More on Counting Civilian Casualties
The online debate continues about a recent report in a British medical journal estimating 655,000 civilian deaths since the U.S. led invasion in March 2003. After my column on the study last week, lead author Gilbert Burnham defended its methodology in a discussion with readers.
Three British academics argue in Science.com (by subscription) that the study suffers from "main street bias."
"By only surveying houses that are located on cross streets next to main roads or on the main road itself," wrote co-author and Oxford University physics professor Sean Gourley in a press release. "The study inflates casualty estimates since conflict events such as car bombs, drive-by shootings artillery strikes on insurgent positions, and marketplace explosions gravitate toward the same neighborhood types that the researchers surveyed."
But Rebecca Goldin, writing for Statistical Assessment Service (stats.org) at George Mason University, rejected such criticism, saying the JHU study used statistical weighting methods that took into account the location of interviewees.
"The methods used by this study are the only scientific methods we have for discovering death rates in war torn countries without the infrastructure to report all deaths through central means," she wrote. "Instead of dismissing over half a million dead people as a political ploy as did Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, we ought to embrace science as opening our eyes to a tragedy whose death scale has been vastly underestimated until now."
I first wrote about media coverage of civilian casualties in September 2004, quoting the Gulf News' observation that "an eerie silence" surrounded the subject. Two years and thousands of civilian deaths later, the silence has been replaced by serious debate.
By Jefferson Morley |
October 25, 2006; 9:00 AM ET
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