The folks at Iraq Body Count are not happy. They have been engaged in an ongoing dispute with the authors of the Lancet and anyone who dares to challenge them.
They have criticized the recent Lancet report on the grounds that the estimate is based on a cluster survey technique and therefore couldn’t be accurate. Strangely, they don’t elaborate on what that is supposed to mean, expecting that the assertion alone should suffice in spite of the fact that the cluster survey method is tried and tested. Nor do they acknowledge that actual body counts significantly underestimate the true number of deaths.
They assert that the Lancet involves a shockingly high number of casualties. Again, that is supposed to be evidence of what exactly?
They criticise the Lancet for not distinguish between civilian and non-civilian deaths. That sounds reasonable until you consider that there almost no way of knowing with any certainty which deaths are civilian or otherwise. Let’s be honest, it’s no secret that the occupation has been caught out on numerous occasions denouncing the victims of an aerial bombardment as being insurgents, only to be later proven wrong.
They assert that the media can’t have omitted so many deaths. This is the weakest of their arguments. The IRB states that they o rely almost exclusively on English language sources, and only consider deaths from 2 or more reports. So by their own admission, they omit deaths not reported, deaths reported by 1 or more non English sources, and deaths only reported by one English source. Considering how many
Their strangest argument of all is that because at least one member of IRB is serious an anti-imperialist academic and activist, we don’t really need to believe that over 600,000 people died violent deaths to say enough is enough. In other words, they assert, without any supporting evidence, that the authors of the Lancet are presenting inflated numbers as a means to create negative sentiment about the Iraq war.
In the end, their thesis comes down to the complaint that such an estimate, because it is shockingly high, could not possibly be correct. These arguments are so irrational and unscientific that one has to ask, what is their agenda?
The answer may be revealed by the responses to those who have criticized them. John Sloboda told BBC Newsnight that the critics of IBC are comparable to terrorists in their “mindset”. Where have we heard that before?
What we here is essentially a turf war.
Unfortunately, this latest letter shot across the bow came one week before it was revealed that the Ministry of Defense’s top scientist had described the Lancet report as accurate, and also that government officials had stated internally that if anything it was likely to be an underestimate. If the best information available to one of the leading warmongering states in Iraq was that the methodology was sound, and the results likely to be cautious and conservative (which is exactly what the authors have maintained), then IBC begins to look increasingly redundant.