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  • Thursday, October 12, 2006


    An Iraqi Army of the Dead

    The recent Lancet report that estimates the median number of Iraqis killed by violence since the 2003 invasion at over 600,000 is of interest on its own but what I find fascinating is the media treatment of it.

    Most of the news stories I find listed used a lead focusing on Prez Bush's response to the report. Now, I don't want impugn Bush's professional reputation but he is not a statistician. In other words, even if he is being advised by statisticians on this matter (and I strongly doubt it considering the swiftness of his response), the value of his opinion on the report is less than zero. When an ordinary citizen speaks authoritatively on matters s/he is ignorant of, that's technically called "talking out of your ass." When a president does it, that's full-blown ex officio, ex cathedra ass talking on a bully pulpit scale.

    Now, I too am fairly ignorant of statistical analysis and proper distribution patterns for random data gathering in order to create a representative sample universe to extrapolate and scale to valid results but I am willing to cede judgments of that sort to experts who are able to evaluate the methods used to get the results. (What the hell did I just say? Did that even make sense? Or did I just do some fast ass talking myself?)

    So far, the objections I've seen to the results of the study have all been opinion-based, not methodology-based. This is where our "news" system often falls down: in presenting the story, Bush's comments get higher exposure than serious evaluations of the validity of the study. This is part of the cult of celebrity, where famous people are able to expound on subjects they are ignorant of and their opinions are taken seriously. Sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even an ignorant one, but that doesn't make it worth listening to or worth spreading as a valuable insight.

    Then again, I think little of what our esteemed president says is worth listening to.

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