Those in the know . . .

[Megan] Daniel Davies and I have been at loggerheads over the Burnham et. al. studies of Iraq casualties published in the Lancet last fall.  So it's probably no surprise that I think his imagination is running away with him on this:

Really rather shameful. Riyadh Lafta, one of the co-authors of the Johns Hopkins/Lancet studies on excess deaths in Iraq, has been refused a transit visa for his flight to Vancouver to make a presentation on alarming increases in child cancer. He was apparently meant to be passing on some documentation to some other medical researchers who are going to write a paper with him on the subject; the presentation was happening in Vancouver because Dr. Lafta had already been refused a visa to visit the USA.

What on earth can be in this data? Presumably the UK and US authorities have reasoned that Dr Lafta is an ex Ba’ath Party member (as he would have had to have been to hold a position in the Iraqi Health Ministry), and thus the data he is carrying is not really about child cancer at all. Perhaps he is involved in some sort of “Boys from Brazil” type plot to clone an army of super-soldiers from Saddam Hussein’s DNA, and for this reason the UK cannot be exposed to this deadly information for even four hours in the Heathrow transit lounge.

The alternative – that Dr Lafta is being intentionally prevented from travelling in order to hush up his research on post-war deaths (research which even the Foreign Office have now more or less given up on trying to pretend isn’t broadly accurate), or to hush up the news about paediatric cancer for political convenience – is too horrible to contemplate. I’d note that there isn’t an election on in the USA at present, so the denialist crowd can shove that little slur up their backsides this time too.

I find them too horrible to contemplate for another reason: it makes absolutely no sense. There are faxes, email, and DHL that could get the data to the conference just fine without Dr Lafta's presence. In the comments, Mr Davies spins increasingly desperate implausible theories to explain this weird assertion. Here is the exchange:
  1. So just to get this straight. Your two leading theories are A: “Boys from Brazil” or B: The US/UK are denying a passport, because without the passport Lafta can not convey the “deadly data”?

    Now your B is obviously a joke, given that he could email s-mime/sftp/tor/fax/fed-ex a dvd/etc etc the data to the UK and then video conference for whatever requires his personal apperances.

    So now lets get down to business and start figuring out where this dastardly professor is hiding his clone army…..

  2. not necessarily at all – he might have a load of Iraqi medical records which needed to be tabulated and entered into a database, which might be difficult to achieve in Iraq at present as there is a war on.

    Posted by dsquared · April 19th, 2007 at 11:31 pm
  3. daniel, so your theory is that he has a load of Iraqi medical records which need to be tabulated in the US or the UK, not in Iraq or, say, any other country in the world?

    I think we’re back to the clone army theory.

    Posted by Thomas · April 20th, 2007 at 1:20 am
  4. yes, why is this so difficult to understand? Iraq is a war zone. Hospitals can’t spare time or effort for research. I can quite easily see how a load of detailed gruntwork with medical records might have to be done by the non-Iraqi authors or not done at all.
    Posted by Daniel · April 20th, 2007 at 2:10 am

Theoretically yes . . . but while I'm no scientist, my impression is that things like tabulating the basic data to test your hypothesis is usually done a leetle bit earlier than the night before your conference presenting the results. Since his general schtick involves accusing me of not understanding scientific and statistical procedure, forgive me if I chortle.