Michael Spagat is back with another attack on the Lancet study. Most of it is stuff we’ve seen before, like absurd assumptions he makes for Main Street Bias, and the false claim that Soros funded the study. But there is some new stuff, including this (L2 is the second Lancet study):
The above graphic shows results from three mortality surveys. The first is the Kosovo study of Paul Spiegel and Peter Salama: War and Mortality in Kosovo, 1998-99: an epidemiological testimony”, published in the Lancet in 2000. This paper is cited in L1, L2 and the MIT paper that is a companion piece to L2. This is, thus, a paper that the L2 authors know well.
There was an exchange of letters in the Lancet of January 13, 2007. The letter of Deberati Guha-Sapir, Olivier Degomme and Jon Pedersen questioned the L2 finding that roughly 90% of all excess deaths in Iraq were violent, contrary to findings in other war studies such as those done on the DRC. The L2 authors responded:
“We feel a better comparison would be to the data collected during that war which showed that 1.8% of the 19.9 million people in the eastern part of the country died of violence in the first 33 months of the conflict, a proportion similar to that measured in Iraq.”
To back up this claim they cite a study of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) done by Les Roberts and other people called “Mortality in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from Eleven Mortality Surveys.” This is the second point in the above graphic.
The third and final data point is L2 itself.
What is highly suspicious is that the three studies are in near-perfect alignment. A regression line drawn through them has an Rsquared of 0.9996. One could make slightly different assumption and feed in slightly different numbers but under any plausible scenario the fit is nearly perfect with an Rsquared of at least 0.99. All of these studies have quite large confidence intervals so the chances of their central estimates lining up so well would appear to be virtually zero.
The Kosovo and DRC studies were in the literature for a number of years before L2 was done. Draw a line between these first two central estimates and the slope suggest that an additional 15 months of conflict will result in deaths of an additional 1% of the population. Extending the line, the 8 months by which the L2 period exceeds the DRC period would bring the total percent killed during the L2 period to just over 2.3. The fact that the L2 authors cite the DRC study as being similar to L2 in terms of the number of months and percent of population killed and the fact that the L2 authors are well aware of the Kosovo study reinforces the relevance of the graph.48
My conclusion is that this graphic suggests data falsification by at least one of the L2 authors.
Well, the graph does suggest that there has been some data manipulation going on, but the manipulators are not the L2 authors.
The first thing to notice is that although the L2 authors said the DRC survey covered “first 33 months”, Spagat’s graph has it as covering 32 months. Oddly enough, this helps the three points to line up better.
Second, these three surveys aren’t the only ones ever to have been done. The most glaring omission is the first Lancet survey. I mean if you were trying to extrapolate deaths in Iraq, wouldn’t you start with a survey of Iraq rather than the Congo? And while the two papers containing the numbers plotted above were cited in L2, the numbers were not, while those for Darfur were. Bosnia was also mentioned. I’ve plotted those extra points and drawn some more lines in the graph below. There are two points for L1 — excess deaths and violent deaths, and four points for L2 — excess and violent deaths times uncertainty whether the population should be taken as 26 million or 27 million.
With all those points and lines, it’s not hard to find two points that line up with one of the four possible points of L2. (In fact, as well as the ones Spagat shows, L1 and DRC also work). Once you’ve done this, all you have to is erase all the other points and lines to wind up with Spagat’s graph. Needless to say, doing this is dishonest cherry picking, especially when you are doing it to accuse researchers of fraud.
“This graphic was passed to me by researchers who asked to remain anonymous.”
And no wonder!
Since Spagat didn’t produce the deceitful graphic, he isn’t guilty of fraud, just of incompetence. As is David Kane, who describes Spagat’s paper as a “tour de force”.