I’ve gotten a lot of mail from people asking my opinion about [the study published today in the Lancet][lancet] about estimating the Iraqi death toll since the US invasion.
So far, I’ve only had a chance to skim the paper. But from what I can see about it, the methodology is sound. They did as careful an analysis as possible under the circumstances, and they’re very open about the limitations of their approach. (For example, they admit that there were methodological changes compared to earlier studies to reduce the risk to members of the survey team; and there were several
data collection errors leading to invalid or incomplete data which was then excluded from the analysis.)
My guess would be that this study is a pretty solid *upper* bound on the death toll of the war. Population-analysis sampling based techniques like this do tend to produce larger numbers than other analyses, but over the long term, while the sampling techniques tend to over-estimate, those higher numbers have tended to be quite a bit *closer* to the truth than the lower numbers generated by other techniques.
When I compare this to what the US government has been trying to feed us, I find that I trust these results much more: this study is open and honest, tells us exactly how they gathered and analyzed the data, and is honest and forthcoming about its limitations and flaws. In comparison, the official US estimates are just black-box numbers – our government has refused to provide *any* information on how their casualty estimates were produced.
Faced with that contrast, and the history of causalty recording and analysis in past wars and natural disasters, I’m strongly inclined to believe that while we will probably *never* know the real number of people who’ve died as a result of our invasion of Iraq, the figure of 600,000 deaths as of today estimated by the Lancet study is *far* closer to the truth than the US government estimate of 30,000 as of last december.
Believe me, nothing would make me happier than being wrong about this. I really don’t want to believe that my country is responsible for a death toll that makes a homicidal maniac like Saddam Hussein look like a pansy… But facts are what they are, and the math argues that this mind-boggling death toll is most likely all too real.