"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

IBC, the media and who died?

Iraq Body Count has been criticised of late and in my opinion the criticism has been well placed. It was instigated, I presume, by the medias increasing acceptance of IBC's figures for Iraqi deaths due to the continuing war. The failing recognised by Media Lens being that IBC have not gone to strong enough lengths to ensure their data is not abused by those that intend to downplay the victims of Western aggression and indeed reduce opposition to future conflicts.

IBC have long acknowleged their works effect on the mainstream media and are apparently quite happy with its use. They feel that their data provides an irrifuteable baseline of Iraqi deaths. Something Western governments cannot deny. In fact IBC have since, seemingly,
defended the use of their data as opposed to the much higher estimates calculated by experienced researchers such as Les Roberts, who as lead author, published a study of excess Iraqi deaths due to conflict in the peer reviewed medical journal, the Lancet.

A continuing argument as to the validity of both works is on going, here is what I have contributed:

An IBC assistant researcher wrote in response to my letter to RTE:

"A favourite lead quote for ML-derived letters to the press questioning their use of IBC data seems to be an excerpt from the Independent on Sunday:

"But IBC admits that with the increasing inability of journalists to move around and report freely, its method of monitoring civilian deaths is becoming increasingly inaccurate."

Nobody at IBC can remember ever making such an "admission" to the press, then or since. It appears that the origin of this "admission" lies somewhere between Raymond Whitaker and Richard Garfield, not with IBC. The purported admission is also now 18+ months old, so even if such an admission had occurred it would have been referring to conditions in October 2004, and not necessarily to the situation as it is now. So you need to revise this line for your emails."

I replied:

"You should write to the Independent and ask them. And of course I would be happy to alter the structure of future letters if indeed the quote is misleading. Simply writing that journalists themselves admit the restrictions imposed on them by both violence and the powers that be would suffice.

Of course, the fact journalists mobility is say lesser now than a year ago has literally +no+ effect on the studies accuracy, because the study is not a mortality study. It simply records reported deaths. Therefore if there were no English speaking reporters in Iraq, there would be no Iraqis killed. Simply put, the IBC figure can only be inaccurate if IBC fail to register every English language reported death.

The fact the Independent thinks IBC is monitoring Iraqi civilian deaths does not worry you?

The fact they think journalistic mobility effects the accuracy of this monitoring does not worry you?"

His taking issue with the use of this quote from the Independent is fundamentally baseless. The quote is used here, and in many other situations, to say what I wanted to say in a more concise way. The fact IBC have not admitted that restrictions imposed on journalists make counting all Iraqi deaths increasingly difficult is something he has instead highlighted. One must think that the more problems journalists incounter, and they have been admitting them more regularly, the less deaths get reported. This as I said does not affect IBC accuracy, because the study does not intend to count all deaths. The method they use makes this impossible.

The whole debate is here:


and the articles, or media alerts, that began the debate are here:


IBC responded by compiling a presentation of what their work is and what it aims to do here:


I feel the IBC's claim that it intends to provide a full account of all deaths is disingenuous. It intends to compile a full account of all deaths reported in the English language media and at some point use another means (census etc) to assess all deaths in excess of this figure. Its future plans, when to be implemented I don't know, are of little consequence. The cold fact remains, if an Iraqi falls in the woods and there is no English speaking journalist there to hear them, they will make no sound. The IBC faults the short term survey, because the media loses interest as its figures become outdated, whereas theirs is continually updated. However, the IBCs figures are unrepresentative of their final goal, i.e. to conduct a mortality study. They have not provided a credible explanation for the disparity between their figures and that of the Lancet.