The Lancet study saying that there are as many as 655,000 extra civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of the war and occupation has attracted considerable interest. Some say the study is right, others point to the disparity between it and other analyses.
There is a small point in the methodology of the Lancet study which I believe may offer a quick and simple facial test of the study’s validity.
The Lancet authors report that they attempted to confirm the death reports given to them by their interview subjects. They report being able to confirm 80% of the death reports by finding official death certificates filed by local and provincial governments. This augments the credibility of this part of their methodology – if, in a war zone, 80% of your self-reports are verified by government records, the reporting you’re getting is probably of good quality.
However, if 80% of the sample’s death reports are verifiable, then a similar fraction of the total population should show similar levels of documentation. There should be 500,000 death certificates on file through Iraq. If there are not, then the study authors have destroyed the presumption of the validity of their sample, because there’s a huge disparity between the sample and the population. From where I sit, there are either a half million death certificates on file somewhere (in which case the Lancet study is noncontroversial, and we have to start asking what is wrong with Iraq Body Count, Brookings Institute, and other non-Pentagon estimates that put the civilian toll in the 50 to 100K range), or we have to ask why the study sample shows such an enormous differentiation on the documentation question.
In other words, show me the death certificates.