New study: 150,000 deaths in Iraq since the invasion

I'm writing a print piece about this so I'm afraid you'll have to wait for my opinion, but a few quick thoughts:

  1. The disparity between the Lancet figures and the new count is higher than people are assuming; the Lancet study is more than a year older than the NEJM one. Since the violence was trending upwards, if the new study is correct, the Lancet figures were wildly, wildly, wildly off.

  2. The new version is more likely to be correct; it covers a longer time period, uses a bigger sample, and employs more than one method of counting

  3. It is not that likely to be correct, in the sense of giving us a good, descriptive number. Iraq is a war zone, and it is very hard to collect good data. Beware of false precision, particularly if it validates your priors.

  4. One would obviously wish that the Iraqi government were not involved.

  5. Attempting to salvage the Lancet study by distinguishing between violent and non-violent deaths are silly. Virtually all the violent deaths in the Lancet study were excess, and virtually all the excess deaths were violent.

  6. 150,000 deaths is a figure that should make any supporter of the war swallow hard.

  7. There are good reasons to conduct public debates about these sorts of things with courtesy and humility.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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