Thursday, December 21, 2006

Murder in Baghdad

One of the more egregiously stupid Internet memes (in the actual sense, not in the stupid LiveJournal sense of a quiz or survey) going around is the flood of chain letters claiming that Iraq is no more dangerous than Washington DC. If you've got pro-Iraq war friends, you've probably seen some of them. They use statistics to prove that living in Washington DC was -- and maybe even still is -- more dangerous than living in Iraq.

And by prove I mean mislead.

John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey had something to say about the claims. Actually, he has two things to say: a nice version, and a not-so-nice version.

The nice version looks at the numbers, corrects the misleading use of statistics -- is it an accident that the pro-war zealots are averaging the death rate over chaotic murderous Baghdad and peaceful Kurdistan? yeah, sure it is -- and comes up with some conservative estimates for the yearly death rate in Baghdad:

544 murders per 100,000 in Baghdad versus 80 in Washington at the most lawless. (Today, Washington's murder rate is "merely" 35 per 100,000.)

Comparing apples with apples, Baghdad is at least fifteen times more dangerous than Washington D.C., and that only counts the risk of murder, not of kidnapping, torture or maiming.

One thing which surprised me was the equivalent figure for US troops in Iraq: 602 deaths per 100,000 per year. Given the low profile the media has for casualties, I was shocked that it is as high as that -- but I'm even more shocked that the risk to civilians in Baghdad is merely 10% lower than the risk to hated foreign occupiers.

The not-so-nice version... well, let's just say that Rogers' questions the sanity of anyone who unfavourably compares U.S. cities with a place where car bombs regularly kill hundreds of people, where virtually every single day the corpses of torture victims are found with electric drill holes through their bodies.

Rogers asks:

[...] denying reality Is. Not. Helping. We can't have a conversation about what to do next as long as a chunk of this country keeps clapping its hands and wishing hard. Hey, somebody wants to argue we need to stay for ten years, fine, lay it out. I'm open to the idea (I'm a Powell guy, what can I say). But how am I supposed to take this seriously when some people in the same breath try a bunch of statistical shell-games to show everything's just hunky-dory?

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