Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Way to go

From USA Today:
More than 600,000 Iraqis have died by violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to a study released today by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The figure is based on surveys of households throughout most of the country. It vastly exceeds estimates cited by the Iraqi government, the United Nations, aid and anti-war groups, and President Bush.


From Juan Cole:
This study is going to have a hard ride. In part it is because many of us in the information business are not statistically literate enough to judge the sampling techniques. Many will tend to dismiss the findings as implausible without a full appreciation of how low the margin of error is this time. Second, it is a projection, and all projections are subject to possible error, and journalists, being hardnosed people, are wary of them.

The New York Times report has already made a serious error, saying that deaths in the Saddam period were covered up. The families interviewed knew whether their loved ones were disappearing in 2001 and 2002 and had no reason to cover it up if they were. The survey established the baseline with a contemporary questionnaire. It wasn't depending on Iraqi government statistics.

Another reason for the hard ride is that the Republican Party and a significant fraction of the business elite in this country is very invested in the Iraq War, and they will try to discredit the study. Can you imagine the profits being made by the military-industrial complex on all this? Do they really want the US public to know the truth about what the weapons they produce have done to Iraqis? When you see someone waxing cynical about the study, ask yourself: Does this person know what a chi square is? And, who does this person work for, really?

Then Anthony Cordesmann told AP that the timing and content of the study were political. But is he saying that 18,000 households from all over Iraq conspired to lie to Johns Hopkins University researchers for the purpose of defeating Republicans in US elections this November? Does that make any sense? And, if Cordesmann has evidence that the authors and editor set their timetable for completion and publication according to the US political calendar, he should provide it. If he cannot, he should retract.

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