ComRes Poll infographic

ComRes Poll infographic

ComRes data showing UK public perception of death toll in Iraq and reality of death toll in Iraq as of 2013.

This stunning infographic was made by Melanie Patrick, for which I am hugely grateful.

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10 thoughts on “ComRes Poll infographic

  1. Shocking results, but I don’t quite get it – the poll itself, that is. The donation-raising campaign page was titled: “The Media, The Public, and the Human Cost of War”. But it doesn’t ask any questions about media, and it doesn’t enable respondents to say anything about media. So how can you deduce much (or anything) about media from the results?

    I mean, sure, we can say that the public is ignorant partly because of the media. But the poll doesn’t increase our knowledge on that score, since the estimates offered don’t match anything printed by the media. And we can’t link the respondents to media in any way, since they don’t even express their basic media preferences to the poll.

    It seems that the most we can say is that the public appears indifferent and ignorant regarding Iraq, and that this +might+ be because importance is assigned to other issues (eg celebrity child molesters) in the best-selling media.

    Still, it was worthwhile – just to show how ignorant the public is on the subject. But next time, ask questions on media preference.

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      The title was, broadly, based on the thesis that if the media had done a decent job of informing the UK public – with the urgency appropriate to such a task – that the toll of human life in Iraq was somewhere between 120,000 – 1,000,000, then there should be at least a reasonable distribution of ‘hawkish’ and ‘doveish’ estimates between the 100,000 – 1,000,000 mark. There was no restriction on what respondents could enter in the answer box – if they wished to express a range, they could. As I explained to ‘Media Lens Wipe’, the charming twitter account who blocked me after I responded to their post on the crowd-fund, I was very open to just about any result – having no real idea what we would find. However, it does not strike me as unfair to implicate the media in the staggering level of ignorance about the true likely mortality levels that the survey revealed – and it always seemed fairly likely that some influence would be seen – and indeed, there is an interesting, if barely significant, cluster around the IBC figure.

      In my commentary I actually reach the same conclusion you seem to have reached, however – that the blame really cannot be laid entirely at the door of the media, which is merely a cog in the machine of indifference, disregard and ignorance of ‘Other’, along with political, economic and historical illiteracy that seems to be one of the defining qualities of a bankrupt and moribund consumer culture.

      We would have loved to ask more questions – they are, however, around £300 + VAT each to include in the online omnibus, and more for the telephone polling – more detail on that here and here. It would have been great to ask more questions – and, indeed to do a new one with regard to Syria and the current awareness of this conflict – but we only just made the $1500 fund tbh, and this due to the overwhelming generosity of a handful rather than a flood of interested punters with a £5 note to spare.

      But I broadly agree with you – it is difficult to draw firm conclusions and land all the blame at the door of journalism. The information is not broadly circulated, but it is available, and certainly the IBC count is everywhere. To find that nearly half the population think less people died in 10 years than actually perished in the first 2 months? It’s cause for consideration, and re-consideration.

      However, the media select what is and is not given attention – surveys on celebrity gossip would no doubt be equally as revealing as estimates of the Syrian death toll with regard to what consumers absorb through repetition, exposure and what they see in the largest print.

  2. Thanks for your reply – I think I better understand the purpose of the poll now.

    One point, though – I don’t think estimates of deaths necessarily show how ‘hawkish’ or ‘doveish’ (to use your words) people are. In fact, I think that’s a dangerous way to think about it, because the tendency will be to promote the highest estimate (regardless of basis) to prove one’s “dove” credentials. (And in extreme cases, there will be a tendency to attack those who promote lower estimates – even if they are based on sound research, as in the March 2013 Lancet study, which concluded “at least 116903” deaths, not a million or 2 million.

  3. I don’t think estimates of deaths show how hawkish or doveish people are, only that the (largely manufactured) controversy has been used as a political football by hawkish and doveish commentators in predictable ways.

    The 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies, as painstakingly pointed out, were based on ‘sound research’ – the best practice in the field, in fact, used frequently in other instances such as reporting on Darfur and in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague for war crimes.

    When you refer to the March 2013 Lancet article, clearly you don’t mean this:

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2962196-5/fulltext?_eventId=login

    Also published in March 2013, it is co authored by Richard Garfield, who also co-authored the 2004 study with Les Roberts (which found 98,000 ‘excess deaths’ by that point – 1 year into the confllict), but was uninvolved, and indeed published a critique of the 2006 follow up study, critical of it.

    He is clear, however, here in the Lancet, as is the article you are most likely referring to, that the figure given of 116,903 represents only a civilian toll reported and cross-checked with certificate issue and so on. It is not, and cannot be, an accurate reflection of the true toll.

    As he states: “In passive surveillance no special effort is made to find those deaths that go unreported. The volunteer staff collecting data for the IBC have risked criticism that their data are inherently biased because of scarcity or absence of independent verification, variation in original sources of information, and underestimation of mortality from violence. It was just a matter of time before researchers, now convinced that this had become a prolonged war, spoke openly that data documentation needed active surveillance which purposefully sought out unreported cases.”

    He sums up the situation very concisely:

    “Arguably, although passive surveillance has great immediate usefulness in war, active surveillance must prevail if we are to have more complete information. In truth, because of the politicisation and perceived weaknesses of the methods of the Iraq studies, all the studies of civilian death have been discounted or dismissed, yet if half a million civilians have perished, that information should be known. The only accurate death records are of US and coalition forces. Public health data, once untouchable, are increasingly controlled by political decision makers. They cannot have it both ways in defining the ground truth; in every war, combatant forces of states and the leaders they serve must be accountable.”

    And if I have personally learned anything in this whole exercise, then it is this above all else.

    The article you refer to is here:

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2960254-8/abstract

    If you read it in full ( free subscription) you will see that it states:

    “The number of war-related deaths among Iraqi non-combatants is uncertain, but we conclude from our review of studies that it was at least 116 903. However, studies by research groups using different methodologies arrived at widely different estimates.”

    This is explicitly acknowledging that for this figure of 116,903 there is incontrovertible proof of death – but that many more are assumed to have perished than have been noted by this innovative, but un-scientific and extremely limited system of counting.

  4. Thanks for your reply. I’ve looked at the Garfield piece you mention. It’s actually an opinion piece rather than a study (it’s in the “comment” section). The study I mentioned is in the “review” section, and is a true meta-study of the science (unlike Garfield’s piece which goes into the politics, Wikileaks, Bush, Rumsfeld, etc).

    I think the point is that the Lancet review of the science +could+ have concluded by saying, “it’s likely that over a million Iraqis died” (as in the excellent graphic illustrating your ComRes poll results). But it didn’t. It concluded by saying “at least 116,903” deaths. Of course, it acknowledges and reviews the studies which gave much higher figures (and the criticisms of those studies).

    What concerns me is that if the Guardian had similarly concluded or headlined a piece with “at least 116,903 deaths” (while acknowledging other studies) there would likely be outraged complaints that this was “politicised” in favour of the pro-war camp (“hawkish” in your terms). And yet here is this same claim in an up-to-date peer-reviewed Lancet study. I hope you can see the point I’m making here, which is actually quite clear.

    • Your point is clear, but you are incorrect. The study you mention is also linked to in my reply (along with the Garfield commentary) – which you seem to be ignoring in yours. It in fact quotes the Iraq Body Count figure as the minimum number of violent civilian deaths, but goes on to point out that other studies have reached different conclusions and much higher estimates. ‘Minimum’ really does mean ‘it can’t be lower than this – it could be much higher’.

      Do you see how this is different from “at least 116,903 deaths due to the war”? Even the WHO study – which concluded, close to IBC, that 151,000 civililans had met a violent death by 2008 – estimated a total of 400,000 ‘excess deaths due to the war’ – indicating that the civilian tally killed by violence is perhaps about 1/3rd of the actual total (and we are still counting the horrific aftermath of chemical weapons and depleted uranium use, and so on, and will for many years to come).

      This ‘minimum’ figure is comprised of fatalities where there are records of civilians killed by violence including an official a report, a death certificate, and various other corroborated cross-checked sources of evidence. Clearly, this is a hopelessly inadequate measure of deaths in a war zone.

      And, in fact, the Guardian does regularly quote from the IBC figure, which is, as this site demonstrates, hopelessly inadequate and misused – in much the way that you are, in fact, mis-using it here. “At least 116,903 civilians murdered” is not the same as “total number of deaths as a consequence of the war and conflict since 2003”.

      You also seem to have lost sight of the point of the Poll itself – to see if the UK public had any clue about any of this. In fact, 75% of the UK public think a TOTAL of less than 20,000 people have died – which is neither 116,903 nor 1,000,000.

      Tell me, Mark – do you personally find this figure of 116,903 total deaths in Iraq over the past 10 years a credible claim?

      You seem to be very keen to make it – over and over again. I wonder how many people you personally believe – having reviewed all of the available evidence and narratives – to have perished in Iraq as a result of the past 10 years of conflict?

      For your reference, once again, this is the study you are referring to, and this is what it says:

      http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2960254-8/abstract

      “The number of war-related deaths among Iraqi non-combatants is uncertain, but we conclude from our review of studies that it was at least 116 903. However, studies by research groups using different methodologies arrived at widely different estimates.”

      Some of those estimates were, and continue to be, at at least the half million mark or more. There is nothing conclusive or final about that figure quoted in that review, and indeed WikiLeaks records have revealed a difference of *at least* 15,000 deaths unrecorded by the IBC methodology – indicating that the true number is likely to include many more missing from it’s current toll. As mentioned, where the work of Les Roberts was praised in Darfur and in the Balkans, and in other theatres of conflict, in Iraq it came under heavy scrutiny and critique from sources and in ways subsequently investigated and found to have little or no foundation (The New England Journal of medicine critique having literally no substance to it).

      If you consider that the presence of 8,000 human remains in Srebrenica – although it is impossible to tell how they died – is taken as compelling evidence of ‘genocide’ by the liberal press and journalists at the Guardian, you might like to consider how it is, then, that 15,000 missing deaths from the Iraq Body Count estimate of fatalities is not considered in the same category of war-crimes? That’s twice the number of civilians killed (also without details as to how, exactly), that are just missing from the 100,000+ tally readily embraced due to the proof.

      This site is far more about the double standards and different methodologies preferred by the supposedly ‘objective’ and ‘balanced’ free-press in reporting war than it is about attempting to establish which end of the laughably huge range of estimates provided for Iraq by a collection of amateurs with a website and professional scientists in the field of epidemiology is ‘right’.

      The uncritical acceptance of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights ‘estimates’ of the death toll in Syria is only the latest chapter in this ongoing mendacious charade.

      Do you personally find it credible that 100,000 people have died in the last two years in Syria, but only 16,000 more in Iraq in the last ten? Do you doubt the SOHR figures?

      Daniel

  5. Again, thanks for the reply. You write: ‘Do you see how this is different from “at least 116,903 deaths due to the war”?’

    Frankly, no, I DON’T see how it’s different from what the new Lancet study ACTUALLY SAYS (which is: “We conclude that at least 116,903 Iraqi non-combatants and more than 4800 coalition military personnel died over the 8-year course.”)

    The point is that the Lancet study is not confident enough in the figures from the other studies to use them as the “at least” figure in the CONCLUSION (remember those studies go to 2006, so it would be valid to use their estimates as “at least” figures for the full time period – ASSUMING confidence in those studies). So the Lancet study instead uses the conservative IBC figure for this purpose – ie the CONCLUSION, the “headline” figure, which is what the media cited when reporting this new Lancet study, eg: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/9932214/Iraq-war-10-years-on-at-least-116000-civilians-killed.html

    Yet when the Guardian does something similar to this Lancet study (eg headlines with the IBC figure, despite acknowledging higher estimates from other studies) its motives are attacked as “hawkish” (to use your term again).

    But, as I feared when I commented on your “hawkish vs doveish” comment, I suspect you’re now going to denounce me for not being on-message. So perhaps we’d better leave it there.

  6. Btw, the WHO study included civilians & combatants in its estimate: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr02/2008_iraq_mortality_study_qa.pdf

    (The Lancet study estimated 601,000 violent deaths & 655,000 excess deaths – both numbers including civilians & combatants).

    So I think your inference is completely wrong where you say of the WHO study “…indicating that the civilian tally killed by violence is perhaps about 1/3rd of the actual total”. The issue there (WHO study) is violent deaths vs excess deaths. But in the case of the Lancet 2006 study only a small proportion of the total estimated deaths are non-violent.

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for your further comments.

      You have become – perhaps deliberately? – confused. In the first instance, I have not made an ‘inference’ about the WHO study where I have said ““…indicating that the civilian tally killed by violence is perhaps about 1/3rd of the actual total”. In order to do such a thing I would need some training or qualification in epidemiology, but I am just a blogger.

      Rather, the ‘inference’ was made by none other than Les Roberts – the famous epidemiologist from The Center for Disease Control, former Director of health policy for the International Rescue Committee, and widely respected professional peer-reviewed scientist in the field, who has two PhD’s and worked for the WHO doing epidemiology studies in Rwanda during the civil war. He has lead over 50 studies in over 17 countries, mostly doing mortality studies during times of war. His work has never previously been criticized in the manner his work on Iraq was.

      He said, of the WHO study in Iraq:

      “This new estimate is almost four times the ‘widely accepted’ [Iraq Body Count] number from June of 2006, our estimate was 12 times higher. Both studies suggest things are far worse than our leaders have reported.”

      And further:

      ““Finally, their data suggests one-sixth of deaths over the occupation through June 2006 were from violence.”

      That’s not even 1/3rd – it’s 1/6th. John Tirman, Principal Research Scientist at MIT’s Center for International Studies, and sponsor of the 2006 Lancet study said:

      ” The total deaths attributable to the war, nonviolent as well as violent, was about 400,000 for that period, now 19 months ago. If the same trends continued, that total today would be more than 600,000….”

      This figure was extrapolated from the WHO study on violent deaths using industry standard epidemiological data analysis.
      You can read about it here and make up your own mind:

      http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/PublicHealth/10230

      And a Q & A with the study’s authors is clear:

      Q: What happened to mortality due to causes other than violence?

      A: The non-violent mortality rate increased by about 60%, from 3.07 deaths per 1000 people per year before the invasion to 4.92 deaths per 1000 people per year in the post-invasion period. This was not further addressed in this analysis, which focused on mortality due to violent deaths.

      So, the WHO figure of 151,000 is only deaths by violence, not casualties of the consequences of the war. THis figure would be 400,000. All this has been stated in plain English, now several times.

      By the way, the document from the WHO that you have linked to in your reply is very clear about the IBC:

      “The Iraq Body Count is likely to underestimate violent deaths because a substantial number do not appear in the media sources included in the monitoring system. The question is by how much – our survey indicates that about 1 in 3 deaths were reported.”

      The study you are citing is also discussing deaths by violence, not total deaths, using the IBC figure. Which is likely, according to the World Health Organisation, to be under-reporting by – surprise! – 2/3rds. Only 1 in 3 violent deaths are likely to be captured by the Iraq Body Count system of keeping inventory. Again, these are experts’ words, not my ‘inferences’.

      I am not entirely sure who or what you are referring to when you say “Yet when the Guardian does something similar to this Lancet study (eg headlines with the IBC figure, despite acknowledging higher estimates from other studies) its motives are attacked…”. Where? By whom? There is no such attack anywhere on this site, not to mention the fact that ‘the Guardian’ is a newspaper, and cannot have motives. Perhaps you are referring to individual journalists, and respondents, in which case you should link to them or be clear, rather than waving a finger vaguely in the direction of those suggesting that the media consistently under-report this horrific crime.

      I also have no idea what your issue with the terms ‘hawkish’ and ‘doveish’ might be, though clearly you have at least one. I assure you, these are fairly standard nomenclature in discussing foreign policy, and the pundits who cover it. There is no need to refer to “my term” nor to put the words in “scare quotes” every time you invoke them. They are standard, everybody knows what they mean.

      Finally, there is of course nothing I can do to allay your ‘suspicions’ of your imminent ‘denouncement’ (“What concerns me….”, “I fear that….”) – though there is no ‘message’ here that you are ‘off’. The message here is that the mainstream Western media can be relied upon to be inconsistent when reporting on deaths in a war zone, and has consistently under-reported and continues to under-report the death toll as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This is not a controversial point, as this entire blog clearly shows. You even agree! (“Shocking results…”)

      However, I would like to close our correspondence with some free advice for you:

      It is very bad form (‘nettiquette’) to CAPITALISE your words when writing to a complete stranger online. It is generally taken to mean that you are SHOUTING – and, if you wish to shout online about something, I would much prefer that you do so on your own blog. You can start one for free, right here if you wish.

      On that note, I’d like to once again thank you for your correspondence and interest, and gladly accept your invitation to ‘leave it there’.

      With best regards

      Daniel

  7. Hi Mark

    Your extra comments have been held in the moderation queue because you have filled in fake emails when authorizing yourself to leave comments on my blog.

    I have tried to contact you, but the details you entered in the required fields are returning to me undeliverable.

    You mentioned, in your comment yesterday, wishing to ‘leave it there’…

    I accepted your offer in my reply, as I could see that we were not really discussing so much as you were arguing in bad faith on my blog.

    Then you returned to comment again, and again appear to not understand the difference between deaths by violence and deaths as a result of the war. You do understand that many victims of war (civilians especially) are not killed in fighting?

    You are also grinding your axe against Media Lens, appearing to conflate them with my blog, and referring to my blog as ‘a not-so-level playing field’ – as if it should be, or has any inherent obligation to be so. This is my blog. It reflects my views, as blogs do, and I have complete control over what else should go on there, as you no doubt do on your own blog and twitter account.

    But this is my blog – where you are SHOUTING and writing in a somewhat paranoid fashion with your ‘fears’, ‘concerns’ and so on, for ‘the Guardian’.

    Are you aware of how this all makes you appear?

    If I approve your comments, they will appear, but you seem – to me – to be re-hashing points you have already made, and still misunderstanding plain English in my replies, while also avoiding any of the questions I have asked you in response to your comments.

    This is, to my mind as author of the blog, arguing in bad faith.

    As my first blog post very clearly states:

    Welcome to countingthebodies

    Your comments and feedback are all most welcome, but may be moderated.

    I am not available to respond to every comment, especially where you have your own axe to grind and are not responding in kind to previous posts. Further iteration of my points, with you misunderstanding them again and again, only serves to clutter and bring noise to an otherwise clearer signal. Perhaps this is deliberate?

    You disagree with the Lancet and WHO conclusions and read the results of the March 2013 Lancet review of studies in a certain way which suits your desire to minimize any suggestion that the 10 year conflict in Iraq has resulted in a higher body count than the 2 year conflict in Syria – fine, and you have made the point, several times. Others are free to conclude what they will from the available information.

    Once again, thanks for contributing, and I will review your comments when I have time.

    In the meantime, you may perhaps consider the irony of complaining that your comments not appearing immediately on my blog are indication of not ‘playing fair’, while you yourself are in fact anonymous and using fake email contact details to leave your comments…

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