Andrew Mack emails me to draw attention to his paper (“Estimating War Deaths: An Arena of Contestation” by Spagat, Mack, Cooper and Kreutz), which criticizes Obermeyer et al’s paper Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia. I commented on Obermeyer et al in this post.
I agree with some of their criticism. The regression that used for correcting PRIO estimates of war deaths is wrong and the conclusion that they drew using this correction — that there is no evidence that war deaths have decreased is unfounded.
I’m not persuaded by their general criticisms of survey measurements of war mortality:
The recall period for the WHO surveys–up to 40 years–was far in excess of recommended practice.
But it doesn’t seem likely that people would forget the death or circumstances of death for a sibling.
small surveys are inappropriate instruments for measuring violent deaths, because most civil wars today tend to concentrate in a few geographically localized areas. In these circumstances cluster surveys tend either to fail to detect any war deaths or–when they do–overestimate their impact by a wide margin.
In the case of an overestimate, it is clear what happened since you get one anomalous cluster (like Falluja in Lancet 1). More likely, you get an undersestimate, but other ways of counting war deaths seem to produce more severe under estimates.