I used to be amused, now I’m just disgusted

by Daniel on March 9, 2007

The Times has published a really quite bad piece of science journalism on the subject of the Lancet study. When the topic is sampling theory, your heart really does sink when you see something like this:

Several academics have tried to find out how the Lancet study was conducted; none regards their queries as having been addressed satisfactorily. Researchers contacted by The Times talk of unreturned e-mails or phone calls, or of being sent information that raises fresh doubts.

Yes indeed, out of the population of people with outstanding questions, none of them have had their questions resolved.

There are quite a lot of oddities in the article, covered by Tim Lambert here. I note that Professor Michael Spagat seems to be quite determined to talk about fellow researchers in an extremely abusive and (IMO) unprofessional manner to journalists; this doesn’t go very well for my assessment of his credibility[1]. It also seems rather weird to me that, while all the issues raised in the article are clearly drawn from the recent correspondence published in the Lancet on the subject, the article doesn’t even mention Glibert Burnham’s “Reply to Critics” published in the same issue and indeed strongly implies that it doesn’t exist. I suspect that Anjana Ahuja has got all her information from interviewees who should have told her about the correspondence but didn’t.

I’ve held off on writing about this for a couple of days, partly because of laziness, but partly because I wanted to test James Callaghan’s old adage “a lie will be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on”. The thing is, that there is a “marker” in the Times article – as in, a statement that is not true and that is obviously not true to anyone who has read the article. It is in the following paragraph:

Dr Richard Garfield, an American academic who had collaborated with the authors on an earlier study, declined to join this one because he did not think that the risk to the interviewers was justifiable. Together with Professor Hans Rosling and Dr Johan Von Schreeb at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Dr Garfield wrote to The Lancet to insist there must be a “substantial reporting error” because Burnham et al suggest that child deaths had dropped by two thirds since the invasion. The idea that war prevents children dying, Dr Garfield implies, points to something amiss.

This is not true. As table 2 of the study shows, infant mortality remained constant in the survey (when you adjust for the greater number of months in the post-war recall period) while child deaths increased substantially. They did not drop by two thirds, or indeed drop at all. Von Schreeb, Rosling and Garfield did not say they dropped either (presumably because they have read the survey). They said that the crude estimate of under-15 mortality was substantially lower than other estimates of under-5 mortality in Iraq, and that this implied that there may have been substantial under-reporting of child deaths. They then suggested that this reporting error might lead to additional uncertainty in the estimates of roughly the same size as the sampling error – +/- 30%. Note that, for bonus hack points, the “plus” sign in “+/- 30%” is not ornamental, and to treat Von Schreeb et al as providing evidence that the study was an overestimate is Kaplan’s Fallacy. This is my reason for believing that Anjana Ahuja didn’t read the research; it’s an error that could easily have been made in transcribing notes of a half-understood conversation but couldn’t have been made at all if you read the articles.

So anyway: As a Google search shows, the fact that this claim from the Times article is completely and obviously wrong has not stopped it from being reproduced all over the blogosphere. It is a pretty poor show. The real joke is that most of the people concerned are also screaming about “political bias” on the part of the Lancet team!

I am curious as to why anyone is bothering with this debate any more (in some of the discussion on Dr Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hick’s comments, it has got parodic, as people discuss the minutiae of the “informed consent” requirements of the questionnaire). Does anyone think at this late date that they are going to come up with a result that proves that the whole war and occupation has been really good for the Iraqis? Have they not noticed that this debate (and the one on global warming too) is a bit like the Berlin Wall – people are only going from one side to the other in one direction?

Look, if you want a “resample”, here’s a small-sample survey of people involved in the original study. Of the eight Iraqi doctors who carried out the interviews in October 2006, one has been murdered.

[1] I think it is not a coincidence that Spagat did not get a letter published in the correspondence in the Lancet, although other people referencing his “Main street bias” theory did. He really seems to have gone off at the deep end on this one. He also appears to have resurrected the “three to one rule” (three wounded to one killed) which I have only ever otherwise seen in the most desperate parts of the blogosphere. If this rule exists at all (and I have never seen a citation to any actual literature), then it refers to soldiers fighting in battles. Soldiers are physically fit, wear tin hats and make use of cover. The majority of killings in Iraq are execution-style murders, carried out with close range shots or electric drills. I am tempted to call Prof. Spagat as a witness to exonerate Dr Harold Shipman – after all, there is no sign of the 750 old ladies who were merely wounded who we otherwise “ought” to see if the “three to one rule” was a universal rule.

{ 131 comments }

1

ajay 03.09.07 at 10:38 am

The three-to-one rule (for soldiers) seems fairly well borne out. For example, in Afghanistan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/10/01/wafg01.xml

“…the United States had a ratio of one to three, with 278 soldiers killed since the start of the war in 2001 and 956 listed as wounded in action, while Canada had a ratio of one to four, with 29 of its 2,500 soldiers killed since the start of the year and 128 listed as wounded in action.”

NB: I have also read that the Iraq ratio, thanks to better medical care and equipment, is now nearer seven to one.

2

stostosto 03.09.07 at 10:47 am

So, what’s the status on the Lancet studies? It seems to me the debate after the second study died down surprisingly quickly leaving the impression of a consensus that the 650,000 figure was simply so over-the-top crazy as to be not even worth arguing against, much less defending, still less using as a vehicle for war critics.

I followed the debate after the first study closely, and it was heated and intense for a long time. By comparison the second study — which, by its headline conclusion of an overmortality of 650,000 (!!!) seemed to merit considerable attention — has been a mere blimp.

Indeed, it seems mentioning Iraqi mortality in the hundreds of thousands has gone virtually extinct from the debate. Why is that?

My own vague feeling is everybody thinks 650,000 is so improbably huge, there must be something wrong with the study, and its authors must be unhinged. “First they said 100,000, now it’s 650,000 – will they do anything to get attention?”.

I suspect it just seems the most reasonable explanation to most people, even the ones who might want to use it in political argument.

3

stostosto 03.09.07 at 11:09 am

[for “blimp” please read “blip”…]

4

Marc Mulholland 03.09.07 at 12:18 pm

Daniel says: “I am curious as to why anyone is bothering with this debate any more”.

I think it is quite telling. In our generation, an entire neo-quasi-‘Enlightenment consensus’, from left to right, has been built upon a stance of comfortable moral superiority to the past. Stalinism is the locus, with adornments from the various fascisms.

The assumption is this:

“In the recent historical past, wicked idealists subordinated people to utopia. They winked at the human cost of social engineering. This is the original sin of the Left in particular. We are much wiser, indeed more moral than that. Not only have we ‘learned the lessons’, but like the [mythologised] Orwell, we would have been on the side of the angels even back then. We are the lumineres.”

The problem with the ‘Lancet Reports’ is that Mark #1 came too early for most. Modernity – Enlightened, bourgeois, wielding full-spectrum dominance – had discovered the Holy Grail of Revolutionary Liberation without human cost. Iraq was to be the cap-stone of a great arc stretching from the defeat of Communism and before. Lancet burst the bubble, and the latter day wiseacres found themselves hardly better than the hated fellow-travellers of yesteryear, fawning around the Great Project of Socialist Construction.

The Coalition of the Smug may have shuffled away from the Iraq War now – casting anathemas into the eyes of an incredulous public. But they were all still gung-ho when Lancet~1 came out. When they dismissed that (or ignored it, like Norman Geras), well, that was their Moscow Trials moment: the point when they implicitly accepted that the Idea trumped the blood of innocents. At some sub-conscious level, this knowledge burns them now. This is why they will always be Iraq denialists. No matter how much they pretend to ‘face-up’, they will always be on the look-out for retrospective vindication. It makes the mirror easier to live with.

5

Chris Bertram 03.09.07 at 12:23 pm

Ah, the argument from “my own vague feeling”! I hadn’t realized that was a respectable move to make stotstosto – shows how wrong I was.

6

stostosto 03.09.07 at 12:51 pm

Ah, the argument from “my own vague feeling”! I hadn’t realized that was a respectable move to make stotstosto – shows how wrong I was.

Indeed it does. Everybody else agrees that it is the opposite that is not respectable, hence the old “argumentation weak, raise voice” joke.

Which argument is it that you suppose I am making, btw?

7

Barry 03.09.07 at 1:01 pm

“…leaving the impression of a consensus that the 650,000 figure was simply so over-the-top crazy as to be not even worth arguing against,…”

I’d never heard of that. I’ve heard of some right-wingers claiming off the top of their heads that 650K was ridiculous; none with any background to justify trusting their ‘gut’.

Most people arguing that seem to feel that large numbers of casualties are only possible with industrialized warfare, forgetting that (a) the US is waging such warfare, complete with airstrikes and (b) that AK-47’s, RPG’s and car bombs are pretty effective killing tools, compared to what was available during most wars (see: Rwanda).

Chris – you’ve hit it on the head there.

BTW, as for the 3:1 rule: that applies when there is organized groups which take care of the wounded. Given a shattered society, where there is no ambulance on five minutes’ notice, and the hospital would frequently be both looted and in enemy territory, a large proportion of the wounded would die. Which is quite obvious to anybody using their head, as opposed to their ‘gut’.

8

stostosto 03.09.07 at 1:05 pm

Chris, more to the point: What are your own feelings, vague or not? Or do you even have, what, insights? In that case, please share them, I am genuinely interested.

To spell it out: Do you think the reaction, commentary, discussion and debate over the second Lancet study was proportionate to that of the first? Or to the fact that its headline result was six and a half times larger than that of the first study? Or to the fact that 650,000 is by all standards an appalling number in its own right?

9

abb1 03.09.07 at 1:07 pm

The number 650,000 is breathtakingly idiotic and should be banned.

10

Reinder 03.09.07 at 1:12 pm

I’ve always felt that way about the number 131,313

11

Chris Williams 03.09.07 at 1:29 pm

Marc, your metaview of mass murder also neatly applies to the First World War as well: the dominant narrative of which is ‘We can’t have been that evil, so we must have been incompetent’.

12

harry b 03.09.07 at 1:29 pm

I hate to sound like disgusted of Tunbridge Wells but, well, you have written this up as a letter to the Times, right, Daniel? Or asked them to run it as an opinion piece?

13

harry b 03.09.07 at 1:32 pm

I just bothered to read your title, so presume that you did.

14

Hidari 03.09.07 at 1:32 pm

I think the problem with the Lancet study is that it rams up against a fundamental presupposition of current ‘Western’ discourse (i.e. among intellectuals) and therefore it can’t really be sensibly discussed. I’ve noticed a hierarchy of ‘acceptable’ ‘sins of the West’.

1: Most acceptable of all are horrors of the past during which ‘we’ did not ‘intervene’. (key example here: Rwanda). This can therefore be spun: ‘we are good, but sometimes we don’t do enough’.

2: Secondly are horrors of the past in which ‘we’ did do terrible things, but it was all a long time ago. Therefore this is spun: ‘Vietnam/the slave trade/the Empire was indeed a terrible thing but it was all a long time ago, and the fact that we disapprove of it now only goes to prove how good we are now.’ (or else, the Christopher Hitchens line: the fact that ‘we’ caused such bad things in the past only goes to prove that ‘we’ have to set them right now).

3: Verging into unacceptable territory (but still, as it were, alludable to) is ‘our’ current collusion with various dictators many of whom practice torture, murder, genocide etc. It is just barely permissable to mention our collusion with the Saudis, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Pakistan (etc. etc. etc.) but only if this is spun: ‘they are bad people and they have corrupted us! It is terrible that we are forced to deal with such people, but this is the way of the world.’

4: Completely and absolutely unmentionable (indeed, unthinkable) is a situation where ‘we’ are purely and simply the bad guys. The Lancet study is not so much argued against as ignored (or treated with bug eyed disbelief) because it threatens this taboo. For example, as Mahmood Mandani points out, why do ‘we’ not refer to what is currently going on in Iraq as genocide? It is not obviously much better than what is currently going on in Sudan. The reason, surely, is that then we would have to face the idea that ‘we’ set in motion a chain of events that led to genocide, and that, therefore, ‘we’ are the bad guys.

Or if we don’t want to compare Iraq to Sudan how about pressing this nerve point even further and comparing it to Rwanda? As MediaLens points out, ‘Les Roberts, co-author of the Lancet report, suggested that Britain and America may have triggered “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide” in Iraq.’ (emphasis added).

This is about as acceptable a suggestion amongst Western intellectuals as suggesting that a triangle may not have three sides, or that 2+2=5. Again, the reaction is not so much anger or reasoned argument, as simple disbelief. (Usually phrased: ‘I don’t know much about statistics, but something tells me that this study isn’t right…..’). Or else it is ignored. To quote MediaLens again: ‘In an exchange with a Media Lens reader, Roberts explained his reasoning:

“The Fordam University assessment put the [Rwandan] death toll at ~6-700000, that is the only quantitative assessment that I have seen… and I was there so I do not use the comparison lightly.” (Roberts, Media Lens message board, February 18, 2007)

The media’s response to Roberts’s claim? Complete silence. No other national UK press outlet has since mentioned his comparison with Rwanda. And yet, as we have noted elsewhere, when Roberts made similar observations on mass killings in Congo in the 1990s, he was widely quoted by press and politicians.’

I remember many years ago reading a book on astronomy (I forget who it was by now) who pointed out that in Ancient Greed, Aristarchus’ suggestion that the earth orbited the sun (not the other way round) was not so much argued against as it was ignored. The author went on to state that most (all?) cultures have ‘absolute presuppositions’ agreed upon by ‘everyone’ and that anything that oversteps these cultural boundaries will simply and literally not be understood.

Likewise the fundamental and absolute presupposition of the Western intelligentsia is that ‘we’ (i.e. the West) are ‘good’, although we might make ‘mistakes’ or ‘errors’ or ‘not intervene enough’ or something of that sort. If you challenge that it’s as if you suddenly lapse into Chinese or Klingon or something.

15

stostosto 03.09.07 at 1:57 pm

The media’s response to Roberts’s claim? Complete silence.

This.

And the rest of hidari’s post is an elaboration of the same point I had in mind with my “vague feeling” comment. Nobody on any side of the issues will take the 650,000 number as a basis for discussion, any more than ancient Greeks were prepared to take seriously the proposition that the earth revolves around the sun.

Note that I didn’t express any personal opinion on the validity of Lancet #2. (Contrary to what I think Chris must have supposed when he made his snide remark).

16

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 2:03 pm

Jet? Sebastian? Soru?

This is no fun.

17

Barry 03.09.07 at 2:10 pm

“Nobody on any side of the issues will take the 650,000 number as a basis for discussion,…”

Posted by stostosto

Flat-out lie. Start with Deltoid, and follow the links.

18

Hidari 03.09.07 at 2:23 pm

‘“Nobody on any side of the issues will take the 650,000 number as a basis for discussion,…”

Posted by stostosto

Flat-out lie. Start with Deltoid, and follow the links.’

I think it would be much more accurate that no one, on either side of the debate, will even acknowledge that according to Lancet 2 the death toll might be 900,000. Still less will anyone acknowledge that this is almost certainly going to be higher now (perhaps over a million).

19

Brian Weatherson 03.09.07 at 2:26 pm

any more than ancient Greeks were prepared to take seriously the proposition that the earth revolves around the sun.

At least according to Wikipedia, quite a few of them were prepared to take that very seriously indeed.

By the way, I don’t think anyone at CT has used 650,000 as the basis for anything. There is a large margin of error on this measurement. Using that number implies it is reasonably precise. What we can say, and what everyone here has said every time I’ve looked, is something like the following. The number of excess deaths is certainly positive, almost certainly extremely large, probably over half a million, and perhaps as high as a million. Anything more precise, and 650,000 is much more precise, would be foolish in this context.

20

ejh 03.09.07 at 2:30 pm

Hidari could have added that it’s precisely the assumption that “we” are “good” and that we therefore do things for good reasons that enables “us” to do enormously wicked things such as the destruction of Iraq.

21

Hidari 03.09.07 at 2:53 pm

Brian
if it’s this sentence you’re talking about: ‘It should be noted that Plutarch mentions the ‘followers of Aristarchus’ in passing, so it is likely that there are other astronomers in the Classical period who also espoused heliocentrism whose work is now lost to us.’

I’m well aware of that, as it was me wot wrote it.

But my basic point still stands: there are ideas in certain cultures that provoke, not rage or debate, but blank faced incomprehension, and I think this is one of these situations.

22

Daniel 03.09.07 at 2:59 pm

Harry (#12,13) I hadn’t, but I think I will.

23

Brett Bellmore 03.09.07 at 3:02 pm

Why isn’t the Lancet study having more impact? Getting more press? Because the numbers can’t be believed by the people you’re trying to get to? No.

The Lancet study, whether it’s good or bad social science, is primarily being promoted as a work of anti-war propaganda. Certainly, it’s going to have impact, and get press, on the basis of it’s effectiveness as propaganda. And it’s really lousy propaganda. You don’t convince the average person that a war is unjust by proving that the other side are murdering bastards.

24

Daniel 03.09.07 at 3:07 pm

For example, as Mahmood Mandani points out, why do ‘we’ not refer to what is currently going on in Iraq as genocide? It is not obviously much better than what is currently going on in Sudan

In fairness, one of the correspondents in the latest round in the Lancet (Debarati Guha-Sapir and Olivier Degomme) have done a metasurvey on deaths in Darfur and their methodology delivers much lower numbers (120k) than the consensus estimates there too.

25

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 3:16 pm

Thanks, Brett! Now where are those other guys?

26

K. Williams 03.09.07 at 3:19 pm

Is the Times’ new attack on the Lancet study really “all over the blogosphere”? According to Daniel’s link, Google Blog Search only comes up with 8 references to it. I suspect this post is going to make the Spagat, et.al. critique better-known than anything has up to this point.

27

Barry 03.09.07 at 3:26 pm

Brett, considering that (a) nobody who rejects the Lancet study is rejecting statistical sampling in general (e.g., the Blair gov’t’s statements, acceptance of similar work on Dafur and the Congo), and (b) nobody who rejects the 650K figure accepts the lower confidence bound, it’s clear that the people who reject the Lancet article are doing so because they support the war. With the exception of the IBC liars, who, of course, are trying to hog the spotlight.

28

K 03.09.07 at 3:26 pm

hey Marc [at 4],
this deserves posting on your blog (it’s languishing at the moment) – and expanding on

29

Jim Johnson 03.09.07 at 3:26 pm

In the London Review of Books recently, Mahmood Mamdani compares Iraq & Darfur (in an essay on whay Darfur is not actually ‘genocide’)

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/mamd01_.html

So, while Hidari is right about the comparison to Rwanda, there are those raising the issue somewhat obliguely. I suspect that neither Irag hawks nor those concerned with Darfur will find the comparison edifying.

As for the Lancet numbers, I think the issue is “academic” as what we know is that a lot of Iraqis have died as a result of unjustified invasion by the US. Are 30K-50K civilian deaths not enough?

That said, I think Hidari is correct about the way intellectual discourse prevents any sensible discussion. It reminds me that in a recent essay partly devoted to defending Jack Straw, Hitchens wrote that Jack “made one of the best presentations to the UN of the case for liberating Iraq.” Has Iraq been liberated? Even if none of the official reasons – WMD, links to terrorists, etc. – held water, we ought to ask the consequentialist question: we got rid of Hussein and …. well?

30

Glorious Godfrey 03.09.07 at 3:36 pm

the fundamental and absolute presupposition of the Western intelligentsia is that ‘we’ (i.e. the West) are ‘good’, although we might make ‘mistakes’ or ‘errors’ or ‘not intervene enough’ or something of that sort. If you challenge that it’s as if you suddenly lapse into Chinese or Klingon or something.

To this I’d add that the reluctance to look at the Iraqi debacle squarely in the eye* does not just stem from an unwillingness to own up to the commission of evil. The disinclination** to acknowledge its lure plays a role. In addition, there’s the plain, pigheaded denial of defeat, of course.

Since he is both unsubtle*** and prolix, a guy like Victor Davis Hanson can be relied upon to run off his mouth without an editor. In “Carnage and Culture” and throughout his opinion pieces, he tends to acknowledge that the role of bloodshed in Western history makes its claims of moral superiority dubious. But since bloodshed is a consequence of Western creative exuberance, and thus proof of plain and simple superiority, things do end up coming up roses on the moral front. Many think like he does, and he’s interesting. He’s obviously not the only one who occasionally flashes the varicose tit**** of his savagery under his civilized clothing, but even the performance of simpletons like Friedman tend to be enhanced by the stage smoke of mixed metaphors and the like.

The high mortality figures in the Lancet raise the issue of the number of casualties inflicted by the Coalition. This would lead to the question of what was exactly meant by “shock and awe”, punching somebody in the Middle East “in the nose” and so on. Nobody is really interested in revisiting the climate of bellicosity (and fear) in the run-up to the war, or in unravelling the taboos it helped impose, concerning the oil and other assorted geopolitical and partisan considerations.

But more important than the lack of recognition of one’s less-than-immaculate morals is the denial of failure. As Brett has shown with admirable concision, the supporters of the war find it easy to shift the blame for the catastrophe in Iraq entirely on the Iraqis. What is undeniable, however, is that the Coalition has failed to secure a monopoly on the use of force, for itself and compliant Iraqis. This is anathema to jingoistic militarists. The bloody bedlam in the country also shows the glaring contradiction of speaking of “creative chaos” and expecting to remain in control of events. For self-styled visionaries it must be hard to swallow.

This is related to an issue with very practical consequences. Folks have been eager to interpret the midterms as an abjuration of Bush’s policies by the electorate. But perhaps the truth is simpler, and the American people are just not fond of losing. If that is the case, a repeat of the post-Vietnam scenario down the line is not unconceivable.

*: it bears repeating, time and again, that the critics of the Lancet study do not appear to be in a hurry to get other independent surveys done.

**: one surely must get style points for stringing together synonyms in such a blatantly pretentious way.

***: this is true even if I’m not the most indicated person to point it out, obviously…

****: it’s only one tit, for reasons of use of obscure pop culture references i.e. all hail Slaanesh.

31

Barry 03.09.07 at 3:47 pm

Jim Johnson: “As for the Lancet numbers, I think the issue is “academic” as what we know is that a lot of Iraqis have died as a result of unjustified invasion by the US. Are 30K-50K civilian deaths not enough?”

I think that 50K civilian deaths can be spun quite nicely by the right as ‘better than Saddam’. The problem with hundreds of thousands is that (a) it’s Saddam-level and (b) it’s not stopping – this war *will* kill more people than Saddam did.

32

Jane Galt 03.09.07 at 3:52 pm

The majority of killings in Iraq are execution style killings . . . you know this how? The Lancet paper gives a figure for explosive deaths as 24%, gunshots 31%. You’re assuming that all of these gunshot deaths are execution style killings, rather than shootouts, which seems unlikely; and shootouts produce treatable wounded, just like bombings.

As for the casualty ratios being invalidated by the fact that soldiers wear helmets and take cover, that makes no sense. Those helmets and flak jackets and so forth prevent some casualties from happening at all, as well as keeping some wounds from being deadly; one could just as easily argue that civilians should have more wounded, because none of them are taking cover or wearing protection to prevent wounds from shrapnel, etc.

33

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 3:56 pm

Jane! Hurrah!

34

dearieme 03.09.07 at 3:57 pm

“spun quite nicely by the right”: oy, matey, I am of the right and am dead agin this foolish and rash war, and have been since it was mooted. Are you perhaps referring to those deranged Trots who now style themselves “neo-cons”? Effing commies, they are; hanging’s too good for ’em.

35

engels 03.09.07 at 4:05 pm

I think Jane Galt and Brett Bellmore are going to have a hard time improving on stostosto’s opening argument that the authors of the study “must be unhinged”.

36

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 4:05 pm

Dearieme, God bless him or her (should God exist — otherwise, let D. be properly blessed by the backup unit) is a Right of One, not in communion with the actual functioning Mass Right.

37

engels 03.09.07 at 4:21 pm

Plenty of people on the Right were against the Iraq war, actually, especially in the UK. It’s perfectly possible to be rightwing and believe in the international rule of law, or have other principled objections, or simply to have been against it on pragmatic grounds.

38

Doormat 03.09.07 at 4:27 pm

Actually, if you read stostosto’s post very carefully, you’ll see:

“My own vague feeling is everybody thinks … must be unhinged.”

Which is to say, at no point does stostosto actually claim to hold these views him/herself (compare post #15). I think either stostosto is being deliberately obtuse, or is questioning (as hidari does) quite why there isn’t more discourse about the 650000 figure.

39

engels 03.09.07 at 4:36 pm

Shorter Doormat: If you read Socrates carefully, when he said that “All men are mortal” at no point did he actually claim that he, Socrates, was mortal.

40

harry b 03.09.07 at 4:40 pm

john emerson — the right in the UK was always much more sceptical about this than in the US, and I’d bet dearieme has been against it from the start — several Tory MPs were publicly against it because they believed… well frankly they probably believed that it would turn into a complete shambles, although I imagine they also had many of the views engels attributes to them. Many other Tory MPs were privately against it for similar reasons; especially those with close connections to the military and the intelligence community. Certainly my right wing acquaintances there had no more enthusiasm than anyone else (not that I’d want to claim they were typical). Didn’t Peter Hitchens oppose it?

Then again, as Ken Clarke said in a recent interview, when he was working for the Tory party in the mid-60s everyone he knew thought that most of the Republican party was insane. So there is a “what counts as right wing here doesn’t even get a hold there” issue.

41

Doormat 03.09.07 at 4:41 pm

Engels: That’s not entirely fair. After all, in post #15, stostosto does try to defend her/himself. I’m unaware of Socrates ever adding a qualifying statement in regards to his supposed mortality. Also, I didn’t rule out that stostosto is being deliberately obtuse, which I think he/she is.

42

Kevin Donoghue 03.09.07 at 5:00 pm

Oh joy! One of the bloggers reproducing Ahuja’s guff is David Kane. All Lancet junkies will know why that’s a scream.

43

engels 03.09.07 at 5:24 pm

Doormat – No, it’s perfectly fair – no amount of “careful reading” changes the fact that the universal “everybody” contains the individual “me” – but I really can’t imagine anything more tedious than a protracted discussion with you about the most nuanced interpretation of “stostosto”‘s prattle so you will have to excuse me.

44

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 5:39 pm

I suppose that small nations like Britain, Slovakia, etc. have their own boutique artisanal right wings, but I’m just too busy to keep up with them.

45

harry b 03.09.07 at 5:54 pm

You should, daniel. Letters can help, even when they’re not published. Especially when they’re good.

46

s.e. 03.09.07 at 6:13 pm

“The Lancet study, whether it’s good or bad social science, is primarily being promoted as a work of anti-war propaganda.”

What a great sentence.

47

Planeshift 03.09.07 at 6:14 pm

One should bear in mind that being “right wing” in Europe, and to a lesser extent the UK, would still probably put one on the left of the political establishment in the US.

48

Barry 03.09.07 at 6:18 pm

Megan McArdle: “As for the casualty ratios being invalidated by the fact that soldiers wear helmets and take cover, that makes no sense. Those helmets and flak jackets and so forth prevent some casualties from happening at all, as well as keeping some wounds from being deadly; one could just as easily argue that civilians should have more wounded, because none of them are taking cover or wearing protection to prevent wounds from shrapnel, etc.”

Megan, wounds can kill; just reminding you. Frequently the difference between ‘wounded’ and ‘killed’ lies in swift and massive medical care.

Many Iraqi hospitals were looted and stripped in the Spring-Summer 2003 period; the CPA was more worried about setting up a laissez-faire paradise than getting them up and going again. Since then, the Health Ministry was taken over by a Shiite militia faction; many areas of Iraq have become no-go zones, depending on what religion one is (or for all, depending on criminal activity and US military roadblocks).

Many areas had very erratic electrical supplies and water supplies. There was a newspaper article mentioning that one hospital made relatives of the wounded donate blood; it was the only way that they could get blood for transfusions. The Shiite militia ^H^H^H^H Ministry of Health has supposedly discovered the one-shot cure for Sunni Islam; the shot, of course, comes out of an AK-47.

Given all that, it would not be surprising that the ratio of wounded to killed is lower than one might expect.

BTW – nice article in the Economist, about the self-correcting punditry (so to speak). It was 100% a lie, as the past few years have so powerfully demonstrated.

However, it should ingratiate you a bit with The Economist, and those being-in-error-is-no-problem pundits, who were so blase at the start of the war, and only revealed their doubts after the American people soured on the whole mess.

I fully expect to see your career progress over the next several years; you’ve demonstrated that you’re a born pundit.

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MFA 03.09.07 at 6:25 pm

I think Barry at #31 has it right as to the importance of understanding the legitimacy of the Lancet studies and esp. convincing others to accept the likelihood (and I use that word quite specifically) that well over a half-million Iraqis died in the spectacularly successful invasion (largely under US Coalition guns) and the sepctacularly bungled and ongoing occupation (to whatever extent due to sectarian/political actors vs. US Coalition strikes/raids).

The specific number does not matter; nor does the number matter from a moral standpoint, as any number greater than zero violates that principle.

The only “moral” sense in which the number matters—particularly mattering to keep them low—is if one is a moral relativist. “Well, sure, I’ll admit that as of six months ago or more even the Iraqi government cited 150k innocent civillian deaths, but but but that’s half what Saddam killed in his 30-year tyrrany, so we’re better than him, and the Iraqis are better off. Bugger the Lancet.”

But no one on the Right (that Right, not the other Right) would subscribe to such blatant moral relativism, would they? Nah. That’s the Left’s supposed failing. Innit?

.

50

constablesavage 03.09.07 at 6:37 pm

At the risk of being off topic, Daniel’s post does assume you don’t expect the London Times to go so seriously off the rails these days.

But is this so? Aaronovitch can be good when he’s not being lazy, and I quite like their foreign correspondent Bronwen Maddox, and Anatole Kaletsky.

But the rest of the Times columnists strike me as increasingly weird. They had Phylis Chessler earlier this week: I rest my case

51

dsquared 03.09.07 at 6:42 pm

As I posted at Tim Lambert’s site, I have decided, based on what I have learned from this correspondence, to withdraw all the arguments I have ever made based on mathematics, statistics, facts about Iraq, geography, demography, details of the study or anything else, and replace them all with the single sentence:

It seems to me that the death rate in Iraq has increased massively as a result of the invasion”.

I am now irrefutable, according to the standards of evidence used by everyone who has an argument with me.

52

John Emerson 03.09.07 at 6:46 pm

Irrefutable indeed, as Rorty has shown. Nobody but you can say how things seem to you. The very definition of subjectivity.

53

Jane Galt 03.09.07 at 6:56 pm

Barry, your obsession with me is truly touching. It does make one feel important in an otherwise uncaring world.

Yes, wounds kill. But even in the Revolutionary War, during which there was nothing we might call “medical care”, the ratio of wounded to dead was 1.5 to 1. Penicillin raised that to more like 3 to 1; modern surgical techniques brought it up to roughly 5 to 1 by Vietnam. (data here: http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/other/stats/warcost.htm) If 650,000 are killed, let’s say that we have a not-very-impressive WWII level wounded ratio; that’s about 2 million wounded. Knock it down to 2 to 1, below the level that the confederate army, which used both bullets and explodey things on completely unprotected soldiers, experienced, even though germ theory hadn’t yet become fashionable among the doctors who were operating without anaesthesia.

But, of course, the violence has been continuing, so there must be now more dead; probably at least 100,000 more, by my extrapolation (since Burnham et. al. have the majority of deaths occuring in the last year, and the rate of violence doesn’t seem to have abated.) That means 750,000 dead, 1.5 million wounded; or 10% of the population of Iraq, with the deaths highly concentrated among military aged males. Daniel’s argument is that this doesn’t hold because after all, civilians don’t wear helmets or take cover. Honestly, I bet they do take cover when they can, but even so, it doesn’t follow; there’s no particular reason to believe that protection would change the ratio of wounds to deaths (rather than simply reducing the numbers of both), but even if it did, it might skew the other way; helmets etc. may be better at protecting against light injury than killing wounds. Who knows?

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constablesavage 03.09.07 at 7:22 pm

Jane Galt, when I was given weapons training by British Army instructors I was taught that a bullet from a modern high velocity rifle anywhere in an unprotected torso is almost certain to kill you by sheer compressive shock injury to tissue – regardless of medical care. An injury in any unprotected limb was said to be almost as likely to kill, because the limb is effectively blown clean off the body, or so badly mangled that it might as well be.

Modern weapons simply don’t injure people the same way as eighteenth century muskets.

And in an insurrection most casualties result from one side ambushing the other, and in an ambush scenario it seems reaonable to expect a higher proportion of fatalities to other casualties. Ambushes are, or aim to be, close range.

55

David Kane 03.09.07 at 7:24 pm

1) Perhaps Daniel can explain why 8 hits from Google is “all over the blogosphere.” One of those hits is for my blog — really just a collection of notes on the topic in preparation for the paper I hope to present at JSM this summer. All that I do is quote the article. In fact, only 2 of the 8 links make any specific reference to the error (correctly pointed out by Daniel) made by the author.

Perhaps Daniel should have more faith in the blogosphere.

2) Although I hate to interrupt the fun-filled echo chamber that is Crooked Timber, it would be more fun if Daniel took on smart critics of the Lancet rather than clueless reporters. Then again, to each his own. I would be happy to provide a post or two on why some skepticism may be warranted.

3) Daniel writes:

Have they not noticed that this debate (and the one on global warming too) is a bit like the Berlin Wall – people are only going from one side to the other in one direction?

Really? When I first floated the fraud balloon — in Kieran Healy’s lovely phrase — I was (I think) the first person with an academic affiliation to do so. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) We now have Hicks (along with other letter writers to the Lancet), Spagat et al, and others expressing skepticism about whether or not the raw data is what the Lancet authors say it is.

Now, this may not be much, but it doesn’t appear to be people “only going from one side to the other in one direction.”

56

harry b 03.09.07 at 7:43 pm

I’m veering off topic a bit (but I’ll come back), but the correct moral calculation is not with what Saddam Hussein did, but with what the expected death toll would have been under feasible policies other than going to war (I’m nitpicking about mfa’s 3rd para). Saddam Hussein might have killed millions prior to 2003; that would justify nothing if the expected consequences of leaving him in power post-2003 would have been fewer deaths than we have in fact seen. Similarly, if the expected consequences would have been more deaths than we’ve seen, the invaders are morally in the clear, even if there have been hundreds of thousands. Its hard to know the relevant counterfactuals. It is well known, though (I think, no?) that period 1981-1990 was very bloody indeed, and those deaths are irrelevant to any projected counterfactuals: post-2003 there is no way that Hussein would have attacked Iran or committed genocide against the Kurds, because the US would not have stood idly by if he had.

Brett — if we are making a conseuqentialist moral evaluation of the decision to invade and the conduct of the invasion, who is actually doing the killing is irrelevant. Bloody civil war was foreseen by enough knowledgable people that the invading forces are morally responsible for unleashing it, regardless of whether they are actually doing the killing. The killers themselves are responsible too, certainly. But imagine being a jailor who releases a killer into an environment awash with arms knowing there is a probability of that killer finding the arms and using them and knowing that if so no-one (you, the jailor, or any police force you have in place) will be able to stop him. You are not the killer. But it seems odd to think of yourself as free from culpability for the deaths.

The ONLY way to escape culpability is to claim that the consequences of all other actions available would have been worse. What the Lancet studies suggest is that the bar is very high. That’s why they are interesting, and not propaganda. And that is why intellectually dishonest supporters of the war are so keen to undermine them, and why Daniel’s continuing and extraordinary work responding to these people is the one genuinely important thing any of us on CT is doing. And why he should write a letter to the Times….

57

Matt 03.09.07 at 8:16 pm

Constablesavage, don’t bother trying to confuse Megan with facts or studies or training or anything like that. I’m sure she’s spoken with some of her friends at a dinner party somewhere and they all assured her that wounds now are just like in the old days, or something else that would allow her to go on thinking what she wanted to think anyway.

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Barry 03.09.07 at 8:31 pm

Matt, it was impressive to see how many numbers Megan could throw, with how little light produced.

Megan, I’m sure that there *are* a lot of maimed people walking around Iraq; ISTR very occasional articles about that.

I’m not obsessed with you; you just occasionally come into my view (almost always with a piece of prime dishonesty). The only (mild) interest I have is that you seem to have gotten on the MSM pundit track, and it’ll be interesting (in a disgusting way) to see how far you’ll go in the Pundit Lowarchy (to steal from CS Lewis). That BS you posted on The Economist recently should be a nice piece of ingratiation to all of those people who supported the Iraq War, and are only now claiming to have had doubts all along. Not to mention that you’ll be in good with AEI economists, who hate hearing terms like ‘Dow 36,000’.

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Kevin Donoghue 03.09.07 at 8:42 pm

David Kane complains (it’s what he does best): “it would be more fun if Daniel took on smart critics of the Lancet rather than clueless reporters.”

Tim Lambert took on a team headed by Professor Neil F. Johnson, who is surely no slouch. Not one of them showed up in the comments to defend their “work”. (Oscar Wilde: “Your play, dear boy, your play.”) What’s a man to do if the opposition prefers to take cover behind the Murdoch press?

I don’t think we really need a rehash of the David Kane critique, which goes like this: you guys are the Little Green Footballs of the left; and Gilbert Burnham doesn’t reply to my e-mails. There’s very little chance of Daniel bothering to respond to the likes of that.

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David Kane 03.09.07 at 8:53 pm

Gilbert Burnham has been a model of professionalism in all my interactions with him. He’s a busy scholar, travelling around the world, but he is thoughtful and responsive to politely worded questions and comments. He says that we will have access to the data in due course, and I believe him.

Les Roberts, on the other hand, stopped returning my e-mails after it became clear that I was not a fan of the work. Or it might have just been that his campaign for Congress was heating up. Feel free to ask him.

In terms of meaninful criticism on a small but, I think, revealing issue, start here.

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John Emerson 03.09.07 at 9:07 pm

There’s no particular reason to believe that protection would change the ratio of wounds to deaths (rather than simply reducing the numbers of both), but even if it did, it might skew the other way; helmets etc. may be better at protecting against light injury than killing wounds. Who knows?

Not Jane. And that’s a good thing!

Yo! David Kane!!!1!1!!

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Brett Bellmore 03.10.07 at 12:29 am

Barry, quite aside from the fact that we’re not all one or another species of utilitarian, you’ve missed the thrust of my point. I was addressing the Lancet study’s pathetic effectiveness as propaganda, which seems to puzzle some people. And I think my point was valid: From a propaganda standpoint, you just do NOT persuade the average person that a war was unjust, by proving to them that the foe is evil. It just doesn’t work, whether or not it should from a particular moral perspective.

Further, we’ve averted our gaze from enough genocides, before AND after what happened to the Kurds, that I find the capacity to doubt we really would have come to their rescue. The sanctions regime’s time was coming to an end,

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 12:31 am

doormat #38, #41:

Thanks for actually reading what I wrote. I promise I am not being deliberately obtuse, merely (possibly) obtuse.

Clearly, and not in the least interestingly, some people here have formed opinions of what my views are on this issue that are neither correct, nor, to the best of my senses, present in what I have written.

Now, I happen to be an exceedingly interesting person and thus one of my favourite subjects, but rather than go into that, I’d like to rephrase my original comments in a way that even posters John Emerson, barry (“flat-out lie” #17), and engels (“Socrates blah blah #39) might comprehend.

First some clarification: I think the Lancet study is important. It’s an attempt to gather information on what is happening in Iraq, and, as best I can see, an honest and competent attempt.

I also think it’s important what the numbers are. I don’t agree with people saying it’s irrelevant whether the excess mortality is 50,000, 100,000 or 1,000,000. Quantities matter. It also matters that 3,000 were killed on 9-11, not 300 or 300,000. It makes a difference, even a qualitative difference.

Now given these, I have been following the Lancet studies (i.e. I have read both) and their reporting in the media and their role as “talking point” in political debate.

I have also debated them, especially the first which came out in 2004, with right-wing hacks on an internet forum. I started out by explaining why Frank “dartboard” Kaplan got it horribly wrong, but ended up linking to dsquared who said it all much better.

By way of further clarification/full disclosure, I am Danish, and my country has been part of “the Coalition” from the very start of the Iraq adventure, so the debate here mirrors the British debate to some extent. (As does our policy; I think all of 15 minutes elapsed from the British announcement of withdrawal from Basra till the Danish government’s corresponding announcement).

My initial comment about what I called “the status” of the Lancet studies concerned their status in public discourse and political debate. So the fact that “flat-out lie” barry can point to some blogger whom I (embarrassingly) never heard of having discussed the second study in earnest doesn’t in any way impact on my general observation, which is this (and may be wrong, I haven’t done any comprehensive media study to corroborate my hypothesis): THE SECOND LANCET STUDY HAS BEEN MOSTLY NOT DEBATED OR EVEN MENTIONED IN THE MEDIA OR IN THE POLITICAL DEBATE since it appeared.

Now, GIVEN THAT I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT INFORMATION, I wondered why that is. I personally think this is important information to all sides of the debate, and I think everybody should strive to ascertain its validity in order to know what the hell is going on in Iraq.

(I noted that hidari seemed to agree with my basic observation that the study has been off the radar media wise, and offerred some speculation as to why which went beyond my own feeble “over the top crazy” comments).

So this was as far as I went, and as far as this line of inquiry got, until first Chris “vageue feeling” Bertram and then “flat-out lie” barry, “Socrates” engels and john “Jet? Sebastian? Soru?” emerson trenchantly saw me for what I am, which is, apparently, an anti-Lancet-study-shill-and-we-all-know-what-that-means-dont-we.

OK, so it will be a surprise to these individuals that I am personally quite prepared to believe the Lancet studies, especially in light of the (scandalous) abscence of any other serious attempt at monitoring mortality in Iraq.

What bugs me is that no one in public discourse (pace “Deltoid” and other magnificent interweb bloggers), be it media, or opposition politicians, even seem to include them — and especially the second study — in their copy or talking points.

There are several possible explanations, of course. One is, the study is seriously flawed, and thus unmentionable in polite company. Another is — and this was actually what I was getting at — a presumption that the study’s number (freaking 650,000!) is so freakishly large that if you mention it in earnest, you must be prepared to be regarded as an extremist hysteric freak. WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THAT THE NUMBER IS NOT CORRECT. It’s just too large for comfort. To the media. And even to politicians running for office — even extreme left-wing politicians whose constituency are supposingly biased in an anti-war direction.

Which makes it all the more important to establish its validity, firmly, for all to see.

On reflection, I’d like to further comment that I think the Times article, biased and tendentious as it may be, may have furthered this goal, insofar as it has re-launched the study on the public agenda.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 12:31 am

doormat #38, #41:

Thanks for actually reading what I wrote. I promise I am not being deliberately obtuse, merely (possibly) obtuse.

Clearly, and not in the least interestingly, some people here have formed opinions of what my views are on this issue that are neither correct, nor, to the best of my senses, present in what I have written.

Now, I happen to be an exceedingly interesting person and thus one of my favourite subjects, but rather than go into that, I’d like to rephrase my original comments in a way that even posters John Emerson, barry (“flat-out lie” #17), and engels (“Socrates blah blah #39) might comprehend.

First some clarification: I think the Lancet study is important. It’s an attempt to gather information on what is happening in Iraq, and, as best I can see, an honest and competent attempt.

I also think it’s important what the numbers are. I don’t agree with people saying it’s irrelevant whether the excess mortality is 50,000, 100,000 or 1,000,000. Quantities matter. It also matters that 3,000 were killed on 9-11, not 300 or 300,000. It makes a difference, even a qualitative difference.

Now given these, I have been following the Lancet studies (i.e. I have read both) and their reporting in the media and their role as “talking point” in political debate.

I have also debated them, especially the first which came out in 2004, with right-wing hacks on an internet forum. I started out by explaining why Frank “dartboard” Kaplan got it horribly wrong, but ended up linking to dsquared who said it all much better.

By way of further clarification/full disclosure, I am Danish, and my country has been part of “the Coalition” from the very start of the Iraq adventure, so the debate here mirrors the British debate to some extent. (As does our policy; I think all of 15 minutes elapsed from the British announcement of withdrawal from Basra till the Danish government’s corresponding announcement).

My initial comment about what I called “the status” of the Lancet studies concerned their status in public discourse and political debate. So the fact that “flat-out lie” barry can point to some blogger whom I (embarrassingly) never heard of having discussed the second study in earnest doesn’t in any way impact on my general observation, which is this (and may be wrong, I haven’t done any comprehensive media study to corroborate my hypothesis): THE SECOND LANCET STUDY HAS BEEN MOSTLY NOT DEBATED OR EVEN MENTIONED IN THE MEDIA OR IN THE POLITICAL DEBATE since it appeared.

Now, GIVEN THAT I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT INFORMATION, I wondered why that is. I personally think this is important information to all sides of the debate, and I think everybody should strive to ascertain its validity in order to know what the hell is going on in Iraq.

(I noted that hidari seemed to agree with my basic observation that the study has been off the radar media wise, and offerred some speculation as to why which went beyond my own feeble “over the top crazy” comments).

So this was as far as I went, and as far as this line of inquiry got, until first Chris “vageue feeling” Bertram and then “flat-out lie” barry, “Socrates” engels and john “Jet? Sebastian? Soru?” emerson trenchantly saw me for what I am, which is, apparently, an anti-Lancet-study-shill-and-we-all-know-what-that-means-dont-we.

OK, so it will be a surprise to these individuals that I am personally quite prepared to believe the Lancet studies, especially in light of the (scandalous) abscence of any other serious attempt at monitoring mortality in Iraq.

What bugs me is that no one in public discourse (pace “Deltoid” and other magnificent interweb bloggers), be it media, or opposition politicians, even seem to include them — and especially the second study — in their copy or talking points.

There are several possible explanations, of course. One is, the study is seriously flawed, and thus unmentionable in polite company. Another is — and this was actually what I was getting at — a presumption that the study’s number (freaking 650,000!) is so freakishly large that if you mention it in earnest, you must be prepared to be regarded as an extremist hysteric freak. WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THAT THE NUMBER IS NOT CORRECT. It’s just too large for comfort. To the media. And even to politicians running for office — even extreme left-wing politicians whose constituency are supposingly biased in an anti-war direction.

Which makes it all the more important to establish its validity, firmly, for all to see.

On reflection, I’d like to further comment that I think the Times article, biased and tendentious as it may be, may have furthered this goal, insofar as it has re-launched the study on the public agenda.

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John Emerson 03.10.07 at 1:02 am

My “Jet? Sebastian? Soru?” was not in any way aimed at Stostosto. I mostly come to CT threads to see what those guys will say, and I was genuinely and sincerely disappointed not to see them. Galt and Kane were nice, but not quite enough for me.

I agree with Davies that the anti-Lancet faction is obscurantist and ill-intentioned. I’m pretty agnostic about the whole rest of the argument, because I think that the best quantification of the deaths would be “a whole shitload too many”. I agree that if we had a good way of knowing whether the death toll were 50,000 or 300,000 that might make a difference, but I think that the whole point of the discussion is that it’s impossible to answer those questions at this point. I thought the Lancet’s attempt at giving the best possible answer was a pretty good one, but I agree with Brett that in the political world of today attemots at rational discourse are a waste of time and should be counted as “unsuccessful propoganda”.

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Brett Bellmore 03.10.07 at 1:42 am

“Ought” vs “is”, John; Propaganda depends on both rational discourse AND moral premises, especially when it’s propaganda about whether a government policy is “just”, a concept subject to contending definitions.

Rational discourse can still be part of successful propaganda, but not if it discounts those norms.

67

John Emerson 03.10.07 at 2:02 am

Brett, I don’t think that the consideration you point to (blaming us for the deaths our enemies have caused) has been an important part of the attack on the Lancet report. Mostly it’s come down to arguments about the accuracy of the report, and these were exactly what you would expect from creationist global-warming skeptics who think that abortion is unhealthy for women.

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Cryptic Ned 03.10.07 at 2:05 am

And I think my point was valid: From a propaganda standpoint, you just do NOT persuade the average person that a war was unjust, by proving to them that the foe is evil.

THE WAR AGAINST THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT IS OVER. We won almost four years ago. And the result of our winning has been an awful lot of people, some on our side, and some on the other side (which side is ours?), killing other people, while we are unable to enforce the rule of law, put anybody in power who will enforce the rule of law, or figure out who is trustworthy and who will use their new US police training to kill the people who trained them.

Who exactly is the “foe” that you are referring to? The death squads of the US/Iran-backed government, or the other death squads? Either way, it’s a completely different foe from the Iraqi army that was easily defeated in the initial war, it’s a foe that would not have existed without our providing a power vacuum, and it seems to be quite a bit more destructive to the people of Iraq than the 2002 status-quo government with which we actually went to war.

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Cryptic Ned 03.10.07 at 2:09 am

To put this in world-historical terms, the current foe will be defeated eventually, and the country will become stable. But the current foe, whoever it is, is a problem of OUR MAKING, a result of our decision to go to war, which is why going to war was a bad decision.

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Tim Lambert 03.10.07 at 6:46 am

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abb1 03.10.07 at 9:30 am

#56: Similarly, if the expected consequences would have been more deaths than we’ve seen, the invaders are morally in the clear, even if there have been hundreds of thousands.

I don’t think it’s true, otherwise almost any vigilante could reasonably claim the high moral grounds. To be “morally in the clear” the first thing the invaders need is jurisdiction.

It’s only when you have the jurisdiction, only then, yes, all you need to justify your actions is an advancement of some kind of cause (and there are many): reducing the number of death, serving justice, enforcing the order, etc.

72

Hidari 03.10.07 at 11:01 am

In response to stostosto, some of whose post I agree with (and others of which I don’t) my point goes much deeper than questions about statistics. As MediaLens have never tired of pointing out, there have been numerous studies on various massacres and disasters published in the last ten or fifteen years, and (with the exception of Srebrenica, which I really don’t want to get into here) NONE of them have faced the same amount of scrutiny and ‘questioning’ of the methodology as the two Lancet studies. Now this in itself is a suspicious sign, as far as I am concerned. Brief diversion into philosophy: Hilary Puttnam argues (in his book, pithily entitled ‘The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and other essays’) argues, correctly in my opinion that facts and values are not discrete entities but are in fact intertwined (you can’t have a discussion about the alleged facts without implicitly discussing your values as well. Less obviously discussions about values also presuppose facts).

I remember a TV archeologist (it was the one who wore the hat like Indiana Jones and who did the stuff about the Byzantine Empire, if anyone can remember his name) pointing this out. Say, he said, it was 1937, and you were a German archeologist. And say you stumbled upon some ruins that seemed to point to a semitic (Jewish) origin for the German ‘race’ or German civilisation. What would you do? Hush it up, presumably.

BUT….he pointed out, it would be much more likely that you would never in fact stumble upon any such remains because you would simply never be looking for such things, and would therefore never find them. We look intensely at things that our value system tells us is important and tend to ignore things that our value system tells us are unimportant.

Now, the fact (or ‘fact’) is, that other studies do not provoke the same dichotomy, between being ignored on the ‘mainstream’ media, and savagely attacked (not just once, but over and over and over and over again) on the internet. Look at the situation in Sudan for example. Some people think we should ‘intervene’ and some people don’t, but few people (if anyone) writes obsessively over and over and over again to discredit estimates of the raw numbers killed, and if they did, we would question their motives.

I’ve noticed, incidentally, that anti-Lancet types tend simply not to understand this argument. Again we are faced with the ‘argument from personal incredulity’: it is taken for granted that studies that demonstrate that ‘we’ are the bad guys are automatically less believable than studies which demonstrate that ‘they’ are the bad guys.

Which only goes to demonstrate the power of the ‘we are the good guys’ ideology.

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abb1 03.10.07 at 12:23 pm

…few people (if anyone) writes obsessively over and over and over again to discredit estimates of the raw numbers killed, and if they did, we would question their motives.

Nah, Hidari, this is weak. It’s perfectly alright to question estimates, and be skeptical, and ask for the raw data the estimates are based on to be released, and even to be obsessive about it. And it doesn’t matter what the motives are. What’s wrong is to lie and misrepresent, and again – whatever the motives are.

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Brett Bellmore 03.10.07 at 12:32 pm

“Studies that demonstrate that ‘we’ are the bad guys”; You just don’t get it, do you? “Studies” demonstrate objective facts. They don’t demonstrate moral conclusions. That ‘we’ are the “bad guys” is a moral conclusion. The Lancet study can’t demonstrate it.

Now, it can demonstrate facts such that if you hold certain moral beliefs then we are the bad guys. Moral beliefs which, contrary to the assumptions being made here, are scarcely universal. Especially when you get into little details some people think are irrelevant, such as who’s doing the killing.

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Luc 03.10.07 at 12:58 pm

It’s worse than just the ‘we are the good guys’ ideology.

Part of the war hawks ideology was that you’re allowed to kill. And thus there’s was no connection between the number of dead and the moral judgement in the initial debates.

The US army was trained to kill, not to be social workers. The bad guys can/must be killed, the previous Iraq subject here quoted a blogger saying that Iraq would be better off with Baath party members dead. Same with the anti US militias. Death was a positive outcome.

If this war had any humanitarian purpose, minimizing casualties should have been a priority.
It wasn’t, and the result are there.

But the war hawks still have their three points, the bad guys needed to be killed, we are not responsible for the deaths caused by the bad guys, and there’s no causal relation between our killing and their killing.

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John Emerson 03.10.07 at 2:58 pm

Under certain circumstances I might grant Brett’s point, that the chaos in Iraq is mostly the result of Iraqi acts, and that our responsibility is for an unsuccessful attempt to do good, rather than responsible for evildoing.

On the other hand I don’t think you can take the administration’s statement of goals at their face value, and one theory (Josh Micah Marshall’s) is that spreading chaos is part of our plan. And if not that, American unsuccess in Iraq seems to be the result of enormous blunders, and military affairs tend to be judged very realistically, with big blunders regarded as worse than small crimes.

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Hidari 03.10.07 at 3:20 pm

Brett Bellmore

the section in my post where I questioned the ‘fact-value’ dichotomy just zoomed right over your head didn’t it?

If anyone cares, despite the pro-invasioners ramblings I do, actually think that there are some comparisons between certain events in the Second World War and what’s going on in Iraq. For example the time that Britain and the US actually…er…invaded Iraq (in 1941). And does anyone remember the country they invaded immediately afterwards? That’s right: Iran.

However an even better comparison is with the Greek Civil War. To quote Wikipedia: ‘The origins of the civil war lie in the occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany and Bulgaria from 1941 to 1944 and Italy from 1941 to 1943.
…. Regardless of its pretensions, or of the dissenters, the government’s inability to influence the governance of Greece rendered it irrelevant in the minds of most Greek people.

The Germans set up a collaborationist government in Athens as soon as they entered the city; but this government…lacked legitimacy and support. The puppet regime was further undermined when economic mismanagement in wartime conditions created runaway inflation, acute food shortages, and even famine, amongst the Greek civilian population. Some high-profile officers of the pre-war Greek regime served the Germans in various posts. In 1943, this government’s PM, Ioannis Rallis, started creating paramilitary forces, mostly of local fascists, convicts, and sympathetic prisoners of war, in order to fight the communist partisans and reduce the strain on the German army. These forces, known as the Security Battalions, numbered 20,000 men at their peak in 1944. They were never used against the Western Allies, but only against the pro-communist guerillas. The lack of legitimate government created a power vacuum, which was filled by several resistance movements that began operations shortly after German occupation.’

Incompetent and (perceived as) illegitimate invading force, which was grossly economically incompetent and which then concentrated on setting up militias attacking their fellow Greeks…does this strike anyone as familiar?

My point being that, whereas the civil war actually took place after the war, no one in their right mind would absolve the invading Germans for their responsibility for the Civil War that followed.

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Uncle Kvetch 03.10.07 at 3:30 pm

But imagine being a jailor who releases a killer into an environment awash with arms knowing there is a probability of that killer finding the arms and using them and knowing that if so no-one (you, the jailor, or any police force you have in place) will be able to stop him. You are not the killer. But it seems odd to think of yourself as free from culpability for the deaths.

Exactly, Harry B, and I’ve attempted to work through this line of reasoning with Brett and other dead-enders at least half a dozen times here. They just brush it aside.

I imagine Brett living in a city going through an unprecedented crime wave. The chief of police goes on TV and says “I don’t know why I’m taking so much heat–I’m not the one committing the crimes here!”

And Brett says, “You know, the guy’s got a point.”

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engels 03.10.07 at 4:24 pm

Previous examples of people making exactly the same point to Brett may be found here, and I’m sure others could be dug up.

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/10/11/lancet-report-redux/#comment-174761
http://crookedtimber.org/2006/12/01/but-why-arent-you-talking-about/#comment-181083

You will notice that on none of these occasions did he try to respond to the points made but that this has not stopped him from repeating his original, repeatedly refuted, assertion over and over again. You may draw your own conclusions as to whether he is worth arguing with.

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Glorious Godfrey 03.10.07 at 4:25 pm

Hidari:

The only thing that works with fundamentally self-serving ideologues like Brett is, unsurprisingly enough, to make an appeal to self-interest. They may question the moral link between the invasion and the mess in Iraq, but the causal one is undeniable even to them. The chaos in Iraq wouldn’t have happened without the invasion, and it undercuts America’s position in the Middle East and beyond, no matter what the bargain-basement Machiavellis at the AEI may say, and irrespective of the credit that Joshua Micah Marshall and others may give them.

No alleged “hyperpower” sends the cream of its military to a country to display its inability to maintain the most basic order there. The casualty figures in the Lancet speak of failure. I suspect that the denial thereof is just as important a motivation for the war supporters as shirking their moral co-responsibility.

“Jane”:

Barry, your obsession with me is truly touching. It does make one feel important in an otherwise uncaring world.

Isn’t a “typically British” wit one of the Economist’s main selling points among American readers? That snark is just about as trite as retorting that you “must have touched a nerve”.

Barry is right, anyway. It’s interesting to see how an ironclad cheek and the ability to utter irrelevant factoids (i.e. “Jane” is missing that wars characterized by pitched battles have little to do with counterinsurgencies and dirty civil wars) are the two main assets an up-and-coming pundit cannot do without.

Kevin:

a rehash of the David Kane critique, which goes like this: you guys are the Little Green Footballs of the left

What DK seems to be ignoring with the devastating cuteness of his critique is that nobody is spouting eliminationist rhetoric here. Even if CT were as far to the left as LGF is to the right, which is questionable, there’s the little fact that the contents of this site tend to be a tad less odious. But that’s moderation as defined by one’s position along the so-called political spectrum for you. As mfa says, it’s just “the Left” that indulges in moral relativism, right?

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 4:50 pm

hidari:

NONE of them [other studies of war related death tolls] have faced the same amount of scrutiny and ‘questioning’ of the methodology as the two Lancet studies. Now this in itself is a suspicious sign, as far as I am concerned.

Nothing suspicious at all. In Iraq we, the Coalition, are an interested party.

We look intensely at things that our value system tells us is important and tend to ignore things that our value system tells us are unimportant.

This is undoubtably true. But your attempt at applying your thesis on the Lancet case breaks down spectacularly because there is absolutely no shortage of people in the west — politicians, media — to whom a 650,000 death toll would be extremely important. Above I mentioned politicians of the left, even far left. Besides being politically opposed to the Iraq war by their very inclination, they have a vested political interest in portraying it as a costly, horrendous failure — in addition to any moral arguments they have. 650,000 dead people is a pretty horrendous cost if nothing else.

Likewise, media in general thrive on reporting hair rasing news stories and fact. They positively relish it.

Also, I can think of at least one major and world renowned media player that has all the motivation in the world to report facts that put Tony Blair’s Iraq adventure in a bad light.

Plus, at least since Watergate it has been a wet dream and an agenda on its own for most ambitious journalists to embarrass, demask, and preferably bring down people in powerful positions, ministers, governments. (Many journalists are downright insufferable in such obsessions).

So it’s simply not the case that the value system of “the culture” is predisposed to ignore disastrous news from Iraq. I have a hard time believing that you really believe so yourself.

Yet, hardly anybody refers to the 650,000 number in mainstream debate. When they do quote numbers, they tend to go with the 100,000 of the first study, or — if they want to emphasise — they say something like “several hundred thousands”. But it seems they won’t touch 650,000 (or half a million) with a ten foot pole.

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engels 03.10.07 at 5:04 pm

Stostosto – I do apologise for not guessing what you were thinking, but, not being a mind reader, I had to go on what you had written. And I am afraid that that was not terribly clear. And if you abbreviate other people’s comments as “blah blah”, you can’t really run crying to them when you feel that yours have not been given the most fine-grained possible interpretation.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 5:24 pm

engels, it’s not that you weren’t guessing but that you weren’t reading.

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engels 03.10.07 at 5:28 pm

No, stostosto, actually, it’s that you don’t write very well.

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Nell 03.10.07 at 6:27 pm

stostosto, I’ve asked myself the same question about why the Lancet figures, even the low end of the confidence interval, are so rarely used in “respectable” antiwar discussion. I’ve asked myself why I am not using them.

One part of the answer is the current political situation in Congress and with the upcoming presidential election (which we are in the midst of much earlier than usual).

Laying too much stress on the scale of the damage we’ve caused (and have laid the conditions for being caused by others) is deemed unhelpful to the delicate task of extracting troops. That is, there’s a strong incentive to do whatever it takes to get Republican and conservative Democratic members of Congress and members of the public who supported this invasion and occupation until its failure became obvious to be able to put a happy face on the policy of withdrawing troops.

Stressing the Lancet casualty estimates focuses unhelpfully on the large-scale civil war that underpins them, and thus the “what about the bloodbath after we leave” obstacle to withdrawal.

Relatedly, no one will hear talk of reparations, though obviously the U.S. owes massive reparations to the Iraqi people. Regular exposure to the reality of the Lancet estimates would create too much cognitive dissonance. (Not that we ever paid a dime of the reparations we promised to the people of Viet Nam. But bringing that up reveals me to be an “America-hating leftist”, so I tend not to in order not to hand anyone an excuse to dismiss anything else I say.)

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Nell 03.10.07 at 6:42 pm

It should be obvious, but I accidentally edited it out of my previous comment, so let me be explicit: My answer to stostosto’s question is intended to apply only to the U.S., which is the only political climate I know enough about to give an answer.

It comes down to this: Americans and American politicians resist admitting unpleasant truths. They also don’t care as much about what happens to other people as they do about what happens to Americans.*

The Lancet numbers bring out both kinds of resistance.

*Both of these qualities are not necessarily unique to Americans. But they are very, very strong forces in U.S. politics.

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abb1 03.10.07 at 7:20 pm

But bringing that up reveals me to be an “America-hating leftist”, so I tend not to in order not to hand anyone an excuse to dismiss anything else I say.

Yes, that’s true. Stating some undeniable, mostly uncontroversial facts certainly could expose one as an idiot, troll and possibly even right-wing-agent-provocateur.

Some of the facts and opinions can only be expressed with the intent to embarrass the real, good, thoughtful leftists, to make them uncomfortable. And that’s simply unacceptable.

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engels 03.10.07 at 8:00 pm

And stostosto you will no doubt accuse me again of missing some crucial subtlety in your quasi-random prattling but

Also, I can think of at least one major and world renowned media player that has all the motivation in the world to report facts that put Tony Blair’s Iraq adventure in a bad light.

Plus, at least since Watergate it has been a wet dream and an agenda on its own for most ambitious journalists to embarrass, demask, and preferably bring down people in powerful positions, ministers, governments. (Many journalists are downright insufferable in such obsessions).

does tend to suggest that you have bought into some rather cheesy rightwing myths about the journalistic profession and the BBC. Believe it or not the BBC – to which I take the great liberty of assuming that you are referring here, despite the fact that you do not make this clear (now fancy that!) – certainly does not have “all the motivation in the world” to report facts which put Tony Blair and Iraq in a bad light. Although some forces push it in this direction, others push it in the opposite direction. Also, the caricature of journalists you present here is a well-known rightwing trope and your somewhat pathological animus towards “downright insufferable” journalists with their “wet dream[s]” and “agenda[s]” seems to cast doubt on the reliability of your judgments on these matters. The idea that most or even many journalists are motivated in the way you suggest derives not from reality but from a mythological rightwing conception of the “liberal media”.

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engels 03.10.07 at 8:02 pm

abb1 – Would you at least try to address your comments to the topic of the thread, rather than droning on about the fact that Henry banned you? It really does get very boring after a while.

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abb1 03.10.07 at 8:25 pm

Well, it was kinda flowing naturally from Nell’s comment; but, yes, you’re right. Sorry.

About the study: I think I read somewhere recently that they are going to release the raw data now, so we should expect more of this.

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engels 03.10.07 at 8:43 pm

On-topic, I think Harry in #56 does a good job of explaining to doubters (like John Emerson or Jim Henley?) why all this is actually very important.

I’d also take issue with John Emerson’s

Under certain circumstances I might grant Brett’s point, that the chaos in Iraq is mostly the result of Iraqi acts, and that our responsibility is for an unsuccessful attempt to do good, rather than responsible for evildoing.

which I don’t think is true at all. Firstly, it sets up a false dichotomy between “attempting to do good” and “attempting to do evil”. Many evil acts are committed by people who intend neither good nor evil, but are merely pursuing their own interests with insufficient regard to the rights and interests of others and to the legitimacy of the methods they are using. And this would be my judgment on the Iraq war: the Bush administration’s chief motivations were to advance America’s interests (as well as the interests of narrower sections of the American population) but it pursued these interests with insufficient regard to those of the Iraqi people (with whose welfare it took an unacceptable risk) and by methods which were illegitimate (waging an illegal war, deceiving the public, etc). Thus it committed an action which was clearly evil, even if it was not motivated by a desire to do evil. It’s also evident that this does not entail that it was motivated by a desire to do good, and I don’t think it was.

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Hidari 03.10.07 at 8:47 pm

Y’see this is the sort of bizarre statement that makes me wonder what weird world some people are living in. ‘This is undoubtably true. But your attempt at applying your thesis on the Lancet case breaks down spectacularly because there is absolutely no shortage of people in the west—politicians, media—to whom a 650,000 death toll would be extremely important. Above I mentioned politicians of the left, even far left. Besides being politically opposed to the Iraq war by their very inclination, they have a vested political interest in portraying it as a costly, horrendous failure—in addition to any moral arguments they have. 650,000 dead people is a pretty horrendous cost if nothing else’

First, ‘politicians’. Who? In Britain the two main parties backed the war. Only the Lib Dems offered partial criticism. In the United States, both main parties backed the war (don’t get the people who run the parties confused with the ‘rank and file’. I am perfectly aware that ‘the grassroots’ of the Democrats and Labour were, generally speaking, unhappy about the war. But most political leaders view their own parties as unfortunate obstacles that have to be got round).

As for the ‘far left’…I’m sorry what decade are we living in? What century for that matter? Outwith the demented fantasies of Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis, in Western Europe and the USA, the far left is dead. It is dead as a political force, it is dead in the media, and it is (contrary to what David Horowitz thinks) more or less dead in academia.

As for this: ‘Also, I can think of at least one major and world renowned media player that has all the motivation in the world to report facts that put Tony Blair’s Iraq adventure in a bad light.’

I really had to read the rest of the posters to discover that you meant by this the BBC. The BBC!!!! Or (as it is never referred to in the media) the British ‘state run broadcasting service’ (although it is, very obviously, the British state run broadcasting service).

Can you possibly, perhaps, see why a corporation whose big shots are appointed by the government, where management hang about with New Labour, and whose license fee is controlled by the government….can you possibly see any reason why this corporation might not want to offend the government?

The rest of the media, in the UK at least, tend to be owned by Rupert Murdoch (backed the war), the Barclay Brothers (extreme right wing), “Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere” (whose political views should be self evident from his name), and Richard Desmond (right wing extremist, pornographer and lunatic).

Only the Daily Mirror (whose editor, Piers Morgan, was sacked) and the Independent offered any real or coherent opposition to the war (The Guardian leans far too heavily towards New Labour).

So I think it is fairly obvious why the media should want to downplay the Lancet study, in the same way it is obvious why the article currently under discussion was published in the Murdoch owned Times and not, say, The Morning Star.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 8:51 pm

engels, if there is something you want to discuss in what I say, please discuss it. If there is something else you want to say, feel free to say it without first attributing something to me as a pretext.

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engels 03.10.07 at 8:56 pm

engels, if there is something you want to discuss in what I say, please discuss it

Well I did exactly that, stostosto, in my last comment, so perhaps you could take it from there.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 9:23 pm

hidari, ah. Now we are getting somewhere. So, the BBC actually suppresses information that is awkward to the government because it is run by the government. And all the rest of the media are owned by right-wingers, thus won’t criticise the war. And the entire political class are either Blair poodles or conservative gung-ho warriors. It’s all a conspiracy against the truth.

That’s a theory.

But it’s not really the same theory you had before, is it? (You know, Nazis won’t discover any signs of Jewish ancestry because they are conditioned by their value system to ignore them). In fact, it looks more like a classic conspiracy theory.

Moreover, do you really, honestly believe it?

I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the BBC, but I do remember and have recently re-read an account of the sorry David Kelly affair. The BBC was certainly smacked down thoroughly by the government then on extremely dubious grounds, and it would be nothing more than human if people at the Beeb would cherish an opportunity to get back at the government by simply competently covering or even just mentioning without scare quotes one number from a reputable study published in the Lancet, a peer-reviewed, time-honoured respectable medical journal. But I agree, I am speculating. Maybe the people at the BBC really do have a value system that tells them that 650,000 dead Iraqis are unimport.

As for my remarks about journos in general, they’re an idiosyncratic thing with me, and partly based on personal acquaintance with journalists (some of my best friends…) and their habitat. I don’t know why you attribute any political bias to this view. It’s my impression that it’s not important to the media whether it is right-wing or left-wing people they are putting on the spot. It’s the ones in the highest position.

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engels 03.10.07 at 9:24 pm

Oh, and stostosto, here is a search of Guardian articles which reference the terms “lancet 655 000”. As you can see, there do appear to be quite a few.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 9:30 pm

Two more things,

my wondering about politicians on the left may apply mostly to the Danish political scene. Due to a different political system (proportional representation), leftist politicians here do have a national platform, even quite far-left ones. They aren’t shy of criticising the government either, especially not over Iraq, nor are they particularly mild on George Bush.

Yet, the 650,000 factoid hasn’t made it into established talking point by them. Far from it.

98

stostosto 03.10.07 at 9:34 pm

nell:

(the other thing of the “two things” in my previous)

to me, this comment by you is the most interesting thing anyone has said here:

stostosto, I’ve asked myself the same question about why the Lancet figures, even the low end of the confidence interval, are so rarely used in “respectable” antiwar discussion. I’ve asked myself why I am not using them.

Because I know the feeling. Is there any reason not to shout the Lancet study’s findings from the roof tops? I don’t know. It just seems to me it’s not being done.

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 9:36 pm

engels,

that route is commendably constructive and actually does address the issue I am wondering about. Keep it up.

However, I think you forgot to copy paste a link into your post.

100

stostosto 03.10.07 at 9:56 pm

I have just discovered that Les Roberts, co-author of the Lancet studies, will give a talk here in Copenhagen on March 22nd. I intend to attend.

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engels 03.10.07 at 10:04 pm

Godammit, stostosto you really are a bore.

102

stostosto 03.10.07 at 10:06 pm

nell #85:

One part of the answer is the current political situation in Congress and with the upcoming presidential election (which we are in the midst of much earlier than usual).

Laying too much stress on the scale of the damage we’ve caused (and have laid the conditions for being caused by others) is deemed unhelpful to the delicate task of extracting troops. That is, there’s a strong incentive to do whatever it takes to get Republican and conservative Democratic members of Congress and members of the public who supported this invasion and occupation until its failure became obvious to be able to put a happy face on the policy of withdrawing troops.

Stressing the Lancet casualty estimates focuses unhelpfully on the large-scale civil war that underpins them, and thus the “what about the bloodbath after we leave” obstacle to withdrawal.

Hmmm. Could be. But still…

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 10:08 pm

engels, we can’t all be as charming and witty as yourself.

104

John Emerson 03.10.07 at 10:16 pm

To me there’s no mystery about the failure to use the Lancet figure. it’s the same reason that unfavorable news about Israeli behavior gets less play than unfavorable news about Palestinian behavior. Stinking the opposition out is a standard tactic here in the USA; a lot of people just don’t want to get involved in that.

My reason for being fairly indifferent to the Lancet study and its fate is that the argument about the Iraq War isn’t being carried on at that level, but at a much more basic / gutter level, so that the Lancet argument is nonfunctional in practice. The only ones who will pay attention to it are the ones, like myself, who had already come to fairly similiar conclusions on the basis of cruder reasoning. If there were a big population of thoughtful doubters the Lancet piece would be useful, but there isn’t; in America the undecideds and independents are usually low-information whim voters who respond well to stinkbomb argumentation.

I do regret that American political discourse stinks, but I’ve regretted that for decades. Eventually you have to learn to play the cards you’re dealt.

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engels 03.10.07 at 10:22 pm

Fine, John, but then you’re basically addressing the same issues as Mr Bellmore: the utility of the study “as propaganda”. Many of us, however, are interested in reaching a fair and accurate evaluation of the issues surrounding the war for its own sake, and not because of any political use to which we might put this knowledge.

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engels 03.10.07 at 10:29 pm

Also, I think you could be accused of being a little UScentric again. In the UK the arguments about the war really did turn on the conequentialist “humanitarian” arguments (put forward by the “decent Left”) and to address these it is essential to attempt to estimate the number of deaths due to the war, and it really does matter whether it is 50 000 or 500 000 (as Harry points out in #56).

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stostosto 03.10.07 at 10:44 pm

engels:

a href=”http://browse.guardian.co.uk/search?search=lancet%20655%2C000″

A search for “lancet 655,000” at the Guardian’s website. What would you conclude on the basis of this? I don’t think it backs up a view that the Lancet number has been established as a staple of the debate. On the contrary.

Practically all cites are surrounded by words like “claim”, “controversial study”, “estimate” and/or the mention of other, much much lower estimates (mostly measuring something completely different than the excess mortality that the Lancet study deals with).

(Is the linking function broken?)

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John Emerson 03.10.07 at 11:27 pm

As I said, Engels, I think that it was already possible to come to an evaluation of the war on the basis of what had been previously known, without the help of the Lancet report. Perhaps you are one of the few rational undecideds whose mind might be changed by the report, in which I suppose the report has some marginal value, but given my understanding of the war, that kind of rational undecidedness betrays a kind of blindness (in particular, blindness to the nature of the Bush administration and to its actual goals).

Your use of the word “propaganda”, like Bellmore’s, is malicious. What I’m saying is that this is not information we need in order to make a decision, and it is **also** not likely to be persuasive to many actual war supporters or to the actual undecideds.

I provisionally give the Lancet authors an A for effort and an A for science, but in the practical context of political decision, that kind of thing ends up being dragged into the weeds by the stinkbomb operatives, and we end up with an interminable discussion of minutae and technical concepts with ill-intentioned people who are often also pretty ignorant.

Many of us, however, are interested in reaching a fair and accurate evaluation of the issues surrounding the war for its own sake, and not because of any political use to which we might put this knowledge.

What does that mean? That after you’ve come to a fair and accurate evaluation, you will write it down in your little book and go on to something else, without making any political use of the knowledge? That you don’t care whether the war goes on or not, as long as you are clear in your mind as to whether or not it is justified on consequentialist principles? Or are you just accusing me of being a partisan hack?

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John Emerson 03.10.07 at 11:31 pm

I think that being US-centric is appropriate here. This is an American war. I doubt that the British will fight on if the Americans leave, and it doesn’;t really make a whole lot of difference if the British ot the Danes withdraw their small forces. I suppose that makes me a chauvinist.

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engels 03.10.07 at 11:51 pm

John – No, I’m certainly not accusing you of being a partisan hack. My use of the word “propaganda” was meant to be mildly pejorative, in comparing in passing to Brett, but was not meant to imply that your position was seriously comparable to Brett’s, and it wasn’t intended to be malicious. “Propaganda” was meant to refer to what I thought was your claim that the signifance of the study lies chiefly in its use as a weapon in the (US) political fight. That is not a claim I agree with.

I think there is a further misunderstanding, in that you are taking my use of the word evaluation to mean that one can not rationally take a position on the war without having the information provided by the study. That is not what I meant. The point I was trying to make was that for many people it is important to establish these kinds of facts as accurately as possible in order to make the best possible judgment about the justice of the war (or, if you like, how evil the war was) even if, for practical purposes, our minds are already made up. In the same way that it is of interest how many Jews died in the holocaust, despite the fact that we already agree that it was evil. There is also the point that it is worthwhile establishing with certainty beliefs that we may already hold, even beliefs we already hold with enough confidence to act on.

Finally, when you say that one could have been against the war purely out of an awareness of the nature of the Bush administration, well yes, that’s true for the issue of competence but not for motive. It was the “decent Left” position that the war should be supported for consequentialist reasons, despite the odious nature of the Bush administration, and despite the fact the administration was not being honest about its real motives.

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engels 03.10.07 at 11:53 pm

I have a feeling that we may arguing at cross purposes. As I said, I’m not talking at all about the practicalities of winning any political fight in the US.

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engels 03.11.07 at 1:00 am

Also, John, I think that on the level of political practicalities there may be some truth in what you are saying, and, if so, it provides a nice answer to “stostosto”‘s query about why the study hasn’t been used very much by the political left, which does not require recourse to his hypothesis that they all believe the authors of the study to be “unhinged”.

113

Nell 03.11.07 at 4:56 am

Engels, the part about making the best possible judgment in retrospect looks to be several years down the road, at best, for those of us in the US. At that point, we’ll be talking a lot more about the Lancet study.

But for now, the primary task here is to persuade those with the power to end the occupation to do so. Every day, fifteen to twenty troops killed or wounded. Every day, twenty to fifty Iraqis killed. Some of those directly by our troops, others by those the troops are powerless to prevent.

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stostosto 03.11.07 at 8:06 am

engels,

I am happy to see you at least get what I am saying.

Now your basis for fuming against me seems to be my suggestion that maybe not all Lancet ignoring people do so out of willful dishonesty driven by a right-wing agenda. That’s progress, I suppose because I actually happen to subscribe to something like this.

I also note that you find John’s explanation more plausible.

Shorter John: (Sorry John):

a) the Lancet study is useless as a political debating point for the left and

b) the left is focused like a laser beam on what rationally, objectively furthers their cause and will blithely, actively and in a highly disciplined manner disregard any information that doesn’t

Hmmm.

115

stostosto 03.11.07 at 8:18 am

Nell, John:

This is tangential, but here is another thing that has surprised me as having been ignored by all sides in mainstream debate:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Yco1deXOzN8

An American Humvee driving through Baghdad (or, possibly, Mosul). I think no normal person can watch without being spontaneously upset with such bullies.

Any conservative response to this is necessarily rationalising.

Yet, I haven’t seen this video become focus for any discussion outside of youtube. (I was introduced to it myself at Andrew Sullivan’s website).

116

Hidari 03.11.07 at 11:29 am

‘Now we are getting somewhere. So, the BBC actually suppresses information that is awkward to the government because it is run by the government. And all the rest of the media are owned by right-wingers, thus won’t criticise the war. And the entire political class are either Blair poodles or conservative gung-ho warriors. It’s all a conspiracy against the truth.’

Yes that’s it. That’s exactly and precisely what I’m arguing, and if anyone tells you differently, it’s because they’re part of the conspiracy.

I have to go now, as there’s been an ice cream van parked outside my house for the last half hour, and I think they might be monitoring my phone calls.

117

John Emerson 03.11.07 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for misrepresenting, Stostoso.

In an honest debate the Lancet study would be a valuable though hardly necessary contribution to the argument. However, an honest debate is not taking place in the US, where the decision is being made, and there’s no particular point regretting that fact at length. The Lancet piece is not necessary for reasonable people to make up their minds about the Iraq War, and there are few reasonable people still making up their minds for whom the Lancet study will be decisive.

I think that in the aftermath of the war the Lancet study will be vindicated and most of its critics will look like ill-intentioned fools, but I’m not going to try to prove that at the moment. It may be that some valid points have been made mixed in with the drivel, but rather than try to sort things out I’ll just move forward and leave the Lancet study where it sits. At the moment I think that it was sabotaged by the monomaniac hacks characteristic of the Anglosphere’s pro-war faction, but since the Lancet study wasn’t part of my own decision-making process I don’t need to defend it.

For you, apparently anyone whose primary interest is in the present policy debate is an ideologue, a left ideologue in my case, and you feel some sort of superiority to such people. I’m willing to let you continue to enjoy your little Stostosocentric, Danocentric buzz.

I don’t know what point I was supposed to get from the Humvee clip, which I saw quite some time ago. It certainly wasn’t ignored — I saw it posted or linked on several different sites.

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stostosto 03.11.07 at 1:09 pm

john,

I will admit to misrepresenting you insofar as you also said upthread that the study was actively suppressed in the debate (rather than just, seemingly by a curiously passive choice on the part of the left).

viz: To me there’s no mystery about the failure to use the Lancet figure. it’s the same reason that unfavorable news about Israeli behavior gets less play than unfavorable news about Palestinian behavior. Stinking the opposition out is a standard tactic here in the USA; a lot of people just don’t want to get involved in that.

This I don’t understand:

For you, apparently anyone whose primary interest is in the present policy debate is an ideologue, a left ideologue in my case, and you feel some sort of superiority to such people.

What, pray tell, in what I have written signifies that I regard you as an ideologue and that I feel any kind of superiority to you?

I certainly do look differently at the Lancet study than you and I can’t grasp your studied and blasé indifference to it, but that is a different kettle of ballgames.

The Humvee thing just strikes me as a powerful image, easily made to symbolise everything that is wrong with the US in Iraq.

When I first saw it, I expected it to be picked up promptly by the media, anti-war and anti-Bush people and to make the rounds in a big way, but it hasn’t happened. My powers of prognostication in such matters obviously suck.

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engels 03.11.07 at 1:25 pm

Stostosto – How am I “fuming against you”? As far as I can see, I stopped bothering to reply to you a while back.

Nell/John – I don’t think I implied it was our “primary task”, I just said it was important. Anyway, I feel like I have been repeating myself. Having a credible, broadly accurate estimate of the total number of deaths due to the war just seems an obviously valuable goal to me, whether now or in the future, so we will just have to agree to disagree on this.

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John Emerson 03.11.07 at 1:41 pm

That’s how I interpreted “Hmm.” If you express yourself like that, you leave it up to your reader to figure out what you mean. It did not strike me as a friendly comment. In that context, your “pray tell” is obnoxious.

Much of what you are saying is very meta, and I your Danish world seems to be different than the American world. Wondering why the Humvee clip isn’t used more strikes me as REALLY getting lost in the weeds. It was widely circulated here, but apparently not widely enough for you. It strikes me as typical occupation-Army behavior

One thing you might not understand is that what the pro-war faction in the US thinks seeing that is mostly “Looks like fun! Too bad we don’t see them blowing people away!” People who don’t think that way already are almost all anti-war.

By now I suspect that you’re mostly a time-waster who likes being lost in the weeds. If your question is “Why doesn’t the left use the Lancet study as propaganda?” it’s about as I’ve said — it’s too technical for most people to understand precisely, and it’s been disabled by an effective smear campaign. If your question is “Doesn’t the Left’s failure to use the Lancet study as propaganda amount to an acknowledgement that it’s defective?”, my answer is no. I suspect that it’s an excellent study, but it’s useless as propaganda for reasons stated at lenghth. If your question is “Why are you not interested in whether or not the Lancet study is accurate or not?” my answer is a.) I have only a weak understanding of epidemiology and statistics, b.) I suspect that the controversy is 90%+ fake, and c.) in practice, I don’t need the Lancet study to make up my own mind or convince other people. In the aftermath I expect the study to be vindicated, but by that time it will be a footnote in history. I give the authors credit for effort, but fault them for naivite about the toxic American political process, which is the only one that’s really important (for reasons I stated above).

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Lopakhin 03.11.07 at 3:04 pm

Hidari: For example, as Mahmood Mandani points out, why do ‘we’ not refer to what is currently going on in Iraq as genocide? It is not obviously much better than what is currently going on in Sudan.’

Mr Mandani’s argument relies, as I mentioned elsewhere, on his claim that:

The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms.

If we’re going to take this argument seriously – and a couple of other commenters in this thread have referred to the article in positive terms – then could someone possibly provide some evidence (which Mr Mandani doesn’t) that most of the killers in Iraq are (Shias, presumably) closely linked to the Iraqi military?

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Barry 03.11.07 at 4:22 pm

John, stostosto’s line of BS is merely the follow-on to the original WSJ/David Kane lies; he’s jumping up and down on the grave of something his friends killed. Basically the right’s theology is ‘the truth is weak, the lie is strong’.

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abb1 03.11.07 at 4:46 pm

but it’s useless as propaganda for reasons stated at length

I’m not following the thread, so I don’t know if any of you has already made this point, but obviously one of the reasons is that hardly anyone – either anti-war or pro-war – cares much about Iraqi casualties. One cockroach in a veterans’ hospital in the US is more newsworthy (and useful for the anti-war cause) than a thousand Iraqi deaths. That’s just how it is in this world.

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John Emerson 03.11.07 at 5:03 pm

Even those who care about Iraqi casualties don’t need the Lancet study. There’s theoretically a “decent left” slice for whom helping the Iraqis is supposedly the main thing, but that slice is very thin, and some who use that argument are in bad faith.

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Ragout 03.13.07 at 3:32 am

D^2 asks “I am curious as to why anyone is bothering with this debate any more.” My guess is that those writing to the Lancet are bothering because they know that Burnham et al won’t be the last mortality survey of a crisis area ever done in this world. I imagine they would like to see better mortality studies done in the future — studies that avoid the flaws they see in the Iraq studies.

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Ragout 03.13.07 at 4:35 am

On the question of whether the Times article is a “bad piece of science journalism,” I much prefer the Times’ version to Daniel’s. Specifically, Daniel summarizes Garfield and other critics as saying “that the crude estimate of under-15 mortality was substantially lower than other estimates of under-5 mortality in Iraq.”

But Daniel’s version is misleading. The critics were not quoting mortality rates as such, which would be deaths of the under-15 per kid under-15. If the critics had really compared under-15 mortality to under-5 mortality, as Daniel says, the critics would indeed be foolish.

But since the critics are prominent scientists, they certainly did not do anything so foolish. Instead, they compared under-15 deaths *per birth* in the Lancet study to under-5 deaths *per birth* in another study. The critics’ rely on the fact that, as a matter of logic, if there are X deaths of kids under 15, there must be less than X deaths of kids under 5.

The Lancet study has 36 under-15 deaths per 1000 births, and another pre-war study has 100 or so under-5 deaths per 1000 births. If follows that the Lancet study found an under-5 death rate less than 1/3 of the pre-war study. This is exactly what the Times article says, and Daniel obscures.

Second, Daniel claims that “infant mortality remained constant in the [Lancet] survey.” But as far as I can see there is no data in the paper to calculate pre and post war infant mortality. The paper just reports total births, not pre and post war births. Daniel, without telling the reader, is implicitly assuming that the birth rate remained constant (which hardly seems consistent with the drastic increase in violence).

Finally, Daniel says that Garfield is a “hack.” Since Garfield was an author of the first Lancet Iraq study, I guess that study was co-authored by a “hack” too?

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Ragout 03.13.07 at 4:45 am

I just started to read Burnham et al’s reply to their critics in the Lancet and already, in the second paragraph, there’s a howler.

Burnham et al write that “the deaths that were not confirmed by a certificate were too few to do any meaningful trend analysis.” But two sentences later, they do exactly the sort of trend anlysis that their critics urged! “In the 2004 data (but not in the 2006 data), the period most associated with no death certificates was the weeks following the invasion, and this period constituted a smaller fraction of all deaths in the second study.”

Unbelievable.

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SG 03.13.07 at 7:25 am

Ragout, that doesn`t sound like a trend analysis to me, but a qualitative discussion. Do they give any statistical tests associated with their statement? Because if not they are just saying “our data doesn`t support a rigorous statistical study as requested, but we think we can give a qualitative overview in lieu of this.” Those are different things.

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Kevin Donoghue 03.13.07 at 1:26 pm

Ragout: Finally, Daniel says that Garfield is a “hack.”

WTF? Is your browser defective, Ragout?

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Robert 03.14.07 at 8:33 am

Ragout wrote:

But Daniel’s version is misleading. […]The critics’ rely on the fact that, as a matter of logic, if there are X deaths of kids under 15, there must be less than X deaths of kids under 5. The Lancet study has 36 under-15 deaths per 1000 births, and another pre-war study has 100 or so under-5 deaths per 1000 births. If follows that the Lancet study found an under-5 death rate less than 1/3 of the pre-war study. This is exactly what the Times article says, and Daniel obscures.

Hmmm. I read the original version written by von Schreeb, Rosling, and Garfield, and I don’t think Daniel’s version is unfaithful. The comparison that vS-R-G made were with an estimate of under 5 mortality from the 1990’s to the Burnham study’s under 15 mortality from 2002 onward.

Daniel, without telling the reader, is implicitly assuming that the birth rate remained constant (which hardly seems consistent with the drastic increase in violence).

Perhaps, but we do have the CBR from the 2004 Roberts study. The pre- and post-invasion CBR’s for the 14 months pre-invasion vs. the 18 months post-invasion were almost the same (29.8 vs. 31.7). The birth rate would have had to have dropped quite a bit in the two years between the 2004 and 2006 studies in order for there to be a substantial drop in the overall post-invasion CBR. I agree that’s possible, but presuming that the CBR’s are roughly unchanged isn’t so crazy as one might think.

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Robert 03.14.07 at 9:09 am

Ragout wrote:
[snip]

BTW, I’m moderately sure you know this but not all CrookedTimberites might: the “under-15” vs. “under-5” grouping is probably less the problem than the 1990’s vs. 2002+ problem. That’s because there are very distinct age patterns in child mortality (at least, for non-violent causes): most deaths under age 15 are concentrated under age 5; likewise, most deaths under age 5 are concentrated under age 1. Of course, when you want to be exact you have to be exceedingly painstakingly anal-retentively exact but the bottom line is that “child” death rates, no matter how you define “children”, are in roughly the same ballpark.

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