Another Bogus Study


Oh come on! 655,000 dead Iraqi’s since the invasion? Who would believe this drivel except a hard-core liberal who hates every single thing America stands for. As Gateway Pundit stated, this would mean upwards of 770 deaths PER DAY!

To give that some perspective, that’s like:

* 3-10 Hiroshima atomic blasts
* 6-20 Nagasaki atomic blasts
* Or 10 Dresden bombing campaigns

That’s like saying “Carpet bombing saves lives!”
Hat Tip Eric B.

This latest Lancet Study released today claims that 555,000 Iraqis have died in the last two years since their last controversial study! That comes to around 770 violent Iraqi deaths each day on average!!!
So, does this mean all of those headlines of 18 or 30 deaths were off by 700 or so?

And then you have the fact that this “study” was released just prior to the election, coin-qi-dink? I don’t think so:

The timing of the survey’s release, just a few weeks before the U.S. congressional elections, led one expert to call it “politics.”

Plus you have the authors of this report themselves. Their earlier study in which they stated 100,000 Iraqi’s had died was ripped to shreds by every statistical minded person on the planet:

Readers who are accustomed to perusing statistical documents know what the set of numbers in the parentheses means. For the other 99.9 percent of you, I’ll spell it out in plain English–which, disturbingly, the study never does. It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language–98,000–is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)


First, even without reading the study, alarm bells should go off. The study purports to show civilian casualties 5 to 6 times higher than any other reputable source. Most other sources put total combined civilian and military deaths from all causes at between 15,000 to 20,000. The Lancet study is a degree of magnitude higher. Why the difference?

Moreover, just rough calculations should call the figure into doubt. 100,000 deaths over roughly a year and a half equates to 183 deaths per day. Seen anything like that on the news? With that many people dying from air strikes every day we would expect to have at least one or two incidents where several hundred or even thousands of people died. Heard of anything like that? In fact, heard of any air strikes at all where more than a couple of dozen people died total?

Where did this suspicious number come from? Bad methodology.

From the summary:

Mistake One:

“A cluster sample survey was undertaken throughout Iraq during September, 2004”

It is bad practice to use a cluster sample for a distribution known to be highly asymmetrical. Since all sources agree that violence in Iraq is highly geographically concentrated, this means a cluster sample has a very high chance of exaggerating the number of deaths. If one or two of your clusters just happen to fall in a contended area it will skew everything. In fact, the study inadvertently suggests that this happened when it points out later that:

“Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters…”

In fact, this suggest that violent deaths were not “widespread” as 18 of the 33 clusters reported zero deaths. if 54% of the clusters had no deaths then all the other deaths occurred in 46% of the clusters. If the deaths in those clusters followed a standard distribution most of the deaths would have occurred in less than 15% of the total clusters.

Do you think this group changed their methodology? Nope. Sean from Cold Fury finds huge holes to jump through in this new one:

The study relies on a stratified, multi-stage cluster sample design. Clustering of households in the sample results in variances that are smaller than you would get with a simple and random sample design. (And if you’ve ever taken so much as an introductory statistics course you know the word “random” is a mantra to be repeated over and over…)

So a failure to take account of this “design effect” when using your basic statistical tests in the analysis will make accurate testing difficult, because standard tests assume independence among observations and a simple, random sample design.

In other words, you can’t get there from here using the method they are using. Well, you can, you just have to take the results with a mountain of salt instead of the usual grain. Go ahead and roam the net for the countless articles noting the flaws in using cluster samples. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You should get something like 10,000 hits.

And finally we have the studiers themselves, Gilbert Burnham and Ronald Waldman. Burnham is the lead author and as The Poltical Pit Bull found out, heavy givers to the Democratic party. Greg even found that Burnham gave money to Les Roberts who ran for a district in NY. Who is Les you ask? Why he was the lead author of the earlier ignorant study.

So we have the authors with a great deal of bias, we have a baly flawed method of gathering the data, and we have a group who admits the timing of their earlier report was poltically motivated.

Three strikes and your out.

Silly silly liberals.


Some good comments left at The Corner:

The US death rate is 8 per 1,000 population (see here). The UK is 10 per 1,000. According to the study, Iraq’s post-invasion death rate is 13.2 per 1,000. A whole host of countries have death rates way higher than that – see here. Now a lot of this is to do with age of population, but given that the death rate of, say, Cameroon, which has a similar birth rate to Iraq is also around 13, this suggests that the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is no worse than that of many other countries. Different in character, certainly, but it suggests that the epidemic of violence in Iraq is less debilitating to that country than the AIDS epidemic is to Botswana, for instance.

And Donald from Burkeophilia has some good points:

2. A one year period prior to the invasion was chosen for the pre-invasion period comparison baseline in the study. Why was this interval chosen? Note that this is a period with a coalition enforced no-fly zone in effect. Would a different interval have produced a different mortality rate? For example, what about one that included post-Gulf War reprisals? This is very significant. The pre-invasion mortality rate is integral to calculating the # of deaths attributable to the war in Iraq. Higher pre-invasion mortality rate, fewer deaths attributed to the war. And note, they get their estimate of the pre-invasion mortality rate *from* their sample. So a household is asked about deaths from each of the periods. They may be underestimating the deaths in the earliest period simply because it was so long ago.

[…]4. I think there is a fundamental question as to whether this baseline-comparison model is appropriate for assessing the impact of the war on the number of deaths in Iraq. It is very sensitive to the baseline selected as well as the variance in deaths across clusters. While the authors acknowledge several possible sources of systematic bias in their sample (i.e. the possibility of over-sampling higher-mortality clusters as a result of population migration), I don’t think they appreciate just how much of an effect that could have on their estimates. Their method does not and cannot account for the essential non-randomness of warfare. Coalition forces to not drop bombs randomly. Insurgents do not plant IUD’s or car-bombs randomly. As such their sample may be severely biased by the fact that individuals living in Iraq make rational decisions to move away from hot-spots when able to do so. Less people in the household means a higher mortality rate.

5. Why was no effort made to distinguish combatants from non-combatants? I understand that there is concern for risk to the interviewers (as stated in the article), but this is pretty important. The authors argue that this is the “this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century” and that they have urged investigation into the “excess” mortality rate in Iraq. But what if a large percentage of that ‘excess’ is, in fact, coalition forces killing insurgents? From a policy perspective, there doesn’t seem to be much logic in treating the death of an innocent child from an IUD the same as the death of the terrorist planting the IUD at the hands of coalition forces…yet that is exactly what the study does. Note the study acknowledges that “Across Iraq, deaths and injuries from violent causes were concentrated in adolescent to middle age men.” The exact population from which combatants are drawn.

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In a chaotic state, standard record keeping can miss a lot. Hence it seems reasonable to explore the difference in estimates when interviews rather than standard records (morgues etc) are used. Given the extent to which this study indicates that we may be underestimating the death toll, it is certainly worth a follow up study with perhaps a larger and more representative sample size to ascertain the true human cost of our policy in Iraq.

1). If you’d bother to read the study before denouncing it, you’d find that they were able to produce Death Certificates to verify 90% of the reported deaths in the sampled households.

2). Cluster Sample Surveys weakness is that they undercount rare events, not overcount.

And to reiterate, this is an estimate of EXCESS Mortality. Not of occupation casualties. The mortality rate from all causes of death since the invasion are up by an estimated 650,000 from what would have occurred if the same mortality rate from the two years prior to the invasion had been maintained.

In other words, things might not have been so great under Saddam, but they sure as hell haven’t gotten any better so far.