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Friday, October 20, 2006


Winning the "debate" over the John Hopkins study

I've expended a lot of words trying to underscore the "reasonableness" of the result of the Johns Hopkins study of Iraqi mortality. Among other things, I've written about the lack of reporting on the deaths of Iraqi resistance fighters, as well as the complete lack of reporting of the "post-incident" deaths of "innocent civilians," the ones who just happen to die from their wounds the day after a car bombing or similar incident, but whose only mention in the media came as one of the wounded. And I've repeatedly emphasized the evidently misunderstood point that that Johns Hopkins study is quite naturally larger than any other measure because it includes all Iraqis who have died, not just civilians.

Why am I doing this? Because just like the "debate" over global warming, this is not a scientific debate. The vast majority of people have never heard of a "peer-reviewed paper," have no idea what a "cluster" is, and couldn't spell "epidemiology" if their life depended on it. Trying to convince people that the science contained in the Lancet paper is correct is a hopelessly futile endeavor. The only way most people will come to accept its result is if they understand the reasonableness of the result (and by "reasonable" I obviously mean the result itself, not that the death of even one Iraqi is "reasonable" in any way).

All of which is a long introduction to one more piece of evidence in that effort. With a hat tip to Cursor, this effort by a blogger to calculate the number of bullets being used by American forces in Iraq. The answer? 275,000 bullets per day. Now, as he points out, some of those are used in training, some may be stolen, and most miss their targets. But if a mere 1% of that number actually hits an Iraqi, and let's say 10% of those shots are fatal, that would be 275 people a day (100,000/year) being killed, just by bullets (that is, not including tank shells, missiles, bombs, etc.). Now of course these are no more than "back of the envelope" calculations. But they certainly provide one more piece of evidence that the Johns Hopkins result is very much in the right ballpark.

Update: One more data point in the "confusion about what the Johns Hopkins study represents" issue - a major AP article headlined "Iraq PM Blocks Civilian Death Toll Release." Read the article and you will find eight references to "civilian deaths" or equivalent phrases, after which you arrive at this paragraph:

Other casualty figures for Iraq have varied widely. Earlier this month, researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad released a study saying nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died in the war that began in 2003. That was far higher than other estimates, and President Bush has said he did not believe the numbers.
Although the paragraph accurately refers to "Iraqis" who have died, there is no attempt to distinguish that from the eight references to "civilians" which precede it, and hence no reason for all but the most perceptive of readers to assume that a "far higher" result would be perfectly reasonable, even if those other estimates were completely accurate.

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