Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Moonbat "Science" vs. Reality

There's been quite a kerfuffle around the 'net because of a study released by The Lancet saying there have been about 655K "excess" civilian deaths in Iraq since March 2003. Idaho ├╝berblogger Clayton Cramer got Instalanched for discussing the report, and Julie at Red State Rebels mentioned it in a supportive way. Many of those on the left who are reflexively supporting the study (because, while they might not admit it -- even to themselves -- it feeds into their preconceptions that the American military is full of blood-thirsty animals who are slaughtering Iraqis for fun) claim that those of us questioning the report's outlandish conclusions aren't finding any problems with the methodology -- only the result. Well, here's a critique of the methodology...

The survey relied on doing interviews in "clusters" of homes. From the report:
By confining the survey to a cluster of houses close to one another it was felt the benign purpose of the survey would spread quickly by word of mouth
among households, thus lessening risk to interviewers.
They also tried to verify each death; amazingly, in 90% of the cases they families of the "dead" were able to provide a death certificate. The problem with this is that the surveyors didn't record the names of the dead for comparison later. In the West, this might not be a problem, but it's different in the Middle East. Arab culture is built around the extended family; therefore, many people are likely to say that someone who had died (especially a "heroic" death) would have lived in their home. This is especially true when Iraqis know that Americans often pay "blood money" to the families of those who died accidentally in coalition attacks. So here's an Iraq family, and these Americans come to their door and ask if anyone has been killed lately by Americans. How do you think they'll respond? Since they did the study in a "cluster", I could see people running a "death certificate" from house to house ahead of the surveyors -- "Hey, show this to these Americans, and we might get blood money. Those Americans sure are stupid."

This is the problem with "moonbat" science -- failure to adjust their assumptions for clearly outlandish results. Any normal scientists, seeing results that were completely outside the expected range, would check their assumptions and methodology to see where they went wrong. (Actually, for this group, they were clearly hoping for a high number, so they had no incentive to question their methodology.) It's the same thing with the supposed "discrepancies" in exit poll numbers in the last two Presidential elections; the people running the exit polls, to their credit, took steps to fix their methodology -- realizing that, for some reason, Republican voters were more likely to refuse to answer the exit poller's questions. Moonbats, on the other hand, take the results and spin them into a huge conspiracy theory where hundreds of computer programmers (a notoriously conservative lot, I know) conspire to make electronic polling devices all change enough votes to the Republicans so that they win by just a little bit.

Those of us who appreciate real science should continue to speak out against the fake science of both the left and the right -- even if people accuse us of a "lack of regard for human life".

Update 2207 14 Oct: Huckleberries Online linked to this post (Thanks, Dave!), which generated some interesting discussion in the comments.


Blogger Vigilis said...

BH, I'm expecting a rather significant correction to this staggering estimate of excess deaths, but - only after the coming congressional elections this November.

The statistical basis for the conclusion is about as fawlty as the "Fawlty Towers" crowd could have made it, as you rightly indicate.

10/13/2006 8:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard an extended interview with the studies author on the radio, and he described their methodology. Per him, it's the same methodology used by the US military in Bosnia to evaluate deaths, and is the same being promoted by the US for use in other areas of the world.

This result does seem too large to believe. However, I'm pretty sure they didn't limit the questions to people killed by Americans or by war action. They just asked if anyone in the household had died in the two periods, and compared before and after.

Additional deaths could be related to general disruption, interruption food or water or fuel supplies, etc.

The study author said they used both American and Iraqi workers, so you'd think they'd be able to verify that the same death certificate wasn't being run from door to door. Also,the houses were chosen at random, so shuttling a certificate among homes would be pretty spotty and not likely to result in a 92% rate of producing the certificate.

The author says a journalist can verify the study by going to a few cemetaries and asking the caretaker about burials in the two periods.

And last, the report was presented to the Lancet months ago; the Lancet controlled the publication date. Had the report been released shortly after the election, they would probably be accused of withholding bad news to help the administration.

Have you looked at the actual report? I haven't, so I can't really draw any conclusions.

I'm curious; at what point does the report become incredible? The administration estimates Iraqi deaths at 87,000. (Note that lately they dropped Iraqi deaths due to sectarian strife from the death tolls, and only report Iraqi deaths from some type of military or police action, so the 87k number is squishy) The report says at leat 400,000 deaths. Is 95,000 not credible? 100,000? 125,000? 150,000?


10/13/2006 8:46 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

House were not picked ramdomly..The lead worker choose which houses to go to.

10/13/2006 10:36 AM

Anonymous EW-3 said...

The Lancet published a similar two years ago in mid October, just before the Presidential elections. The lancet editor has even stated he wanted to influence the November election.
There are many deficiencies in this report particularly in the are of the method in which the data is sampled. 92% of the families interviewed could produce a death certificate. An amazing feat in a war torn country in the midst of a "civil war". Wonder what old Heisenbergh say about the fact that Iraqi families are often paid money for lost family members by the US.
One intersting tidbit I foun dwhen I was reasearch this issue. The population of Baghdad has gone from 5.7 million in 2003 to 7.4 million in 2005. Not bad for a city in such chaos.

10/13/2006 11:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just figured we got the high score. Sadam must be peeved.


10/13/2006 11:58 AM

Anonymous Paul said...

When I heard of the report on the radio, I was surprised to learn that they weighted the samples by population density, which is good. One problem then becomes how they sampled withing the population areas.

They chose to cluster the samples to get more people to respond. We have accepted adjustments for people who refuse to take surveys. Clustering does not promote random sampling.

Don't know how they took care of this problem. It would be like doing a political poll in the US of university professors or of military members. Tend to get people who think similarly.

10/13/2006 6:17 PM

Blogger Trickish Knave said...

These are probably some of the same scientists that are peddling the global warming scheme.

As soon as Bush is out of hte White House the moonbats will calm down and hopefully try to assemble some sort of partisan crossover.

10/13/2006 6:47 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Alan, you've been in Iraq, so you have a better idea of what's going on there than most (or all) of us. The report says that, basically, 2.5% of the population of Iraq has died in the 3+ years following the invasion. In the year you were there, did you happen to notice your unit killing 0.8% of the population in your area? (If I remember, you were in Kirkuk, which has about 1 million people. That would have made your unit's quota about 8,000 Iraqis killed by your unit. Does that number sound reasonable, based on your experience there?)

10/14/2006 8:11 AM

Anonymous Alan said...

As Guardsmen and women we were tuned into establishing relationships with Iraqis than to killing them.

I don't know exactly how many we killed, but it would be much closer to eight than 8,000. We lost 11 soldiers out of nearly 4,000 in our brigade, only 4 to combat action, five to accidents, two to suicide.

Half a million killed seems way out of line to me, but, having read various supporters and critics of the study, it does seem to have some validity, along with some flaws. The actual number is probably higher than our official figure of 87,000, but lower that the study's low number of 400,000. Just a guess.

BTW, producing a death certificate might seem surprising in a chaotic country as ew-3 side, but it doesn't really surprise me. I found that the Iraqis loved paperwork, especially official paperwork with lots of stamps and signatures.

10/14/2006 9:46 AM

Anonymous EW-3 said...

Thanks Alan....
Am curious. Where do you think these death certificates come from? Would the issuing authority have the equivalent records and paperwork?

10/14/2006 11:23 AM

Anonymous Alan said...

ew-3, I don't think I ever saw an Iraqi death certificate, though I seem to recall some documentation submitted with a claim for compensation for death if a civilian. I saw weapons cards, voting credentials, and that type of stuff.

My best guess is that death certificates would be issued by the province, as were most of the other records I saw. Just as Idaho issues its own death certificates and the feds don't, I think in Iraq it's the same. The central government is too chaotic, or was then, to handle much centralization of gov't function.

So, a person could probably go to the Kirkuk Governmenet Building (we called it the KGB) and check death records.

10/15/2006 8:27 AM

Anonymous EW-3 said...

That's kind of what I was getting at. If the survey uses the fact that 92% had death certificates, why go through all the statistical hocus pocus and get the actual count straight from the government.

10/16/2006 11:04 AM

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