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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More on The Lancet

I already posted on my misgivings on The Lancet study (which you should read if you haven't already).

One of the arguments (see Betsy's comments) in favor of The Lancet is that it is a "world reknowned" journal.

Not quite.

Via Barcepundit, last year 'Scaremongering' Lancet accused of causing harm to health and wasting millions (emphasis added)
Nobel prizewinners in the Royal Society attack on editor over publication of flawed research

BRITAIN'S premier medical journal is endangering public health by publishing unfounded scare stories, 30 of the country's leading scientists say today.
Poor editorial judgment at The Lancet has fuelled panic over issues such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, hormone replacement therapy and genetically modified (GM) crops, the eminent medical researchers charge in a letter that the journal has refused to publish.

The signatories, thirty fellows of the Royal Society, two of whom are Nobel laureates, accuse it of favouring "desperate headline-seeking" over sound science, to the detriment of public health. "Under the editorship of Richard Horton, the publication of badly conducted and poorly refereed scare stories has had devastating consequences for individual and public health, in the UK and abroad, and carried a high economic cost," they say.

The letter, seen by The Times, responds to a Lancet editorial last month that criticised the Royal Society as a "shrill and superficial cheerleader for British science" that no longer makes major contributions to medicine.
But back to the inflated numbers, which I can not believe simply because the margin of error (200,000) is one hundred times the actual survey sample of 2,000. Iraq Body Count discredits the study:
A new study has been released by the Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in the Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that:
1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;
2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.
If these assertions are true, they further imply:
  • incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;
  • bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
  • the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
  • an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.
In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.
Don't miss also 655,000 War Dead? A bogus study on Iraq casualties in today's WSJ. Last week A Jacksonian took a thorough look at actual Iraqui census data and found some numbers that will surprise you.

As we used to say when I was in college, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. In The Lancet's study, it's all damned lies.

Update: Hitchens goes at it: The Lancet's Slant: Epidemiology meets moral idiocy

Update, Thursday, 19 October The 655,000 Fraud. Some people want to believe the worst about Iraq.
While it's obvious that Iraq has a terrible problem with sectarian violence at the moment, we find it hard to believe killin on the scale of Antietam or Gettysburg has been going on without anybody having noticed unti the statistical wizards from Johns Hopkins showed up.
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