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Misleading statistics

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, November 7, 2005

I would like to say a few words in response to James Dubray’s letter to the editor in the Nov. 4 Viewpoint section entitled “I hope, I fear, I pray.”

He states in his article that he “hopes that these crosses have nothing to do with politics.” Trying to separate an issue like abortion from politics is next to impossible. Those who view abortion as the social injustice that it is will naturally work to change the current policies. It would be like me saying that Dubray’s comments about a larger social safety net, universal healthcare and the war in Iraq have nothing to do with politics.

Secondly, I’d like to indulge Dubray in his numbers game. He states that the number of Iraqi civilians who have died in the war in Iraq numbers 110,000. If I am not mistaken, he takes this number from the easily debunked Lancet Report, which has a confidence interval so large as to be almost statistically meaningless. I’ll quote: Compared to the pre-war death rate in Iraq, “We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95 percent CI 8000-194,000) during the post-war period.” The numbers in parentheses show that the number may be anywhere from 8,000 deaths to 194,000, an absurd range. Now, don’t get me wrong, the deaths as a result of the Iraq War are a tragedy, but to inflate the statistics like that hints at a motive other than accurate portrayal of the facts.

I also have some other numbers that I would like to throw out for consideration. Five thousand – the number of Kurds killed by Saddam’s gas attack on the city of Halabja (according to the U.S. State Department). One hundred eighty thousand – the number of Kurds who were killed or had “disappeared” as a result of operations by Saddam Hussein’s government during his al-Anfal Campaign 1986-1989 (according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, hardly bastions of conservatism). This barely scratches the surface. You can play with numbers all you like, but one of the biggest mass murderers of the 20th century is now being tried by the very people who he used to bomb, torture and execute. If that’s not justice, I don’t know what is.

Dubray then goes on to say that he fears that the motivations of the Catholic Church with regards to abortion are corrupt, because of the influence of the Republican party in the Church and the potential for more donations from Republican donors to offset the money lost to the child abuse scandals. I guess he needs more of a reason than that the Catholic Church sees abortion as an affront to the dignity of all life, making it a practice worth opposing. Capital punishment occurs much less in the United States than abortion does, and thus receives proportionately less attention, in my opinion.

Lastly, Dubray goes on to hypothesize that if Democrats were the majority in the Catholic Church, then those who had voted for the Iraq War would not be allowed to receive communion. Let’s take a look at the Democrats’ voting record for the Resolution: 148 against, 109 for (60 percent-40 percent). To imply that the Democratic Party was united against the use of force in Iraq is misleading. I can go through the recorded speeches of numerous prominent Democratic Congresspersons, Sen. Hillary Clinton most notably, to further illustrate this fact, but I think my point is made.

It is one thing to be against an issue or a highly-controversial war, but to do so using inaccurate statistics and misleading implications does more harm than good, especially from the side that prizes rational debate and dissent as a cornerstone of American democracy.

Ryan CranefreshmanAlumniNov. 4