Not Saussure

October 13, 2006

Iraq fatality figures again.

Filed under: Iraq, press — notsaussure @ 8:38 pm

Daniel Davies, in Comment is Free, on attempts to rubbish The Lancet’s article on the Iraq body count:

The results speak for themselves. There was a sample of 12,801 individuals in 1,849 households, in 47 geographical locations. That is a big sample, not a small one. The opinion polls from Mori and such which measure political support use a sample size of about 2,000 individuals, and they have a margin of error of +/- 3%. If Margaret Beckett looks at the Labour party’s rating in the polls, she presumably considers this to be reasonably reliable, so she should not contribute to public ignorance by allowing her department to disparage “small samples extrapolated to the whole country”. The Iraq Body Count website and the Iraqi government statistics are not better measures than the survey results, because one of the things we know about war zones is that casualties are under-reported, usually by a factor of more than five.

He continues

This is the question to always keep at the front of your mind when arguments are being slung around (and it is the general question one should always be thinking of when people talk statistics). How Would One Get This Sample, If The Facts Were Not This Way? There is really only one answer – that the study was fraudulent. It really could not have happened by chance. If a Mori poll puts the Labour party on 40% support, then we know that there is some inaccuracy in the poll, but we also know that there is basically zero chance that the true level of support is 2% or 96%, and for the Lancet survey to have delivered the results it did if the true body count is 60,000 would be about as improbable as this. Anyone who wants to dispute the important conclusion of the study has to be prepared to accuse the authors of fraud, and presumably to accept the legal consequences of doing so.

Nevertheless, Michael White, also in Comment is Free, tries to rubbish the figures; ‘I am not competent to judge the methodology of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore’, he begins, before — of course — attempting to do just that.

This earns him a truly spectacular, and well-informed, kicking in the comments section, including a spectacular and detailed riposte from Daniel Davies.


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