Spinning the Lancet, Redux.
Scientists at the UK's Department for International Development thought differently. They concluded that the study's methods were "tried and tested". Indeed, the Hopkins approach would likely lead to an "underestimation of mortality".
The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific advisor said the research was "robust", close to "best practice", and "balanced". He recommended "caution in publicly criticising the study".
When these recommendations went to the prime minister's advisers, they were horrified. One person briefing Tony Blair wrote: "are we really sure that the report is likely to be right? That is certainly what the brief implies?" A Foreign Office official was forced to conclude that the government "should not be rubbishing The Lancet".
The prime minister's adviser finally gave in. He wrote: "the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".
How would the government respond?
Would it welcome the Hopkins study as an important contribution to understanding the military threat to Iraqi civilians? Would it ask for urgent independent verification? Would it invite the Iraqi government to upgrade civilian security?
Of course, our government did none of these things. Tony Blair was advised to say: "the overriding message is that there are no accurate or reliable figures of deaths in Iraq".
His official spokesman went further and rejected the Hopkins report entirely. It was a shameful and cowardly dissembling by a Labour - yes, by a Labour - prime minister.
Credit has to go to the BBC for uncovering this, but where has the 'story gone' - and why was it kept so quiet for the 'Unhappy Aniversary' of the Liberation of those dead lucky Iraqis?
The BBC ran the story online on Monday the 26th of March, after 'Iraq Week', after the Question Time Iraq Special and all those Newsnight segments on the cost of the war.
Yet the BBC tell us they received the information on 14 March 2007 - Twelve days before they broadcast it.
- Wouldn't all that debate and discussion that took place on the BBC throughout "Iraq Week", in the 12 days between receiving the information and publishing it have been better framed against the context of what appears to be the most accurate estimate of civillian deaths in Iraq?
- Isn't the obvious parallel between the spinning of the Lancet Report and the spinning of what the government was being told by it's own experts about the intelligence on WMD [as opposed to what they told us] worth pursuing? One is, after all, the consequence of the other...
- Shouldn't the relevant Government Ministers be hounded untill they come before parliament, or on camera to account for the discrepancy between what their own experts were telling them about the validity of the Lancet study, and the lies and spin they fed us?
It would appear not.