Sunday, October 15, 2006

Medical moonbats

Some years back, I read a news item about the American Medical Association's efforts to have gun violence categorized as a medical issue. I don't recall if they succeeded or not, but I do remember that the strategy behind the effort was to get guns regulated in much the same manner as controlled drugs -- only available to professionals. To this day, Googling the AMA and gun violence results in an avalanche of hits, many containing phrases such as "epidemiology of gun violence" and "public health crisis".

More recently, the British medical journal Lancet published a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report on civilian deaths by violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. An editorial in Investor's Business Daily commented on it, and exposed the flawed "science" used in the study, as well as an earlier 2004 study:
This study is an update of an earlier Johns Hopkins study, one released just before the 2004 presidential elections. The lead researcher on that study, Les Roberts, admitted that the timing was deliberate.

The earlier study, published in the Lancet in October 2004, was a calculated attempt to influence the election, with the claim that nearly 100,000 deaths had resulted from the U.S. liberation of Iraq.

[ ... ]

As pointed out by Michael Fumento, former IBD reporter and now senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, the first Lancet "study" did not involve counting actual bodies or death certificates, but rather sending teams to interview 998 families in 33 allegedly randomly selected communities in Iraq and extrapolating the "results" to Iraq as a whole.

These families were asked how many people had died in each household and of what. It just took their word for it, without factoring in religious or political affiliation or whether respondents might be former regime supporters or members of a terrorist cell.

That sample was so small that the researchers estimated the number of deaths throughout Iraq at anywhere from 8,000 to 194,000. So Roberts and friends used the scientific method, split the difference and came up with the 100,000 number, which they called "conservative." A better word would be "worthless."

They used a methodology known as "cluster sampling," which can be valid if using real data and not anecdotal reporting. Most of the original Lancet clusters reported no deaths at all, with the journal admitting, "two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Fallujah." Fallujah? Hello?

Fallujah at the time just happened to be a major concentration of pro-Saddam and anti-American sentiment, the home base for the homicide bombers and terrorist "resistance" before the U.S. Army and Marines cleared out that nest of thugs.

[ ... ]

For Burnham's study, researchers from late May to early July gathered data from 1,849 Iraqi households with a total of 12,801 residents. That sample, which likely includes jihadists, terrorists and others who want the U.S. out of Iraq, was used to extrapolate the total.

This methodology is like determining how many Americans wear dentures by surveying only nursing homes. Yet the new mythical number will be endlessly quoted by those who silently ignore the atrocities of Hussein or the millions of purple fingers that signified democracy's struggle to take root in Iraq.
How is this kind of work even remotely related to the practice of medicine? Like the AMA's efforts to influence the gun control debate, it's not. Gun violence is a criminal problem with underlying social causes. Civilian war deaths, actual or exaggerated, are a political issue, tragic though they may be. The sloppy methods used in the study and the timing of its release are pure politics.

One wonders how many advances in medicine might be achieved if the medical establishment's financial and intellectual resources were focused purely on medical research and improvements in medical technique.

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