Egg on the Face at Johns Hopkins

Ideological bias, funding from George Soros, flawed methodology, and possible scientific fraud.

Sounds like the calling cards of global warming alarmists right. However, those are the huge flaws found in the much ballyhooed 2006 Lancet study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that said over 650,000 Iraqis died due to the US military operations.

National Journal conducted an investigation of the Lancet article and found serious flaws:

George Soros funded the survey. The U.S. authors played no role in data-collection, and did not apply standard anti-fraud measures. The chief Iraqi data-collector had earlier produced medical articles to help Saddam’s anti-sanctions campaign in the 1990s, and said Allah guided the prior 2004 Lancet/Johns Hopkins death-survey. Some of the field surveyors were employed by Moqtada Sadr’s Ministry of Health. The Iraqis’ numbers contain evidence of fakery, and the Lancet did not check for fakery.

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Some excerpts from the investigation:

How to explain the enormous discrepancy between The Lancet’s estimation of Iraqi war deaths and those from studies that used other methodologies? For starters, the authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll. Skeptical commentators have highlighted questionable assumptions, implausible data, and ideological leanings among the authors, Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, and Les Roberts.

Some critics go so far as to suggest that the field research on which the study is based may have been performed improperly — or not at all. The key person involved in collecting the data — Lafta, the researcher who assembled the survey teams, deployed them throughout Iraq, and assembled the results — has refused to answer questions about his methods….

NJ has identified potential problems with the research that fall under three broad headings: 1) possible flaws in the design and execution of the study; 2) a lack of transparency in the data, which has raised suspicions of fraud; and 3) political preferences held by the authors and the funders, which include George Soros’s Open Society Institute…

Lafta had been a child-health official in Saddam Hussein’s ministry of health when the ministry was trying to end the international sanctions against Iraq by asserting that many Iraqis were dying from hunger, disease, or cancer caused by spent U.S. depleted-uranium shells remaining from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 2000, Lafta authored at least two brief articles contending that U.N. sanctions had caused many deaths by starvation among Iraqi children. In one article, he identified malnutrition as the main contributor to 53 percent of deaths among hospitalized children younger than 2, during a 1997 survey carried out at Saddam Central Teaching Hospital. The article cited no health data from before the sanctions, yet it asserted, “We can conclude from results that the most important and widespread underlying cause of the deterioration of child-health standards in Iraq is the long-term impact of the nonhumanized economic sanction imposed through United Nations resolutions…”

Until this fall, Sadr’s party and his Mahdi Army also controlled the health ministry, which employed some of Lafta’s researchers…

Both Lancet studies of Iraqi war deaths rest on the data provided by Lafta, who operated with little American supervision and has rarely appeared in public or been interviewed about his role. In May, Lafta and Roberts presented their study to an off-the-record meeting of experts in Geneva, but other attendees declined to describe Lafta’s remarks. Despite multiple requests sent via e-mails and through Burnham and Roberts, Lafta declined to communicate with National Journal or to send copies of his articles about Iraqi deaths during Saddam’s regime…

Virtually everyone connected with the study has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. actions in Iraq. (So are several of the study’s biggest critics, such as Iraq Body Count.) Whether this affected the authors’ scientific judgments and led them to turn a blind eye to flaws is up for debate.

Follow the money. Lancet II was commissioned and financed by Tirman, the executive director of the Center for International Studies at MIT. (His most recent book is 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World.) After Lancet I was published, Tirman commissioned Burnham to do the second study, and sent him $50,000. When asked where Tirman got the money, Burnham told NJ: “I have no idea.”

In fact, the funding came from the Open Society Institute created by Soros, a top Democratic donor, and from three other foundations, according to Tirman. The money was channeled through Tirman’s Persian Gulf Initiative. Soros’s group gave $46,000, and the Samuel Rubin Foundation gave $5,000. An anonymous donor, and another donor whose identity he does not know, provided the balance, Tirman said. The Lancet II study cost about $100,000, according to Tirman, including about $45,000 for publicity and travel. That means that nearly half of the study’s funding came from an outspoken billionaire who has repeatedly criticized the Iraq campaign and who spent $30 million trying to defeat Bush in 2004.

Partisan considerations. Soros is not the only person associated with the Lancet studies who had one eye on the data and the other on the U.S. political calendar. In 2004, Roberts conceded that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, and — in a much more troubling admission — said that he had e-mailed the first study to The Lancet on September 30, 2004, “under the condition that it come out before the election.” Burnham admitted that he set the same condition for Lancet II. “We wanted to get the survey out before the election, if at all possible,” he said.

crossposted on The Main Adversary

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