I’ve written before about the problems with the “Body Count” article published just before the US 2006 Congressional elections in Lancet. LINK LINK2

BizzyBlog has a summary if you aren’t familiar with the story: that right before the US Congressional elections, the Lancet published an article claiming a large number of deaths since the US invasion: a number that exceeded other estimates by  tenfold.

Aside from noticing what others, mainly the UKTimes, had noted, (i.e. about gathering data from an unrepresentative pool of families/clusters, something that would make the data unreliable) I made my own original observation: That in a country where greetings and establishing rapport takes time, how could the extensive interview for the data collection be done.

I mean, in most third world countries (especially Arab countries), you just don’t barge in and start asking personal questions. You introduce yourself, identify your family ties, exchange smalltalk, and often have a cup of tea or coffee. After that is done, you get to the nitty gritty of asking questions. Now, how could this be done in the estimated 15 minutes that was the calculated by the UKTimes article (LINK NOT ON LINE) for each extensive interview (not to mention the extra time needed to find the death certificates that presumably were stashed away in the bottom of a closet).

The timeconsuming necessity to establish trust was noted in other surveys about the war. LINK 

Well, now the National Journal has an extensive check on the data and finds it wanting…to the extent that not just honest miscalculation but fraud might be assumed. They uncover links between the researchers and the anti war movement, and that the Iraqi researcher had been active in Saddam Hussein’s government and had supplied statistics to prove the high child mortality caused by the sanctions in the 1990’s (figures that are now assumed to be exaggerated).
Well, this to a doctor is not proof of anything, any more than pharmaceutical funding means that an article might be biased. However, the medical literature has been burned enough by that type of problem that you now have to disclose any connections. Presumably, in a survey that was very controversial, the rush to publish overlooked the political viewpoint and funding of the survey.

However, the National Journal examines the scientific data collection in a second related article HERE.

One of the major problems (ethical and scientific) is that names were not collected, presumably because of risks to the families involved in the survey. But another problem was that they cooperated with local anti American militias to get the data needed, i.e. contaminating the data.

The fact that these surveys are still being used as propaganda to promote anti Americanism and promote jihadi recruits makes such things even more disturbing.

This is not the first time that a medical journal has allowed articles with questionable scientific details to promote an ideological agenda: I had a similar fight in preblog days of the early 1990’s when the New England Journal of Medicine published a series of articles promoting euthanasia, all of which cited how the Netherlands had “successfully regulated the practice to prevent abuse” even after a long list of abuse (unwanted killing) had been published in the lay press and even the (ethics) Hastings Journal. The editor behind that fiasco has since resigned, for unrelated reasons, but ever since then, I tend to ignores politicized articles.

Scientific expertise does not make one an expert at foreign affairs. (my opinions on BNN are based on years working in public health in poor countries, not on my M.D.)

The irony is that by allowing politicized data, then allowing it to be rushed into print without full peer review is another black eye on scientific journalism.

And some scientists suspect that a similar lack of peer review is contaminating the “global warming” data…but that story is outside my area of expertise… but not outside my area of skepticism.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She has published in the medical literature. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

Her stepson is serving in Iraq.

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