Technology with attitude

Deconstructing the Lancet death toll study

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The National Journal, ideologically motivated though it may be, has a thoughtful compilation of criticisms leveled at the October 2006 Lancet study that estimated as many as 650,000 Iraqis had died in the war.

They don’t actually claim to debunk the study; instead, they raise specific methodological questions, and identify what they see as the weakest link: a heavy reliance on a single Iraqi researcher, who trained and oversaw the work of the surveyors who carried out the study.

As I said at the time, the specific number — 650,000 — needed to be taken with a grain of salt. Even if you think the researchers were totally on the up and up, the inherent difficulties of conducting statistical surveys in a war zone give reason for pause.

But given that even conservative estimates placed the number of dead at 50,000 (it’s up to 80,000 now), and a month later the Iraqi health minister gave an estimate of 150,000, we’re still talking about a lot of dead Iraqis. Even a total debunking of the Lancet study wouldn’t alter the fact that the war is killing people faster than Saddam ever did.

Such a death toll, though, says nothing about the relative justness of this war. War kills people. The human toll needs to be part of the equation both when deciding to go to war and when considering how to prosecute it, but intent and execution matter.

(continued over at Midtopia)