Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Right kills Lancet Iraq survey dead, has way with corpse

If the Lancet Iraqi death survey has only one good outcome, it is this: the reality-based community has been shown the correct way of determining the veracity of a scientific study. In the old days, scientists used to check a study’s conclusions by looking at the experimental design and the type of statistics used, checking for arithmetical errors, and most importantly, seeing if the results were reproducible. Now the Right have shown that there is a far, far better way. It goes something like this:

1. Find one person who doesn’t believe the study. This is enough to discredit it, particularly if that person is a “local”. Evidence to back their assertions is unimportant. For example:

“This figure, which in reality has no basis, is exaggerated,” said Iraqi government spokesman Ali Debbagh.

2. Question whether the study has adopted precise and transparent criteria. It doesn’t matter that it may have
precise and transparent criteria in its Methods section. Mere questioning is enough to discredit it.

“It is a figure which flies in the face of the most obvious truths,” he said, calling on research institutions to adopt precise and transparent criteria especially when the research concerns victim tolls.

3. Is the study published in a respected, peer-reviewed journal? If so, it is politically biased and automatically discredited. Such journals don’t give equal time and space to the fantasy-based community.

Like Nature and Science, Lancet seems increasingly to be run by people motivated by politics rather than science, who prefer a slogan to a reputable survey.

If you’re still unsure, ask yourself: “Is this the kind of material this journal should be publishing”? For example, the Lancet should obviously not publish information about human health or human deaths as it’s a medical journal. Study discredited.

Doctors should ask who has taken over Lancet, ostensibly a professional medical journal, and for what purpose.

4. Does George Bush or John Howard say the study is discredited? If so, it is discredited (This does carry far more weight than if the study is discredited by, for example, a brown person (see point 1)).

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group…

You’ll notice the “Eagle Eye” Bush caught out this particular survey for not having the same results as other surveys that he likes. So it’s not like he’s just making stuff up.

5. Does the study use a survey of any kind? Does it seek to extrapolate results from this survey in any way, shape or form? Quite obviously to do so is impossible and such a study is discredited.

The actual number of Iraqi deaths recorded in Lancet’s latest study is just 547. Extrapolating from that figure, the study’s authors estimate:
... that as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.

6. Are the results different from those of unrelated events? If so, the study is discredited.

Let’s put Lancet’s number in perspective:
* It is larger than the total number of Americans killed during combat in every major conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the first Gulf War.
* It is more than double the combined number of civilians killed in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
* It is a larger number than were killed in Germany during five years (and 955,044 tons) of WWII bombing.

7. Finally, was the study released at a certain time?

Whatever the base credibility of The Lancet’s editors, their propensity to publish these things in October of even-numbered years makes them look like partisan hacks.

The Right probably doesn’t go far enough here. If a study is released on the 13th day of the month, for example, it should be discredited. Or on a Friday afternoon near going home time. Or when you have a hangover on a Monday morning.

In fact, all studies that involve any kind of science or mathematics are now discredited. How simple is that?

More from Tims Lambert and Dunlop.