Thanks for the reply. You are introducing some new mistakes here which i will discuss below.
But first, I am not aware of the "balanced review" from 2008 which you say appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. I'd be happy to read it if you care to provide a link. However, I would note right away that it would seem somewhat odd if your description were accurate, since one such piece of evidence is the IFHS report that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January of 2008, which concluded unambiguously that the Lancet survey overestimated. It is hard to see then how or why another piece in the NEJM would say there is no such evidence. I would also note that a review from 2008 would not have been able to consider evidence that has emerged since that time, such as the paper I referenced above (http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/section?content=a921401057&fulltext=713...), which presents considerable evidence of fabrication in the Lancet data, and which was published in 2010. There are several other things since that time which have also influenced this debate, such as the rare formal censure of the survey's lead author by AAPOR (http://tinyurl.com/yct4p23), or the thorough refutation of a poll-based estimate which was the only other source to suggest a similarly high number of violent deaths as the Lancet did (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/beyond/exaggerated-orb).
I don't think so much controversy continues now with regard to the Lancet survey. That is not to say there is a "consensus" against it. Its authors and a few of their friends continue to insist that it's right, and some left-wing blogs and such still do, but it seems clear that serious support for it has dwindled considerably over the last few years, down mostly to a handful of die-hards. Regardless, my point was not that nobody believed it credible, but I still think your review gave very minimal attention to a large amount of substantive criticism it has received, while heaping criticism on the others.
On to the new errors, You write that the three studies you cite "provide converging support" for an excess deaths figure of "400,000 lives if not higher", that is, you present this figure as a "conservative" minimum again, as if like the bottom of a confidence interval, a lower bound. I would say that this claim can not be sustained with any reasonable reading of the IFHS (and certainly not of IBC). As I look at the IFHS data, if you were to derive a figure for excess deaths, which the study did not do, there are two plausible approaches. The first is to use the raw figures from the survey ('unadjusted' figures) and this would seem to come to something like 270,000 excess deaths. Alternately, you could incorporate the upward adjustments they suggest with their violence estimate, and this would come to an adjusted estimate of 400,000 excess deaths. Thus, there is already a range of plausible estimates to draw. In addtion, both of these estimates would have error margins that extend below 270 and above 400. Then you might also consider the issue of the baseline rate, as I discussed last time, and the range of possible estimates would expand again. There just is no basis for the claim that the 400,000 figure is some kind of minimum ("if not higher", you say) from the IFHS, because this figure relies on using particular assumptions, and is not robust to all kinds of plausible adjustments in these assumptions.
You then say that IBC would somehow support this 400,000 ("if not higher") excess figure. This just makes no sense at all. You say that John Sloboda of IBC once suggested he thinks "about half" was their best estimate of their coverage. You say this leads to a "conservative estimate of 244,000". But there are several things wrong with this. First, this statement seems to come from an interview from about five years ago. It doesn't seem "conservative" to just extend this to the present, as if he were predicting coverage rates indefinitely into the future, but maybe it's reasonable. Second, if Sloboda is giving his "best estimate" that implies that he thinks the true number may be lower or higher than that, with his "best estimate" being the most likely in a range of possibilities. So where does "conservative" come in here? Again, you seem to be turning a central estimate into a lower bound. Third, based on their current total of (99,701 – 108,853) the "about half" idea would suggest something like 200-215,000. You say that they report 122,000, and therefore claim 244,000, but you're misreading the 122,000. That number is the result of including an estimated 15,000 additional deaths from the newly emerged WikiLeaks data. These newly discovered deaths would be filling in and reducing the very reporting gap Sloboda was talking about. You're adding them on top of it. Whatever the rate of underreporting in IBC before the WikiLeaks data, it is less after it, not the same.
Lastly, even if we accept a figure of something like 200-215,000 (or even your mistaken 244,000) this does not provide any support at all for 400,000+. In order for it do so we must assume there are a _minimum_ of 150-200,000 non-violent excess deaths to add on top of the (already non-conservatively doubled) IBC figures. The IBC figures themselves provide no basis for that assumption. They don't measure those kind of deaths and make no claims about them. So the assumption has to come from somewhere else. Where? The IFHS data suggests something in that range may well be true, but as above, this is hardly robust, and certainly not a lower bound. Turning to the Lancet data, that would suggest that 150-200,000 is too high for non-violent excess.
We then come to a very unfortunate citation on your part, and some other decidedly non-conservative inferences you draw from it. You cite an article from the British Medical Journal. You claim that this paper looks at methods like IBC and says they generally underport war deaths by "a factor of three", and you therefore derive a figure of "366,000", increasing your already mistaken figure of 244,000 by half again. First, this BMJ study and all of the claims you cite from it have been thoroughly refuted in a subsequent paper in the Journal of Peace Research. This paper shows that the BMJ authors misrepresent the data they are criticizing (it is not based on "media reports" in the first place) and their claim of underreporting by a factor of three is "simply false". That BMJ paper is a complete mess, which, "signally failed to substantiate any of its major criticisms, while containing serious methodological and factual errors", to quote the conclusions of the JPR paper.
Here is a link to that paper:
There is more detail in an Appendix here:
These really just refute all of the major claims in that BMJ paper, so if you do read these, I doubt you would cite that paper again, let alone try to draw inferences from it about the Iraq war. However, putting that aside, the BMJ paper itself did actually touch on the Iraq war, and gave its own estimate based on its findings at the end. It gave a figure of 184,000, or about half of the figure you chose to infer from their groundless "factor of three" headline. This figure is discussed in section 3 of the Appendix linked above.
"Perhaps it is your contention, however, that media reports of civilian deaths in the Iraq War were far more accurate and comprehensive than in other conflicts."
That wasn't a contention of mine, no. If you're asking now, I would think that probably is true because of how high profile the Iraq war has been relative to most conflicts, and due to advances in communications technology over previous wars. However, as discussed above, the BMJ article has nothing to say about how comprehensive "media reports of civilian deaths" were in other conflicts. More broadly, I don't think there is much knowledge about how comprehensive media reports of deaths were in other conflicts because I don't think there's been much research on that question across anything like a broad range of past conflicts. As such, there's little reason why I would contend anything about media reporting in Iraq relative to previous conflicts. The paper I referenced above from informaworld discusses one prior example near the end, which compares a study of the Afghanistan war by Johns Hopkins researchers to a media-based count similar to IBC's approach and that comes out to around 65%: "The survey found 5576 killed. This compares to a media-based count of 3620 civilians killed for the same period." So that's one data point to consider.
"You begin your letter by suggesting that the IBC’s work was in no way hampered by lack of Western media access to violent areas or the necessity of traveling with military escorts."
No, I didn't make this suggestion, just as I didn't make the contention above.
"In support of this notion you site the large number of international sources the IBC has drawn on, without giving any indication of how these sources might be weighted in the IBC’s work."
No. I didn't give a weighting. Nor did you. Your article instead just repeatedly implies a heavy weighting on the work of "Western reporters" in particular (who are supposedly mostly trapped in a bubble in Baghdad), "embedded" reporters in particular, and a supposedly very limited range of sources or reporters outside of "Western" ones. My citation shows something quite different. The IBC website has quite a bit of discussion on this kind of thing which is relevant. Here are some links on this:
This one shows sources on a particular day and the range of originating countries and languages for that day.
This one lists the top 15 sources used over a given period and says that four of these "are Iraqi or regional sources whose output originates in Arabic." Another is Chinese.
Another four near the top are "Western" news wires that have lots of reporters stationed all over the country. The top one there is Reuters:
That article gives some overview of their work in Iraq. It shows that they are hardly isolated in Baghdad, and even though a "Western" agency, its output comes mainly from Iraqi reporters stationed around the country. I suspect that the other big wires work similarly. So talking of "Western" this and that doesn't seem to make so much sense here. Most of the biggest sources IBC uses are either Iraqi/Arabic sources themselves, or are Western wire sources whose staffs are mostly Iraqi/Arabic. Then there are a wide range of other sources with less casualty output than those, some of which may more resemble the "Western", trapped in Baghdad, stereotype you present, and other smaller Iraqi and regional sources.
Another IBC piece addressing this issue here:
"The Arabic and international media, Ignatius continues, had somewhat greater ability to move about the country and even in some cases were “embedded” with the insurgents. Yet much of this reporting was not in English and so is not included in the IBC’s work."
Ok. Then it should be pretty easy to list a few examples of such reported civilian deaths that are not included in the IBC's work. The links I've provided above show that IBC includes a lot of "Arabic and international media", so it won't actually be that easy.
As another piece from IBC says,
"Do the English language sources on which we rely miss sources that are carried by the Arabic language media? Although this is a presumption made by some of our critics, we have found little evidence of this. Two facts are significant. no-one has ever sent us an Arabic media report reporting deaths in Iraq we did not already know about from English language sources. Secondly, there are well-known Arab news media that publish some of their stories in English and are included among IBC's sources. There are also some agencies like the BBC that provide translations of key Arabic sources. We have rarely found deaths among the latter that have not been reported elsewhere."
On the 'embedding' issue, you complain that I, "offer no supporting figures and so I will provide a figure for you. The number of officially embedded foreign reporters at the beginning of the war was 800 according to USA Today. This is hardly “small.” "
I wasn't speaking about "the beginning of the war". I was speaking about the war as a whole. I would think such numbers were highest during the initial invasion and then dropped precipitously thereafter. But even so, I would think that 800 is still a fairly small portion of the total number of journalists operating in Iraq at the time. I also don't know how much of _casualty reporting_ of the type IBC uses actually came from embedded reporters. It may not have been very much, even during the invasion when the practice was most common.
"The Lancet study—unlike the IBC—made no distinction between civilian and combatant deaths. It also included excess mortality. How, then, do you propose we take into account combatant deaths, excess mortality, and unreported killings in addition to the IBC’s figures of reliably documented civilian deaths, which you seem to accept?"
IBC discuss the combatant issue here, which is where the 122,000 figure you used before came from: http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/warlogs/
It says that total would go up to about 150,000 if adding Iraqi combatants, so about an 80/20 split.
The IBC data also shows a very high proportion of deaths being adult men, about 80% (11% women, 9% children), rather than the 90 you say the Lancet had, but i guess something like this would make sense since almost 100% of combatant deaths would be adult men. (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/nejm-2009/)
For excess mortality other than violence I think the information just isn't there to have any kind of reliable conclusion. I think the data that is available suggests these went up, not down, during the war but I think it's pretty hard to be confident in any particular figure for reasons I discussed earlier.
"A study published in January 2011 in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, for example, found that infants in the city of Fallujah have birth defects at levels more than 11 times the normal rate."
Yes, i saw this but I found some things about this study a bit dubious in terms of how they describe their methodology and the apparent strong opposition by the Iraqi government, essentially on the grounds that the teams doing this on the ground were part of the insurgency. However, things sort of like this have been reported anecdotally elsewhere too.
"Recall, however, that the city of Fallujah was excluded entirely from the Lancet study."
Well, no. You're confusing the 2004 and 2006 ones. Fallujah was included in the 2006 study. It was excluded partially from the 2004 study. Namely, it was excluded from the main excess death estimate, but was included in other findings in that study.
"The World Health Organization meanwhile declared in 2008 (contrary to your assertions that it had nothing unambiguous or consequential to say about excess mortality rates) that in the IFHS study, “The non-violent mortality rate increased by about 60%, from 3.07 deaths per 1000 people per year before the invasion to 4.92 deaths per 1000 people per year in the post-invasion period.” "
My assertion was that the IFHS didn't report any estimate of 400,000 excess deaths. You again change what I'm saying to argue with a straw man, so that he can be "contradicted". What you quote is from the Q&A to the IFHS report, but you truncate the quote. It goes on to say, "Further analysis would be needed to calculate an estimate of the number of such deaths and to assess how large the mortality increase due to non-violent causes is, after taking into account that reporting of deaths longer ago is less complete."
The broader quote shows at least two things. First, you were indeed in error in claiming that the IFHS reported 400,000 excess deaths. Period. Full stop. I want to point out that you never acknowledge this fact. Indeed, your reply never acknowledges any of the other factual errors I pointed out either. You don't acknowledge any of the points where you were clearly wrong, but instead just start arguing with me over various other things. I find this somewhat disturbing.
Second, the quote states that if they were going to make such an estimate that, "further analysis would be needed" which takes "into account that reporting of deaths longer ago is less complete". What to make of this? There's only one possible interpretation. This statement means that "3.07" is a "less complete" measure of deaths than is "4.92" for the respective periods. If so, this would mean that "a 60% increase" is too much. Some of that increase is not real. This is another of the assumptions open to interpretation in converting this data into an excess death estimate. Furthermore, any increase across two time periods is not necessarily _caused_ by any one factor. Not only is the "60% increase" not "unambiguous" in terms of possible varying completeness, but it would also be ambiguous as to how much of that increase was actually caused by - rather than occurred during - the war. The IFHS says nothing of this causation-correlation issue either. In the same Q&A they show they are aware of not drawing causation conclusions too loosely:
"Q: Does this estimate represent "excess" violent deaths - those attributable to the invasion?
A: No. It is an estimate of how many violent deaths occurred between the March 2003 invasion and June 2006. The study did not measure whether or not those deaths would have occurred had there been no invasion. However, the mortality rates for 2002 and early 2003 showed that mortality due to violent causes was low before the invasion."
So they are saying that their estimate of 151,000 is not an estiamte of violent deaths _caused by the war_. It is an estimate of violent deaths that occurred during the war. They make no claim about whether the war caused these deaths, or how many. They simply note that they measured a low rate before the war, informally suggesting that most are probably caused by the war. To make a claim about 'excess deaths due to war' is not just to compare a difference in two rates. It's also to make a claim about the cause of that difference, and one which excludes all other potential causes but the war.
You say, "it is not at all unreasonable to apply the WHO’s figure of a 60% increase in non-violent deaths to its own baseline figures (which may be debatable but which cannot be dismissed merely by citing other estimates, all of which are open to criticism). This yields, again, an entirely plausible figure of approximately 400,000 total excess deaths."
I would agree it's not necessarily "unreasonable" to do it. But it's also not necessarily unreasonable to do it with a wide range of different plausible assumptions as well, and which would lead to a wide range of plausible figures. I didn't say that 400,000 excess deaths was not plausible. It's just that it is but one plausible way to interpret the data among many, so that a wide range of other figures are also plausible, including ones much lower than 400,000. Nor did i say the IFHS baseline figures can be "dismissed". My point was that again there are a range of other plausible baseline figures that can't be dismissed either, such as perhaps the Lancet's, which would make most of those 400,000 excess deaths disappear.
My point was not to say that 400,000 is not plausible. I would say that it is. But it's one plausible way to interpret the data. There are other plausible ways to interpret the data as well. My point was to say that there is no basis for presenting that 400,000 as if it were some kind of "conservative" minimum or lower bound, as you were doing.
"But if you think this figure is grossly inflated on grounds of personal incredulity or from a strong preference for a different baseline figure, let us simply cut this figure in half to 200,000. Following the IBC’s trend-line we must still roughly double the figure to account for deaths post-2006. And so we arrive at approximately 400,000 excess deaths again."
Two problems with this. First, "cut this figure in half" again may be one plausible approach, but it still does not give you a minimum figure as you'd been claiming prior. To point out just one reason, the 400,000 includes this "upward adjustment" stuff that IFHS did, but that none of the other studies do. Without these adjustments, the central figure already drops to something like 270,000. The standard error margins on this probably dip toward 200,000 (half). This is without any discussion of what we think about the baseline rate, or other assumptions that are built into this kind of estimate.
Second, there is no basis for following IBC's trend-line with an "excess deaths" estimate that consists substantially of non-violent deaths, because variation in non-violent mortality may not correspond to violent civilian death rates. Again, it is certainly one plausible assumption that they do. But it is also plausible that they don't. Deaths from non-violent causes might go down even as violent deaths increase. Indeed, that link I provided about the Congo estimates last time shows that this actually seems to happen in many conflicts. A curious point about the Lancet data is that the excess deaths from non-violent causes go down during about the first year and a half of the war, according to that data, and then go back up again during the second half of the period to become positive again by the end. If you accept that trend line, the trend for the two types of deaths have no correlation at all, so why would we assume that non-violent mortality trends after those surveys correspond to the IBC trend line?
Again, it is not that these particular assumptions are not plausible ones, but there are other plausible ones as well, so we can certainly arrive at "400,000" by plugging in those particular assumptions, but we can not arrive at "400,000 or higher" this way.
Likewise, you say, "even if we discard fully two-thirds of the deaths in the Lancet study on the grounds they were somehow “fabricated” or the result of sampling errors and main street bias we would still end up, following the IBC’s trend line, with a total number of deaths to date in excess of 400,000."
But why "two-thirds"? Even if we take the IFHS central estimate of 150,000 we must discard three-fourths of the Lancet's 600,000 violent deaths. If we accept the 125,000 conclusion of CRED that i cited last time we need to discard more than three-fourths. And again, these are 'best estimates' from these groups, not lower bound minimums.
"An estimate of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost is therefore by no means simply the low end of the Lancet study’s confidence interval. "
"Hundreds of thousands" means 200,000 or more, and is not the low end of the Lancet interval.
Likewise, you say that you "pointed out that all three major studies support a figure of hundreds of thousands of deaths." But again you are changing the story. You said they support a claim that 400,000 is a minimum figure. They don't.
"Why, then, are you critical of the Lancet article alone without offering a single remark on the potential sources of underestimation or downward bias in the IBC’s work or in the article by Guha-Sapir and Degomme (which you cited from Wikipedia) that argues for a total “war-related death toll” of around 125,000 as of 2006?"
I noted major criticism of the Lancet article because your article ignored it all. I also did not focus on potential 'downward bias' in IBC because you went to great lengths to focus on (and in my view exaggerate) this. As to the CRED piece I think their conclusions have the potential for both upward and downward bias.
"It is hard not to conclude that your sole interest is in discrediting the higher figures of the Lancet study,"
My interest was in correcting factual errors in your article (all of which you ignore in your reply) and to balance what was in my view a rather biased, and in several ways misleading, overview of the evidence which hyped all kinds of criticism of sources like IBC and IFHS as being too low, while ignoring literally all the substantive criticism of the Lancet article. I further think that it is the evidence that discredits the Lancet figures, and if people are able to see this evidence (rather than having it hidden and not mentioned), they will have a much better understanding of the issue you were trying to write about. In short, my interest was in "facing the question of Iraqi civilian deaths as honestly and objectively as possible".