Thursday, July 10, 2008

Daponte article

Must read article from Yale researcher Beth Osborne Daponte.

Challenges exist when making reliable and valid estimates of civilian mortality due to war. This article first discusses a framework used to examine war’s impact on civilians and then considers challenges common to each statistical approach taken to estimate civilian casualties. It examines the different approaches that have been used to estimate civilian casualties associated with the recent fighting in Iraq to date and compares the results of different approaches. The author concludes by proposing that after fighting has ceased, other approaches to estimating Iraqi civilian mortality, such as post-war retrospective surveys and demographic analysis, should be employed.

Daponte's article is fair and professional. If you only have time to read 15 pages about the debate over Iraqi mortality, this is the paper for you. Bottom line:

Perhaps the best that the public can be given is exactly what IBC provides – a running tally of deaths derived from knowledge about incidents. While imperfect, that knowledge, supplemented by the wealth of data of the Iraq Living Conditions Survey and Iraq Family Health Survey (which have their own limitations), provides enough information in the light of the circumstances. At a later date, additional surveys can be conducted to determine the impact and/or do demographic analysis. But for now, the Iraq Body Count’s imperfect figures combined with the date of the ILCS and IFHS may suffice.

Exactly right. No survey is perfect, but combining the information from IBC, ILCS and IFHS is the best way to get a handle on Iraqi mortality. But what about those Lancet surveys? Why does Daponte not even mention them in her conclusion? Because she thinks that they are highly suspect. Read the whole thing, but my favorite quotes are:

The estimates from these students [DK --- I think that this should have been "studies"] have been lauded but also questioned, partially because the researchers have misinterpreted their own figures but also because of fundamental questions about the representativeness of the achieved survey sample.

The [Lancet I] authors misinterpreted the analysis of the data . . .

Problems with the analysis of the data also plagued the second effort.

The pre-war CDR that the two Lancet studies yield seems too low. That is not to say that it is wrong, but the authors should provide a credible explanation as to why their pre-war CDR is nearly half that of what the UN Population Division estimates for pre-war Iraq. Since Burnham et al. arrive at their estimate of Iraqi ‘‘excess deaths’’ by taking the difference in the pre-war and wartime crude death rates and applying it to a population, if the pre-war mortality rate was too low and/or if the population estimates are too high (e.g., do not take into account the refugee movement out of Iraq), then the resulting number of ‘‘excess deaths’’ would be too high, yielding inflated estimates. Unfortunately, the authors have not adequately addressed these issues.

Burnham et al. sent interviewers to the field to ask respondents for information, knowing that this could put interviewers’ lives at risk. In doing so, the research team was professionally irresponsible. Further, in an effort to ‘‘protect interviewers’’ (even though they had already put them in danger), they sacrificed the scientific randomization that the research relies upon.

Further, one should question how a proposal to conduct this research made it through the Institutional Review Board at a US university.

However, unlike the Lancet studies, the ILCS was careful in its attribution of the root causes of civilian casualties in Iraq.

Les Roberts likes to claim that no one with expertise in estimating conflict mortality criticizes the Lancet results. He should stop making such false claims.

Daniel Davies likes to get his boots on when he thinks that someone is unfairly criticizing the Lancet studies. Time to get walking! Davies will have a hard time portraying Daponte as either incompetent or a Neocon stooge of the Bush administration. If Daponte doesn't think that the Lancet estimates are worth paying attention to, why does Davies defend them so relentlessly?

Just asking!


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