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Read a different version of this article. The once-respectable British medical journal The Lancet has produced a report claiming we’re destroying Iraq to save it. It says that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by coalition forces since the invasion began, most from airstrikes. The journal even admitted its findings were an October Surprise, pre-released online to sway the election across The Pond. But its conclusion will surely be employed by war opponents and Iraqi insurrectionists long after the November dust settles.
The research, led by Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, involved sending teams to interview 998 families in 33 allegedly randomly selected neighborhoods across Iraq. They asked how many people in each household had died and of what, then extrapolated to the nation as a whole. Thence the 100,000 figure, which they claimed was "conservative." But a better word is "worthless." Consider just this: The sample size was so small that the range for deaths was a humongous 8,000 to 194,000. So Roberts and friends just split the difference.
They admitted the sample size was small, but pleaded it was necessary because the surveyors were in constant danger. By that, they no doubt meant F-16s putting them in their crosshairs, as opposed to those jolly terrorists who routinely kidnap civilians and slowly saw off their heads with dull knives.
More than that, the researchers didn’t feel themselves bound by anything official, like death certificates. Interviews were just fine. "In the Iraqi culture it was unlikely for respondents to fabricate deaths," they wrote.
Such faith in the honesty of Iraqis is truly touching. But these are the people who gave us "Baghdad Bob" and are regularly quoted saying that once again a U.S. airstrike killed only innocents. It’s as if America had developed a chip for its weapons that zeroes in strictly on women, children, and old men.
Cluster sampling can be valid if it uses reliable data, rather than on inherently unreliable self-reporting. But it can also be easily skewed by picking out hotspots – like determining how much of a nation’s population wears dentures by surveying only nursing homes.
In fact, intentionally or otherwise, that’s pretty much what The Lancet did. Most of the clusters had no deaths whatsoever. But here’s the real bombshell: "Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja," the journal reported. That’s it; game over; report worthless.
But why stop there? Consider also that 98,000 deaths during the time in question averages out to over 180 daily. Have you heard anyone claim we killed anywhere near that number on one day, much less every day? Even the insurrectionists wouldn’t try to pull that off. They left it to The Lancet.
Apparently those amazing US engineers have created bombs that only kill civilians.
Consider also that even various self-styled human-rights groups have proclaimed the Lancet numbers outlandish. "The methods that they used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting," Marc Garlasco, told the Washington Post. "These numbers seem to be inflated." Garlasco is senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly been a thorn in the Pentagon’s side during the Iraq war.
The overtly anti-war group www.iraqbodycount.com estimates about 14,000-16,000 deaths since the war began. It cautions that its data rely solely on press reports, but considering how the Iraqis like to pad body counts this means its own figures are certainly too high.
Finally, consider that The Lancet researchers are far from disinterested observers. "I was opposed to the war and I still think that the war was a bad idea," Roberts admitted to the Associated Press. "As an American, I am really, really sorry to be reporting this."
If you think Roberts’s Lancet editor Richard Horton might have been a check on sloppy work or outright false propaganda, think again. "Democratic imperialism has led to more deaths not fewer," he told the BBC, proclaiming coalition efforts in Iraq "a failure."
We thus witness the further erosion of the reputation of Britain’s former leading medical journal. Recently it’s been embarrassed by two other reports. One tied childhood vaccines to autism, but turned out to have been paid for by a trial lawyer representing children in the study. The other combined 14 studies of antioxidant supplements, of which some showed protective effects, some showed no effect, and one showed a negative effect. It thereby concluded antioxidant supplements can kill you.