Will Oremus asks why Japanese fatality numbers were hugely undercounted and reported "with a precision that would later seem absurd":

Vickie Mays, a professor and clinical psychologist at U.C.L.A. who has worked on disaster responses, says survivors are often caught between hope and despair. To the extent that it tips the balance in favor of hope, reporting only the confirmed dead rather than the number presumed dead can save lives. “Why do you want somebody to officially come out and say you’re dead when you’re not, or they don’t know it for a fact?” Mays asks. “You want people to pray, have hope, go out and assist in an orderly way with the rescue. You want the volunteers who are going to try against all odds.”

(Photo: A Japanese soldier stands next to a line of wrapped-up bodies recovered from the sea of devastation and debris in Natori, Miyagi prefecture on March 16, 2011 after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The official toll of the dead and missing following a devastating earthquake and tsunami that flattened Japan's northeast coast has topped 11,000, with 3,676 confirmed dead, police said on March 16. By Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

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