Asymmetrical Common Sense

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Asymmetrical Information has a must read of the Lancet study that said there have been such enormously high casualties and gives some vital perspective.

I agree that there are a lot of deaths. But I don't think that there are as many as the Lancet study makes out. Not because I am comparing them to one-time events like Nagasaki, which I agree is silly. But even comparing them to other long term wartime figures makes it look to big.

Germany, with a prewar population of just about 80 million, suffered 1.8 million civilian deaths during six years of invasion, concentrated aerial bombing of civilian targets, and occupying forces that in the case of the English and Americans, frankly didn't give a [expletive deleted] what happened to the Krauts, and in the case of the Russians, took great pleasure in terrorising, raping and killing the local populace in revenge for their own dead. How likely is it that Iraq has lost a higher percentage of its civilian population in three years–especially given the vast advances in medical care, field treatment for water supply issues and famine, and GDP? With my admittedly limited knowlege of World War II, I find it very difficult to believe that the insurgents are worse than the Russians were, not to mention the Allied Air Command.

The Netherlands lost 30,000 people out of a population of roughly 9 million during six months of famine, during which the average calorie consumption dropped well below 1,000 per day. There was also a total famine of medical and other supplies, which could not pass through the battle lines. How likely is it that there is a larger humanitarian crisis in Iraq than there was in a country getting no food or supplies whatsoever?

Or to compare it to another civil war, this is more deaths than America's civilian and military deaths combined (union and confederate) during 4 years of brutal civil war with no medical care worth having, Sherman's march to the sea, and the tragic mistake of using massed formations against repeating rifles and modern artillery.

And in an update a stinging slap at the methodology:

Obviously, the fact that the researchers are likely to be left-wing doesn't invalidate the study. But observer bias does matter, especially in survey studies. My personal feeling is that given the difficulties of doing research in a war zone, any study, whether it bolsters or refutes my opinions, is likely to be crap. We'll know how many excess deaths there were when Iraq calms down, the refugees return, and they get a decent census; not before.

As Medpundit points out, this stuff may be bog-standard for public health work, but public health work is not exactly known for its outstanding statistical methodology:

And sorry, but the defense that it's as soundly designed as can be expected for these kinds of public health surveys is a weak one. Retrospective, interview-based studies like this are poor designs. It may be the standard way of gathering data in the public health field, but that doesn't make it the best methodology, and it certainly doesn't make its statistics sound. For too long the field of public health has relied on these types of shotty shoddy numbers to influence public policy, whether it's the number of people who die from second hand smoke or the number who die from eating the wrong kinds of cooking oils.

I'd urge people to read the whole thing. Before commenting.

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One Response to Asymmetrical Common Sense

  1. I did. I mentioned it in the earlier thread (which I, egemaniacally, believe maybe should be subtitled “The Luddite Strikes Back!).

    Lancet’s numbers, regardless of any math brought to bear, just don’t make anything resembling observable sense.

    “Observation” is still part of Science, right? Us Luddites get caught up in the nomenclature.

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