Category Archives: This American Life

Faking the war numbers

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A good episode that describes how they counted casualties in the Iraq war.

Recently, the British medical journal The Lancet published an study which updated their estimate of the number of Iraqis who’ve died since the U.S. invasion. With that in mind, we revisit a show we did in 2005 about the earlier study published in Lancet estimating the number of Iraqi deaths. That study was mostly ignored in the U.S. Alex Blumberg revisits the original study and looks at the new one.

As a fakeologist, you will probably agree with option #2 – that they made the numbers up – and made them so big – a big lie – that everybody would believe them.

Ira Glass

Right. If you’re going to make up stuff, why go door to door in dangerous areas? Why not just sit in your office and make up stuff? And if you’re going to go door to door, why not just get the data?

Alex Blumberg

Right. And if you’re going to make up stuff, why make up a number that even the people who are on your alleged side are going to argue with you about? That doesn’t make any sense at all. If he was going to fake the data, he would have said, there was 300,000 dead. And then everybody would have been joining in and saying, this is a horrible thing.

Ira Glass

Right.

Alex Blumberg

And instead, he comes up with this much larger number. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Ira Glass

So if you’re going to lie, do a better job.

Alex Blumberg

If you’re going to lie, make it a more plausible lie.

Source: 320: What’s In A Number? — 2006 Edition – This American Life