John Tirman has an article in Editor and Publisher. Extract:

The charge, repeated in all these media, that the Iraqi research leader, Riyadh Lafta, M.D., operated “without U.S. supervision” and was therefore suspect is particularly interesting. Munro, in a note to National Review Online, asserted that Lafta “said Allah guided the prior 2004 Lancet/Johns Hopkins death-survey,” which he also had noted in the National Journal piece. When he interviewed me he pestered me about two anonymous donors, demanding to know if either were Arab or Muslim. A pattern here is visible, one which reeks of religious prejudice.

Munro had also ignored the corroborating evidence I sent him, the 4.5 million displaced (suggesting hundreds of thousands of fatalities, drawing on the ratio of all other wars); estimates of new widows (500,000 from the war); and the other surveys done in Iraq suggesting enormous numbers of casualties (ABC/USA Today poll of March 2007, showing roughly 53% physically harmed by war). When I mentioned these things to him on the telephone, he literally screamed that such data didn’t matter, that the Lancet probe was “a hoax.” Lancet article authors also cite several cases where they were misquoted. The National Journal’s editors have been informed of their reporters’ misconduct and errors, and have not responded.

So the smear is complete–a “political hit” by the “anti-Bush billionaire,” complicity by anti-war academics, fraud by Muslims devoted to Allah–and repeated over and over in the right-wing media. Little has of this has appeared in the legitimate news media, apart from right-wing columnists like Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe.


One might expect that such nonsense is obvious to neutral observers, but it constitutes a kind of harassment that scholars must fend off, diverting from more important work. Gilbert Burnham, the lead author on the Lancet article, runs health clinics in Afghanistan and East Africa, and is spending inordinate amounts of time responding to the attacks. Les Roberts, a coauthor, and I have both had colleagues at our universities called by Munro to ask if they would punish us for fraud. The OSI people have also been writing letters to set the record straight. Most important, Riyadh Lafta, who has been threatened before, may be in more danger due to these attacks. …

The topic of the war’s exceptional human costs, now inflamed by these calumnies, appears to be too hot to handle. Even with all this fuss in January, no explorations of the Iraqi mortality from the war have appeared in the major dailies. No editorials, no examination of the methods (or the danger and difficulty of collecting data), no sense that the scale of killing might affect the American position, or might shed some light on U.S. war strategy, or might point to honorable exits and reconstruction obligations. Remarkably, no curiosity at all about the dead of Iraq, and what they can tell us.

There’s a discussion thread about the article here.

Comments

  1. #1 David Kane
    February 14, 2008

    Lancet article authors also cite several cases where they were misquoted.

    Is John Tirman just making things up now? When you misquote someone, you claim that Tirman said “X” when, in fact, Tirman said “Y.” Which quotes in Munro’s piece were not accurate? There is some dispute about context (as with Richard Garfield’s quotes) but I have not seen (corrections welcome) any claim by a Lancet author of being misquoted. This is a serious charge to make against a reporter. Can Tirman back it up?

  2. #2 bi
    February 14, 2008

    Is John Tirman just making things up now?

    Well, you can’t discount the possibility that Tirman got this factoid from invisible “anonymous researchers”, which is perfectly A-OK.

    Can David Kane prove that this didn’t happen? He can’t! :)

  3. #3 trrll
    February 15, 2008

    Is John Tirman just making things up now? When you misquote someone, you claim that Tirman said “X” when, in fact, Tirman said “Y.” Which quotes in Munro’s piece were not accurate?

    So you are now accusing Tirman of lying based on his statement that “Lancet article authors also cite several cases where they were misquoted”? What is your evidence that none of the Lancet article authors have told Tirman that they were misquoted?

  4. #4 David Kane
    February 15, 2008

    If Roberts or Burnham were misquoted they would have, you know, mentioned it in the letter to the National Journal. Instead, that letter just makes mistakes with the data. And, yes, I did point out those mistakes to them. Will they correct the record? We will see. Garfield does not claim to be misquoted, at least in what Tim has reported.

  5. #5 Tim Lambert
    February 15, 2008

    “Misquoting” includes cases where the meaning of quotes is altered by taking them out of context. Which is what happened to Garfield.

  6. #6 QrazyQat
    February 15, 2008

    Here’s how it works, David:

    David Kane said “Is John Tirman just making things up now?” and admitted “This is a serious charge to make against a reporter.”

    Accurate repeating of words, yet inaccurate quoting — via out of context quoting, and indeed invented context (which is a common but often unacknowledged method of misquotation).

  7. #7 David Kane
    February 15, 2008

    Even if I concede that Garfield was misquoted, Tirman claims that Lancet authors were misquoted. No other author besides Garfield has made that claim.

    And, with Garfield, which precise Garfield quote in the article do you claim is a “misquote.” I read your correspondence with Garfield here and do not see one.

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    February 15, 2008

    A misquote of Garfield is here:

    >In December, Garfield told National Journal that he guesses that 250,000 Iraqis had died by late 2007.

    Tirman provides examples of misquotes of Roberts and Burnham in his annotated copy of the NJ hit piece.

  9. #9 Vagueofgodalming
    February 15, 2008

    David Kane fearlessly chops down trees in the hope of one day seeing the wood.

    The ‘serious charge’ here, is accessory to murder. Though in Munro’s case you might want to add incitement, too.

  10. #10 Will McLean
    February 15, 2008

    Any word from ORB on their margin of error?

  11. #11 David Kane
    February 15, 2008

    1) Isn’t a misquote require a quote? You know, those little marks like “?

    2) And, anyway, how is what you cite incorrect? Garfield wrote to you:

    As a guess, out of the blue, I feel confident that at least a quarter million Iraqis have died due to violence since the 2003 invasion. But that is just a guess.

    Isn’t this exactly what you are now claiming is a misquote? These two statement (one by Garfield to you and one by Munro describing what Garfield said) are, for all practical purposes identical.

    With regards to Tirman, it is true that Tirman is claiming that Burnham was “misquoted.” But you can’t really cite Tirman to support Tirman? Isn’t that a bit circular? I do not deny that Tirman claims (falsely) that Munro misquoted Lancet authors. I just think that Tirman is making things up.

    I assume that you are referring to Tirman’s footnote 51? Again, I believe it is a fact that Burnham and Roberts said the words that are in quotes in the article. Do you disagree? If they didn’t, why wouldn’t they complain about it to the National Journal? Once we establish that they did say those words. (You can ask Roberts at least.) We can take on the issue of whether the context makes “misquote” a fair characterization.

  12. #12 Lee
    February 15, 2008

    Identical? Good christ, Kane, do you set out to discredit yourself?

    The NJ quote has Garfield saying “this many dead.”
    The quote you say was sent to Tim has Garfield saying AT LEAST this many dead BY VIOLENT DEATH, thus excluding other causes of death.

    I also note that from a paragraph detailing corroborating evidence that NJ refuses to acknowledge, you select this one sentence, fight it to the point of absurdity, and utterly ignore the rest.

    You are become transparent and very, very tiresome, Kane.

  13. #13 David Kane
    February 15, 2008

    So, if Munro’s quote had included the words “by violence” then all would be fine? Moreover, Garfield does not even deny that Munro accurately reports what Garfield said at the time, on this point. You think that every time Garfield offers his opinion on something like that, he always includes the phrase “at least?” He never just says “about 250,000?” And, if Garfield has been misquoted, why doesn’t he just say to Tim, “Munro misquoted me, the bastard!” In fact, Garfield reports that “I seem to have a special ability to make statements that lend themselves to misinterpretation.” It is Tim, with no clear evidence that I can see, who claims that Munro is guilty of mischaracterization.

    Again, the key point is that reasonable people can disagree about how on fairly characterizes/summarizes someone else’s comments. But to claim that a reporter has “misquoted” people you ought to have more evidence than some third party’s assessment. I am happy to grant that Tim thinks that Munro misquoted Garfield, maliciously and with intent to deceive. There is little evidence that Garfield thinks that. There is no evidence that any other Lancet author thinks that has happened to him.

    But, it was so much fun to get to the bottom of the issue of demographic data, let’s get to the bottom of this! Tim can easily e-mail the Lancet authors and ask “Did Munro misquote you? If so, where in the article?”

    I bet that none of the authors themselves will claim to be misquoted because none of them were. It is an empirical question.

    And, for the record, Burnham and Roberts have still not corrected this mistake in the letter to NJ. I have exchanged a bunch of e-mails with them on the topic (Tim should feel free to confirm since he saw at least one) and no progress has been made. If Roberts does not know how many clusters had missing certificates, then why do you take his assurances on other topics?

  14. #14 Lee
    February 15, 2008

    thanks for confirming, Kane.

  15. #15 trrll
    February 15, 2008

    Kane:

    If Roberts or Burnham were misquoted they would have, you know, mentioned it in the letter to the National Journal.

    You mean, for example, by a comment like the following, in the second sentence of the letter:

    To start with, at no time did either Roberts or Burnham say that study’s release was timed to affect the outcome of the election.

    That certainly sounds like they think they were misquoted. Again, what is your evidence that they did not consider this to be a misquote, or refer to it as such in their discussion with Tirnan? After all, you are accusing Tirnan of lying about what they said to him–I’d like to know on what basis you claim knowledge of the content of that conversation.

  16. #16 Robert
    February 15, 2008

    David Kane asked:

    If Roberts does not know how many clusters had missing certificates, then why do you take his assurances on other topics?

    Hmmm. If David Kane does not know how to calculate a crude mortality rate, then why would anyone take his assurances on other mortality-related topics?

  17. #17 sod
    February 15, 2008

    now why David Kane does not understand the meaning of the term “AT LEAST” when addressing death rates is obvious:

    with his obsession with including the Fallujah outlier to drive down the lower border of the L1 error range, he would be forced to say:

    “AT LEAST” minus 20000 iraqis have been killed since the invasion”

    perhaps even he has noticed the stupidity of this…

    and he obviously NEVER understood VIOLENT and non-violent deaths. that is why he completely IGNORED the latter when looking at the health ministry numbers from the IFHS report.

  18. #18 sod
    February 15, 2008

    oh and David, do you notice that EVERYTIME, when you post a

    “never did one of the lancet authors..” claim,

    you will be CONTRADICTED within MINUTES?

    shouldn t that, you know, make you think?

  19. #19 Tim Lambert
    February 15, 2008

    DK:

    >Isn’t a misquote require a quote? You know, those little marks like “?

    No. If you said “The sky is blue” and I wrote “David Kane told me that the sky was green”, then that is a misquote.

    Garfield’s comment about what his guess would have been **if L2 had not been conducted** was presented as a guess that L2 was way too high. Which is why he said that Munro had misinterpreted his comment. So Munro misquoted by taking Garfield out of context.

    And as trrl pointed out, Garfield and Roberts have said that they were misquoted.

  20. #20 Ian Gould
    February 16, 2008

    “This is a serious charge to make against a reporter. Can Tirman back it up?”

    Is it any more serious than accusing the Lancet authors of fraud?

  21. #21 Robert Shone
    February 16, 2008

    Either Tim Lambert’s account is muddled or Garfield misrepresented himself:

    http://www.mediahell.org/community/08012201.htm

    Incidentally, Tim’s latest twist is amusing: “Garfield’s comment about what his guess would have been if L2 had not been conducted…”

    Of course, that makes perfect sense! Garfield provides a guess on a highly important issue which completely ignores his own favoured study. It really was amazingly manipulative of Munro to get him to do that!

  22. #22 Donald Johnson
    February 16, 2008

    Robert Shone, it’s not that difficult to understand. If one extrapolated from the violent deaths in L1 (excluding Fallujah), someone might have guessed a violent death rate of 150,000 or so by June 2006 (like the paper in NEJM), since L1 (without Fallujah) found 57,000 violent deaths in 18 months. If you allow for an increase in the death rate, you’d have guessed something higher, but probably not 600,000. Maybe you’d have guessed something that high if you assumed that the Fallujah cluster was representative of a large number of exceptionally hard-hit areas. Apparently Garfield didn’t think that. Then L2 came out, Garfield was surprised, but thinks that a careful survey is better than his guess.

  23. #23 Robert Shone
    February 16, 2008

    Donald, this guess of 250,000 was provided by Garfield after L2.

    Not before L2. After L2.

    So, a serious scientist who believes in L2 offers a guess, on a highly important issue, to a journalist, post-L2, which doesn’t even reflect the lower bound of L2, 393,000? And Donald says this isn’t so hard to understand?

    I think it’s Garfield, not Munro, who has some explaining to do over this.

  24. #24 bi
    February 16, 2008

    Not before L2. After L2.

    According to whom? Neil Munro, that’s whom.

    Yeah, Munro obviously didn’t misrepresent Garfield, and this is proven by facts presented in a report written by Munro. Genius.

  25. #25 sod
    February 16, 2008

    whether he used the “AT LEAST 250000 violent..” before or after L2 is irrelevant.

    most of the time i will use a lower number than the lower boundary of L2 during discussions. the claim that Garfield isn t entitled to do so, but has to use the full 6 digits of the lower boundary every time is moronic.

    you guys need to show, that the lancet authors were NOR misrepresented.

    both these “arguments”:

    “Garfield MUST claim that he was misquoted at every opportunity” (David Kane #4)

    and

    “Garfield MUST use the lower boundary when speaking about a low guess of dead in Iraq”

    do NOT support your claims. do you have anything with some substance?

  26. #26 bi
    February 16, 2008

    By the way,

    The charge, repeated in all these media, that the Iraqi research leader, Riyadh Lafta, M.D., operated “without U.S. supervision” and was therefore suspect is particularly interesting. … A pattern here is visible, one which reeks of religious prejudice.

    Nah, I don’t think “religious prejudice” has anything to do with it. It’s just that the study wasn’t done in the way that the Bushosphere wants it to be done — i.e. by £reedom $cientists using £redom $cience with results adjusted to remove traces of Un-£reedom.

  27. #27 Donald Johnson
    February 16, 2008

    Robert Shone–

    The way I read Garfield is that yes, he was speaking after L2, but was explaining what he would have thought if L2 hadn’t come out. But with L2 out he thinks it makes more sense to trust the conclusions of a careful survey than what his guesstimate would have been.

  28. #28 Lee
    February 16, 2008

    oh, good god.

    Garfield was clearly expressing astonishment that the numbers are so high, much higher than he had been prepared to believe, but that the studies are compelling him to believe the higher numbers. Y’all are throwing mud at something that is quite clear enough to understand.

    Bottom line – even if the number is 250,000, that is a heinous death toll. But the studies point to higher numbers than 250,000, the 4.5 million dislocated imply larger numbers of dead, the half million new widows imply higher numbers than 250,000, and Garfield says his ‘out of the blue guess’ is clearly wrong in the face of the studies.

    So what the f*ck are you guys blathering on about?.

  29. #29 David Kane
    February 16, 2008

    sod writes:

    “Garfield MUST claim that he was misquoted at every opportunity” (David Kane #4)

    I think that I have been misquoted! ;-)

    No. This is not my claim. I think that, if Garfield had been misquoted, he might have written to the National Journal. At the very least, he could say to Tim something along the ines of “I was misquoted.” Instead, he said, “I seem to have a special ability to make statements that lend themselves to misinterpretation.” He does not blame Munro is anyway. He does accuse Munro of making a mistake, much less of maliciously misquoting him. The only one who is claiming a misquote is Tim.

    Tim writes:

    If you said “The sky is blue” and I wrote “David Kane told me that the sky was green”, then that is a misquote.

    Fine. I grant that you can “misquote” someone without actually quoting their words. But, in this case, the evidence you have is both what I actually said and how you summarized what I said. In this case of Garfield and Munro, you only have Munro’s summary. You do not have (I assume!) a tape of their conversation, so you don’t know what Garfield said. Without that, you (and Tirman!) can’t know that a misquote has occurred.

    Now, of course, I am not demanding that you that tape to accuse Munro of misquoting. (And can we all agree that this is a serious charge to make against a journalist?) I am just asking you to provide direct evidence from Garfield. If Garfield says, “Munro misquoted me” or “Munro misrepresented my views,” then you win! That is all you need. But Garfield says nothing like that in the selections you provide. He says that people — presumably including honest people — often misinterpret what he has to say. That is evidence that Munro misinterpreted Garfield. But that is not the same thing as misquote. It could all be Garfield’s fault. Any reporter of your choice, if he had been there, might have interpreted Garfield’s words just the way that Munro did.

    And all this applied to claims about Burnham (the only person that I can see mentioned in his regard in Tirman’s annotations).

    Are we having fun yet?

    There is a simple solution! Why won’t Tim ask Garfield/Burnham if they were misquoted. Is that so hard to do? I bet that they won’t make that claim because it is not true. Just ask them.

    Now, if I had a history of hectoring Tim to ask the L2 authors stupid questions, then it would be reasonable to ignore my request. But the last time we played this game (with the missing demographic data), I was right.

    So, why not just take a baby step toward the truth? If Garfield/Burnham claim that Munro misquoted them, then you/Tirman are correct and I am wrong. Why not settle this?

  30. #30 sod
    February 16, 2008

    David, you have several bizarre obsessions. one among them being your bizarre tendency to ask Tim to ask other people stuff.

    you have made countless errors and false representations under this topic again. you haven t provided any facts on the matter. yet you keep posting.

  31. #31 trrll
    February 16, 2008

    So, a serious scientist who believes in L2 offers a guess, on a highly important issue, to a journalist, post-L2, which doesn’t even reflect the lower bound of L2, 393,000? And Donald says this isn’t so hard to understand?

    I don’t find this hard to understand. I’ve often heard scientists say things like this:

    “Based upon what I knew before the study, I would have guessed the answer to be close to X. But based on the results of the study, I now think that the answer is closer to Y”

    I’ve probably said something of the sort myself on more than one occasion. Which part of this do you find difficult to understand?

  32. #32 Thers
    February 16, 2008

    Even if I concede that Garfield was misquoted, Tirman claims that Lancet authors were misquoted. No other author besides Garfield has made that claim.

    The angel on the head of the pin has been shot. Please send a very small stretcher.

  33. #33 Tim Lambert
    February 17, 2008

    Here, for those that care, are the relevant email exchanges with Richard Garfield.

    Me:

    >A story in the Star-Ledger quotes you:

    >>”I’m shocked by the levels they (the investigators) reached,” said
    Garfield. “Common sense, gut level, says it is hard to believe it
    could be this high. We don’t know how many have died, we just know
    it’s a lot. … Right now, the only other option is to stay in the
    dark.”

    >This is being used to argue that you believe that Burnham et al’s
    study is wrong. I don’t think that’s what you were saying.

    >Could you clarify this please?

    Garfield:

    >I am shocked that it is so high, it is hard to believe, and I do believe it. There is no reasonable way to not conclude that this study is by far the most accurate information now available.

    >We know it is alot who have died, and we know that its alot more than others have reported.

    Me:

    A story by Iraq war advocate Neil Munro in the National Journal claims:

    >”Even Garfield, a co-author of the first Lancet article, is backing
    away from his previous defense of his fellow authors. In December,
    Garfield told National Journal that he guesses that 250,000 Iraqis had died by late 2007. That total requires an underlying casualty rate only one-quarter of that offered by Lancet II. ”

    >Does this accurately represent your current views? If so, can you
    explain what changed your mind?

    Garfield:

    >I seem to have a special ability to make statements that lend
    themselves to misinterpretation.

    >I could not believe that 100,000 had died in 2004, but the best
    evidence made me believe it.

    >As a guess, out of the blue, I feel confident that at least a quarter million Iraqis have died due to violence since the 2003 invasion. But that is just a guess.

    >An estimate, based on field data, collected via good methods, is far
    better than a guess, even if there are some biases along with imprecision in it.

    >Thanks for asking.

    Garfield says that Munro misrepresented him. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not. If you are interested in that question, how about you email Munro and ask for a copy of his email exchanges with Garfield?

  34. #34 z
    February 17, 2008

    “Garfield says that Munro misrepresented him. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not.”

    Well, obviously he’s covering his tracks after being threatened by Those Who Would Betray Our Fortress Of Democracy. The same way those cited by Inhopfe as not believing in that global warming stuff who have stated that they actually do believe it, have merely been pressured into saying that by the International Global Warming Cartel under Al Gore, the Antichrist.

  35. #35 sod
    February 17, 2008

    Instead, that letter just makes mistakes with the data.

    just because you keep repeating this false claim.

    here is what the Lancet authors said:

    The statement on missing certificates is wrong. Three clusters did not have the presence of certificates noted, and in all there were 120 deaths in which the interviewers neglected to note their presence.

    and here your attempt to contradict it:

    (And, minor note, there are 128 (not 120) cases in which interviewers either forgot to ask for the death certificate or did ask but did not get to see it.)

    as even you noticed, that is not a contradiction.

    So, there were 20 (not 3) clusters in which the interviewers forgot to ask for at least some death certificates.

    the Lancet authors rather obviously spoke about clusters, in which ALL or the vast majority of death certificates were not noted.
    your analysis of few missing certificates in other clusters does NOT contradict that point.
    instead it is weakening the point that Munro is making, claiming that ALL (violent deaths) certificates were missing from a single cluster..

    But maybe Burnham and Roberts are referring to clusters in which interviewers did ask but no certificates were available?

    There were 14 such clusters.

    same argument as above. no contradiction of the Lancet repla, but in sharp contrast to Munro, who claims (citing Spagat), that the missing certificates for non-violent death are spread over 8 (eight!) provinces.

    http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/databomb/index.htm

    why do you attack Burnham and Roberts, when you are unable to contradict them, but not Munro, whom you clearly contradicted?

  36. #36 David Kane
    February 17, 2008

    Even if you change their claim to be “Three clusters did not have the presence of [all or most] certificates noted” it is not true. I have now exchanged several e-mails with Les Roberts and he does not argue this. (Mostly, it has been a question of getting him accurate data. I cc’d Tim at one point.)

    The statements made by Munro/Spagat in the article are 100% accurate. Indeed, I did all that analysis since neither Spagat nor Munro have access to the underlying data.

    And what do you mean that the 120 number is “not a contradiction?” It is just wrong. This is, obviously, not a major sin but it does provide an indication of how little Burnham and Roberts understand about their own data.

  37. #37 Lee
    February 17, 2008

    So kane and his buddies spagat and munro are now reduced to arguing about whether someone said singular or plural, that someone else said 120 instead of 128, and that someone wasn’t precise when he said 3 major clusters and 120 missing, instead of three major cluster and 128 total missing across several clusters, in the missing certificates issue.
    Meanwhlie Kane seems to have gone silent on alleged substantive issues.

    Why is anyone even bothering to talk with him? He ahs become the definition of a troll.

  38. #38 Robert
    February 17, 2008

    David Kane wrote:

    This is, obviously, not a major sin but it does provide an indication of how little Burnham and Roberts understand about their own data.

    On the other hand, they know how to use the data to calculate a crude mortality rate.

  39. #39 David Kane
    February 17, 2008

    Robert Chung,

    Instead of being snarky, why not be useful and explain to sod and others that Debarati Guha-Sapir and Olivier Degomme know what they are talking about?

  40. #40 SG
    February 18, 2008

    Kane, that last comment doesn’t even make sense. But why don’t you make yourself useful and answer the substantive points:

    1) ILCS response rate was roughly the same as lancet and Orb – why aren’t you accusing the ILCS team of fraud?
    2) why do you think medical researchers doing important research into critical health issues should be bound by the same standards as opinion pollsters (Spagat’s latest “paper”)
    3) do you think spagat’s conflict of interest is as severe as the conflict of interest which Garfield denies even exists (his supposed desire to influence the elections)
    4) is Spagat’s MSB paper even discussing the same survey as L1/L2?
    5) why should we listen to someone who cannot even understand R-squared statistics, and who cannot get his paper titled “a critique of the epidemiology of …” published in an epidemiology journal?
    6) why should we listen to a critique of CMRs from someone who cannot calculate one?

    You are busy defending he-said she-said accusations here, but strangely silent on any of the criticisms you cannot answer. I wonder if this is because you have given up on the “scientific” criticism and are now resorting to poisoning the well? Most of what you say these days seems to be further accusations of misrepresentation and demands for retractions. This is classic poison-the-well tactics.

  41. #41 sod
    February 18, 2008

    Instead of being snarky, why not be useful and explain to sod and others that Debarati Guha-Sapir

    i said it before, i ll say it again:

    a paper that finds lots of problems with the lancet papers, but ZERO with the IBC numbers, can not be taken seriously. period.

    you haven t brought on any real argument on that front either so far, David. no suprise.

  42. #42 Bruce Sharp
    February 18, 2008

    Although the Guha-Sapir/Degomme paper is using what I believe is the most sensible approach (triangulating from different estimates), their “triangulation” seems rather weak.

    I’d like to expand a little on one of the points sod made in the Spagat thread. The Guha-Sapir/Degomme paper states:

    “While IBC is undoubtedly missing some deaths in Baghdad, it is unlikely that they would miss an average of over 100 violent deaths a day, given the level of media coverage in the city. We therefore conclude that their Baghdad mortality estimate is close to complete, further corroborated by the ILCS estimates (see below).”

    First, there is no reason given for why it is unlikely that IBC would miss an average of 100 violent deaths a day; apparently we are to take it on faith that they couldn’t miss that many, simply because 100 is a big number.

    That’s not the main problem, however. The problem is with the latter part of the paragraph: “We therefore conclude that the estimate is close to complete…”

    The authors describe their conclusion as being “further corroborated” by the relatively small difference (9%) between the IBC and ILCS. That’s not corroboration; that’s the sole piece of evidence. You can’t really claim that you are “triangulating” when your claims are standing on only one leg. Given that the period covered by the ILCS survey extended only until May 2004, its value for “corroborating” subsequent periods is very slight indeed.

    For 2006-2007, IBC shows about 28,000 deaths in Baghdad. (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/2007/) Let’s suppose we accept the paper’s claim that IBC couldn’t possibly be missing 100 deaths a day. Could they miss, let’s say, 20 deaths a day? If so, then more than a third of all deaths are unreported. Would that count as “close to complete”?

    I don’t intend to rehash arguments on the shortcomings of the IBC data, and I don’t intend this as a criticism of IBC. Whatever its faults, IBC is providing a crucial data point.

    In the current context, however, all of the available data is subject to uncertainty. And it’s hard to place much faith in an analysis that only acknowledges uncertainty with regard to only one of the threes sides of its so-called triangle.

  43. #43 Barry
    February 19, 2008

    “You are busy defending he-said she-said accusations here, but strangely silent on any of the criticisms you cannot answer. I wonder if this is because you have given up on the “scientific” criticism and are now resorting to poisoning the well? Most of what you say these days seems to be further accusations of misrepresentation and demands for retractions. This is classic poison-the-well tactics.”

    Posted by: SG

    Oh, it’s been long clear that Kane is poisoning the well.

  44. #44 Robert
    February 19, 2008

    David Kane begged:

    Instead of being snarky, why not be useful and explain to sod and others that Debarati Guha-Sapir and Olivier Degomme know what they are talking about?

    Hmmm. Well, it’s nice that you recognize my standing in this issue. Your endorsement would carry more weight if, um, you know, you actually knew how to calculate a crude mortality rate — but, hey, baby steps.

    Anyway, I do think they know what they’re talking about — I just think they’re wrong. As I said before, I think heterogeneity and migration are legitimate areas for criticism of the Roberts and Burnham papers. I don’t think those criticisms vitiate the results but I do think the estimates would have been improved had they been taken into account. However, I don’t think that the IBC and ILCS are gold standards worthy of use for “triangularization.” (Plus, I’m not terribly keen on triangularization as an analytical technique in any event).

  45. #45 JB
    February 20, 2008

    Robert said:

    “If David Kane does not know how to calculate a crude mortality rate, then why would anyone take his assurances on other mortality-related topics?'”

    to which David Kane replied

    “Instead of being snarky, why not be useful…’

    Robert is simply being accurate — and eminently useful in warning the unaware to be skeptical of Kane’s statements on “mortality-related topics”.

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