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Tim Lambert snarks:  "McArdle does not seem to have understood what Roberts was saying was in agreement: the excess deaths in the Lancet study (about 650,000) and in the IFHS study (about 400,000)."

Of course I didn't understand it, because it was arrant nonsense.  That's why the WHO team took care to say, in their paper:

The IFHS results for trends and distribution of deaths according to province are consistent with what has been reported from the scanning of press reports for civilian casualties through the Iraq Body Count project. The estimated number of deathsin the IFHS is about three times as high as that reported by the Iraq Body Count. Both sources indicate that the 2006 study by Burnham et al. considerably overestimated the number of violent deaths. For instance, to reach the 925 violent deaths per day reported by Burnham et al. for June 2005 through June 2006, as many as 87% of violent deaths would have been missed in the IFHS and more than 90% in the Iraq Body Count. This level of underreporting is highly improbable, given the internal and external consistency of the data and the much larger sample size and quality-control measures taken in the implementation of the IFHS.

Given that almost all the deaths in their study resulted from violence, this is the same as saying that they overcounted.

Moreover, if I made a mistake, apparently every conflict epidemiologist I talked to made the same mistake, because they had trouble believing that I was quoting Les Roberts correctly.  I worked with his statement in front of me, and asked whether there was any possibility that these studies agreed with each other on the overall level of deaths in Iraq.  That's one point were everyone I talked to was unanimous:  they didn't, and also, you couldn't compare the violent deaths figure to the overall deaths estimate that Kieran Healy tried to back out of the raw data.  The people I asked included Olivier Degomme, one of the very few researchers who had access to both data sets.

That does not prove that Burnham was wrong, only that the two studies do not, in any sense recognized by the other conflict epidemiologists I talked to, agree.  Iraq in 2006 was a terrible place to collect data, and even with a large data set it wouldn't be totally shocking if the WHO study were off.  And though I think that the WHO is the most likely to be accurate, given its much larger sample size and better supervised research teams, that certainly doesn't prove that Burnham et al. did anything wrong--only that there was something wrong with their methodology, or that they simply hit the jackpot and got two outlying results.  But the attempt to salvage the Burnham study by claiming it basically found the same thing as the WHO did is deeply silly.

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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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