25 October, 2005

The quest for knowledge

The New York Times is desperate to find out how many Iraqi civilians have died due to the American invasion. They are so desperate to find out that they put their crack Baghdad bureau to work. Reporter Sabrina Tavernise looked high and low, or at least at Google. After what must have been minutes of exhaustive keyboard-tapping, she copied and pasted the statistics from IraqBodyCount.com. Since those numbers -- 26,000 to 30,000 -- are shockingly high, she does her readers the polite favor of hiding the fact that the numbers are also very conservative. Instead she writes that they are "incomplete," which implies inaccurate, rather than low. I appreciate her willingness to spare our delicate sensibilities. There is nothing worse than when the population paying for burnt dead bodies are forced to see the results of their actions.

And Tavernise's gentility does not stop there. She even ignores the peer-reviewed study published almost exactly a year ago. It used epidemiological sampling to find the most likely estimate of excess Iraqi deaths above the already sickening level at which they were dying under Saddam + sanctions. Their figure, as of September 2003, was 98,000, with a wide range to reach a 95% confidence interval. Of course that study was already deep in the memory hole within days of publication, so Ms. Tavernise did not need even to explain it away.

Instead, the NY Times confirms its own headline: "Rising Civilian Toll Is the Iraq War's Silent, Sinister Pulse."

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