Fudged statistics on the Iraq War death toll are still circulating today

Michael Spagat in The Conversation:

What happens when a scientific journal publishes information that turns out to be false? A fracas over a recent Washington Post article provides an illuminating case study in how, even years after they’re published, uncorrected false claims can still end up repeated time and again. But at the same time, it shows how simply alerting responsible journalists and news editors to repeated errors can do a lot to combat false claims that stubbornly live on even after they’ve been debunked.

It all started with a 2006 article published in the eminent journal The Lancet, entitled Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey. The article had many problems, but one of its graphs in particular stuck out. That one figure displayed new estimated numbers of violent deaths in the Iraq War, and came up with numbers massively higher than anything anyone had seriously suggested before.

And although the article’s reported violence numbers increased over time far more rapidly than those reported by other sources, including the Iraq Body Count (IBC) project, the graph gave the inaccurate impression that IBC trends actually tracked their new data quite closely – ostensibly validating what, at first glance, seemed like a very hard-to-swallow new dataset.

More here.