The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, October 15, 2006


In one episode of the classic 60's spy comedy Get Smart, Maxwell Smart confronts a KAOS operative who has the drop on him. "At this moment, 400 armed men are surrounding this building."

The KAOS villain responds, "Mr. Smart, I find that very hard to believe."

"Would you believe ... 200?"

Max was the bumbling naif par excellence, but even he had the proper instinct about how to revise unbelievable figures. Not so the British medical-cum-Baathist agitprop journal Lancet, which followed its nonsensical October 2004 surprise (that the US war on Iraq had killed 100 thousand people), with its October 2006 surprise. The latest unbelievable figure is that 650,000 Iraqis -- 5% of the population -- have died since Saddam fled his palace. At this rate Lancet can attempt to sway the critical 2012 elections by claiming that 3 billion people have been killed in Iraq -- perhaps as a result of low airline fares inducing half the world to migrate there.

The left has a history of cheerful innumeracy ("a liberal is someone who cannot do arithmetic and is proud of it" -- Robert Heinlein), and really one need do little more with this rubbish than point at it and laugh. Where are the bodies? Surely one would expect the number of wounded to be several times the dead -- where then are the 15 or 20% of Iraq with shrapnel, bullet, or concussion injuries? Where are the mass emigrations that would flee such carnage?

There are many criticisms one can make of the survey. The most damning, from Rants and Rayguns:


According to the phony survey, they recorded 629 deaths since the start of the war (p4 of the PDF). In 545 cases, they bothered to ask for death certificates, and for those 545 requests, 501 times they were shown the death certificates. So Mr. Pittelli notes, at least 80% of all the deaths in the sample (501/629), and possibly as many as 92% (501/545) were recorded by the government. Let's repeat that: According to the anti-war propagandists who are responsible for this blatant dishonesty, 80 to 92% of all deaths in their sample were recorded in the Iraqi government's own official figures.

What this means, as Pittelli points out, is that the official death figures should record at least 80% of the deaths since the Iraq war. Taking the bogus figures at face value, simply for the sake of argument entertainment, I calculate the estimates based on official figures should be between 314,000 and 867,000. They aren't. The "official figures estimate" is about 49,000.

To take the Johns Hopkins/Lancet figures seriously, you have to believe that the Iraqi government recorded deaths occurring since the invasion with an accuracy of at least 80%, but then suppressed 85-94% of those recorded deaths when releasing official figures, with no one blowing the whistle on them. You also have to believe that 85-94% of the dead bodies were unnoticed by the MSM, the funeral homes, and everyone else trying to keep track of the war casualties..

Alternatively, you have to believe that the Iraqi govt. only issues death certificates for 6-15% of all deaths, but this random sample got 80% certificate hits by pure chance.


Also consider the objections raised by notropis:


1. "In 16 (0.9%) dwellings, residents were absent." When or where can you conduct a survey and find over 99% of the potential respondents at home? ...

(Further puzzling is the statement: "Households where all members were dead or had gone away were reported in only one cluster in Ninewa and these deaths are not included in this report." Does this mean that in only one cluster were any vacant houses encountered? I can find more than that in upscale suburbs of Minneapolis.)

2. Only "15 (0.8%) households refused to participate." Now this could be a sign that Iraqis are concerned to get the truth of their plight out, and that's great. But putting this together with (1) above, we find that in a remarkable 98%+ of the potential households, the head of household or spouse was available and willing to answer the questions (according to the methodology, those were the only ones surveyed.) And this result was achieved, according to the article, on the first pass, without ever re-contacting a household, which the survey teams deemed "too dangerous."

3. In reading the methodology, the impression is given that the surveyors did an incredibly thorough, careful, and considerate job in their work. Yet we read that the teams each consisted of four individuals, who “could typically complete a cluster of 40 households in 1 day.” Now, it’s not clear whether the teams stuck together, or split up into 1s or 2s, but, given time for travel, and assuming 8 hours of surveying time available in a day, if they worked in pairs (which would make the most sense, one male and one female), we find that they spent less than half an hour (24 minutes), on average, per household, yet we're assured that the following protocols were strictly observed:

"The survey purpose was explained to the head of household or spouse, and oral consent was obtained. Participants were assured that no unique identifiers would be gathered. No incentives were provided. The survey listed current household members by sex, and asked who had lived in this household on January 1, 2002. The interviewers then asked about births, deaths, and in-migration and out-migration, and confirmed that the reported inflow and exit of residents explained the differences in composition between the start and end of the recall period. …. Deaths were recorded only if the decedent had lived in the household continuously for 3 months before the event. Additional probing was done to establish the cause and circumstances of deaths to the extent feasible, taking into account family sensitivities. At the conclusion of household interviews where deaths were reported, surveyors requested to see a copy of any death certificate and its presence was recorded. Where differences between the household account and the cause mentioned on the certificate existed, further discussions were sometimes needed to establish the primary cause of death."

And further on, we read that official death certificates were produced for 80% of the deaths recorded, all in an average of less than half an hour per interview.


To conclude: Figures are unbelievable bullshit; methodology, also unbelievable bullshit. And the journal Lancet is pretty much unbelievable bullshit as well. You don't have to dislike leftards to object to Lancet; consider that it pushed an instantly-discredited study that claimed the MMR vaccine is linked to autism.

And Lancet apparently is willing to defend any overthrown ruler by claiming that his removal caused mass mayhem. In September Lancet published an analysis of Haiti after the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, claiming that of 8000 murders and 35,000 rapes, none could be blamed on Aristide's Lavalas family party. Trouble was, one of the study's authors quoted herself writing in another name -- and had worked at a Haitan orphanage where she befriended Aristide. (Also, the study was criticized for exaggerating the number of deaths and crimes. Imagine that.)

That's enough writing for tonight. I'm off to prove that the Detroit Tigers' American League championship was accompanied by one million excess deaths in the state of Michigan.


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