Political Science

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Political Science


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Credit the newsmaking scientists at Johns Hopkins with this: They know a political opportunity when they see one. This latest Iraq war-death estimate 655,000, four times higher than anyone else's is released a few weeks before Election 2006, just like their last Lancet study, which appeared right before the 2004 election. Here we are again, watching science meet anti-war politics.

Yesterday the study got generous coverage in The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Why that happened is unclear, because the scientists the lead author this time is Dr. Gilbert Burnham, last time Dr. Les Roberts burned the media in 2004 by irresponsibly hyping a supposed death total of 100,000. The signs of politicization were clear enough: One author admitted to politically motivated timing. Lancet editor Richard Horton called the war "grievously in error."

And sure enough, as Slate's Fred Kaplan showed, the study actually proved no such figure. Sampling Iraqis around the country by interview, the authors' survey really determined that the death toll in 2004 was somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000. As Mr. Kaplan put it: "This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board." Every other credible group or analyst put the number in the range of 15,000-30,000. The 100,000 estimate was nevertheless declared to be "conservative" by these political scientists.

This time, once again, the stated 655,000 number is not the actual finding. The study actually reports that between 393,000 and 943,000 died. Even the lower end of that range would be shocking if true: It is about three times higher than anyone else's. …

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