Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Smutty science makes good politics

As usual, poor science makes for good politics:

A controversial new study contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, suggesting a far higher death toll than other estimates.
Read more.

This is total and complete bunk. If anyone in the media had any kind of honesty they'd not run it. The entire article is devoted to explaining why the study is ridiculous; if thats the case, why print it?

In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

An accurate count of Iraqi deaths has been difficult to obtain, but one respected group puts its rough estimate at closer to 50,000. And at least one expert was skeptical of the new findings.

"They're almost certainly way too high," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. He criticized the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 election.

Exactly. Most people won't bother reading the article. They'll hear or read the headline, or perhaps the first few lines, and the 650,000 number will stick. Just to put it into perspective, the Blitz' intentional targeting of civilians in World War II only produced 67,800 casualties. The Germans suffered roughly 1,840,000 civilian casualties, largely due to British night bombing and terror tactics used against them. This fellow from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health would have you believe that Iraq has suffered similarly. Get the shovel!

And how did they do the study? Why, the most reliable method, similarly employed in investigating the mysteriously vanished Haditha massacre -- they asked some people:

Speaking of the new study, Burnham said the estimate was much higher than others because it was derived from a house-to-house survey rather than approaches that depend on body counts or media reports.

For Burnham's study, researchers gathered data from a sample of 1,849 Iraqi households with a total of 12,801 residents from late May to early July. That sample was used to extrapolate the total figure. The estimate deals with deaths up to July.

The survey participants attributed about 31 percent of violent deaths to coalition forces.

I did the number crunching so you don't have to -- they interviewed 12,800 out of 26,074,906 (Iraq's total population). Thats 0.0491%, rounded up. Whatever result they got, they multiplied by a factor of roughly 2030 to arrive at an "extrapolated result". Based on my brilliant mathematical manipulation, this would mean that in order to have 650,000 deaths, each person surveyed would have had to attest to 320 deaths! I don't think I even know that many people.

Not only would these folks have you "take their word for it," they'd also expect you to swallow that coalition forces, also known as the Good Guys in this situation, have killed over 217,000 civilians.

As always, you believe what you want. But don't let some faux "study" sucker you into trading your intelligence in without first putting it up to some scrutiny.


Matt said...

The impact that this study will have on people reading the headline isn't the fault of the media, or the left for that matter. It's the fault of the military, leading all the way up to the commander in chief. If they had decided to continue doing official military body counts as they have done in wars past, there wouldn't be this vast opening for speculation. They've become very good at outsourcing the general activities of the military. When they chose not to do body counts, they gave every single pseudo-science institution the permission to do their own estimations and publish them for the whole world to see.

k2aggie07 said...

So if the government doesn't keep body counts, it makes it ok for anyone to lie about it?

I don't follow that logic.

Matt said...

whoa, back that statement up. where anywhere in your post did you claim that the people who conducted this study lied about it? just because you don't agree with the results doesn't make the people who conducted the study liars. according to some survey experts, their methodology was correct, yet flawed.

Chicago Tribune: the group employed standard epidemiological methods used to estimate deaths from calamities ranging from natural disasters such as Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina to the bloody war in the Congo.

To estimate deaths for this week's report, the Hopkins group recruited Iraqi doctors to conduct household surveys in 47 neighborhood clusters across Iraq that contained 1,849 households and 12,801 people. The doctors asked family members to report births, deaths and the movement of people into and out of their households.

When people reported deaths, researchers asked them about the cause and obtained death certificates in 92 percent of cases. The data were then projected onto the entire nation, about 26 million people.--- this is the major flaw thats subject to a huge margin of error, but it's commonly used, although usually with a larger sample group.

I'm not saying they were right, but I'm definetly not jumping the gun and saying they're liars either. Please don't make this a black and white issue like you always do.

k2aggie07 said...

These people have admitted to timing the release of their data for the greatest political impact the last time they did a study. There's the motivation.

The results are wildly out of sorts with many studies that all have similar results (commonality between them). This study sticks out like a sore thumb.

So forgive me if I'm skeptical.

Matt said...

i forgive you