New doubts raised about Lancet's Iraq death toll study

You know the one, merrily cited on every Democratic politician and nutroots blog in Nutrootsville as proof that the number of Iraqis killed since 2003 in fact exceeds 600,000, fully an order of magnitude greater than the most trusted body count numbers. People have been challenging it since 2006, but read this National Journal report today pulling the various strands of criticism together. There’s not a whole lot new here that I can see but it’s impressive to see it all in one place and presented against the backdrop of the investigators’ political biases. To wit:

No matter whether a latent desire to feed the American public’s opposition to the war might have shaped these studies, another audience was paying close attention: jihadists who used this research as a justification for killing Americans. Roberts already believed that jihadi attacks were, in part, driven by the international image of the United States. “The greatest threat to U.S. national security [is] the image that the United States is a violator of international laws and order and that there is no means other than violence to curb it,” Roberts wrote in a July 2005 article for Tirman’s center. When NJ asked Roberts about the risk that his estimate would incite more violence, his confidence seemed to waver for the only time during the interview. “This area of study is a minefield,” he said. “The people you are talking about are the same kind of people who deny the Holocaust.” Does it give him qualms that some of those people use his study to recruit suicide bombers? “It does,” he replied after a pause. “My guess is that I’ve provided data that can be narrowly cited to incite hatred. On the other hand, I think it’s worse to have our leaders downplaying the level of violence.”

This is the same guy who ran for Congress in the Democratic primary in 2006 and told an interviewer “I consider myself an advocate.” In fact, he initiated an earlier death toll study that found 100,000 dead by 2004. One of the co-authors of that one told the Journal last month that he now estimates the overall toll to be in the neighborhood of 250,000 — which of course is less than one half the estimate of what Lancet says.

If you don’t have time for all of it, start halfway down with the “Potential Problems” section. And don’t miss the tidbit about Cluster 33. Can one car bombing account for 76,000 deaths? Yep, sort of.