January 27, 2005


Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored (LILA GUTERMAN, January 27, 2005, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquake in December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring of grief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.

Two months earlier, the reaction in the United States to news of another large-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding that about 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines.

The paper, written by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriya University, was based on a door-to-door survey in September of nearly 8,000 people in 33 randomly selected locations in Iraq. It was dangerous work, and the team of researchers was lucky to emerge from the survey unharmed.

The paper that they published carried some caveats. For instance, the researchers admitted that many of the dead might have been combatants. They also acknowledged that the true number of deaths could fall anywhere within a range of 8,000 to 194,000, a function of the researchers' having extrapolated their survey to a country of 25 million.

But the statistics do point to a number in the middle of that range. And the raw numbers upon which the researchers' extrapolation was based are undeniable: Since the invasion, the No. 1 cause of death among households surveyed was violence. The risk of death due to violence had increased 58-fold since before the war. And more than half of the people who had died from violence and its aftermath since the invasion began were women and children.

Neither the Defense Department nor the State Department responded to the paper, nor would they comment when contacted by The Chronicle. American news-media outlets largely published only short articles, noting how much higher the Lancet estimate was than previous estimates. Some pundits called the results politicized and worthless.

Les F. Roberts, a research associate at Hopkins and the lead author of the paper, was shocked by the muted or dismissive reception. He had expected the public response to his paper to be "moral outrage."

This story is even sillier than the original hysterical report. First, just Googling this phrase "lancet bloomberg school iraq" yielded 1,250 pages in English. Second, who precisely would have been outraged by these numbers, even if they were reliable? Studies of the same style claimed that 500,000 children alone had been killed by the sanctions regime we imposed on Iraq, yet the Left insisted that it be maintained, so they obviously weren't going to trumpet such a minimal number resulting from terminating the regime, were they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 27, 2005 10:28 AM

The study was well vetted by the blogosphere when it came out. The estimated death rate was driven largely by the polling from Fallujah, where the terrorist pollsters reported about a death per household. So even though death rates were low in most of Iraq, averaging in the 20% reported death rate in Fallujah with the 0% death rate in most of the country led to a death rate for the country of 0.4%, which implies 100,000 dead out of 25 million.

Posted by: pj at January 27, 2005 10:50 AM

So to review, the choices were:

1) continue forever sactions that never really worked, allowing hundreds of thousands more to die

2) lift the sanctions and restore full Iraqi sovereignty, causing hundred of thousands - potentially millions - more to die

3) remove Saddam while causing a few thousand to die during the war and its aftermath

Posted by: Rick T. at January 27, 2005 1:13 PM

How well I remember when the Saturday afternoon demonstrations on Main Street changed seamlessly from "the sanctions are killing children; end them now" to "war is not necessary, the sanctions are working."

Posted by: David Cohen at January 27, 2005 6:31 PM


Agreed. The blogosphere tore the Lancet report to pieces when it first came out. I'm surprised Mr. Perlstein even bothered to bring it up.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2005 9:01 PM

OJ: Is this about your friend's state of mind? or is about the substance of the article?

If the former, you know the answer: there is no decent left.

If the later, figures don't lie, liars figure.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 27, 2005 9:22 PM

The left only cares about dead Iraqi children when they are blaming Republicans. Remember, most of the deaths (no matter what the actual number) occurred on Clinton's watch.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 27, 2005 10:18 PM