Lancet Speared

Remember the Lancet study? You know, the one which came out days before the 2006 election, reporting that the Iraq war had caused about 655,000 excess civilian deaths — a number about 20 times larger than most other estimates? It was widely reported in the mainstream media, echoed by politicians and pundits who were quick to use it to further damage the Bush administration politically and heighten opposition to an already unpopular war. It was also widely cited in Europe and the Middle East as evidence of American brutality and callousness in the execution of the war. Because it was published in a prestigious medical journal, those who were skeptical of its findings were left arguing about arcane epidemiological and statistical flaws which virtually guaranteed that no one would listen. The idea that a medical journal would publish a document almost purely political in nature was, of course, pooh-poohed by all the right people.

The National Journal has been quietly investigating this study, looking not only at its methodology, but its authors, participants, and the financial backing for its research, and has published its findings in a detailed review. It is must-reading for anyone who wishes to see how deeply the “scientific” literature can be co-opted and corrupted by politics and bias.

Just a few of the NJ’s findings:

The authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll.

The Iraqi scientist recruited to oversee the researchers conducting field surveys in Iraq, Riyadh Lafta, had been a child-health official in Saddam Hussein’s ministry of Health when the ministry was trying to end the international sanctions against Iraq by asserting that many Iraqis were dying from hunger, disease, or cancer caused by spent U.S. depleted-uranium shells remaining from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Lafta was quoted as saying, “God has picked these clusters [sample groups]. If God wants me, he will take me.” Roberts, one of the study principals, who recruited Lafta, also quoted him as saying, “I know no one [who] perceives themselves so humbly to be a tool of God’s destiny…. He sees his science as synonymous with service to God.”

The study’s authors have repeatedly refused to provide the surveyors’ reports and original data which supported their findings.

Virtually everyone connected with the study has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. actions in Iraq.

A substantial portion (about half) of the funding for the study came from the Open Society Institute created by George Soros.

The Lancet editor who agreed to rush the study into print before the 2006 election, 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, he 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.”

This, and much, much more can be found in the National Journal’s article. Take the time to read it, and think about it the next time some “unbiased” medical or scientific article is cited for political purposes.

This is, by the way, the Lancet‘s equivalent of TNR‘s Beauchamps meltdown. And don’t expect to hear about this on CNN later this week. (HT: Brutally Honest)

The WSJ has picked up on this as well: The Lancet’s Political Hit.

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