We all know about the two Lancet studies and the controversy invoked by their ‘estimates’ of the Iraqi death toll, especially the supposed 650,000 killed by 2006. Last week, The National Journal published an article by Neil Munro and Carl M. Cannon; look no further for the most extensive critique, not only of the studies’ methodology, but also of the political bias of the writers themselves.
Ad hominem attacks, you might say, are irrelevant to any intelligent debate, and you would be right – up to a point. An ad hominem by itself is meaningless, but added to a solid rebuttal of the data helps provide a more complete picture.
Therefore, would it surprise anyone to learn that John Tirman, who commissioned the study, has also written a book called 100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World ? Or that $46,000 of the money he raised came from George Soros’ Open Society Institute? These are people with an agenda, and it would seem two of the study authors, Les Roberts and Gilbert Burnham, have similar sympathies:
Soros is not the only person associated with the Lancet studies who had one eye on the data and the other on the U.S. political calendar. In 2004, Roberts conceded that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, and — in a much more troubling admission — said that he had e-mailed the first study to The Lancet on September 30, 2004, “under the condition that it come out before the election.” Burnham admitted that he set the same condition for Lancet II. “We wanted to get the survey out before the election, if at all possible,” he said.
“Les and Gil put themselves in position to be criticized on the basis of their views,” Garfield concedes, before adding, “But you can have an opinion and still do good science.” Perhaps, but the Lancet editor who agreed to rush their study into print, with an expedited peer-review process and without seeing the surveyors’ original data, also makes no secret of his leftist politics. At a September 2006 rally in Manchester, England, Horton declared, “This axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease.” His speech can be viewed on YouTube.
In 2006, Roberts sought Democratic nomination for New York’s 24th Congressional District.
Roberts, who opposed removing Saddam from power, is the most politically outspoken of the authors. He initiated the first Lancet study and repeatedly used its conclusions to criticize Bush. “I consider myself an advocate,” Roberts told an interviewer in early 2007.
Perhaps these facts help us understand why the two Lancet studies estimate an Iraqi mortality rate more than 10 time’s that of the Iraqi Body Count figures. They certainly enlighten us as to why both studies underwent accelerated peer-review in order to be published before their respective US elections. The authors have denied access to their raw data, citing fears for the safety of those interviewed but I’m clearly not alone here in believing there are enough questions surrounding the studies to warrant further inquiry. As current editor of the Lancet himself says:
“Anything [the authors] can do to strengthen the credibility of the Lancet paper,” Horton told NJ, “would be very welcome.” If clear evidence of misconduct is presented to The Lancet, “we would be happy to go ask the authors and the institution for an official inquiry, and we would then abide by the conclusion of that inquiry.”