Guess even the White House thinks things are really going bad in Iraq. They’ve removed the “Mission Accomplished” banner from the White House web site video of the President’s speech:
November 26th, 2006
Guess even the White House thinks things are really going bad in Iraq. They’ve removed the “Mission Accomplished” banner from the White House web site video of the President’s speech:
November 26th, 2006
Laurie David, a producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” has an Op Ed in today’s Washington Post which indicates that the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has turned down 50,000 free copies of “An Inconvenient Truth” because they are concerned about “special interests.” However, they had no problem taking $6 million from Exxon Mobil. They also have no difficulty accepting money from Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API). The NSTA has had no difficulty distributing “You Can’t Be Cool Without Fuel,” produced by the API to pitch for use of oil.
The education organization also hosts an annual convention — which is described on Exxon Mobil’s Web site as featuring “more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements.” The company “regularly displays” its “many . . . education materials” at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA’s partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association’s annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.
Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.
“The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission,” Borowski says. “The oil and coal guys won’t address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts.”
An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: “Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future.”
So, how is any of this different from showing Gore’s movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren’t facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.
It’s hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don’t pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.
As for Exxon Mobil — which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions — this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn’t change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.
While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they’re teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids’ science homework.
Read the whole article.
2 comments November 26th, 2006
Today’s ZNet Commentary by Vijay Prashad is very interesting, drawing links between racism, binge drinking, and boredom:
A series of flaps on campus. Racist incidents abound: the most public is at Texas A & M, home to the new Defense Secretary. Students donned “blackface” and played plantation life. They might be influenced by the sunny depictions of the slave economy from such notables as Eugene Genovese. He has, after all, converted from writing Marxist analyses of enslavement to a celebration of Southern hospitality and tradition. How the mighty fall!
In the midst of the revelations, and some of on my own campus, I, being “out of it,” heard of that my students enjoy a game called “Beirut.” It’s a “drinking game,” one of the legion that allow students to egg each other to get drunk faster and faster. These are the kinds of institutions that lead to the small-scale epidemic of death by binge drinking. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report (September 2006) found that over seventy percent of under-age binge drinking occurs in Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota. The government analysis is that these areas suffer the most because the youth are bored.
Our college students seem bored too. The NIH’s College Drinking Task Force reports that each year drinking by 18-24 year old college students contributes to an annual estimated 1,700 deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape. Based on this data, and on extensive survey work, the NIH concludes, “Students form their expectations about alcohol from their environment and from each other. As they face the insecurity and stresses of establishing themselves in a new social setting, environmental and peer influences combine to create a culture of drinking. This culture actively or at least passively promotes drinking through tolerance, or even unspoken approval, of college drinking as a rite of passage.” The “when we were young, we got hammered” maxim perpetuates binge drinking, and with alumni pressure, suppresses the ability of college administrations to do what they should do about social life on campuses (including reigning in fraternities and other organizations of mayhem).
Our bored students dress up the weekend (and many week-nights) with games to hasten their entry into oblivion. One such is Beirut. It is an elaboration of “beer pong,” a ping-pong game that requires the players who miss to chug a glass of beer. Beirut is played without paddles. It was created in the early 1980s, during the U. S. fiasco in Lebanon. The students who throw the ping-pong ball imagine that they are bombing Arabs, and the losers have to bomb themselves by drinking the beer. This game was developed either at Bucknell or Lehigh.
Poor Beirut. In modern times, it has suffered gravely: a brutal civil war (1975-1977) attempted to settle unfinished social contradictions that resulted from the Ottoman withdrawal, and with the demise of any truly secular movement (such as the forces that led the 1958 uprising, of whom was the multi-ethnic Lebanese Communist Party); interventions by the great powers, be they the French or the U. S., often on the side of reaction against that of hope; and at least two invasions by the Israelis, once in 1982 and again this summer. So much death, so much mayhem. To play “Beirut” is to mock this history of suffering and hope.
The Tunisian scholar Albert Memmi offered the following paradox: everyone agrees that racism exists, but no-one admits to be a racist. Those who play games like “Beirut” would hasten to say that for them this is a game, and that it has nothing to do with Arabs, that they are not racists. That’s like George “Macaca” Allen saying that the noose in his office has nothing to do with Jim Crow and lynching. The coalition of the swilling is alive and well on college campuses, reproducing anti-Arab racism as beer-drinking patriotism.
Blackface, red-face, Beirut, the criminal use of Rohypnol (“roofies”), and what not: college campuses have become a hive of anti-social, dangerous behavior. On every college that I visit, the antidote to this behavior is either from the religious students or the radical students. These students, whether invested in God or Revolution, have something that defines their lives. They are not bored. The complaint about boredom is now over thirty years old. In an early issue of “New Left Notes,” Steve Golin (who went on to a distinguished teaching career at Bloomfield College in New Jersey) wrote, “By the time we graduate, we have been painstakingly trained in separating facts from their meaning. We wonder that our classes, with few exceptions, seem irrelevant to our lives. No wonder they’re so boring. Boredom is the necessary condition of any education which teaches us to manipulate the facts and suppress the meaning.” Our radical and religious students understand the importance of meaning in the world. The mainstream should learn from them.
November 26th, 2006
While the American Psychological Association [APA] does everything in its power to protect the ability of psychologists to aid coercive interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram, and elsewhere, the American Anthropological Association [AAA] has endorsed a strong stand against misuse of their research to aid the torturers. As this article, reprinted from Inside Higher Education indicates, one intended target of the AAA action is the APA:
Torture and Social Scientists
by Scott Jaschik
Professors normally want people to pay attention to their research findings.
But when anthropologists learned that some of their scholarship may have inspired tactics used in the Abu Ghraib prison — and may be increasingly central to the interrogation of prisoners being held by U.S. forces in many locations, sometimes without standard protections — many were taken aback.
As a result, scholars attending the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting last week voted unanimously to condemn “the use of anthropological knowledge as an element of physical and psychological torture.” The vote took place at the association’s business meeting and the issue was such a draw that the group had a quorum (250 members, in contrast to last year’s 35) for the first time in 30 years.
The measure will now go for approval to the association’s full membership, and marks an attempt by anthropologists to set clear lines that they do not want scholars to cross. “I think this shows how outraged members of the association are,” said Alan H. Goodman, president of the association and a professor of anthropology at Hampshire College. “Anthropological knowledge has been implicated in nefarious forms of torture. It’s vital to show that we are opposed.”
Many of the anthropologists involved in pushing for this tough stance are also trying to send a message to the American Psychological Association, which while condemning torture has upheld the possibility that its members could ethically help the U.S. government with interrogation strategies. In the Abu Ghraib era, anthropologists say that this is naïve and hurts the reputation of all social scientists.
“We’re trying to do something against mealy-mouthed policies that don’t hold responsible those scum with Ph.D.’s who stand beside torturers,” said Gerald Sider, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island.
A magazine article and a book reflect the growing body of information that has anthropologists concerned. The article, by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, explored how Abu Ghraib came to be. Hersh discussed how neoconservative thinkers who shaped U.S. strategy in Iraq treated as “the Bible” a book called The Arab Mind, by the late Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist. Patai wrote his book long before anyone might have envisioned a U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Hersh noted that the sections about Arabs and sexual taboo emphasize points — such as the humiliation of being naked with others, the humiliation of being sexually degraded by women, etc. — that were in wide circulation among those at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the military.
That report is consistent with a new book that shows how interrogation techniques by U.S. forces, which once focused on physical tactics, are increasingly focused on specific cultural aspects of people that may make them likely to break. “It’s clear that they are now focused on the idea of attacking cultural sensitivity” and are using anthropology and other social science research, said Alfred W. McCoy, a historian at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror.
Previously, he said, when the CIA sought scholars’ help for interrogations, it was to learn about sensory deprivation, but now it’s all about culture, and behavioral scientists’ works are central.
The two anthropologists who sponsored the measure approved at the meeting — Roberto J. González, a professor at San Jose State University, and Kanhong Lin, a graduate student at American University — said they read these reports with increasing anger and disgust at how their discipline was being used. “This is a gross misuse of social science knowledge,” González said.
Lin noted that anthropologists have a specific obligation to speak out because many early anthropologists did help U.S. government officials or British colonial officials, at the expense of various groups that they were studying. “We’ve had a closely intertwined relationship with the CIA in the past,” he said. (There are some who say that anthropologists should provide no assistance to the U.S. military and national security agencies, and the anthropology association is currently studying that issue. But sponsors of the resolution said that theirs was on the narrow topic of torture and was not intended to apply to all anthropologists who work with the government.)
Perceived Contrast With the Psychologists
Both Lin and González said that they were also motivated by the intense debate about these issues at the American Psychological Association, which they see as looking the other way at the ethical issues involved.
Officials of the psychology group strongly dispute that. In August, the group adopted its latest anti-torture policy, which states that it is inappropriate for psychologists to assist in any way with torture and asserts a responsibility for them to report any torture they witness. The reason anthropologists are upset — as are many psychologists, for that matter — is that the APA’s board last year adopted a policy stating that psychologists could ethically help national security and military interrogations.
A spokeswoman for the APA said that the policy adopted last year was about interrogations that do not use torture, not any that do, which would be covered by other policies. She said it was unfair to characterize the APA as soft on torture.
The U.S. government denies being engaged in torture, although the distinctions it has made about what constitutes torture, most recently when Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to endorse “waterboarding,” have left many skeptical. Most anthropologists involved in the discussions at their annual meeting assume that the government is using torture — an assumption backed by a number of international human rights groups.
González said that he did not know of any anthropologists currently helping American authorities with interrogation strategies, but he said that he hoped that by going on record, the association would discourage “covert involvement” by any of his colleagues. He also said that the example of the book The Arab Mind showed that this was an issue that anthropologists need to consider regardless of whether they are asked to help the CIA. The author of that book would never have known that his book might someday influence the way a military prison was run. “We all need to think about how what we do may be sensitive,” said González.
McCoy, the historian who has studied CIA interrogation strategies, praised the anthropologists for taking the position they did. “I think that, as a society, we have adopted a very cavalier attitude about the torture that is going on,” McCoy said. “We need a debate that reaches through all professions about what our roles and responsibilities are. I think it’s very appropriate that the anthropologists are doing this.”
At their meeting, the anthropologists also adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
While no anthropologists are known to endorse torture, some are less enthusiastic about the stance the association is taking.
Felix Moos is an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who has urged fellow scholars to work with the federal government, sharing expertise about various regions of the world. Moos, who was not at the recent meeting, stressed that he does not approve of torture and that available evidence suggests that torture isn’t effective at yielding good intelligence.
But he also wasn’t sure about the effectiveness of the anthropologists’ position. “The anthropological community is one that I have felt is somewhat resistant to see the real conditions in which the world unfortunately finds itself,” he said. “The United States finds itself up against serious challenges today and we should do our utmost to reasonably approach those many challenges rather than rely on the rhetoric of resolutions that in practical terms simply stir up counterproductive reactions.”
See also the CounterPunch article Anthropologists Stand Up Against Torture and the Occupation of Iraq by David H. Price, author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke, 2004):
In San Jose, on Saturday evening, November 18, 2006, the rank and file members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) attending the Association’s business meeting approved resolutions condemning the occupation of Iraq and the use of torture.
These two resolutions were co-written by Roberto González, an associate professor of anthropology at San Jose State University, and Kanhong Lin, a graduate student in anthropology at American University. The first resolution condemns the American occupation of Iraq; calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops, the payment of reparations, and it asks that all individuals committing war crimes against Iraqis be prosecuted. This statement passed with little debate or dissent.
The second resolution condemns not only the use of torture by the Bush administration, but it denounces the use of anthropological knowledge in torture and extreme interrogations. The AAA’s statement stands in stark contrast with the American Psychological Association’s ambivalent policies which provides psychologists working in military and intelligence settings with some cover should they wish to assist in extreme interrogations or torture. One of the concerns underlying this resolution comes from reports by Seymour Hersh that CIA interrogators consulted anthropological works such as Raphael Patai’s book, The Arab Mind, to better design culture-specific means of torture and interrogation. This resolution passed unanimously with little debate.
Both of these resolutions must now be presented to the full membership of the American Anthropological Association in a mail ballot in the next few months. Prior to changes made in the AAA’s bylaws in the early 1970s, activist members of the Association could pass binding resolutions at annual meetings. During the Vietnam War, these rules allowed members to direct Association policies and make political statements by controlling the floor of these business meetings. Changes made in the AAA’s bylaws in the early require that resolutions passed by members at the annual business meeting now be presented to the full membership in a mail ballot.
Since this bylaw shift removed AAA members’ ability to ratify resolutions at the annual conferences, attendance at these business meetings has been abysmal. I go every year, and most years there is nowhere near the required 250 member quorum present needed for the meeting to officially convene (this at a conference that generally has between 4,000 — 5,000 members attending). Last year only 35 members attended the annual business meeting–this in a year when many members where upset by CIA efforts to advertise in AAA publications–simply because the non-binding structure of these meetings disempowered those who bothered to attend. But thanks to the activism of González, Lin and others, this week’s meeting room was packed with concerned anthropologists.
But sometimes democratic sentiments are contagious.
After adopting the anti-Iraq War and anti-torture measures, a spontaneous floor debate arose after Gerald Sider, CUNY Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, eloquently spoke of how the AAA’s bylaws had been changed during the Vietnam War as an anti-democratic measure to empower the association’s administrative structure, while disempowering the rank and file’s ability to enact political measures at these annual meetings. Sider knows of which he speaks. While doing archival research over the years at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, I have seen enough of the AAA’s records and the correspondence of key actors from this period to know that such claims are well founded, statements from the floor by Nina Glick Schiller and other veterans from these past struggles helped push Sider’s proposal to a vote that the association consider returning to its old structure.
The debate that transpired was interesting. Some argued that the business meeting’s normally low attendance was sufficient evidence that such poorly-attended meetings should not be allowed to direct Association policy, but the argument that carried the day maintained that it was the structural decision to limit the power of meeting attendees that had destroyed meeting attendance. After some discussion, a resolution was adopted instructing the Association to consider re-empowering the annual meeting as a forum where direct democratic action could occur.
Later that evening I spoke with Roberto González, Kanhong Lin and other anthropologists attending the annual Association for Mutant Anthropology Business Meeting (a great party, this year joyously honoring the late great Bea Medicine). Both Lin and González were quite pleased by the direction the meeting had taken and they seemed to have a good perspective of what the passage of these measures had and hadn’t accomplished.
Obviously each of these motions will likely have no direct impact on the Bush Administration, Congress, rogue anthropologists, or CIA contract torturers, but the events of Saturday’s meeting do represent a noteworthy democratic moment in the history of American anthropology and in higher academia’s struggle to retain some control over the knowledge it produces.
Such resolutions rarely solve problems, but they do clarify group values and serve notice to those forces that are pressing to use anthropology for intelligence needs-but the sudden move to restore what was once an important democratic mechanism of a past era may signify that the members want greater control over where anthropology seems to be heading in the post 9/11 world.
The conference had several organized panels examining ways that anthropology is interacting with the War on Terror. Some sessions examined issues of secrecy, the ethical issues raised by anthropologists working in military and intelligence communities, one session had presentations by anthropologists working for the intelligence community. The Association seems to know it is sitting on the edge (let’s hope it is the edge) of something very large and powerful and but there are organizational fears of establishing limits governing what anthropologists do. It remains to be seen how the Association’s elected and unelected leadership will respond to the memberships’ call for increased democratic control over an Association increasingly slipping under the sway of the Pentagon and the intelligence community as traditional educational funds become scarce, even while covert funding programs like the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program increases.
These can be difficult times for engaged academicians, so it is encouraging to find an academic association’s voice speaking so loudly in opposition to what anthropologist Laura Nader calls the “coercive harmony” of dominant power structures. Whatever political developments concerning military uses of anthropology transpire next, it appears that the Association’s membership will likely not sit by silently as others determine how anthropology will be weaponized against those they study for the needs of American hegemony.
How long till psychology, too, removes the stain of protecting the torturers from its profession?
November 26th, 2006
From Traveling Soldier and GI Special [via Uruknet], here are three reports from the US military in Iraq:
1. Military Mom gets Call From Baghdad:
My son called this morning, he’s ok. But we had a really good conversation.
A lot of it was about the increase in activity there. But he’s starting to defy the officers. He refused to wear his flame suit on patrol this morning because he said, “a lot good it does, we just lost 4 guys and they were wearing them, we just have them because of war profiteering. The government gives money to the companies who make this shit and say ‘oh, let’s give it to the soldiers!’”
Then we started talking about movies, and he refuses to watch anything related to 9/11. He said, “Ma, did you watch that WTC movie yet? We have it here and I won’t watch that stuff because it just gets everybody pissed off again and I am tired of hearing that we should kill more people because of 9/11.” He then said, “Ma, by the year 2050 we will still be killing in the name of 9/11!!” “Probably when I die and go to heaven people will still be saying, let’s kill because of 9/11!” “Enough with killing in the name of 9/11!” I tell all my friends here that we should just move on and get over it. We aren’t proving anything.”
I almost fell out of bed. But he was able to talk freely because he was told to stay back from patrol because he wouldn’t wear his flame suit. He said “I lost it.” They said “how the hell did you loose it?” He said it disappeared! Then he said to me, “so what are they going to do to me? Make me go to Iraq?” “I’m not taking part in any war profiteering. I was reading all about it in Newsweek last issue we got here.” “That’s some shit!”
Anyway, we talked about 45 minutes while his company was on patrol, and then they returned so he got off the phone waiting to be yelled at. He said, “so they yell at me, who cares.”
- A Military Mom
From: SSG XX, Iraq
To: GI Special
Sent: November 17, 2006
Subject: In Iraq
I am a Viet Nam vet who spent his 55TH birthday in Ramadi and will be spending my 56TH in Balad in a week. I feel I have a unique slant on this “war”.
When people say “It’s just like Viet Nam”, I have to chuckle.
Apart from the fact that the politicians have involved the military in a conflict that is micro-managed to the point of being un-winable, it is nothing like Viet Nam.
I am looking at it from the point of the everyday soldier and his daily life.
It seems that they are so intent on making it so much like “Home”, what with the Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Subway. The cable TV and inter-net service are just ways to desensitize to what is actually happening here.
Everyone here and in the states have their knickers in a knot over a casualty count of less than 1000 a year, but you hear nothing of 6000+ 14 to 19 year olds who die in motor vehicle accidents every year. I may be jaded, but I am suspicious of the true concern over “loss of our valued youth” that comes out of the mouths on both sides of the issue.
The true crime here is what we have done to the people of Iraq. Not that I think that Saddam was great for them by any means.
But from what I have seen over the last year is we could not have fucked it up any worse than we have if we had tried.
What I fear the most is the way the American public is willing to give up so many Civil Liberties for such a cheap price.
I mean a few thousand lives, and a false sense of security is a shameful price to surrender Habeas Corpus.
The Founding Fathers are turning over in their graves.
I guess I’ll get off my soap box now. I hope that our country will survive this mess in spite of ourselves.
Thanks for the chance to vent.
I was at FOB Summerall, the former Iraqi Air Force base “K2,” near Baiji.
My unit was tasked with base defense, and I [xxxx] the guys and gals in the towers for most of our 9-10 months there.
I was able, therefore, to talk with many of the troops, both active and Guard, at length over the months.
Most knew my politics; as the days wore on, more and more of the enlisteds, E-5 & below, spoke with me about their growing misgivings about the war.
Some were openly angry and contemptuous of the officers, generals, and civilian leadership that sent us there.
A few (including one “good-ol’-boy from Oklahoma, an active duty sergeant with 18 years in) commented on how “if I lived here, I’d want to kill us, too.”
Of course, the leadership, especially the officers, all spouted the party line, but it was obvious to me that a solid number, perhaps even a majority, of the ordinary soldiers believed this war was bullshit.
The internet access we had at Summerall was not closely supervised.
We were warned against looking at porn, or passing on information that might be picked up by “the enemy,” (I suppose the insurgents were intercepting our satellite signals), but I visited GI Special at least weekly, as well as other sites that better explained what I knew to be going on around me.
I didn’t have the ability to print anything, so mostly I just shared stories I read with other soldiers in the contexts of our talks.
The Vietnam war ended when the US military ceased to follow orders. It took the military a decade to “rebuild”. Perhaps that process of decay is starting again and will lead to withdrawal from Iraq. If only it had happened earlier, before Iraq had so totally descended into civil war.
In any case, antiwar forces should resist the politician’s temptation to “rebuild” the military once again. The world would be a safer place without a superpower to dominate it.
2 comments November 26th, 2006
I have posted the following comments on the Media Lens Message Board as part of a discussion of Jon Pedersen’s skepticism regaring the Lancet 2006 Iraq mortality figures.
I have had a number of emails with Jon Pedersen going back to last spring, if I remember correctly. I also had the privilege of having lunch with him and discussing these issues for almost a couple of hours.
He struck me as extremely thoughtful and as having no ax to grind. As I relate his thoughts, [I am responsible for this account, which could be incorrect on details. Comments in brackets are my thoughts.] he believes the Lancet rates are too high. He thinks two things are involved, and had two other comments on the methodology.
1. The prewar mortality is too low. This would be due to recall issues. He asserted that demographers are well aware that there are problems with assessing mortality by survey more than 1 year in the past. [See, for example, the SMART methodology which states that one should never assess mortality beyond one year: "Accuracy: The shorter the recall period, the more accurate the estimate of mortality. This is because more distant events are more likely to be forgotten by respondents and there are likely to be more mistakes in the time of death. (Recall periods longer than one year should not be used.)" (p. 31-32)]
[As a research psychologist, this is not surprising. We routinely find that memory, even for major events, gets transformed relatively quickly. As one minor example, one half of those who, at age 18 reported major depression did not report ever having had major depression ever, when reinterviewed at age 21. Especially in the context of a brief interview, it is entirely possible that people could briefly "forget" deaths a ways back, or "choose" not to talk about them as they may be painful. I, too, was concerned about this recall issue.] Pedersen said it was possible that this effect may be larger for nonviolent than for violent deaths.
[Note that, if the UN prewar mortality rate of 9.03 is correct, this will not, by itself, change the qualitative message of the study. My calculations are that the excess mortality would then be about 350,000. But other problems would arise, such as the mortality rates for the two years postwar, which would then be low. These might support the Pedersen/SMART position that 1 year prior is the outer limit for good results with this methodology.]
2. Pedersen thought that people were likely reporting nonviolent deaths as violent ones. [One argument for this is the surprisingly low postwar mortality rates in the Lancet 2006 study, which Pederesen thought were unlikely to be correct.] We did not discuss the precise mechanisms for this misreporting, or Pedersen’s other reasons for believing it.
[We did discuss the issue of the death certificates, to which Pedersen said "who knows what's on them." I have since found two accounts of death certificates which indicated that they have details of the death. More details from the Lancet authors as to the details of how and to what degree interviewers examined the certificates would be helpful.]
3.A third issue concerns the inability, because of security, of the US Lancet team to supervise the interviewers. Pedersen raised the possibility of his FAFO team repeating the survey, but was extremely hesitant as they would not be able to closely supervise the interviewers and,therefore, could not vouch for the protocol being followed exactly.
4. Pedersen believes the confidence intervals (CIs) for the Lancet studies are too small. This involves two issues. First, the calculated CIs only include sampling error, but the study also includes nonsampling error, as in when a different household was chosen for security reasons or the protocol wasn’t followed for other reasons. Recall issues and other forms of inaccurate reporting would also increase nonsampling bias.
A second reason the CIs are too small is a technical one. Death is a relatively rare event. The statistical methods used to calculate CIs [linearized variance estimators] are based on an assumption that the events aren’t too rare. Thus, the CIs are likely too small.
[While the Lancet 2006 authors say they also calculated bootstrap standard errors, they give no detail on how this is done, and are not clear which CIs they report. Bootstrap CIs with survey data are very complicated and can be done many different ways with, potentially, different results.]
Two additional points: Pedersen acknowledges that the ILCS cannot be the gold standard for mortality as asking one brief set of questions at the end of a long survey would lead to underreporting of mortality. Thus, he assumes that the ILCS figures are low. But he thinks they are in the ballpark.
Another point: He thinks that the IBC argument about how the number of bombings reported in the Lancet 2006 study would result in such a large number of wounded that it seems too large. If I understood correctly, he does not buy the IBC argument about the inconsistency between the estimated wounded and those reported as treated in hospitals, as he agreed [I thought] with a point I made that there were likely serious problems with Iraq’s health surveillance systems, so that these figures cannot be taken very seriously. But, he felt that 800,000 or more wounded would swamp any public heath system in the world. [An additional point occurred to be after the conversation. As one who has read the press on Iraq, including Iraqi bloggers, very carefully, I can't remember reading articles about the walking maimed of Iraq. It does seem that, if the Lancet mortality figures were correct, that the magnitude of wounded would be such as to be reported frequently.]
I want to reiterate that Jon Pedersen, as far as I could tell, was extremely thoughtful. Several times he raised an argument only to raise a counterargument. He did NOT appear to be argumentative or to be involved in proving a point. I was extremely impressed. Therefore, I take his arguments and thoughts seriously. He may know more about middle east demography and survey methodology than anyone, so his judgments and intuitions cannot be simply dismissed.
I would also remind people that Les Roberts refers to Pedersen as “he highly revered Jon Pederson.” Pedersen also spoke highly of Roberts. These are scientific debates, and scientific debates do not always have bad guys. They also are often unresolvable with the current state of knowledge.
By the way, Pedersen did NOT think that there was anything to the “Main Street Bias” issue. He agreed, I thought, that, if there was a bias, it might be away from main streets [by picking streets which intersect with main streets]. In any case, he thought such a “bias”, if it had existed, would affect results only 10% or so.
As to his not communicating with Les Roberts, both he and I have sent emails to Les [I also sent one to Gilbert Burnham] which have not been responded to. There have been hundreds of emails on this issue, and people are very busy. Emails have been missed by many participants. Please cut out the snide comments about why people didn’t send emails to someone.
As to Pedersen’s writing a letter on this, I would hope he would. On the other hand, remember that he’s got a lot of other things going on. As far as I’m aware, he hasn’t sought out the role of critic but simply responded to those who asked his opinion. While such a communication would be very helpful, he is not obligated to undertake it.
So, the bottom line is that two experts differ. The rest of us are left trying to assess the differences. But we are also left not knowing.
That said, I’m not sure that the true mortality figure is as low as the 150,000 that Pedersen cites. I suspect the true figure is somehat higher, but below the 650,000 of Lancet 2006. But I can’t provide any strong arguments for my instincts here. I now take 150,000 that as the rock bottom number for Iraqi excess deaths. There may be more, even many more, but we can’t be sure. It simply is very difficult to get accurate figures in a time of chaos.
I would say that the moral case regarding the war is well made if the true excess mortality is “only” 150,000. This war and occupation has resulted in horrifying death and destruction. It is morally unjustifiable on any grounds of reducing harm.
15 comments November 26th, 2006
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