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Military Motivations

Re: Michael Fumento’s Lancet’s Boil:

It was with some regret that we read Michael Fumento’s article “Lancet’s Boil” which could not distinguish between a peer reviewed journal article and an uncritiqued presentation made at a huge conference. The paper cited, written by a political scientist, criticizes our study in Iraq for setting aside a neighborhood sample in Falluja where almost a third of residents had died when on average only about 2% of the population had died in the 32 other neighborhoods sampled. In doing so, this lowered our estimate of Iraqi deaths but narrowed the confidence interval. The criticism in this paper argues that the calculation excluding the extremely high Falluja estimate was an attempt by us to prevent having a confidence interval that included zero deaths. The paper argues that outliers could have been that far below our other measures and the exclusion was inappropriate.

First, in spite of Mr. Fumento’s article, a -30% death rate is not possible unless you believe that all the dead people from the past 15 years can come back to life. Secondly, imagine that if you took 32 water samples in your child’s school and found that arsenic samples were 60% higher than the national standards, and you were 98% sure that you were above the standard. Then you took one more sample that was ten times higher than the standard. The logic endorsed by Michael Fumento is that we do nothing about the water supply because this outlier broadened our statistical confidence interval and we are not sure that we are above the national standard.

Finally, I hope that the Spectator would have more to report on Iraq than trying to discredit a three-year old survey that has since had its findings confirmed by two other surveys.

Mr. Fumento’s downplaying of the carnage in Iraq serves no one well.
Les Roberts
Richard Garfield
Columbia University
New York, New York

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