12 October 2006

Latest Lancet Report -

From: David Sketchley
Sent: jueves, 12 de octubre de 2006 17:07
To: Sarah Boseley
Cc: Media Lens
Subject: Lancet report
Importance: High

Dear Sarah
Regarding your piece this morning.

Firstly, the subtitle is inaccurate. "US and Britain reject journal's finding that death toll has topped 650,000". No, the US and Britain do not reject the findings, it is the UK and US governments that reject the findings. A very big difference.

Secondly, why did you give pride of place to comments by the US president, the Foreign Office, and the US Defence Department dismissing the report even before explaining the details of same? This gives the appearance that you attach more weight to these lay points of view than to the scientists that carried out the survey.

Thirdly, nowhere can I read in your piece that you have contacted other eminent medical epidemiologists or statisticians to find their reactions to the Lancet report. Why not? Are you statistically literate enough to judge the sampling techniques used in the Lancet report?
BBC Newsnight interviewed Sir Richard Peto, Professor of Medical Statistics at the University of Oxford, last night who called this study "statistically reliable".

Channel 4 News interviewed Prof. Sheila Bird of the Biostatistics Unit at the Medical Research Council who stated "They have enhanced the precision this time around and it is the only scientifically based estimate that we have got where proper sampling has been done and where we get a proper measure of certainty about these results"

Exactly the same happened with the previous Lancet report when the mainstream media ignored the report and it was left to others to point this out:

'Michael J. Toole, head of the Center for International Health at the Burnet Institute, an Australian research organisation, has said of the Lancet report:
"That's a classical sample size." Researchers typically conduct surveys in 30 neighbourhoods, so the Iraq study's total of 33 strengthens its conclusions. "I just don't see any evidence of significant exaggeration," Toole added.
(Cited, Lila Guterman, 'Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored,' The Chronicle Of Higher Education, January 27, 2005)
David R. Meddings, a medical officer with the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention at the World Health Organization, has said surveys of this kind always have uncertainty because of sampling and the possibility that people gave incorrect information about deaths in their households. However, Meddings added:
"I don't think the [Lancet] authors ignored that or understated. Those cautions I don't believe should be applied any more or any less stringently to a study that looks at a politically sensitive conflict than to a study that looks at a pill for heart disease." (Ibid)
Dr. Bradley Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said, "Les [Roberts, lead author of the Lancet report] has the most valid estimate." (Ibid)
Dr. Toole agreed: "If anything, the deaths may have been higher [than the Lancet study's estimate] because what they are unable to do is survey families where everyone has died." (Ibid)

Fourthly, you state: "The Foreign Office also cast doubt on the findings, stating that the government preferred to rely on the body count of the Iraqi ministry of health, which recorded just 7,254 deaths between January 2005 and January 2006." and 'Yesterday the Foreign Office repeated the government's criticism of two years ago. "We will be looking at it in more detail but it is a fairly small sample they have taken and they have extrapolated across the country," said a spokesman. "We rely on the Iraqi government themselves. They are producing their own figures these days"'

These days?

Why do you only cite 1 year's count from the Iraqi MoH? Could it be anything to do with the fact that in December 2003, Iraq's Health Ministry was ordered to stop counting civilian dead from the war and its aftermath?

As a result what you write is incredibly misleading.

Moreover, note that in the same USA Today report it also quotes the then Iraqi Minister of Health, Dr. Khodeir Abbas "It would be almost impossible to conduct such a survey, because hospitals cannot distinguish between deaths that resulted from the coalition's efforts in the war, common crime among Iraqis, or deaths resulting from Saddam's brutal regime,"

Further, in your own newspaper, Peter Beaumont also throws doubt on the body count of the Iraqi ministry of health today: "Some Sunni families have stopped going to Baghdad's morgue, which is in an area controlled by Shia militias, who are responsible for the death squads. The families of two recently murdered Sunni soldiers in a largely Shia battalion of the Iraqi army, their colonel said, were followed to the morgue and attacked. Funerals have also been targeted. Death follows death. Hospitals have been used for holding and torturing the disappeared."

Why did you not challenge the FO on their statement before writing your article?

Apart from all this, as you well know and as (Lancet editor) Richard Horton wrote in his Comment piece today "we have a legal obligation under the Geneva conventions to do all we can to protect civilian populations. These findings show not only that are we not adhering to this legal obligation, but also that we are progressively subverting it year on year."

I notice this aspect did not merit any comment in your piece.

I look forward to your comments.

Yours Sincerely
David Sketchley
Seville, Spain