[lit-ideas] Stats, again

  • From: JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 14:09:47 EDT

Any comments from anyone?  Particularly on the methodology?
Julie Krueger
_BBC NEWS |  Middle East | Huge gaps in Iraq death estimates_ 
Huge gaps in Iraq death estimates 

By Paul Reynolds  
World affairs correspondent, BBC News  website 

The estimate  that about 655,000 people have died in Iraq as a result of the 
2003  invasion is such a large figure that it has led to two differing  
Those who had faith in an earlier report from 2004 - also published in  the 
medical journal The Lancet - are now able to say that this larger  survey 
proves their point that Iraqi deaths have been far greater than  publicly 
and have now reached what the report calls "a  humanitarian emergency".  
Those who thought that the 2004 survey was exaggerated - it estimated  98,000 
additional deaths up until September 2004 - think this one is even  more wide 
of the mark.  
Les Roberts, one of the report's authors said: "It may not be extremely  
precise, but it gets us into the ball park."  
On the other hand, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, which  
tracks statistics in its Iraq Index, said: "I do not believe the new  numbers. 
think they're way off."  
The Brooking Index, relying on the UN (which gets figures from the  Iraqi 
health ministry) and the Iraq Body Count (IBC), estimates the  civilian death 
toll at about 62,000.  
The IBC, which counts the number of reported civilian deaths, puts them  
between 43,850 and 48,693, though it adds that this is a baseline and that  the 
true figure could be much higher.  
The IBC reaction to the Lancet report is awaited.  
US President George W Bush rejected the estimate.  
"I don't consider it a credible report," he said.  
The US commander in Iraq, Gen George Casey, used a similar phrase.  
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was more careful, and did  not 
reject the report outright. However, she questioned it.  
"The report gives a figure which is orders of magnitude different from  any 
other source... nobody else has come up with figures on this scale...  the 
report has been criticised by the Iraqi government as unreasonable,"  she said. 
Report methodology  
The strength of the report, its authors argue, is in its tried and  trusted 
It took a sample and then extrapolated broad results from that sample.  This 
is a technique used in public opinion polling and in marketing, for  example, 
in assessing television audiences.  
In 2004, 33 clusters were chosen across the country with 30 households  in 
each cluster. These households contained 7,868 people. This time, 47  clusters 
were chosen, with 12,801 people.  
Insurgents are now staging daily attacks in  Baghdad

The method was  to question people about deaths in their household first in 
the  "pre-invasion" period and then in the "post-invasion" period leading up to 
 July 2006.  
The difference would constitute what the survey calls "excess deaths".  
The report says that there were 82 deaths pre-invasion and 547  
It then multiplied these figures up in relation to the Iraqi population  of 
27,139,584, and came up with an estimated 654,956 "excess" deaths, 2.5  % of 
the population.  
Some statistical caveats are entered. The lowest estimate of deaths is  put 
at 392,979 and the highest at 942,636. The lowest figure is still much  bigger 
than the other counts.  
Of the "excess" deaths, 601,027 were attributed to the violence (mainly  from 
gunfire and mainly among men aged 15-59), the rest coming largely  from 
increased illness and disease.  
The report concludes: "Our estimate of excess deaths is far higher than  
those reported in Iraq through passive surveillance methods. This  discrepancy 
not unexpected. Data from passive surveillance are rarely  complete, even in 
stable circumstances, and are even less complete during  conflict."  
Critics of the report argue that something must have gone wrong in the  
Such criticism was made of the first Lancet report. Some said that a  high 
death rate in a small number of households could have hugely changed  the e
xtrapolated totals.  
In Slate magazine, Fred Kaplan argued of the first report: "The problem  is, 
ultimately, not with the scholars who conducted the study; they did  the best 
they could under the circumstances.  
"The problem is the circumstances. It's hard to conduct reliable,  random 
surveys, and to extrapolate meaningful data from the results of  those surveys 
the chaotic, restrictive environment of war."  
'Missing' dead  
There is also the criticism that, crudely, the numbers of bodies being  
discovered do not match the figures.  
It is assumed that the 601,000 violent "excess" deaths between March  2003 
and July 2006 (about 40 months) should produce an average of about  500 violent 
deaths per day.  
This is not going to be so all the time, given the spikes of violence,  but 
it is a rough criterion.  
The latest figures from the Iraqi health ministry (reported by the  
Associated Press news agency on 11 October) stated that 2,667 people were  
killed in 
Baghdad during September, 400 more than in August.  
This gives an average of about 86 per day in the capital.  
Baghdad is not the whole country of course, but AP reported the United  
Nations as saying that in July and August, 6,599 people were killed across  the 
country, of which 5,106 were in Baghdad.  
This suggests that Baghdad has by far the highest number of actual and  
percentage dead.  
So, if the current rate in Baghdad is about 86 and the countrywide  figure 
should be about 500 according to the Lancet report, where are the  "missing" 
The answer from the report's authors would be that the dead are there,  but 
have not been counted.  
That supposes a huge failing by the Iraqi health ministry, a failing  the 
report did not hint at, because it said that death certificates were  readily 
available for most of the reported deaths in the households  surveyed.  
The international media is incapable of reporting overall deaths  accurately, 
given the difficulties of travelling around. The local media  is a source but 
cannot be relied on by itself.  
We are left then with the estimate from this report and the various  counts 
by other groups.  
The figures are now even more divergent than they were.  

Other related posts:

  • » [lit-ideas] Stats, again