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Response to Marc Herold's "clarification"

 
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David Edwards
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Post Post subject: Response to Marc Herold's "clarification" Reply with quote

Iraq Body Count (IBC) team member, Marc Herold, asked for the following “clarification” to be added to the end of a media alert that was published on the ZNet website on October 11. Neither Herold nor the ZNet editors informed us of this addition to our article. This is what Herold added:

[ZNet Editor's note] Marc Herold, referenced above, has sent the following clarification:
"I helped form Iraq Body Count in early 2003. The inspiration for IBC was not my Afghan Victim Memorial Project but rather the data base at http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold, specifically Daily Casualty Count of Afghan Civilians Killed by U.S. Bombing (Copyright © 2004 Marc W. Herold). The Afghan Victim Memorial Project was only begun in September 2004 (at http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold/memorial.htm ).
I did indeed employ the phrase "probably a vast underestimate," but let me explain. First, the population density of Afghanistan in areas where most of the fighting has been taking place since the fall of Kandahar around December 10, 2001, is extremely low. Hence, the numbers of civilians killed in US/NATO operations is nothing in the order of Iraq (which is far more urban). I do employ media AND OTHER NON-MEDIA REPORTS (including from persons on-the-ground at times when available). Secondly, by that phrase I am thinking of a maximum order of twice the number of deaths I capture and report. As to the inference implied, my efforts (begun in October 2001) to "count the dead" in Afghanistan should not and cannot be used to critique, invalidate, dispute that which Iraq Body Count has been undertaking."
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=14007
=======

Herold writes:

"The inspiration for IBC was not my Afghan Victim Memorial Project but rather the data base at http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold, specifically Daily Casualty Count of Afghan Civilians Killed by U.S. Bombing (Copyright © 2004 Marc W. Herold)."

This had been our understanding from Haroon Siddiqui's article, 'Counting the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan' (Toronto Star, September 23, 2007; http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/259269). Siddiqui wrote:

"In the case of Afghanistan, Marc Herold, a professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire, has been tracking casualties since 2001 and posting them on a website. In fact, it was his Afghan Victim Memorial Project that inspired Sloboda's."

We assumed Siddiqui got this direct from Herold in their telephone conversation - presumably this was not the case.

Herold explains his use of the phrase "probably a vast underestimate" in relation to the specific situation in Afghanistan. He also explains that by "vast underestimate" he meant "a maximum order of twice the number of deaths I capture and report". We wrote to Herold on October 29:

Dear Marc Herold

We hope you're well. We understand you have asked the editors at ZNet to add a "clarification" to our media alert, "Iraq Body Count: 'A Very Misleading Exercise.'" You write:

"I did indeed employ the phrase 'probably a vast underestimate,' but let me explain... by that phrase I am thinking of a maximum order of twice the number of deaths I capture and report."

What is the basis of your thinking that the actual death toll could not be more than twice the number of deaths you capture, please?

Best wishes
David Cromwell and David Edwards

Herold responded on October 31:

Dear David Cromwell and David Edwards:
I did indeed make such a request as I believe I was quoted out of context. Regrettably, the ZNet editor did not print my full “correction”, but I decided to let things be, given that I did not wish to further nitpick.
I am beginning to write a long-ish methodological piece of the [four to five] different approaches to "counting civilian deaths" (N.B. deaths not casualties) in modern wars in which aerial bombing predominates as the weapon of choice of the imperial aggressors (BTW, I just returned yesterday from Spain where I met one of the few surviving veterans of the Spanish POUM who specifically cited the Axis war planes as a [not the] major cause of the Republicans’ defeat). As such, I will address the question you posed in much greater detail, but let me reassure you that in the Afghan context which I know very, very well, a total of a maximum 7,000 "counted" (not estimated) impact deaths is certain, to which need to added an estimated 20,000 indirect deaths resulting from other causes (especially curtailment of critical supplies to refugees due to U.S. bombing during October 2001 - March 2002). Certainly, incidents occurred where no report was forthcoming, but given the population density, the spatial distribution of Afghanistan’s population, the available means of communication in Afghanistan (both traditional and cell), it is simply incomprehensible that more than double the number counted might be a correct number. For the record, I am always interested in standing corrected as regards omissions or other errors as regards my "count." For a number ten times higher than that which I report to prevail, would require that large parts of big cities such as Kabul, Herat or Kandahar be leveled, like took place in Kabul during the terrible inter-mujahideen fighting of the early 1990's. The post-October 2001 situation is very different from that during the anti-Soviet struggle of the 1990’s; it does not come close to the contemporary inter-ethnic carnage in Iraq. I am very aware that counting "impact deaths" is only part of a much larger picture of death, destruction, and pain in Afghanistan caused by the U.S. and now NATO bombing and occupation, but my focus has been a critique of what gets marketed by much of the corporate media to the Euro-American publics as "precision" weaponry. As said before, I know the country very well, I have numerous contacts in the country, I rely upon more than merely media reports (e.g., follow-ups using on-the-ground interviews, often providing photos of death and destruction, etc.).
By the way, I share your anger and contempt for Human Rights Watch (HRW) and have had numerous run-ins with them. Talk about servants to the War Party. In December 2001, when I was reporting some 3,500 deaths in Afghanistan, HRW was blandly proclaiming a figure of about one-third that (of course, had we been focusing upon dead Albanians or Bosnians, HRW would have asserted a number 3-10 times higher killed by the “evil” Serbs).
I should also mention that I have a rather low esteem of so-called "experts," a label which HRW personnel assuredly do not deserve (nor do I for that matter). But in a more general way, any one vaguely familiar with the results of what experts have perpetrated upon the Third World in the name of development or modernization, would steer clear of such faith in expertise, no (see the marvelous work of Arturo Escobar)? In general, experts and their cohorts become, in my view, often mere gatekeepers to what comes to be proclaimed and guarded as Truth {Schopenhauer had some to say about that), thereby failing to admit that at best it is an intra-discursive truth (as so well argued by Stuart Hall in his magisterial work on the Rest and the West, or by feminist economist Julie Nelson in Economics). The weak link is always in the assumptions made to tell the "story," something feminists have long argued, no? But, please, I have neither the desire nor the time to now enter into a long methodological debate over such erudite topics.
Kind regards,
Marc W. Herold
Department of Economics
University of New Hampshire

We're not clear why Herold writes "I share your anger and contempt for Human Rights Watch (HRW)" - this is certainly not something we feel for HRW or have ever expressed.

The response to our question about a minimum 50% capture rate of the death toll, then, relies on Herold's insistence that he knows the Afghan context, "very, very well", and his assertion that, "given the population density, the spatial distribution of Afghanistan’s population, the available means of communication in Afghanistan (both traditional and cell),” it is “simply incomprehensible that more than double the number counted might be a correct number.”

This does not constitute verifiable evidence of the 50% claim which thus remains to be proven. We await with interest Herold’s methodological piece on which he is working. As he himself accepts in his email, it is then that he "will address the question you posed".

Herold also writes in his clarification:

"As to the inference implied, my efforts (begun in October 2001) to 'count the dead' in Afghanistan should not and cannot be used to critique, invalidate, dispute that which Iraq Body Count has been undertaking."

In fact, we did not use Herold's "efforts" to invalidate IBC's work. Our comment was: "There is no reason to believe that the application of the same methodology in Iraq is generating very different results". We were challenging IBC’s bold claims about the possible actual death toll - "The death toll could be twice our number, but it could not possibly be 10 times higher" - not its work of data collection.

Moreover, Herold, Sloboda and co-workers have nowhere convincingly demonstrated that the actual death toll is limited to twice their published counts. The evidence to date strongly suggests that the death toll from the invasion is more than ten times the IBC count.

Finally, Herold also posted the following response on our message board:

Hello compagneros:
If your wage is $20,000 a year and it is increased to $40,000 a year, I believe that represents a vast raise. Ask anyone who experiences such a change. I simply used the word "vast" in that sense, but it was regretably highjacked and used as a propaganda weapon in the JHU/ IBC wars. My statement should never have been so employed which is THE point of my correction (yes, correction).
Counted civilian impact deaths in Afghanistan number some ~6,000-7,000; further indirect civilian deaths causeed by bombing some 20,000. Until someone can show me, I repeat show me (or in Denny's words, where's the beef?), that 3-10 times more civilians were killed directly by US/NATO actions since October 7, 2001, well until then, I don't care which so-called experts are cited, etc. Naturally, counts are different from estimates. My approach relies on much more than pure media reports, everyone capito? Indeed, I even include photos supplied by NGOs working in high-conflict zones of Afghanistan as well as interviews and first-hand reports (by for example, RAWA).
Does anyone here READ what I wrote in the much-maligned correction at ZNet, every word of which I stand by: "First, the population density of Afghanistan in areas where most of the fighting has been taking place since the fall of Kandahar around December 10, 2001, is extremely low. Hence, the numbers of civilians killed in US/NATO operations is nothing in the order of Iraq (which is far more urban)." For numbers approaching 70-100,000 in Afghanistan to hold, entire sections of Kabul, Kandahar, etc. would have had to be flattened (as they were in the intra-mujahideen fighting of the early 1990s). But none of that happened since October 2001.
For this comment to be even considered, does it need to be peer-reviewed? Get real. For 2-3 decades, I have fought and will continue to fight at my universitry against such blind infatuation and kow-towing before so-called peer-reviewed journals. By that token, things published in terrific journals like Monthly Review, New Left Review, NACLA's Report on the Americas, etc. would count for nothing.
As far as the much ballyhooed Guatemala study, I'd be delighted to shred it when asked.
And as for one Simon C. (in MediaHell), since when are economists (and engineers - I have an electronics engineering degree... so much for this stupid pedigree nonesense...anyone on the so-called Left should be ashahmed of themselves for playing that game) an inferior breed (including in their mastery of mathematics) to epidemiologists? This type of gratuitous ad hominem inuendo is pathetic.
Professor Marc W. Herold, University of New Hampshire

Herold writes:

“If your wage is $20,000 a year and it is increased to $40,000 a year, I believe that represents a vast raise. Ask anyone who experiences such a change.”

The analogy is irrelevant to the issue of death tolls in Afghanistan. The sense of the increase being a “vast” raise is dependent entirely on the specific context of the imagined scenario. If we observed that aid to a major hospital in Baghdad had been raised from $20,000 to $40,000 a year, that would not be considered a “vast” change - it would be considered a pitifully small increase. If most other salaries in Herold’s example had been increased from $20,000 to $200,000, the $40,000 sum would not be described as a “vast” increase. Likewise, if the earner was a billionaire earning money on the side from corporate promotional activity... and so on.

As noted above, the best available evidence suggests that the death toll in Iraq is likely ten times the figure supplied by IBC. It was therefore certainly reasonable for us to assume that the “vast underestimate” offered by a similar, surveillance-based study on Afghanistan was intended to suggest something less than half the true figure.

Herold also writes:

“As far as the much ballyhooed Guatemala study, I'd be delighted to shred it when asked.”

It’s depressing to read this kind of comment from a respected academic. Suffice to say that Patrick Ball's work in Guatemala is seen by most specialists in the field as groundbreaking. If it was so weak, one has to wonder why the UN asked Ball to repeat the process in Kosovo, and why he was also hired to work for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There are many ways to test the sensitivity of surveillance-based systems - these tests are the proper focus of serious discussion on this issue.

DE and DC
Fri Nov 02, 2007 1:58 pm
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WeThePeople



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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Just found this thread while browsing through the forums and it is hilarious to me that this guy thinks he can just make ad edit on a news story and twist words to make his inept expertise seem legitimate. I fully support the letter you wrote questioning his rationale for estimated death tolls during his project. Without some kind of reasoning I might as well be the one in the article simply stating.."That's right, a lot of people are dying." Give me something quantifiable.
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Tue Feb 01, 2011 7:06 pm
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