Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for March 6th, 2007

The body count deniers

Posted by metaphorical on 6 March 2007

 “We don’t do body counts”
 General Tommy Franks, US Central Command

Could 650,000 Iraqis really have died because of the invasion?

The Times in the UK, not the one in New York, asked that question yesterday in a headline.

You know you’re in for a statistical slight-of-hand right away with that question, the answer to which is surely, Yes, it’s possible that 650,000 Iraqis have died because of the invasion. Even the people who disagree with the Lancet’s published articles on the Iraqi bodycounts would agree that it’s possible. They think it unlikely, they question the evidence, they think other numbers are more scientifically defensible, but they don’t deny the possibility.

I’m going to point to the MIT/Bloomberg study, commonly referred to as The Lancet study, here, and to the Times’s article questioning it, here, and then more or less dismiss them, because I’m interested in the general pattern of how the conservative right tries to turn questions about the details of a story into a refutation of its general outlines, and then parlays that into a dismissal of the broader moral or policy concerns that occasioned our interest in the first place. Looking over that last sentence, it’s way too general and vague, so let’s get to some specific examples. We’re not by any means lacking in them.

Consider the creationists’ strategy of finding a few cases where the evolutionary explanation of a organism or organ’s functioning is still sketchy. They then act as if those few cases call into question the literally tens of thousands of studies that back the case for evolution.

The same thing has been going on in the debate about global warming. Even if there were an anomolous study or two legitimately contradicting the enormous amount of evidence for human causation—and there isn’t —it doesn’t change the fact that the overwhelming weight of the case rests on one side, and that by any definition of rational belief, only a willfully irrational person could believe that human activity isn’t the cause.

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