I almost missed or dismissed the story completely and went a week without looking into it.
I have written before about how most journalists are besieged with conspiracy theories of all kinds being sent to them. With two verifiable and huge scandals to investigate, and with how quickly this report was dismissed and shrunk from the headlines, it was easy to write it off as some fringe group's reactionary outburst. Boy was I wrong.
My first clue that this was something more to investigate was when I heard the story was printed in the Lancet. Because I sometimes write articles on Science and Health topics, I get access to embargoed articles before they appear in the press or publications. The Lancet is one of those publications that reports on health breakthroughs and thus I have seen many articles from the Lancet over the past few years and became familiar with the quality of its content.
The Lancet is one of the top four Health publications in the world. Articles and reports that appear in the Lancet are written and researched by the top scientific and health minds in the world. They were subject to a rigorous peer review process where, before the article sees the light of day, it is provided to other scientists or medical professionals who analyze its content and methods. If the data does not stand up to scrutiny, the Lancet does not print it.
Breakthroughs in cancer research and treatment as well as many other of the biggest medical breakthroughs of the last two centuries have appeared in the Lancet. Chances are that the lives of people you know have been saved as the result of breakthrough research that has appeared in the Lancet. This is the publication that printed the report of 655,000 deaths.
The scientists who wrote the report are a group of top MDs and PhD's from no less than MIT and Johns Hopkins. They used research and statistical methodologies that are proven and have been used countless times before to estimate deaths in other conflicts. As I indicated, their research and methods was reviewed by other scientists before the Lancet printed it.
Throughout the rest of the world, the report has received a lot of attention and deservedly so. In the US it has received MUCH less than the coverage it deserves, mostly because of the quick and self-serving dismissal by President Bush. Among the bright spots was the October 13th article 'Counting the Iraqi Dead' by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, which said, among other things:
"It is understandable that the president would be quick to dismiss such an explosive claim, but the rest of us should take the time to look a bit more closely
The Johns Hopkins team reports being 95 percent certain that the true figure lies between about 400,000 and about 900,000 -- a large range of uncertainty that some critics have seized upon as discrediting the whole project.
But quite a lot of science went into the Johns Hopkins study. Even if you assume that the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the war began is at the very low end of the study's range, that's still a quantum leap from earlier estimates. We now have reputable evidence -- not proof, I'll allow, but science-based evidence from respected scholars, published in one of the world's most prestigious medical journals -- that the humanitarian tragedy in Iraq is much, much worse than anyone had suspected."
The Lancet study deserves a lot more than the dismissal it received from President Bush and much of the US Media. I recommend everyone read it and the full text can be seen at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673606694919/fulltext and the Lancet made available a podcast in .mp3 format which has the editor of the Lancet as well as one of the studies' authors, Gilbert Burnham, discussing the methodologies employed in the study. These discussions are essential listening material for anyone attempting to evaluate the credibility of the study and can be accessed and downloaded at http://podcast.thelancet.com/audio/lancet/2006/9544_14october.mp3 .
Scientific findings by the best minds in the world in their respective fields, reviewed by peers who are also among the best minds in the world in their fields and then printed and published by the best periodicals in the world should not be dismissed because they are politically unpopular. As Eugene Robinson said in his article, "If the study's findings are flawed, then its critics should demonstrate how and why. But no one should dismiss these shocking numbers without fully examining them. No one should want to."