they operate) does the same thing, you ignore their point completely.

    Then, you chastise us for not reading every last word available on the topic, even though it was only later that you actually linked to the evidence for some of your argument.

    Then, you flounce off into the sunset.

    Bye Geoff.
    It wasnt interesting knowing you.

  21. #23 Ian Gould
    January 22, 2007

    “But what is stunning is that none of you seem to be aware of the MIT link. That suggests that you’ve done very little background reading on the subject.”

    If you look at the numerous previous threads on the topic you’ll find the differences between the two reports discussed frequently.

    The “MIT report” as you call it is a simplified version designed for the lay reader which omits a lot of detail.

    There are contradictions between the methodological sections of the two reports which the authors have attributed to the MIT version having largely been put together by grad students and not subjected to same level of review as the Lancet version.

  22. #24 Robert
    January 22, 2007

    Geoff huffed:

    I won’t be checking back here

    And then 9 minutes later, he did.

    I think you guys are being hard on Geoff. He was entertaining. Shallow and thin-skinned, but entertaining.

  23. #25 Kevin Donoghue
    January 22, 2007

    Why are you so fearful, KD?

    Geoff, to tell the truth I was afraid that you are going to emulate the pugnacious knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, gamely battling on without a leg to support you. It’s a relief to know you’re not going to stick around and bleed on me.

    If anybody wants to seriously discuss these numbers and problems with the poll methodology, they’re welcome to do so at my site.

    I took a look: three posts so far on the study, but as yet no link to the Lancet paper itself – a pretty good indication that you really thought “The Human Cost of War” was the study.

    Nor do you have any original criticisms at all – indeed David Kane has outdone you by a mile when it comes to libelous allegations, which is all you are offering; he also supplied his surname, so Burnham et al. can sue him if they think it worth their while.

  24. #26 Robert
    January 23, 2007

    Geoff swore:

    I won’t be checking back here

    but I see that on his blog he cites a comment made a couple of hours after he huffed off. Plus, he still believes that reducing non-response bias is “abysmally poor survey methodology.”

  25. #27 Tim Curtin
    January 23, 2007

    I was glad to be able to peruse the MIT version of the Les Roberts et al Lancet travesty, as it confirmed that they failed to reference the WHO mortality data for Iraq pre-invasion in its Life Tables. That’s like Hamlet without the Prince or Bishop Usher without Darwin. The outcome is that the Roberts travesty has not been confirmed by the UN’s very careful body count published last week, showing annual “excess” deaths at aroound 10% of the Roberts fib. Bad enough, sure, but should we care when one mad bunch of Islamic nutcases knock off another bunch who then reciprocate in an equally barbarous and insane manner? Pull out the troops and let them get on with it as they have for a millennium apart from the late blessed St Saddam’s reign.

  26. #28 Ian Gould
    January 23, 2007

    “should we care when one mad bunch of Islamic nutcases knock off another bunch who then reciprocate in an equally barbarous and insane manner?”

    Yes, because as we all know mortars and car-bombs are highly precise weapons which never kill innocent civilians.

    “Pull out the troops and let them get on with it as they have for a millennium apart from the late blessed St Saddam’s reign.”

    Feel free, Tim, to post evidence of the supposed sectarian free-for-all going on during the Ottoman period; the British occupation and the Iraqi monarchy.

    Poor Tim, ever more reality-challenged.

  27. #29 Robert
    January 23, 2007

    Tim Curtin wrote:

    it confirmed that they failed to reference the WHO mortality data for Iraq pre-invasion in its Life Tables.

    Uh, TimC? The Roberts and Burnham studies were cohort studies.

  28. #30 Ian Gould
    January 23, 2007

    Who care, asks Tim, if “Islamic nutcases” kill each other off (sure they kill a bunch of noncombatants too but they’re probably not that innocent. For starters, there guilty of being Muslims and therefore incapable of the finely honed compassion and respect for human life display by such sterling examples of western civilisation as Tim.)

    Still this might given even Tim pause for reflection:

    http://www3.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=32126

    “THOUSANDS of Iraqi Christians have sought refuge in Damascus and may never return to Iraq, a Christian campaigning charity, the Barnabas Fund, warned this week.

    The Iraqi Christian population had dropped to about 500,000, a third of its level of 20 years ago. An estimated 350,000 Christians had fled since 2003, it said.”

    Of course, Tim will probably attribute this to the barbaric inhumanity of the filthy Musselmen and urge the killing of a few hundred thousand more of them to teach them a lesson in tolerance and mutual respect.

  29. #31 dopey
    January 23, 2007

    Tim Curtin’s level of commenting remains beneath contempt and his level of understanding of things ranging from simple arithmetic to, well, more advanced arithmetic or Humanity 101 even – never reached above it. I wish him permanently embedded in the Middle East somewhere without the “benefit” of Uncle Dick Cheney’s US armor.