The Number: 654,965

When Johns Hopkins epidemiologists set out to study the war in Iraq, they did not anticipate that their findings would be so disturbing, or so controversial.

Dale Keiger in Johns Hopkins Magazine:

P3031 In April of last year, Gilbert H. Burnham and Leslie F. Roberts, A&S ’92 (PhD), began finalizing plans for some new epidemiology. There was nothing notable in that; Burnham and Roberts, at the time both researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, were epidemiologists. What was notable was the subject. They would not be studying the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, or incidence of cholera in Bangladeshi villages. They meant to conduct epidemiological research on the war in Iraq. They would treat the war as a public health catastrophe, and apply epidemiological methods to answer a question essential to an occupying power with the legal obligation to protect the occupied: What had happened to the Iraqi people after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion?

Their efforts produced a mortality study, their second in two years, published last October in The Lancet, Britain’s premier medical journal. The study produced a number: 654,965. This was the researchers’ estimate of probable “excess mortality” since the 2003 invasion — Iraqis now dead who would not be dead were it not for the war. The number was a product of the study, not its central point. But it commanded attention because it was appallingly, stupefyingly large. It was beyond anyone’s previous worst imagining. It was just plain hard to believe, and in the weeks following its publication, it became an oddity of science: a single number so loud, in effect, it overwhelmed the conclusions of the research that produced it.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]