Science Accounting Iraq
posted by July 29 at 18:14 PMon
This morning I finally got around to reading AO Scott’s review of “No End in Sight.”
One line jumped out at me:
…nor does he spend a lot of time chronicling the violence that has so far taken the lives of more than 3,000 American soldiers and marines and tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis.(emphasis added)
There really is no need to equivocate about the number of Iraqi lives lost due to this invasion, thanks to a brave study done between May and July of 2006. While not flawless, this study is by far the most accurate estimate of the number of lives lost as a consequence of the 2003 invasion.
We estimate that between March 18, 2003, and June, 2006, an additional 654,965 (392,979–942,636) Iraqis have died above what would have been expected on the basis of the pre-invasion crude mortality rate as a consequence of the coalition invasion. Of these deaths, we estimate that 601,027 (426,369–793,663) were due to violence.(emphasis added)
Why is this number so much higher than reported by surveillance measures (that report numbers more in the tens of thousands)?
Our estimate of excess deaths is far higher than those reported in Iraq through passive surveillance measures. This discrepancy is not unexpected. Data from passive surveillance are rarely complete, even in stable circumstances, and are even less complete during conflict, when access is restricted and fatal events could be intentionally hidden. Aside from Bosnia, we can find no conflict situation where passive surveillance recorded more than 20% of the deaths measured by population-based methods. In several outbreaks, disease and death recorded by facility-based methods underestimated events by a factor of ten or more when compared with population-based estimates.
The authors go on to show that the trends of the various studies match closely – a further validation of the approach.
This is an amazing study, given the enormous risk involved in sampling in an active war zone. For an Iraq spiraling into civil war, this was an ambitious undertaking.
A sample size of 12 000 was calculated to be adequate … and was chosen to balance the need for robust data with the level of risk acceptable to field teams… selection of survey sites was by random numbers applied to streets or blocks rather than with global positioning units (GPS), since surveyors felt that being seen with a GPS unit could put their lives at risk. The use of GPS units might be seen as targeting an area for air strikes, or that the unit was in reality a remote detonation control. 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.
So, the next time you hear someone waffling on the human cost of this war—about equivalent to killing the entire population of Seattle—remind them of this study.