Lancet Post Number 41

If you haven't read my previous forty posts on the Lancet study, here is a handy index. All right, let's go.

First up, via Glenn Reynolds we have Andy S, who critiques the Lancet study despite not having read the thing. This is not a good idea, especially since he is relying on Kaplan's flawed Slate article. Andy has three comments:

Firstly the use of a scientific publication to make POLITICAL POINTS is reprehensible. This Lancet study was published just before the American Presidential Election and was clearly an attempt to make President Bush look bad just before he faced the electorate.

The authors did hope to influence public policy---they had found an alarming number of deaths from coalition air strikes and wanted the US government to take action to reduce this. I think it was naive of them to think that their study would be considered fairly in the heat of the election campaign. In any case, this is irrelevant to the question of whether the study is sound or not.

His second comment is about the exclusion of Falluja from the estimate:

I don't want to get technical but under this methodology Fulluja should have been included! The original Sample Design should have ensured that it was selected because it was known to be atypical! The original sample design would have accounted for the fact that the Falluja cluster was an atypical cluster and the analysis of the results would reflect this. There are sound and well established mathematical techniques to accomplish this.

Well, if they'd known exactly how atypical the Falluja cluster was they could have accounted for it. But that would have required data that they did not have. Excluding Falluja biases the results downwards. If you insist on including Falluja the number is 300,000 excess deaths. I think that number is too high because the Falluja cluster was atypical.

His third comment is:

As I understand the Lancet survey, interviewers went to selected households and asked about family deaths in the period between the invasion of Iraq and the day of the interview. To say none ( as most people probably did) is kind of boring so some respondents would be tempted to invent a dead relative. If the interviewee had an anti American agenda, as some surely did the temptation to lie would be even greater.

If Andy had read the study he would now that they did a spot check by asking to see a death certificate. In 81% of the cases checked they got to see a death certificate. In the remaining cases the reasons given for not being able to prove the death seemed plausible. It's possible that some of these were invented, but this is not enough to make a big difference.

Glenn Reynolds has another post on the Lancet study, with comments from readers and bloggers.

First, he links to Brian Crouch who reckons that Andrew Bolt's critique discredits the Lancet study. No it doesn't. I don't want to seem harsh here, but if you haven't even studied basic statistics and you criticize the statistics of a study that has been peer reviewed by professional statisticians you are likely to end up looking pretty silly.

Second, he has a comment from reader Dave Ujeio who defends the study, having studied it one one of his stats courses. Ujeio gets it right---he had a good teacher and I give him an A.

Third, Hugh Thorner

There's no need to debunk the 100,000 civilian casualty figure being cited so often by war opponents. In progressive circles it's an article of faith that pre-war sanctions killed 5000 Iraqis per month. Cost of the war two years later? 20,000 Iraqi civilians saved! And counting...

Sorry, but the 100,000 is excess deaths. It's the increase in deaths due to the war. Deaths from the sanctions are included in the prewar death rate. Note the pre-war death rate in the study was for 2002 when the oil-for-food program had greatly reduced malnutrition and child mortality.

Next, Aron Spencer

1) the distribution of probable dead is not normal. It actually probably resembles a Poisson distribution.

Binomial, I would think, but both are reasonably approximated by a normal distribution in this case.

2) the study distribution's 95% confidence range covers so much of the possible range as to be a nearly flat distribution (at least relatively speaking).

Let's see, a 67% confidence interval goes from 50,000 to 150,000. I wouldn't call it that flat.

3) even if the statistics were acceptable, there are serious questions about the sampling, as pointed out in the original debunking.

Kaplan's original debunking got a ridiculous number of things wrong in his description of the sampling. See here.

4) the author of the original study is known to have biases related to the research.

Ad hominem. Are we supposed to disqualify everyone with an opinion on the war, one way or the other, from researching into casualties?

Then, John M:

Are we honestly to believe that twice as many non-combatants have died as a result of the liberation of Iraq as were American combatants in 8 years of VietNam? In a war designed and fought to minimize civilian casualties with things like GPS guided bombs?

If you want to compare the deaths with Vietnam the relevant comparison is with the number of Vietnamese deaths. Which was 1-2 million. Maybe GPS guided bombs successfully minimize civilian casualties and maybe they don't. The way to find out is to actually count the number of deaths.

And Craig Bond:

Based on this information, is it technically incorrect to claim that 8000 or 194,000 would be "rare" events. Instead, the correct conclusion, as in the "debunking" article by Kaplan, is that we can be 95% confident that the true number of casualties lies between the bounds. It says nothing of the probability of any of these outcomes.

Yes, the 95% confidence interval by itself doesn't tell us what the probabilities are. But this doesn't mean that each value is equally likely. We can also construct other confidence intervals. We can be 67% confident that the number is between 50,000 and 150,000. In this sense the end points of the 95% CI are less likely and the middle is most likely.

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Binomial, I would think, but both are reasonably approximated by a normal distribution in this case

There is no basis on which to make that statement. The data barely even produces a significant correlation for the confidence interval itself, so to pretend you can describe the distribution within it is laughable.

Are we supposed to disqualify everyone with an opinion on the war, one way or the other, from researching into casualties?

I'll settle for disqualifying a study whose authors insisted on publishing it before an election.

Maybe GPS guided bombs successfully minimize civilian casualties and maybe they don't

I'll let the absurdity of that statement stand on its own.

Yes, the 95% confidence interval by itself doesn't tell us what the probabilities are. But this doesn't mean that each value is equally likely. We can also construct other confidence intervals. We can be 67% confident that the number is between 50,000 and 150,000. In this sense the end points of the 95% CI are less likely and the middle is most likely.

No, you can't. Besides the fact a 67% probability is practically meaningless (that's a 1 in 3 chance the effect doesn't even exist), the 67% probability bounds speak only to the 67% probability interval. They tell you NOTHING about any other interval. Every number from 8,000 to 194,000 is 95% likely. They are all equally probable, and none of them is "more equal" than the others.

"In 81% of the cases checked they got to see a death certificate."

Didn't have time to poke through all of the posts (hint: labeling them "Lancet Post Number X" is not very helpful to your readers). Have you addressed the issue of the low rate of deaths before the war? Obviously this is a tougher issue to check for the researchers since there is no such thing as a "non-death certificate". In addition, looking solely for violent deaths may lead to overestimation of excess deaths; if kids were starving or dying for lack of medical care prior to the war, they are not counted, but any fair accounting of the costs and benefits of the war would have to include them.

I'm sure this point has been made before, but just to make it again: The main reason reason the study is worthless is because all it can conclude with a 95% confidence interval is that something happened which created between 8,000 and 194,000 additional deaths. This is not useful. We already know the war probably killed more than 8,000 and less than 194,000. The study tells us nothing new or useful -- unless someone arbitrarily grabs a number with no confidence interval to bandy about as an "estimate."

You know, if the authors wanted to be honest about that 100,000 number, they would have to say "We believe 100,000 people were killed, but our confidence level for the 100,000 +/- 0 range is approximately ZERO percent. Any single-number estimate is just a guess and nothing more."

The mortality rate for the EU is 10/1000.
The mortality rate for the World is 8.81/1000.
The mortality rate for Iraq according to Lancet is 7.9 /1000. The base line death rate(needed to calculate excess deaths) would mean Iraq had one of the lowest mortality rates in the world in 2002.

As "food rations" were determined by family size, and it is largely accepted that the rations were not nearly enough, it is an easy leap to question whether family's might have hidden deaths in order to maintain the additonal ration. The Lancet study does nothing to determine whether the 2002 mortality rate in Iraq, which would have made Iraq one of the healthiest places on the planet, was in fact accurate.

By Soldier's Dad (not verified) on 20 Mar 2005 #permalink

No Tim, it is absolutely false to claim you can say which numbers within that interval are more likely than the others. The range is a quanta.

No Tim, it is absolutely false to claim you can say which numbers within that interval are more likely than the others. The range is a quanta.

Sorry abut the refresh.

I suppose technically I am in error to say that no conclusions can be drawn about the interval data (esp. since you could use sources outside the study itself); but it is certainly true that no meaningful (i.e. 95% confidence) connclusions about ranges within the interval can be made on the basis of the numbers in the study. The whole reason you do the 95% confidence interval in the first place is to make meaningful conclusions; when you start parsing the interior of the interval based on other intervals you are flailing at them with non-meaningful correlations. So that point stands, with this clarification.

As I pointed out above, the 100,000 number is statistically meaningless as it has confidence of essentially zero. The only meaningful statement that can be made from this study is that the number of dead is between 8,000 and 194,000.

No TallDave, you should learn statistics before writing. 98,000 is the most probable estimate of all estimates. It has the most weight behind it. Meaning its much more likely than any number at the endpoints. They did a point estimate.

"The study tells us nothing new or useful"

It told us one thing new: the death rate *after* the invasion was greater than the death rate *before*.

"As I pointed out above, the 100,000 number is statistically meaningless as it has confidence of essentially zero."

Rubbish.

Soldier's Dad:
What's the mortality rate in an old people's home, and would that be different from the mortality rate in a primary school? Would the mortality rate in an old people's home be higher than the mortality rate in Iraq? Would that make an old people's home more dangerous than Iraq?

There is no basis on which to make that statement. The data barely even produces a significant correlation for the confidence interval itself, so to pretend you can describe the distribution within it is laughable.

Bluntly, you're bullshitting. Tim here is appealing to a central limit theorem in a context where it is entirely appropriate to do so.

You're also making statements like

As I pointed out above, the 100,000 number is statistically meaningless as it has confidence of essentially zero. The only meaningful statement that can be made from this study is that the number of dead is between 8,000 and 194,000.

without, apparently, realising that you've effectively contradicted yourself in two sentences. You also appear unaware that the study itself is referring to excess deaths rather than absolute deaths, so I suspect that you haven't read it. Perhaps you could be so kind as to stop wasting our time.

It seems to me that a very good way to put to rest a lot of the knee-jerk criticism of the Lancet study would be to speak to Fred Kaplan. His "debunking" is constantly cited. If there was a way to get him to rethink and admit his errors, then a great service would be performed. I suspect, from his other work, that he's a reasonable person open to rational persuasion. Has Tim or Daniel had any correspondence with him or suggested he might want to take another look? (And apologies if I've missed earlier attempts to do this.)

"looking solely for violent deaths may lead to overestimation of excess deaths"

Have you read the study? It did not look "solely for violent deaths". The object of the study was to compare death rates overall.

FYI, the only thing I find really surprising about the results is that there were not more non-violent deaths given that the war and occupation have resulted in a severe and constant deterioration of the public health situation. This is on account of the serious lack of electricity, water, sewage, and medical services, in addition to enormous curtailment of freedom of movement, among other things.

TallDave - can you explain what you mean by "a significant correlation for the confidence interval" or "with non-meaningful correlations"? This appears to be complete gibberish. Correlation between what two things?

Here is are a couple of quiz questions for you: are there 95% confidence intervals other than the 8-194K interval? Assuming a normal distribution for the excess deaths estimate, can you come up with a 95% confidence lower bound?

By Pro bono mathe… (not verified) on 21 Mar 2005 #permalink

TallDave, it is never a good idea to try to blow smoke when you are in the presence of people who actually know something about the subject. :o)

I'm really getting tired of conservative pundits wasting their time debunking the study. Why not just accept that, yes, the CI is very wide (though NOT including zero) and, like those pinko, elitist, unpatriotic saps at the Economist (sub req'd - http://www.economist.com/search/search.cfm?qr=lancet+iraq+deaths&area=5…) or BMJ, concede that we do need to know the number and stop it rising further.

I suspect that getting at the real number of "excess deaths" caused by the War is nearly imposssible and will always reflect political bias one way or the other.

The war did drop bombs on people. It did indeed kill them. How many and who they were we really don't know, and probably never will. The war did cause breakdowns in public order and services, however the pre-war picture is more complex.

Favored areas in Baghdad and other power centers for the regime had working electricity and sewage, water, for the most part. Other parts of the country were deliberately sacrificed for Saddam's power centers. Basra for example was routinely without power or sewage. Other places would go dark so Central Baghdad still had power up.

Saddam's regime was unable to fix or build new power generation, sewage, or water treatment plants, and this dates far back beyond sanctions or the 91 Gulf War, rather a feature of his regime and not uncommon to tyrants. No new powerplants had been constructed since the early 1970's. This despite the substantial growth of the nation since then.

Saddam also regularly killed a lot of people, and controlled all economic activity. He as a matter of policy, starved his people while he built himself (and his heirs) numerous lavish palaces and lots of weaponry. He killed a lot of people in the south by destroying the environment.

So the true accounting of how many people the war killed through bombs, bullets, and more disease against how many it saved by removing Saddam and fixing (however slowly) power, sewage, water treatment, medical care, and freeing the economy from Saddam's stranglehold will likely NEVER be known.

I suspect that on the balance, most of the bombs fell on regime targets like tanks, Revolutionary Guard units, and government buildings or Saddam's palaces. I have no doubt that innocent civilians were killed, though I don't think that the 100K number is anywhere near as accurate, based on news media love of showing dead bodies on TV (Al Jazeera certainly would have shown every one they could find).

If the Lancet study was reflective of reality, I'd also expect a lot more reports from GIs on scene in Iraq about dead civilians, bodies do need to be buried, and there's very little of that flowing back in soldiers stories home, blogs, digital pictures, etc. Even for a country like Iraq, with it's large population, funerals and new graveyards would be something you'd expect to see and don't to the measure of the study.

As for the Economist, it does not like Bush or Americans very much. Anyone who has been around Upper Class Brits knows why.

I'll freely admit this is a political judgement, but ask where are all the new graves, pictures of dead bodies of civilians, and pictures of funerals/funeral processions from GIs and the media (including folks who'd play it up by politics aka Al Jazeera). They certainly took pictures of everything else.

By Jim Rockford (not verified) on 21 Mar 2005 #permalink

The authors did hope to influence public policy

They didn't just want to influence public policy, they wanted to influence the election campaign. They asked (demanded) that the paper be published before the election (or else they'd take their paper elsewhere). As they submitted the paper on September 30, they were literally asking for an October or November surprise.

I have never, repeat NEVER, heard of a prior paper that had a request to be published before an election. Have you?

In any case, this is irrelevant to the question of whether the study is sound or not.

A big fuss was kicked up when it was found that the "MMR causes autism" paper featured a person involved in litigation. Would you equally say that it'd be "irrelevant" to the soundness of the study?

With regards to "soundness", one concern that I have is that the Lancet strongly wanted to publish this paper (otherwise they would not have reacted so kindly to being told when to e-publish the paper), so they could have decided to publish even if the peer-reviewers had doubts about the paper (as the decision to publish or not resides with the Lancet itself AFAIK). (And no, I'm not saying that the Lancet has any political bias - there'd be other motivations that'd make it want to be the journal "breaking" this news)

Yes, the 95% confidence interval by itself doesn't tell us what the probabilities are. But this doesn't mean that each value is equally likely. We can also construct other confidence intervals. We can be 67% confident that the number is between 50,000 and 150,000. In this sense the end points of the 95% CI are less likely and the middle is most likely.

Out of curiosity, what'd be the CI percentage needed to hit "no net effect" (excluding Fallujah)?

I'm speaking here as a biologist (bioinformatician actually), rather than an epidimeologist, but wouldn't good Popperian science indicate that, as all you can do is disprove null hypotheses rather than prove a hypothesis, the only conclusion is that the paper has "disproved" that fewer than 8000 additional lives were lost?

Sorry, but the ... is excess deaths.

In all fairness, people on both sides of the argument have botched that. Plenty of people protesting against the war have cited the paper as saying that X deaths occurred, rather than X excess deaths. (I can google for anti-war people botching this if you like)

Andjam, expedited review for results of pressing importance is not uncommon. The Wakefield MMR thing was an undisclosed conflict of interest and is not even remotely similar to this case. Some of the authors of the Lancet study supported the war. And if there had been some failure in the expedited peer review it would have been exposed by now. Face it, this paper has been gone over by hordes of people looking for flaws and they haven't found any.
Cut the Popperian nonsense -- you think we can't prove that there are two apples on the table, only disprove that there are three?

I love this point by Andrew S: "This Lancet study was published just before the American Presidential Election and was clearly an attempt to make President Bush look bad just before he faced the electorate". Look bad!?!? Who is he kidding? If the western media had been doing its job instead of printing one official lie after another as the 'truth', then Bush and his neoconservative cowboy brethren would have been run out of the White House and the country a couple of years ago.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 21 Mar 2005 #permalink

I visited TallDave's blog to see what lies behind his rather strange approach to research. I thought this gem deserved a wider readership: "there ARE 36 pages of footnotes at the end of [Ann Coulter's] Treason."

Now you know.

By Kevin Donoghue (not verified) on 21 Mar 2005 #permalink

Damnit, Andjam, it's simple. Either you have a problem with the methodology in the Lancet paper, or you have a problem with the data. If it's the former, come right out and point out the flaws. If it's the latter, provide a link to data that, in your opinion, provides a more accurate estimate of deaths.

If you have no quibble with the methodology, and no data to supersede the data used in the Lancet study, then your objections are literally groundless. It makes no difference whatsoever if the authors are the biggest flaming anti-Bush Marxists you ever saw. Methodology or data. Flawed or not. Put up or shut up.

Tim Lambert writes, "Some of the authors of the Lancet study supported the war." Which authors? (I assume that "some" here means more than one.) Is there public evidence of their views from prior to the publication of the paper? Links, if available, would be appreciated. Just curious.

Also, thanks to Tim for providing a link to the actual paper. It made for interesting reading. It is certainly pathetic of Instapundit to link to a critique by a statistician who had not read the paper. Question: Is the data from the paper available? If not, why not?

By David Kane (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

Soldier's Dad,

You can look up mortality rates for various countries on the CIA website. Some examples:

US: 8.3
UK: 10.2
Egypt: 5.3
Syria: 4.96

http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/

Obviously these numbers don't mean Egypt is twice as safe as the UK, and the pre-war Iraq Lancet study number is not unusually low. Since death rates include natural deaths, the absolute number usually has more to do with how young the population is than health or safety.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The timing of the paper's publication opened the study to charges of political propaganda. So did Mr. Roberts's admission to an Associated Press reporter on the day that the paper came out that he opposed the war. "That was the wrong answer," Mr. Roberts says now, "because some of the other study members hated Saddam and were in favor of the initial invasion."

I imagine you can get the data from suthors -- Roberts has answered emailed questions and provided more information when asked.

What grabbed my attention this time around is the intentionally inconsistent use of the Falluja...

Yes. Is the falluja cluster included or isn't it? If it isn't can we please stop with the claim that most of the dead were from coalition aerial bombardment, and were women and children? Because without the Falluja cluster that claim makes no sense at all. "the total could be/is probably much higher" language should be nixed for the same reasons.

And Tim has so far never adequately addressed the pre-war infant mortality issue (29 per 1000 is on its face absurd). "Richard Garfield knows best" seems to be DD's sole rejoinder here. Or that the study is everywhere falsely represented as an estimate of civilian non combatant deaths.

By telluride (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

No, my rejoinder is that 29 per 1000 is not "on its face absurd"; it's more or less what you would expect given what we know happened to infant malnutrition.

Cut the Popperian nonsense -- you think we can't prove that there are two apples on the table, only disprove that there are three?

That's a census, not a sample.

Wakefield MMR thing was an undisclosed conflict of interest and is not even remotely similar to this case

Whereas if it were a disclosed conflict, that'd be fine?

Andjam, expedited review for results of pressing importance is not uncommon.

Which is different to asking for it to be by a certain date, let alone for that date to be an election.

"it's more or less what you would expect given what we know happened to infant malnutrition."

Only if you assume [arbitrarily] that acute malnutrition is the main determinant of infant mortality. In many countries it is not, and there is no evidence to suggest Iraq is an exception. UNICEF had access to the same malnutrition data and for some reason its conclusions were quite different.

Other categories of malnutrition went UP. Most Iraqi infant deaths documented by UNICEF were caused by respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

By telluride (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

You are all nuts.
The "mortality rate" for all countries is the same...100%. Nobody gets out alive!

By Dark Jethro (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

When do you think Sharon Love will correct his/her post for the massive innacuracy of bobbling the size of the sampling periods? "Tommorow" is "Today," and the lie is still there.

By FactCheck (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

While I agree with several of your points, you don't address here the oddly low estimate of the prewar death rate (forgive me if you have addressed it in one of your other forty posts, I don't have that much time to look!). Other estimates of the prewar deathrate in Iraq exist (e.g. http://www.prb.org/pdf/WorldPopulationDS02_Eng.pdf for 2002), and they are quite a bit higher than the 5 per 1000 per year derived from the Lancet study. In fact, they are higher even than the estimated postwar death rate.

I suspect that there is a memory effect (albeit a surprisingly large one) taking place - the farther back the death occurred, the less likely it was to be reported.

There are also problems with the reportability of some deaths. Remember, the methodology was to go to a household and inquire about births and deaths within that household - but if an entire family had been wiped out (as might happen either at the whim of Saddam or due to an air raid), who would report the death? This may help to account for the relatively low death rate estimates both pre and post-war.

The methodology does not appear on its face to be dishonest. That can't be ruled out, of course, but my presumption is that it was not.

The calculation of excess deaths is, or course, wholly dependent on the accuracy of the pre- and post-war death rates. I am suspicious that the methods used have caused the estimate to be biased upward.

Morgan, the other estimates of pre-war mortality were little more than guesses, since no field work had been down for many years. They don't give any reason to doubt this survey.People are not going to forget about the death of a family member, though there may be a problem in remembering exactly when it occured. However, studies have shown that the effect of this to tend to remember things as happening more recently than really happened (it is called "telescoping" if you want to look up some references). The invasion gives an easy to remember bound for post-invasion deaths, so the effect of telescoping is to bias the pre-war death rate upwards so the study ends up understating the increase in the death rate.

"Most Iraqi infant deaths documented by UNICEF were caused by respiratory infections and diarrhoea."

teluride, this is anything but odd or surprising. A primary cause of acute malnutrition, particularly in infants and small children, is chronic diarrhoea. That is one of the reasons there is a direct correlation between rates of acute malnutrition and mortality. A primary cause of chronic diarrhea is lack of clean water, sewage disposal, and poor sanitation, all of which were exacerbated dramatically by the invasion.

Tim, thanks for the thoughtful response. Certainly "blown up in the invasion" (not to be intentionally crass) will be correctly classified as occurring post-war, and the invasion may be an effective bound for other deaths as well - I'm not as certain as certain as you are. If it isn't, that would tend to bias the post-war rate upward more than the pre-war rate.

I agree that it is unlikely that the death of a family member would be forgotten, but the survey was conducted at the household level (if I recall correctly). Deaths of distantly-related- or non-family members might not be recalled accurately, especially if they occurred naturally - but that's just speculation.

The curious fact is that death rates are higher than 5 per 1000 per year in other countries which (I would think) would have lower rates than Iraq - Iran has a very young population, and was not under the kind of sanctions Iraq was, but its death rate was estimated at 6/1000/year.

Which may amount to nothing - I lack the data to do any kind of in-depth comparison across countries, and the time to go get it. Which leaves me, still, with a nagging suspicion that the reported rates are inaccurate.

Rob,

I think you should take your own advice. Statistically, a point estimate with no confidence interval is a guess. Not any more meaningful than than throwing a dart. Saying it's the most probable is meaningless when that probability is essentially zero due the relative size of the range at 95% confidence. Only the 95% confidence interval can reasonably be construed as meaningful.

Again, the only meaningful statement that can be made from the study (if you accept the author bias issues, and the serious methodological problem such as the ridiculous pre-war death rate and the fact that the far northern and southern regions which probably benefitted the most from the war were not sampled) is that between 8,000 and 194,000 people were probably killed.

Tim,

A primary cause of chronic diarrhea is lack of clean water, sewage disposal, and poor sanitation, all of which were exacerbated dramatically by the invasion.

What the hell? How can you claim that? How many sewage plants did we bomb? How many have we built? By all accounts, sewage, sanitation, and clean water access are dramatically better than before the invasion, esp. in places like Sadr City where Saddam never bothered with any of that stuff.

"Other estimates of the prewar deathrate in Iraq exist (e.g. link for 2002), and they are quite a bit higher than the 5 per 1000 per year derived from the Lancet study."

The source you provided appears not to be even a secondary source, but a tertiary one - that is, it not only does not rely directly on field work, but it relies on secondary sources that themselves to not rely on field work.

"if an entire family had been wiped out (as might happen either at the whim of Saddam or due to an air raid), who would report the death?"

The authors of the study addressed this very issue in the paper published in the Lancet. Two observations: 1) It seems to me most likely that this would affect the data more or less the same for both pre-invasion and post-invasion. 2) The death rate suffered due to "the whim of Saddam" was at its highest in the '80's and eary '90's (as as result of the rebellions Bush I urged, then perfidiously betrayed). By the mid-'90's it was greatly reduced, and did not have a very significant impact on overall mortality figures.

TallDave, when you have polished up your argument that a maximum likelihood estimate is statistically meaningless, please send it to a reputable journal for peer review and publication. Or publish it in The Onion. Thanks.

By Kevin Donoghue (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

TallDave, malnutrition has gotten worse since the invasion. See here.
Oh and the north and south oof Iraq were sampled, and you are wrong about the confidence intervals. The number in the middle is more likely.Morgan, 5 per 1000 is similar to the rate in nearby countries -- it is higher than that in Syria.

Kevin,

LOL it's very simple.

Had the study found a 95% confidence interval of 97,000 to 99,000, the 98,000 number would be very meaningful. For a range of 8,000 to 194,000, it clearly isn't.

When you grasp 7th-grade statistics, please let me know.

TallDave -- you really need to learn what a probability distribution is. 95% confidence intervals are usually 2 standard deviations on either side of the mean. This distribution is usually not flat, ie, each value equally likely. The normal distribution, for example, is peaked around the mean.

By Aaron Bergman (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

Aaron,

No, you need to learn what a confidence interval means. A 95% confidence interval means you have found a real, meaningful correlation for that range. When you start parsing the range and pulling ranges (or worse, points) within the range, you lose that meaning. It doesn't matter which points within the range are more likely; only the range as a whole has any claim to the 95% confidence level.

If you don't believe me, calculate a confidence level for the range 97,500 to 98,500. Then tell me how confident we can be that the number is 98,000. That's why the point estimate is worthless.

Tim,

So you argue that the clean water, sanitation, and sewage hasn't gotten better and the proof is that malnutrition is up, and you also argue malnutrition is up because of the lack of clean water, sanitation and sewage treatment. Hmmm.

I think it's possible food distribution was disrupted, which could have led to some malnutrition, but it's hard to argue sanitation, sewage treatment, and access to clean water is down. There used to whole streets flooded with seage in Sadr City.

On the missed provinces:

"Of Iraq's 18 provinces only 12 were actually visited. The sample design is a cluster sample survey (actually Cluster with sub Clusters). Now clusters assigned to the unsurveyed provinces were replaced in the sample by selecting clusters in adjacent provinces as proxies. The reasoning and process behind this are all explained in the paper. I need not bore you with it.

The net effect of this is that of the five provinces in northern Iraq only Ninawa and Sulaymaniya were surveyed. No figures are given for what was found up there but an included graphic (a map of Iraq with a bar graph in the center of each surveyed province) shows estimated pre and post invasion death rates. Sulaymaniya's bar graph shows a huge reduction in death rates post invasion whilst Niniwa's shows little change. I can't give you numbers because they are not in the paper. I only have the pretty picture to go by.

In a similar manner Iraq's three southernmost provinces were left unsurveyed.

Somehow or other the Northern Kurdish population and the Southern Shiite population were undersampled whilst the Sunni provinces were completely covered!"

http://sacredcowgraveyard.blogspot.com/

That is one of the reasons there is a direct correlation between rates of acute malnutrition and mortality.

There may very well be a positive correlation (though this is far from obviously true). The idea that acute malnutrition alone (esp. when coupled with a pickup in chronic malnutrition as documented by UNICEF) should have reduced infant mortality by 75% remains dubious. It is simply inconceivable that Iraq had a prewar infant mortality rate of 29/1000, lower than any reported rate in Iraq's modern history, 75% lower than WHO and UNICEF estimates (which incorporated the same malnutrition data). Simply pointing to an unproven correlation between infant mortality and acute malnutrition does nothing to explain the VAST discrepancy here.

malnutrition is caused by chronic diarrhea which is caused by a lack of clean water and sanitation.

not always and not always. Chronic malnutrition INCREASED over the same period according to UNICEF. And it still fails to explain a reduction in infant mortality of 75%... Do any of you honestly believe Iraq had a 29/1000 infant mortality rate in 2002? Even the study's authors acknowledge this issue (though I notice they stick with their original results for the final estimate.)

By telluride (not verified) on 22 Mar 2005 #permalink

To elaborate on the study's meaning and usefulness:

Had they found a 95% confidence interval of say, 50,000 to 150,000, then we could say with 95% confidence that at least 50,000 people were killed. That would be meaningful and useful. Saying at least 8,000 were killed isn't all that useful -- but that's all it says that's meaningful.

Tim, my expectation is that the death rate in Iraq would have been quite a bit higher than in comparable countries. How comparable countries really are is a question that requires more information than I have.

Shirin, the primacy of the source is important when there is interpretation of data going on, certainly. But unless your fear is transcription errors, I fail to see how it seriously damages the credibility of the raw numbers in this report.

Also, I don't see that the question of families having been wiped out was addressed in the study - maybe I'm missing it during my repeated skimmings, and it has been a while since I read it closely. Are you referring to the count of abandoned buildings, and neighbor's reports of the number who died in them?

"it's hard to argue sanitation, sewage treatment, and access to clean water is down."

Please tell me you are joking! It's impossible to argue that all basic public services, including sanitation, sewage treatment and clean water are NOT "down", and continuing to deteriorate the longer the occupation continues.

Sorry - posted my last a bit prematurely:

It's impossible to argue that all basic public services, including sanitation, sewage treatment and clean water are NOT "down", and continuing to deteriorate the longer the occupation continues - IF you know the facts.

Aside from the direct effect of deliberate cuts of water and other services to "troublesome" cities (which is a war crime), and the massive destruction the American bombs, missiles, tanks, bulldozers, etc., have wrought to water, sewage, and sanitation (another war crime) there is the rather significant little fact that these services are completely dependent on electricity. So, even if all the water and sewage infrastructure were perfectly intact, they would be useless given the severely inadequate, and deteriorating electricity situation.

"There used to whole streets flooded with seage in Sadr City."

And someone told you all is lovely now in Sadr City?

In fact, the Americans have made the sewage and sanitation worse in Sadr City with their bombing raids and tank rampages. They tear up the streets, and destroy the sewer conduits, so the sewage floods out of the broken pipes and into the streets and houses and businesses now. They have also managed to destroy perfectly good working sewage transportation systems in the cities they have bombed and rampaged around in with their tanks, so now cities that once had decent sewage disposal have sewage flooding everywhere.

I don't know what dream world some Americans are living in, but it is very different from the hell on earth Iraqis are living through.

Let's simplify. Say that the mean is 10 and the standard deviation is 5 -- you can scale up to get roughly the same situation as this study -- assuming a normal distribution.

The distribution is

(5 Sqrt[2 Pi])^(-1) Exp[-(x-10)^2/50]

Now, you say above

Had they found a 95% confidence interval of say, 50,000 to 150,000, then we could say with 95% confidence that at least 50,000 people were killed.

So, let's compute the probability that at least 50,000 were killed. That's the integral from 5 to infinity of the above probability distribution function. Pop that into Mathematica and you get 84%. Thus, instead of the 95% confidence of deaths over 50000, we get 84% confidence. Is that meaningful enough for you?

A caveat: A normal distribution of errors is probably only an approximation here. The main point remains illustrative, however, and this probably does hold to a good approximation.

Tim,

Your original claim was that "Some of the authors of the Lancet study supported the war." There were 5 authors of the Lancet study: Roberts, Lafta, Garfield, Khudhairi, and Burnham. I do not believe that you have any evidence that at least 2 ("some") supported the war. You quote Roberts about "other study members," but an investigation of this size includes many "members" --- the people doing the interviewing, for example --- who are not "authors".

There is a difference. So, unless you have evidence about the "authors," I think that you ought to retract that claim.

Sorry to be pedantic, but you seem to be someone who likes to get the details correct.

By David Kane (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

You're right, David. "Study members" is a larger group than "authors", so I should have said "study members" rather than "authors" above.

If you have no quibble with the methodology, and no data to supersede the data used in the Lancet study, then your objections are literally groundless.

The absence of a better study says nothing whatsoever about the quality or accuracy of this one.

it's more or less what you would expect given what we know happened to infant malnutrition

This is actually a rather good litmus test for intellectual honesty; whether the Lancet's 29/1000 prewar infant mortality rate is "more or less what you'd expect," or most likely false. For what its worth, the study authors seem to agree with me on that point: "infant deaths from earlier periods might be under-reported, and recent infant deaths might be more readily reported, producing an apparent but spurious increase in infant mortality."

But 2.9% is too far away from other more rigourous estimates to possibly be accurate, acute malnutrition data notwithstanding. In 2002 all malnutrition was worse than in 1991, and for 1990-1994 UNICEF has infant mortality close to 8%. Chronic malnutrition was actually higher in 2002 than in 1999, which surely factors into UNICEF's estimate for that year (10.2%)

By telluride (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

telluride, The authors of the study do not agree with you the infant mortality rate they found is most likely false. Giving reasons why the number might be wrong is not the same as agreeing that it is wrong. Id they felt it was wrong they would have said so.I'll refer you again to my table which shows that infant mortality was 4.7% in 1990. This is not too far away from the 2.9% found by the Lancet.

Tim, I am still amazed that you are willing to buy the argument that the infant mortality rates in Iraq could have decreased from (at least) 108 per 1000 live births to 29 per 1000 live births in just 3 years from 1999 to 2002. Just to set the record straight, the "pre-invasion" 29 infant deaths per 1000 live births figure for infant mortality derived by the Lancet Study is based entirely on 8 actual pre-conflict infant deaths out of 275 pre-conflict births recorded in the 33 clusters. That's right Tim, 8 actual deaths are the basis for the statistic you are claiming accurately reflects the infant mortality rate for a nation of over 24 million in 2002 despite the fact that the figure was at least 108 infant deaths per 1000 live births in 1999.

Furthermore, the entire 100,000 "additional" death estimate is completely based on 89 deaths (21 of them violent) reported in the 32 surveyed clusters containing 960 households and about 7645 residents (excluding Falluja) over a 17.8 month period during and after the war from March 19, 2003 to mid-September 2004. That was compared to the 46 deaths reported to have taken place in the same 32 clusters in a 14.6 month period prior to the war.

Put differently, the survey recorded an average death rate of 3.15 deaths per month before the war and an average death rate of 5 deaths a month during and after the conflict in the 32 clusters considered for the 100,000 estimate.

And this is how the Lancet study used those averages to come up with the 100,000 approximation: First they adjusted for time for both data sets. That would give us a figure of approximately 56 deaths for the pre-conflict period. (3.15 deaths a month multiplied by 17.8 months). Remember, in the period during and after the war, the figure was 89 for 17.8 months. That means you had 33 more deaths (89 minus 56) in the sample clusters during and after the war than before the war out of a sample group of 7645 people. The study used 24.4 million as the population figure for Iraq. So to estimate the overall number of additional deaths, they first divided 24.4 million by 7645. That gives us 3192. We then take our 33 additional deaths and multiply them by 3192 and voila we have over 100,000+ additional deaths.

So again, this entire study and its 100,000 "additional" death estimate is based on 89 deaths in a 17.8 month period versus 46 deaths in a 14.6 month period. In other words, if even one cluster was disproportionately affected by death (or a lack thereof) either before, during or after the war, the results of the study would be dramatically off base. A change of just 10 deaths would have the effect of throwing this survey off by around plus or minus 30,000 deaths.

Tim, how can you sit there with a straight face and claim that this sample group was large enough to be taken seriously when we are debating an issue of such gravity? How can you sit there and defend a survey (with 41 articles) that makes such heavy claims of 100,000 additional dead in Iraq when it is based on a difference of just 33 deaths (time adjusted) in 960 households? If even just one or two of the surveyed families was the unfortunate victim of a particularly violent bombing incident or terror attack, the entire survey could be way off base and fatally skewed. So, no Tim, it is not a large enough sample group. The Washington Post was absolutely right to call the Lancet Study "an extrapolation based on a relatively small number of documented deaths."

Until we have larger, more conclusive surveys of this issue, there is no way we can view the Lancet Study's findings as an accurate, conclusive or reliable estimation of the number of additional dead in Iraq.

I suggest you expend more of your energies calling for better studies of the issue at hand, not defending one that is so deeply flawed and lacking in depth.

Respectfully, Ray D.
Davids Medienkritik

telluride, you have managed to cherry pick certain information pertaining to infant and child mortality, and conveniently pretend other information doesn't exist, even though it is posted right here, some of it by you. As you pointed out, "Most Iraqi infant deaths documented by UNICEF were caused by respiratory infections and diarrhoea." And as I pointed out in response, a primary cause of acute malnutrition is chronic diarrhoea, which is most often caused by lack of clean water, sewage disposal and sanitation, all of which conditions improved as a result of the oil for food program, and all of which worsened suddenly and dramatically when the invasion began.

Malnutrition, acute or otherwise, is rarely the direct cause of death, but it is factor as in indicator (as in chronic severe gastro-intestinal problems), and because it makes the body more susceptible to diseases and other problems. Where that is the case you will see a positive correlation between acute malnutrition and mortality, as we do see quite clearly in the case of Iraq, despite your attempt to pretend otherwise.

You should also know that it is a mistake to pretend that chronic malnutrition is the same as acute malnutrition in cause, effects, and the populations it affects, so you cannot substitute one for the other in your argument.

Ray D.:

1) The UNICEF figure on infant mortality for 1999 was not based on current field data. It was a projection based on field studies taken years before the oil for food program changed things for the better.

2) For reasons that should be intuitive to most people, infant mortality is extremely volatile - that is, it changes dramatically in short periods of time - and responds quickly to changing conditions.

Therefore, the UNICEF infant mortality figure is virtually certainly far too high, and the figure in the study published in the Lancet is probably closer to reality.

Ray D, I don't think anyone here is going to dispute that there is a large uncertainty in the Lancet results and that it would be desirable with a better study. However, neither the US, Brittish or Iraqi authorities have seen fit to organize such a study, and in a country as volatile as Iraq there is a limit to how far outsiders can go in order to collect data. The people who did this study put their lives at risk to be able to get enough data to present any kind of estimate, and for the moment this is the best there is. Petition the US or Brittish governments if you want better results. Claiming that we should pretend we don't know anything about how many have died because the Americans "don't do body counts" is wrong.

By Thomas Palm (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

@ Thomas:

"I don't think anyone here is going to dispute that there is a large uncertainty in the Lancet results and that it would be desirable with a better study."

Thank you. Finally someone with some intellectual honesty.

However, The fact that the US/UK and Iraqi authorities don't have the time, energy and/or desire to do a study (probably because they are busily trying to defeat an insurgency) does not make the Lancet study any more accurate or reliable. The fact is that we know very little based on the Lancet study because, again, the sample group is simply far too small and prone to drastic variations.

I'm not saying we should "pretend we don't know anything." But we should also not pretend to know more than we actually do based on this very limited study. I know that it is easy for the anti-war crowd to succumb to the temptation and jump at these numbers and defend this entire study to the last, but doing so is simply not credible without larger studies to confirm (or debunk) the results.

Respectfully, Ray D.
Davids Medienkritik
P.S. Regarding what Shirin said, the infant mortality rate may well have been even higher than 108. The study claims that 29 is accurate because neighboring countries had a similar rate at the time (2002). But how can you claim such a thing knowing that neighboring countries were not subject to stifling UN sanctions and one of the world's most brutual dictators? That is very questionable to put it mildly.

I'll refer you again to my table ...

Tim, I saw your table when you first posted it. It seems to dart among sources and time frames quite a bit, and doesn't do much to prove any kind of reliable or quantifiable correlation. You compare a 1996 AM figure to a 1999 IM rate, you jump from UNICEF to Lancet sources in order to prove the accuracy of the Lancet, which looks a bit like circular reasoning. A four point chart (two of whose points come from the survey you are looking to defend) does little to explain how a rate above 10% might have been reduced by almost 75% in the space of 1 year.

which shows that infant mortality was 4.7% in 1990. This is not too far away from the 2.9% found by the Lancet.

Actually, its a considerable distance away, and a long long time ago. 2.9 to 5.8 yields somewhere around 30,000 excess infant deaths, a DOUBLING of the overall infant mortality rate. 4.7 to 5.8 yields a fraction of this. And 4.7% predates sanctions altogether. Also, acute malnutrition even in 2002 was HIGHER than in 1991. Iraq has never in its history had an infant mortality rate as low as 2.9% and I challenge you to produce a single report stating otherwise. That it should have experienced this after experiencing and while still under sanctions is absurd. Sorry you don't agree. As I said, litmus test, judgment etc.

It was a projection based on field studies taken years before the oil for food program changed things for the better.

This is simply wrong and suggests you havent read the report I posted upthread, which makes abundant reference to the OFFP. It also makes explicit reference to the decline in acute malnutrition. here it is again: http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/pub_children_of_iraq_en.pdf

By telluride (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

Shirin, malnutrition as the proximate cause of death is distinguished from diarrhoea in UNICEF's reports:

http://www.casi.org.uk/info/unicef/irqpt2b.pdf

"The increase in mortality reported in public hospitals for children under five years of age (an excess of some 40,000 deaths yearly compared with 1989) is mainly due to diarrhoea, pnemonia and malnutrition.

By telluride (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

Ray D, to claim that the US/UK don't do a study because they don't have the time or resources is ludicrous. They are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, and the cost of a proper study simply isn't visible on that scale. It would also give them information that would help rule the country, and, assuming the figures are reasonably low, would help disarm some of the critique against the war. The most reasonable conclusion is that they don't do this study because they fear the result.

That the occuptaion forces apparently don't care about how many people die or of what cause says a lot about the low priority they set on civilian lives. In fact, it is almost inconceivable that they don't have any numbers for their own use even if they choose not to make them public.

Until we have better data it makes perfect sense to use the Lancet figures, they may be uncertain but not as useless as you claim. during the cold war no one thought the Soviet Union hadn't killed anyone just because they didn't choose to release any official figures for the people killind in their gulags, instead outsiders did the best they could estimating casualties.

By Thomas Palm (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

from p. 23 of the UNICEF report cited above: "Nutrition surveys carried out by
UNICEF, as well as an FAO/WFP
nutrition assessment mission in May
2000, showed that since the introduction
of the Oil for Food
Programme, the nutritional status of
children has not improved."

By telluride (not verified) on 23 Mar 2005 #permalink

"the infant mortality rate may well have been even higher than 108."

What is your basis for that claim?

"can you claim such a thing knowing that neighboring countries were not subject to stifling UN sanctions"

By 2002 the oil for food program had provided significant, though certainly not complete, relief to the civilian population in terms of nutrition, sanitation, and health care.

"and one of the world's most brutual dictators"

There is no correlation between brutal dictators and infant mortality. As a matter of fact, it was the Ba`thists under Saddam who were responsible for using Iraq's oil wealth to bring the country to the threshhold of first world status by, among other things developing the civilian infrastructure and building an already good medical system into a model state of the art system, and making free medical care available to the entire population. This resulted in, among other things, a rapid and dramatic decline in infant mortality from 1974 until the so-called "Gulf" war in 1991, at which point it shot up precipitously, initially as a result mainly of the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

"[the estimate of 29/100] is very questionable to put it mildly."

On what actual basis is it questionable?

telluride, unfortunately, I do not have time right now for a complete response to your latest. I do have time, however, to point out that you are trying to rebut statements about apples by presenting information about oranges. We were discussing infants, not children. An infant us usually defined as under 12 months, not under 5 years.

"UNICEF's report, citing 107 per 1000 live births NET of malnutrition adjustments!"

1) This rate is for South/Central Iraq only, not the entire country. South/Central Iraq contains the part of the country that suffered by far the greatest infrastructure damage from the 1991 war, suffered the most from the after-effects of the war, and from the regular U.S. bombing campaigns in the no fly zone during the sanctions period. It also contains the part of the country that was severely punished by the regime after 1991 as a result of the rebellion which George Bush I urged and then perfidiously betrayed. And it contains the part of the country that is historically the poorest, and was badly neglected by the regime and allowed to deteriorate most severely by the regime.

2) What do you mean by "NET of malnutrition adjustments"? What IS a "malnutrition adjustment"?

"Other categories of malnutrition went UP."

No, they did not go up at all. On the contrary, they went down very significantly, as your own source clearly shows. According to your source, acute malnutrition decreased by 60% between 1996-2002, underweight rate decreased by 63.6%, and chronic malnutrition by about 28%. In 2002 acute malnutrition was only .4 point above the pre-sanctions level, underweight rate was 1 point above, and chronic malnutrition was 5.1 points above. There is no reason to believe they all did not continue downward at the same rate between 2002 and March 19, 2003.

Two thought for critics of this study:

1. When statistically literate readers---regardless of their politics---see comments like "point estimates are meaningless" or "every value within a confidence interval is equally likely", they burst out laughing, classify you as a fool, and are likely to ignore everything else you say.

Statistical methodology, like most technical topics, is not something you can bullshit. You may have an interesting point about the quality of the underlying data, or the policy implications of the result, but if you mix in comments that reveal your willingness to make shit up about a technology you don't understand, you deserve only ridicule.

But by all means, keep it up. Wearing a dunce cap just helps the rest of us avoid you.

2. The losing side of a debate is usually the side that refuses to correct its mistakes. For example, anyone who can write in complete sentences can understand the concept of "excess deaths", and understand that a positive number of excess deaths means more people are dying now than under Saddam's regime. Even if you make Homer Simpson look like Stephen Hawking, you can figure out that war might lead to deaths from disruption of hospitals, electricity, sanitation, and transportation. Yet periodically, seemingly literate critics of this study bring up the large number of deaths under Saddam, or the fact that aerial bombing "couldn't possibly" have killed 100,000 or so people. Face it: if you keep coming back to points you know are irrelevant because you've been beaten down before, you're losing the argument, and it's time to consider that you might be wrong, and just resisting admitting it.

I bring up these points, folks, because you are engaged in a debate with scientists, who are used to two norms: When the data go against you, cheerfully accept and admit that you were wrong; and don't ever pretend to understand something you don't, because a smart person will soon make you look stupid.

I think that Morgan is right to express some doubts about the retrospective mortality data used in the Lancet study. An example from U.S. history suggests that the more distant the death, the less likely it is to be reported. Between 1850 and 1900, the United States conducted a retrospective census of mortality alongside the regular census enumeration. Households were to report the name, age, sex, and month of death of household members dying in the year preceding the census. Census officials immediately discerned that deaths were undercounted by as much as 40% in some states. A comparison of the census mortality data in 1880 with death registration data in New Jersey and Massachusetts--two states with well-established death registration systems--indicated that while the retrospective census data were reasonably complete in the month prior to the census (93-98% of registered deaths), coverage a year prior to the census was significantly lower (60-66%). Deaths among infants and the elderly were more likely to be missed. Although some of this difference may reflect "telescoping," as Tim suggests, it still seems to indicate that deaths reported prior to the invasion may be underreported relative to deaths after the invasion. It may also explain why the infant mortality rate is prior to the war is implausibly low.

I think that Morgan is right to express some doubts about the retrospective mortality data used in the Lancet study. An example from U.S. history suggests that the more distant the death, the less likely it is to be reported. Between 1850 and 1900, the United States conducted a retrospective census of mortality alongside the regular census enumeration. Households were to report the name, age, sex, and month of death of household members dying in the year preceding the census. Census officials immediately discerned that deaths were undercounted by as much as 40% in some states. A comparison of the census mortality data in 1880 with death registration data in New Jersey and Massachusetts--two states with well-established death registration systems--indicated that while the retrospective census data were reasonably complete in the month prior to the census (93-98% of registered deaths), coverage a year prior to the census was significantly lower (60-66%). Deaths among infants and the elderly were more likely to be missed. Although some of this difference may reflect "telescoping," as Tim suggests, it still seems to indicate that deaths reported prior to the invasion may be underreported relative to deaths after the invasion. It may also explain why the infant mortality rate is prior to the war is implausibly low.

I think it's beyond obvious that a study that proves there were at least 8,000 excess deaths and no more than 194,000 is totally worthless, even leaving aside the many methodology problems that have been brought up.

I'd like to see a real study done, with solid methodology agreed on by representatives of both the left and right beforehand, to settle this issue fairly.

So, Dave, in addition to your lack of knowledge and understanding of study methodology, and the math involved, you really do see the Iraqi casualty rate as a left vs right political matter. Surprise, surprise!

So, Shirin, in addition to your ironic and projective ad hominems, you apparently lack basic observance skills as well.

LOL it doesn't take a genius to see rightists lining up on one side of the issue and leftists on the other.

TallDave,

You need to revise your political slant post. Instead of being a left-right divide, the issue of Iraq should be divided into those who support international law and resist aggression on the one side and those who support the National Security Document of the U.S.A, which allows unlimited imperial/corporate expansion and that the U.S. has the right to 'full spectrum dominance' of the planet economically and militarily on the other. Its ironic that the U.S. was the driver behind the Nuremburg code from which it now believes it is unilaterally exempt

I also think that your attempt to invoke 'triage' as a means of justifying godfatherly aggression (for that is what the U.S. invasion of Iraq was, pure and simple) is irrelevant. Stating that we have to weigh the number of people slaughtered by U.S. forces against the possible carnage had Saddam stayed in power is a stunningly naive and irrelavant sidetrack. If we invoke this then we have to wonder why the U.S. has routinely supported vile regimes (Algeria, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia etc.) that routinely murder the civilian population as well as union leaders, environmentalists etc. Clinton called Suharto, one of the biggest torturers and mass murderers of the twentieth century, "Our kind of guy" in 1996; Uzbek's leader, Karimov, is another Saddam who is known to boil his political opponents alive in water. The number of political opponents in Algeria murdered since the 1990 coup is about 100,000 and counting, although this country has been recently praised by the current Washington D.C. Bush-Cheney junta as a "Partner in the war on terror." Turkey, another valued NATO ally, has a pretty abominable human rights record too. Methinks your argument is a tad over-selective.

Lastly, invoking your triage argument, we might also add that the death toll in Indochina (Viet Nam, Korea, Cambodia) would certainly have been far less than the five to ten million killed during the conflicts there which were largely driven by the U.S administrations of the day. How about a bit of continuity in your arguments? Had the U.S./U.K. not supported Saddam during the 1980's, in full knowledge of his crimes, then its quite likely that he would have been deposed by the population in Iraq anyway. But the bottom line is that humanitarian impulses do not drive western policy and never have. One just has to see the utter hypocrisy I have alluded to above to demolish this myth.

If the media was doing its job properly instead of rehashing accredited lies, then it would be clear that western foreign policy has been and still is driven by business and corporate interests. Human rights is utterly irrelevant; its only a convenient pretext which enables the government of the day to smokescreen the real agenda. It stuns me that a number of writers to Tim's blog cling to the burnt shards of the idea that the invasion was all about democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people. The U.S. media has done a pretty good job to sell this fairy tale to its citizens.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 30 Mar 2005 #permalink

Jeff,

You can assign whatever arbitrary guidelines you like. I was talking about reality: left is lining up on side, right on the other. I doubt most of them have even heard of the latter document.

If we invoke this then we have to wonder why the U.S. has routinely supported vile regimes
No, we don't have to wonder, unless we're astoundingly stupid. It was called fighting/containing Communism, a far greater evil.

Lastly, invoking your triage argument, we might also add that the death toll in Indochina (Viet Nam, Korea, Cambodia) would certainly have been far less than the five to ten million killed during the conflicts there which were largely driven by the U.S administrations of the day
You obviously aren't familiar with what Communist regimes did to their people after taking power. Compare N Korea to S Korea postwar till today, and tell me the "triage" argument doesn't hold up. But the whole idea that it's simply "triage" is silly anyway; there are other important functions being erved as well. Unless democracy and freedom meaningless to you? Would you throw them away to save a few lives?

The U.S. media has done a pretty good job to sell this fairy tale to its citizens.
Yeah those were pretty convincing elections I saw on TV. They must be doing great. Best faked event since the Moon landing, right?

.

TallDave,

The U.S. was never fighting communism. This is another myth - like the war on terror - that was drip fed to the masses for years during the cold war. Many in the west swallowed it whole. To be sure, communism was and is a vile system but let's be clear about one thing - it was never as much of a threat to the west as our governments and the media made it out to be.

The Soviet Union lost 40 million people in World War II, and had to rely on food aid from the west immediately after the war. The U.S., as now, needed a convenient pretext to establish the world order after the war (read state planner George Kennan's chilling words in Planning Document 23 from 1948 and you get the real picture of what the true agenda was). Successive administrations used 'communism' as a suitable pretext to repress what in reality was indigenous nationalism. The clear threat to western conglomerates and multinationals was that country's would embrace governments - as in Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina today - that would not adopt IMF/World Bank 'rules' and would instead re-direct the profits of internal natural resources and capital to look after their own populations. This posed a direct threat to the aims of western businesses, who coveted these resources but needed a cover the vilify these populist governments and ensure that they could get their hands of the wealth of these nations. Don't believe it? There are dozens of examples. One of the earliest is that of Iran, which elected Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. His government wanted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian oil company, most of the profits from which had been flowing into the bank accounts of British investors. He had to go, and was overthrown by the combined efforts of MI5 and the CIA. A better example is the Arbenz government of Guatemala, which was centre-left and elected as a popular government in 1953. One of the first things Arbenz did was to - for the first time - levy a small tax on the United Fruit Company, owned in the U.S., which had for years operated in a tax-free environment. One of its major share-holders was Henry Cabot Lodge, and American senator who was outraged at Arbenz's actions. He enlisted the services of Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, who in turn convined the Eisenhower administration that Guatemala was a communist threat just a days' drive from Brownsville. Of course this was utter garbage, but it served it purpose. Arbenz eas overthrown in a bloody coup (an act of state terror, actually) and the country plunged into 50 years of successive brutal regimes. The U.S. did the same to destroy the Sandanista government in Nicaragua 30 years later, in spite of the fact that by 1984 (four years after overthrowing the brutal Somosza regime) it had what was described as an economy that was "the fairest and most progressive in Latin America by 1984" according to the Inter American Development and World Banks. By 1990, six years after the U.S. initiated another terror war to depose the Sandanistas, its economy was in ruins and it was the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. It retains that position today, with an astronomically high infant mortality rate. The reason for the U.S to destroy it? Yup, that old problem again, indigenous nationalism, a threat to western business interests and control.

This explains why the current U.S. junta is blacklisting the Chavez, Kirschner and Lulis governments in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil respectively (and will inevitably do the same to Uruguay which has also recently elected a populist government) while cozying up to vile regimes like Uribe's in Colombia with the worst human rights record in the America's. Sorry TallDave, but you really need to read more than the propoganda spewed out by the likes of the New York Post and Washington Times.

As for the election, you unwittingly answered my point. Only in the U.S did anywhere close to 50% of the population believe that Saddam Hussein's regime was responsible for the 9/11 atrocity. In no other country was this figure higher than 10%. It shows what a steady stream of media lies can do to a population. You do not have a healthy democracy in the U.S. anyway but a one-party plutocracy. At least get that right.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 31 Mar 2005 #permalink