Thursday, October 12, 2006

Spreading Disinformation

Charlie over at Perfect has commented on Downing Street's reaction to the new research into the human cost of the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s official spokesman said:
The problem with this is that they are using an extrapolation technique from a relatively small sample, from an area of Iraq which isn’t representative of the country as a whole.
As Charlie notes, the suggestion that the survey was carried out in an area which is not representative of Iraq is simply wrong. This was a nationwide survey and the authors went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that it was representative.

At face value however, it might be possible to argue that whilst misleading, the claim made by the PMOS isn't strictly untrue. Due to problems with miscommunication, no samples were taken in the provinces of Duhuk and Muthanna so only 16 out of Iraq's 18 provinces were sampled. Duhuk in the the far north and Muthanna in the south are both relatively peaceful. Theoretically, you might think that the lack of data in these less violent provinces might cause the survey results to slightly overestimate the scale of the violence in the country as a whole (only slightly because they are the two least populated provinces in Iraq).

But even that would be wrong. From the report (pdf):
The miscommunication that resulted in no clusters being interviewed in Duhuk and Muthanna resulted in our assuming that no excess deaths occurred in those provinces (with 5% of the population), which probably resulted in an underestimate of total deaths.
At best, Blair's spokesman has made a statement which demonstrates total ignorance of the survey. At worst, he has deliberately sought to mislead the public with an outright lie. What chance anyone from the Lobby will bother to challenge him on this?

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Paul said...

The British Crime Survey is out today. I believe it uses the same methodology as the Lancet Iraq survey. I look forward to hearing Blair rubbishing its findings.

Darkwinter said...

It seems to me that the response was likely a standard rubbishing statement issued whenever there's a survey that might damage the government in some way. The generic response is always to criticise the techniques used to garner the information.

It really would not surprise me to learn that the survey has not been examined in any detail whatsoever by anyone even remotely connected with Number 10.