Iraqi deaths "Robustly" ignored

Every once in a while you realize you've become a news tramp; swinging wildly from story to story, seldom revisiting the old once they've crept from the scene. Maybe a phone call every now and again just to prove you're not shallow, but the truth is, you've moved on. And there's always another sweet sweet f**k-up for the Commemorative Plate Collection on the horizon.

But the one that does bring me back, like a bad habit (that's where the analogy breaks down), is the Lancet "cross-sectional cluster sample survey" showing that an estimated 655,000 Iraqi civilians have died -- and that's only through Summer 2006. (This American Life devoted an entire chilling and heartbreaking episode to the survey HERE.)

The mind reels and the heart breaks. Think about it: each one is a knock on the door (they should be so lucky), a candle lit, clothes torn, sleepless nights, choking tears, the loss of normalcy, dependability, love, comfort, and ultimately a sense of reality.

And then the Stalin quote: One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.

The latest on the survey, which seems to have been successfully challenged in the PR campaign, if not in the Real World,â„¢ has the BBC reporting on a FOIA request that the British Government's own scientists gave credence to the study when it was first released, advising authorities not to "rubbish" it:

"[T]he Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were 'close to best practice' and the study design was 'robust.'"

Bush and Blair predictably poo-pooed the numbers, well aware that the acceptance of carnage on this level would challenge the very foundations upon which Americans and Brits stand: that is, that we only engage in clean, low-casualty wars. The dirty ones are started by others. The bad people.

The British government, the documents reveal, accepted the study's methodology, even as it rejected its findings because, get ready: there were other studies that contradicted it.

That's right. Because there were competing studies, it rejected this one. Maybe this is why "we don't do body counts."

One final note: The BBC report notes that "Dr Michael Spagat of Royal Holloway London University" has some doubts about the methodology: "It would appear they were only able to sample a small sliver of the country."

Although Spagat has been involved with the NGO Iraq Body Count (which has found far fewer deaths), what the story doesn't mention is that the he's an economist -- not an epidemiologist. I won't pretend to be an expert on such matters, but I will ask the question: is the good doctor qualified to review the work of the epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins who conducted the original study?

For their parts, the Washington Post and the Times don't seem to have reported on this interesting news. But I did a search for "robust" on each site and found these terms. I thought you might enjoy them...

Robust economies, robust support, robust identities, robust demands on Iran, robust fishing industry, robust trading gains, the vocally robust, robust returns on investment, robust trading-driven growth in earnings, robust auctions, robust dialogue, robust saxes, robust lesbians...

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