Troubling Numbers

This is a weeks-overdue post to recommend that you check out Mike Spagat’s piece on the myth that “economic sanctions aimed at Saddam Hussein and his regime killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

Spagat explains how, despite the retraction of the results by the original researcher, mistaken findings on Iraqi child mortality were a prominently cited justification for the war in Iraq. He also makes the worrying point that the seemingly-permanent place in the discourse occupied by these erroneous estimates is part of a larger phenomenon wherein shocking statistics become dogma, regardless of their accuracy.

I’m filing this one under “reasons to keep fretting about the relationship between evidence, advocacy, and policy-making.”

p.s. For another riff on the same theme, check out the NYTimes’s “Revisiting the ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic That Was Not.”

Kate Cronin-Furman

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