Tuesday, October 24, 2006

# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE IRAQ DEATH TOLL: Richard Miniter of Pajams Media recently interviewed Prof. Gilbert Burnham of Johns Hopkins, author of the study that placed the death toll at 655,000. Burnham has good answers for all of Miniter's questions.

However, researchers at Oxford and Royal Holloway, writing in the current issue of Science, argue that Burnham's methodology is profoundly flawed. According a press release from Science:
Sean Gourley and Professor Neil Johnson of the physics department at Oxford University and Professor Michael Spagat of the economics department of Royal Holloway, University of London contend that the study’s methodology is fundamentally flawed and will result in an over-estimation of the death toll in Iraq.

-> The study suffers from "main street bias" by only surveying houses that are located on cross streets next to main roads or on the main road itself. However many Iraqi households do not satisfy this strict criterion and had no chance of being surveyed.

-> Main street bias inflates casualty estimates since conflict events such as car bombs, drive-by shootings artillery strikes on insurgent positions, and market place explosions gravitate toward the same neighborhood types that the researchers surveyed.

-> This obvious selection bias would not matter if you were conducting a simple survey on immunisation rates for which the methodology was designed.

-> In short, the closer you are to a main road, the more likely you are to die in violent activity. So if researchers only count people living close to a main road then it comes as no surprise they will over count the dead.

During email discussions between the Oxford-Royal Holloway team and the Johns Hopkins team conducted through a reporter for Science, for an article to be published October 20, it became clear that the authors of the study had not implemented a clear, well-defined and justifiable methodology. The Oxford-Royal Holloway team therefore believes that the scientific community should now re-analyze this study in depth.
I'm in no position to evaluate this kind of thing, but the criticism sounds sensible enough. For lots more discussion, check out this post by A Second Hand Conjecture.
(10) opinions -- Add your opinion

The very same people who did the study in question also released several studies in the '90's 'proving' that sanctions were killing over 500,000 Iraqi children a year.

So if we take all of their work at face value, the invasion has killed 655K in three years, but the ending of sanctions must have prevented 1,500K child deaths over that time, resulting in the net saving of 835K lives.

If we are to believe these researchers the Iraq war is on of the greatest humanitarian interventions of all time.
"the authors of the study had not implemented a clear, well-defined and justifiable methodology". Then they might as well have solicited the opinion of the chap in the pub.
Dear oh dear, you're all getting rather desperate are you?

However, the Oxford-RH objections don't make a great deal of sense. After all, whether you come from a house near the main road or an isolated suburb, you are surely likely to use the main road at some part of the day to work, buy things etc. Therefore, you can't say for sure that the people killed in any single attack (which would tend to be in crowded marketplaces etc) are disproportionately more likely to come from those houses immediately bordering the attack. Far more likely, they would form a broad cross-section of the town's population. Thus its not entirely clear that even if you did take only houses on the main street (which the researchers didn't) you will end up with more casualties.

And the Lancet team has claimed their sample stretched far away from the main roads in any case, and included many households in rural areas.

Keep trying though, you'll keep that neocon flame burning yet!
Well, even the decidedly NOT objective IBC people have said the Lancet study was ridiculous, so it hardly much disproving.

In science, any one problem disproves a study. This one has a plethora.

So instead we get desperately illogical defenses like the one above. Surely he know that a nonrepresentative sample does not lead to a representative result and that people living next to explosions are more likely to be killed -- but he wants to believe!

In 2008, Lancet will find 2.5 million deaths. The primary cause of death will be alien abduction, and the explanation for no one else agreeing will be mind control rays.
"neo-con flame"? For God's sake, I'm agin the whole bloody, foolish, rash adventure. I don't see that as having anything much to do with spinning yarns about the number dead to date. Whatever the truth might be, it's premature - the killing is going to go on and on.
Well, even the decidedly NOT objective IBC people have said the Lancet study was ridiculous, so it hardly much disproving.

You do realise that IBC has been taken to task for severely UNDERcounting the Iraqi dead? They only restrict their count to deaths acknowledged by two independent news organizations. It doesn't take a professional pollster to know that this will leave many deaths unaccounted for.

So who spins, who overcounts, who undercounts? Probably everyone.
Les Roberts, one of the report's authors, addresses this question over at BBC News Online. Regarding Main Street Bias, he writes:

"A research team have asserted in an article in Science that the second Lancet study is seriously flawed due to "main street bias."

We worked hard in Iraq to have every street segment have an equal chance of being selected. We worked hard to have each separate house have an equal chance of being selected. Realize, there would have to be both a systematic selection of one kind of street by our process and a radically different rate of death on that kind of street in order to skew our results. We see no evidence of either."

Read the rest at
Actually Gourley, Johnson and Spagat have a serious conflict of interests that nobody seems to care about.

Ask them if their criticism of the Lancet Report has anything to do with the fact that they have used and still use the IBC figures in their research papers?
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