11 May 2009
Dear Michael Spagat,
Many people have been wondering why you have such a bee in your bonnet about the Lancet Iraq Mortality Studies. I don't. Its pretty obvious to me. Your own conflict of interest and that of colleagues such as Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks is patently obvious.
In previous research papers such as "Universal patterns underlying ongoing wars and terrorism", calculations and conclusions were made, based on data for civilian killings provided by: IBC! You are also intimately connected to CERAC (as is Dr. Hicks), whose own CERAC Integrated Iraq Dataset (CIID) "builds on the event description from three datasets that monitor violence in Iraq: Iraq Body Count , iCasualties and ITERATE." Further, the Dept. of Economics at the Royal Holloway, University of London, also uses IBC in its country specific datasets.
Let's be clear, using figures from an organization that itself admitted were an undercount of victims ("Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media") and then deleting figures from that undercount, as you did for example in the above mentioned paper, can only mean that the conclusions reached in these papers and indeed any other that used the IBC figures, have been seriously compromised, especially considering the numbers reported in the 2 Lancet studies. And this explains your mania with Lancet.
Apart from the conflict of interest, which you fail to mention in any of your work, you also have a strange tendency to attack any critics of the Colombian government of Uribe, connected in his early days in Medellín to the cocaine cartels, and recently to all sorts of human rights abuses. I wonder if the fact that some of your funding has come from Colombia's central bank: Banco de la República has anything to do with this, or is it simply an ideological thing?
In 2007 you took it upon yourself to attempt to discredit AI & HRW's reports on Colombia in your paper The Work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: Evidence from Colombia. This work and your attempts to discredit these 2 NGOs is characterised by a clear attempt to reduce the figures of victims as well as attempting to muddy the waters regarding state complicity with the paramilitaries in the human rights atrocities in Colombia. This is comparable to the work of Holocaust deniers who look to reduce at all costs, the number of Jews killed in that horrific crime. As you yourself acknowledge "The free flow of accurate information on patterns of violence can make a critical contribution to conflict resolution. Yet warring parties tend to compete to distort the relevant information in their favor." One can see which warring party you are working for...
In "The Colombian Conflict: Uribe's First 17 Months (J. Restrepo and M. Spagat), CEPR Discussion Paper 4570, 2004" you stated: "paramilitary groups...neither belong to the institutional apparatus nor are under the command and control of the state" That has now been shown to have ignored the reality that there has been tight collaboration between both. Both AI & HRW challenged these suppositions and still do as their reply to your paper shows: "Recent revelations about the degree of paramilitary infiltration in various state institutions, including the security forces, the legislature, and the DAS appear only to have confirmed what AI and other NGOs have been saying publicly for years. In many cases, AI has found it difficult to separate security force from paramilitary responsibility in killings, since there is evidence of the involvement of both. In fact, in many cases in which the article might describe the evidence for collusion as being "soft", subsequent research and/or judicial investigations have corroborated AI’s initial claims."
As both HRW and AI reports challenged many of your basic assumptions, they too had to be discredited. However, as your work is based on false assumptions and inaccurate staistics, it is actually your work that should be discredited.
Needless to say, a reply was never received.