19 October 2006

Because you knew I would eventually write on the subject.

The Lancet, bunch of communist pro-Saddam, pro-Osama bin Laden bastards that they are, have jettisioned what was left of their scientific credibility by publishing a paper that is, even to my high-school-educated self, so seriously flawed that it is obviously a political exercise intended to influence the US congressional elections.

The paper in question, couched in meaningless jargon and blather, argues that over 600,000 Iraqis were killed by the US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent fighting.

How they get this from 47 clusters of a bit more than 1400 households, I do not understand.

This is their justification.

Here's an introduction to Cluster Sampling.

I draw your attention to an article on the subject with some interesting methodological implications.

"However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.
"Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.'s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711--almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size."

"Appendix A of the Johns Hopkins survey, for example, cites several other studies of mortality in war zones, and uses the citations to validate the group's use of cluster sampling. One study is by the International Rescue Committee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used 750 cluster points. Harvard's School of Public Health, in a 1992 survey of Iraq, used 271 cluster points. Another study in Kosovo cites the use of 50 cluster points, but this was for a population of just 1.6 million, compared to Iraq's 27 million.
"When I pointed out these numbers to Dr. Roberts, he said that the appendices were written by a student and should be ignored. Which led me to wonder what other sections of the survey should be ignored.
"With so few cluster points, it is highly unlikely the Johns Hopkins survey is representative of the population in Iraq. However, there is a definitive method of establishing if it is. Recording the gender, age, education and other demographic characteristics of the respondents allows a researcher to compare his survey results to a known demographic instrument, such as a census.
Dr. Roberts said that his team's surveyors did not ask demographic questions. I was so surprised to hear this that I emailed him later in the day to ask a second time if his team asked demographic questions and compared the results to the 1997 Iraqi census. Dr. Roberts replied that he had not even looked at the Iraqi census.
"And so, while the gender and the age of the deceased were recorded in the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, nobody, according to Dr. Roberts, recorded demographic information for the living survey respondents. This would be the first survey I have looked at in my 15 years of looking that did not ask demographic questions of its respondents. But don't take my word for it--try using Google to find a survey that does not ask demographic questions."

According to Iraqi Body Count (hardly a pro-Coalition source), if these mortality figures are true,

*On average a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every day in the first half of 2006, with "less than a tenth being noticed by any public surveillance mechanism."
*Of 800,000 wounded people in the past two years, "less than a tenth received any kind of hospital treatment."
*Over 7% of the male population has been killed; 10% in central region.
*Half a million death certificates were issued to families but not officially recorded.
*The Coalition has killed far more people in the last year than in the invasion and Falluja type-operations of earlier years.

Their conclusion?

"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."

Iraqi Body Count, by the way, puts civilian casualties in this war at 44,000 to 49,000.

The Investor's Business Daily has some things to say on the subject as well. My favorite is the observation that:

"One wonders how he knows that since Hussein, Uday and Qusay did not invite researchers to observe their burying of people alive or stuffing them feet first into tree shredders. Those who disappeared, disappeared. Those who talked about it also disappeared."

Now, would the Lancet, a highly respected professional publication just make up numbers? That would be irresponsible. Almost like inventing cancer patients and doing studies on them in your imagination.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to the editor and ask yourself if you believe in his integrity on this subject.

But while we are throwing polls around, check this one out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Linked to QuickNews:



12:51 PM  
Anonymous cMAD said...

The paper in question, couched in meaningless jargon and blather, argues that over 600,000 Iraqis were killed by the US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent fighting.

How they get this from 47 clusters of a bit more than 1400 households, I do not understand.

There are two possibilities why you might come to the conclusion that the paper is "couched in meaningless jargon and blather".
Possibility one: The authors try to bias or obfuscate facts with unnecessarily unprecise language.
Possibility two: The authors use technical terms that you don't understand (yet).

It isn't easy to figure out which possibility is true, or worse yet, to what extent both possibilities are partially true, and how to separate technical terms from blather.

Anyway, for starters, a question (it might be dismissed as an exercise in simple reading comprehension, but it's actually anything but simple to see something without being aware what to look for):

This is a statistical analysis.
Therefore, it has error margins.
What error margins do the authors state?
How do they state them??

8:44 PM  

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