Thursday, March 31, 2005
The rest of the story: An article in today's Union-Tribune -- that I'm sure appeared in similar form in papers across the country -- details a UN report that claims, well, I'll let you read it.
Malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis has almost doubled since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a hunger specialist told the U.N. human-rights body yesterday in a summary of previously reported studies on health in Iraq.
By last fall, 7.7 percent of Iraqi children under 5 suffered acute malnutrition, compared with 4 percent after Hussein's ouster in April 2003, said Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food.
Malnutrition, which is exacerbated by a lack of clean water and adequate sanitation, is a major killer of children in poor countries. Children who survive are often physically and mentally impaired for life and are more vulnerable to disease.
The situation facing Iraqi youngsters is "a result of the war led by coalition forces," said Ziegler, an outspoken Swiss sociology professor and former lawmaker. He has previously investigated Swiss banks, China, Brazil and Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Jason Van Steenwyk points out (with multiple sources) that Ziegler's April 2003 number of only 4 percent of Iraqi children suffering from malnourlishment is of questionable veracity.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when you rely on wire service stories to be well-reported and well-researched. That 4 percent number should've raised some red flags for someone who has followed these issues closely.
But the article gets worse when it reports on the Lancet's famous 100,000 dead Iraqis that wouldn't have died if the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government hadn't occurred.
Ziegler also cited an October 2004 study in the British medical journal The Lancet that estimated as many as 100,000 more Iraqis – many of them women and children – had died since the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq than would normally have died, based on the death rate before the war.
"Most died as a result of the violence, but many others died as a result of the increasingly difficult living conditions, reflected in increasing child mortality levels," he said.
Of course, the Lancet number is questionable for numerous reasons -- check out this post and its many links and comments over at Winds of Change -- but there's some indication in the Associated Press story that you're not getting the whole story, if you read between the lines.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad who did The Lancet report conceded that their data were of "limited precision."
Limited precision? What does that mean? For the answer we go to Fred Kaplan over at Slate.
The report's authors derive this figure by estimating how many Iraqis died in a 14-month period before the U.S. invasion, conducting surveys on how many died in a similar period after the invasion began (more on those surveys later), and subtracting the difference. That difference—the number of "extra" deaths in the post-invasion period—signifies the war's toll. That number is 98,000. But read the passage that cites the calculation more fully:
We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000) during the post-war period.
Readers who are accustomed to perusing statistical documents know what the set of numbers in the parentheses means. For the other 99.9 percent of you, I'll spell it out in plain English—which, disturbingly, the study never does. It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)
This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board.
And now you know the rest of the story.