Nov. 5, 2006
I mentioned in an earlier article that Baltimore’s Hopkins University and Baghdad’s al-Mustansiriya University had collaborated on a study, published in the British medical journal Lancet, that estimated the Iraqi post-invasion excess death toll at 655,000, greatly more numerous than the 30,000 George W. Bush guessed extemporaneously last December or the fewer than 50,000 currently showing up on Iraq Body Count’s Iraqometer.
I had long suspected that the death toll was much higher than the official figures, some of which were based on bodies showing up at the Baghdad morgue, or body counts made by embedded reporters, which, only too painfully obviously, were likely to be tremendously understated.
Hardly had Lancet’s report appeared when the Wall Street Journal, known for its advocacy of the war, due to its perennial partiality towards Israel, cui bono, published an article by Steven Moore, himself doubtlessly versed in polls and on-the-ground conditions in Iraq, purporting to debunk the report.
With a lot of derogatory language and innuendoes, he based his would-be refutation on two basic assertions, one, that the sample size was too small or not well enough distributed, and, two, that Lancet’s researchers did not collect any other demographic information, like sex and age of interviewees, that could be collated with Iraq’s 1997 census figures, as if that would prove anything, given the war, and pre-war and post-war corruption there.
Anyway, Les Roberts, one of the co-authors of the report, explains that he did collect the cited demographic information, making it available to Steven Moore, who apparently was too disdainful even to read it carefully enough to prevent himself from sticking his foot in his mouth.
Roberts was polite enough to allow that Moore may have had a “subconscious need to reject” the results, but also alludes to the possibility of “deception” on Moore’s part. After all, the W$J probably pays him top dollar to see it the way they want it seen.
Another ludicrous point that some people had made was that the report was issued just before the election with intent to influence it somehow. This would imply that it makes any difference to the situation in Iraq which party gets into office.
Anyway, here is Roberts’ reply to Moore:
“I read with interest the October 18th editorial by Steven Moore reviewing our study reporting that an estimated 650,000 deaths were associated with the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. I had spoken with Mr. Moore the week before when he said that he was writing something for the Wall Street Journal to put this survey in perspective. I am not surprised that we differed on the current relevance of 10 year-old census data in a country that had experienced a major war and mass exodus. I am not surprised at his rejection of my suggestion that the references in a web report explaining the methodology for lay people and reporters was not the same as the references in our painstakingly written peer reviewed article. What is striking is Mr. Moore's statement that we did not collect any demographic data, and his implication that this makes the report suspect. This is curious because, not only did I tell him that we asked about the age and gender of the living residents in the houses we visited, but Mr. Moore and I discussed, verbally and by e-mail, his need to contact the first author of the paper, Gilbert Burnham, in order to acquire this information as I did not have the raw data. I would assume that this was simply a case of multiple misunderstandings except our first report in the Lancet in 2004 referenced in our article as describing the methods states, "...interviewees were asked for the age and sex or every current household member." Thus, it appears Mr. Moore had not read the description of the methods in our reports. It is not important whether this fabrication that "no demographic data was collected" is the result of subconscious need to reject the results or whether it was intentional deception. What is important, is that Mr. Moore and many others are profoundly uncomfortable that our government might have inadvertently triggered 650,000 deaths.
“Most days in the US, more than 5000 people die. We do not see the bodies. We cannot, from our household perspective, sense the fraction from violence. We rely on a functional governmental surveillance network to do that for us. No such functional network exists in Iraq. Our report suggests that on top of the 300 deaths that must occur in Iraq each day from natural causes; there have been approximately 500 "extra" deaths mostly from violence. Of any high profile scientific report in recent history, ours might be the easiest to verify. If we are correct, in the morgues and graveyards of Iraq, most deaths during the occupation would have been due to violence. If Mr. Bush's "30,000 more or less" figure from last December is correct, less than 1 in 10 deaths has been from violence. Let us address the discomfort of Mr. Moore and millions of other Americans, not by uninformed speculation about epidemiological techniques, but by having the press travel the country and tell us how people are dying in Iraq.””
The regrettable part is that reports like this are deliberately muffled by the mainstream media, so they can carry on with their baseball, basketball and rock-and-roll news. First things first!
About the author Thomas Keyes: I have written two books: A SOJOURN IN ASIA (non-fiction) and A TALE OF UNG (fiction), neither published so far.
I have studied languages for years and traveled extensively on five continents.
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