Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lancet Report Nonsense

The medical journal The Lancet reported that 655,000 Iraqis had died in violent circumstances since that start of the war. This figure has been rejected by Tony Blair and others. Here's why it should be rejected by everyone.

First a caveat: I am not an expert in the field, this is just my opinion and some basic maths.

The war in Iraq started in March 2003, that is 42 months. Now, according to the report 655,000 people have died in that time. That means 15,595 a month, or 520 a day.

However, the UN reported that the civilian death toll was rising and reached a record high of 3,590 in July (it fell to 3,009 in August). Figures for previous months are 1,778; 2,165; 2,378; 2,284; 2,669; 3,149.

The figure The Lancet provides for deaths every month is 434% higher than the highest figure the UN gave and 877% than the figure for January this year. Incredible? Of course it is.

UPDATE: The report is here [pdf file]. There are three points I would like to draw from the report. The first is the testing method. Instead of counting bodies they asked people how many of their household had died and when. Firstly, this does seem open to abuse as people can lie about the date or cause of death. Also, it was people on the ground who decided which households to check and so the survey was not random.

Another problem was that out of the 47 areas chosen, 12 were picked from Baghdad. That amounts to 25% of the total results. Now, while Baghdad does hold approximately 25% of the population it is also far more violent than other parts of the country and can be expected to skew the results significantly.

Finally, the report contains a table listing mortality rates (Table 3, pg 4). The source of the information is not given. However, it lists the violent death rate for the post war period as 7.2 per 1000. That figure leads to a total violent death count of 187,200. While this is larger than other estimates it is still a third of the value provided by The Lancet.