By Gabriele Zamparini
30 October, 2006
When scientists years ago started
to research and write about climate change they were ridiculed by those
governments, groups and interests responsible for this planetary catastrophe.
Millions of dollars were spent to create think tanks and start a propaganda
campaign to discredit serious scientific studies. Unscrupulous scientists
and “experts” were hired by those think tanks to oppose
alternative theories and give alternative explanations so to deny the
public opinion knowledge, the first step for change.
As soon as the British medical
journal the Lancet
published a new scientific study estimating 655,000 excess
Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, the propaganda machine started
to work full time to discredit it as it did with the other Lancet study
published in 2004.
On October 18 Media
We have been monitoring
and reporting media performance for five years, since July 2001. The
current media response to a credible report that our government is responsible
for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis is the most shocking and outrageous
example of media conformity to power we have yet seen.
The implications are
clear - no crimes of state are too monstrous or extreme for mainstream
journalism. There is no limit to their willingness to obscure the depredations
of power. The corporate media, the liberal media very much included,
is a grand lie - an apparent source of reason and hope that betrays
the people it serves at every turn.
On the same subject Iraqi
novelist and activist Haifa Zangana recently wrote:
The latest study by the
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health published
in The Lancet, estimates that a total of 654,965 Iraqi people -- nearly
one in 40 -- have died violently since the American-led invasion of
the country in March 2003. The number is equivalent to seven million
Americans. No academic or statistician has disputed the methodology
and conclusions of a study based on a cluster samples and on death certificates
naming violent death and excluding the equally devastating figures of
preventable mortality due to collapsing medical services or contamination.
though, was keen to discredit the report and its conclusions. While
Iraqi morgues, hospitals and streets bear witness to the daily carnage,
Ali Al Dabagh, spokesperson for the government, stood, shamelessly,
in the fortified Green Zone to argue "methodology". He did
not argue responsibility or the morality of the killings.
Maliki’s masters, the
butchers of Washington and London and their gangs of psychopaths have
been adopting the same tactic, discrediting the Lancet study as not
credible. Once again the propaganda machine is trying to deny the public
opinion knowledge, the first step for change.
In this noble goal, they
have a great ally. On 16 October 2006 Iraq Body Count (IBC) published
a Press Release “Reality
checks: some responses to the latest Lancet estimates” signed
by Hamit Dardagan, John Sloboda, and Josh Dougherty.
The IBC’s press release
reads: “In the light of such extreme and improbable implications,
a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors
[of the Lancet study] have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data.”
What does the scientific
An international group of
twenty-seven academics in the fields of the medical sciences have published
a piece in the Melbourne Age. They write:
LAST week, the medical
journal The Lancet published the findings of an important study of deaths
in Iraq. President George Bush and Prime Minister Howard were quick
to dismiss its methods as discredited and its findings as not credible
or believable. We beg to differ: the study was undertaken by respected
researchers assisted by one of the world's foremost biostatisticians.
Its methodology is sound and its conclusions should be taken seriously.
Professor Gilbert Burnham
and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
in Baltimore and Al Mustansiriya University School of Medicine in Baghdad
measured deaths in Iraq between January 2002 and July 2006. They surveyed
12,801 individuals in 1849 households in 47 representative clusters
across the country.
Their study is important
in providing the only up-to-date, independent, and comprehensive scientific
study of mortality after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The
study found that mortality had risen alarmingly since March 2003 and
continues to rise. The number of conflict-related excess deaths, above
and beyond those that would normally occur, was estimated at 655,000.
While precision about such figures is difficult, we can be confident
that the excess deaths were above 390,000, and may in fact be as high
as 940,000. The vast majority (92 per cent) of the excess deaths were
due to direct violence. (…)
Conducting such a rigorous
study within the constraints of the security situation in Iraq is dangerous
and difficult, and deserves commendation. We have not heard any legitimate
reason to dismiss its findings. It is noteworthy that the same methodology
has been used in recent mortality surveys in Darfur and Democratic Republic
of Congo, but there has been no criticism of these surveys.
The study by Burnham
and his colleagues provides the best estimate of mortality to date in
Iraq that we have, or indeed are ever likely to have.
We urge open and constructive
debate, rather than ill-informed criticism of the methods or results
of sound science. All of us should consider the implications of the
dire and deteriorating health situation in Iraq.
This was not enough for IBC's
director John Sloboda. On October 23 he sent the following email to
many if not all of the 27 published signatories to the piece above.
Dear Professor [Name Withheld]
We note that you are a signatory
to the article in "The Age" citing the recent Lancet estimate
of 655,000 dead as "the best estimate of mortality to date in Iraq
that we have, or indeed are ever likely to have."
Are you aware of the much
larger and more precise UNDP-funded survey which found a significantly
lower number of war-related violent deaths in an overlapping period
than is implicit in the present Lancet-published estimate? (http://www.iq.undp.org/ILCS/overview.htm)
If so, why have you disregarded its findings in favour of Lancet?
You go on to say "We
urge open and constructive debate, rather than ill-informed criticism
of the methods or results of sound science."
We welcome your call for
open and constructive debate. As you may know we have published some
quite widely reported reservations about the Lancet study (PDF attached
- a balanced report on this is here: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/worldopinionroundup/
2006/10/is_iraqs_civilian_death_toll_h.html ). Further
queries have been raised in a recent Science Journal article (appended
We would be very grateful
if you would let us know how, in particular, you would defend the study
against these criticisms which we, and many others, believe cast serious
doubt on the author's claims that the study's results can validly be
extrapolated to provide a meaningful estimate for the whole of Iraq.
We of course assume that you are fully conversant with the methods described
both in the Lancet paper itself (
journals/0140-6736/PIIS0140673606694919.pdf ) and the lengthier
descriptions given in supporting notes published by MIT
John Sloboda, FBA.
Co-founder Iraq Body Count
Director, Oxford Research Group
Professor of Psychology, Keele University
Science 20 October 2006:
Vol. 314. no. 5798, pp. 396 - 397
News of the Week
Iraqi Death Estimates Called
Too High; Methods Faulted
A new estimate of the number
of Iraqis who have died as a consequence of the U.S.-led invasion in
March 2003 has ignited a firestorm of its own. At 400,000 to 800,000
deaths, the new number is at least 10 times higher than estimates cited
by the Iraqi government and U.S.- led coalition. U.S. President George
W. Bush immediately dismissed the study, characterizing its methodology
as "pretty well discredited." Other Administration officials
charged that the study, released with significant publicity 4 weeks
before U.S. midterm elections, was politically motivated. Researchers
who spoke with Science disagree that the authors' motives are suspect
but raise several questions about the methodology of the study, which
was published 11 October in The Lancet.
Experts on both sides of
the debate concede that it is notoriously difficult to get an accurate
count of casualties in Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Health has estimated
up to 40,000 violent deaths so far, based on death certificates reported
by hospitals and morgues. That figure falls within the range published
by Iraqi Body Count, an independent London-based group opposed to the
war that compiles casualty numbers from media reports. There is little
doubt that the real number of deaths is higher than this, because only
a fraction of deaths are officially recorded or reported by journalists.
But just how small is that fraction?
The Lancet study, designed
by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, is
based on a survey conducted between May and July by a team of 10 Iraqi
health workers. (The Johns Hopkins researchers met with the Iraqi team
twice across the border in Jordan to advise on the survey techniques.)
The team visited 47 neighborhoods in 18 different regions across the
country, going door- to-door and asking families about recent deaths.
They collected data from a total of 1849 households containing 12,801
residents. For the 14 months before the invasion, the Iraqi families
reported 82 deaths, an annual death rate of 5.5 per 1000 people. Within
the same households, 547 people died between the start of the invasion
and July of this year--an annual increase of 7.8 deaths per 1000. By
applying this rate to the entire population of 27 million, the researchers
conclude that 655,000 more Iraqis have died than would have if the invasion
had never happened. About 8% of these extra deaths are attributed to
deteriorating public health, but an estimated 601,000 are violent--56%
from gunshots and about 13% each from air strikes, car bombs, and other
explosions. The researchers calculate a 95% probability that the true
number of violent deaths lies between 426,369 and 793,663.
Many academics spoke up in
defense of the study. "I too find the survey's estimates shockingly
high, ... [but] the choice of method is anything but controversial,"
wrote Francesco Checchi, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine on 12 October on a humanitarian Web site. The
statistical technique used, called cluster surveying, divides the population
into different regions, neighborhoods, and households, in contrast to
a random sampling of people on the streets.
The method may be sound,
but several critics question the way it was carried out in this study.
Madelyn Hicks, a psychiatrist and public health researcher at King's
College London in the U.K., says she "simply cannot believe"
the paper's claim that 40 consecutive houses were surveyed in a single
day. "There is simply not enough time in the day," she says,
"so I have to conclude that something else is going on for at least
some of these interviews." Households may have been "prepared
by someone, made ready for rapid reporting," she says, which "raises
the issue of bias being introduced."
Lead author Gilbert Burnham,
an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, counters that "40 adjacent
households is entirely achievable in a day's work if well organized."
Les Roberts, also at Hopkins, adds that 80% of the 547 deaths were corroborated
with death certificates. The fact that hundreds of thousands of death
certificates seem to have gone unregistered by the Ministry of Health
is no surprise, says Roberts, because "those have always been grossly
Neil Johnson and Sean Gourley,
physicists at Oxford University in the U.K. who have been analyzing
Iraqi casualty data for a separate study, also question whether the
sample is representative. The paper indicates that the survey team avoided
small back alleys for safety reasons. But this could bias the data because
deaths from car bombs, street-market explosions, and shootings from
vehicles should be more likely on larger streets, says Johnson. Burnham
counters that such streets were included and that the methods section
of the published paper is oversimplified. He also told Science that
he does not know exactly how the Iraqi team conducted its survey; the
details about neighborhoods surveyed were destroyed "in case they
fell into the wrong hands and could increase the risks to residents."
These explanations have infuriated the study's critics. Michael Spagat,
an economist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who specializes
in civil conflicts, says the scientific community should call for an
in- depth investigation into the researchers' procedures. "It is
almost a crime to let it go unchallenged," adds Johnson.
Co-author Roberts is no stranger
to such controversy. He led a smaller study of Iraqi casualties, published
in The Lancet in 2004, that estimated 100,000 deaths. That work was
criticized for relying on too few samples. This time, he says, "we
took enough samples, and if anyone wants to verify our results, it's
easy." The study suggests that close to four times the number of
deaths occurred in the first half of 2006 than in the first half of
2002, he says, "and anyone could simply pick four to six spots
in Iraq and go to the local graveyards. The increase... should be obvious."
For now, Spagat says he is
sticking with casualty numbers published by the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP). A UNDP survey of 21,668 Iraqi households put the number
of postinvasion violent deaths between 18,000 and 29,000 up to mid-2004.
"When a survey suggests so much higher numbers than all other sources
of information," he says, "the purveyors of this outlier must
make a good-faith effort to explain why all the other information is
so badly wrong."
With the carnage going on
in Iraq, together with Bush, Blair, Maliki and their propaganda machine,
IBC’s Sloboda is arguing methodology, when the scientific world
in this field is unanimously supporting the Lancet study. Why has IBC
decided to be so active to discredit this Lancet study that the scientific
world unanimously supports? What does this have to do with counting
the Iraqi deaths reported by the English language media?
American historian and activist
Howard Zinn titled his bio “You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train”.
The Lancet study is a train bringing us 655,000 bodies of Iraqis slaughtered
with our money and in our name by people we have elected to power. And
that train is still running.
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