A lot of people have taken me to task for calling the Lancet Iraqi Mortality Survey [PDF] an example of scientific corruption. I still stand by this claim.
Many seem to equate scientific corruption with falsification of data but there are many ways to create a false impression even if the underlying data is sound. (I will expand on this in a subsequent post).
One easily graspable example in the Lancet study’s dishonesty is the key sentence in the Summary, the one repeated in the media world wide, that pegs the “conservative” estimate at 100,000 excess deaths. The actual given estimate is 98,000. What pure scientific purpose is served by rounding the number up to 100,000? There is no technical reason for doing so. They chose that number because a big, round numbers stick in people’s minds. Its a number chosen only for its marketing value.
More damning is the utter practical uselessness of the study’s findings. The cover-story for the study is that it is a medical epidemology study intended to provide decision makers with information they can use to reduce the mortality rate in Iraq from all causes.
When one looks at the study as actually published, however, it provides no solid information on which a decision maker could act in Oct 2004 or later. Indeed, the study obscures such data as the age, gender, combat status and means of death of those reported killed. It doesn’t report any kind of detailed time series that would let decision makers determine whether the people reported killed died in the major combat phase or not and it produces widely different scales and causes of death dependent on whether the outlier Falluja cluster is included or not.
But I could be wrong, so let me issue this challenge:
Can anybody point out information contained in the study, as published in Oct 2004, that would let a real world decision maker make changes to policy, strategy or tactics that would have or will save lives in Iraq?
Please be as specific as possible.
I think the answer is “No.” I think this proves this study was designed, conducted, written up and published purely for its hoped for political impact in America and the rest of the Western world. Trying to save Iraqi lives was never a major consideration.
To me that is scientifically dishonest and represents corruption of our scientific institutions.
(Update:) let me rephrase the question slightly
Given that: (1) The study is universally recognized as being carried out under very difficult conditions. (2) Difficult conditions seriously raised the risk of significant error in the study. (3) The consequences of acting on erroneous information in a war zone could be catastrophic.
What data provided by the study was so important that it was worth the risk of conducting the study under adverse conditions and getting an widely inaccurate result? What data had to be provided in Oct 2004. What data couldn’t wait?