Tall tales from the crypt
The website IraqBodyCount.net (IBC) has received widespread media attention since January 2003, when it began to tally Iraqi civilian deaths under the American-led invasion and occupation. Its grim numbers, currently reporting a “minimum” of 15,365 deaths and counting, have been mentioned by outlets from the New York Times and the Washington Post to news corporations in the U.K. and Europe. Based on the work of Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire, IBC has drawn fire from several commentators who have sought to expose its biased math.
Josh Chafetz and David Adesnik, who write for oxblog.com, point out that the “comprehensive calculation” of IBC allows the inclusion of many spurious reports and misleading counts. Victims of suicide bombings and ordinary crime are included as “civilian deaths resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies.” IBC does not filter claims by their credibility, meaning that both the “minimum” and “maximum” tallies on their site are boosted by reports from sources other news outlets would dismiss. Unfortunately, these numbers are presented as undeniable facts in respected national newspapers.
The Washington Post’s Public Editor recently published a half-hearted apology for the newspaper’s lack of attention to the civilian toll of conflict in Iraq. Such accounts do provide a crucial part of any full assessment of the war. When media sentiments cause reporters to overlook shoddy methodology, however, the numbers can only hinder the search for truth.
Patients’ friend or pre-med purgatory?
Aspiring physicians in the Class of 2005 can thank the American Medical Association (AMA) for this year’s agonizing crucible of medical school applications. In 2004, the AMA’s Council on Medical Education celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. Established in 1904 for the express purpose of shutting down half the medical schools in America (its 1910 Flexner Report stated that “the curse of medical education is the excessive number of schools”), the Council seems to have achieved most of its goal. The population of this country has increased a little under 300 percent since 1904, yet the number of medical schools in the U.S. has declined by 26 percent. In the early 1900s, state medical boards shut down many schools around the country on the basis of Flexner’s indictment, though Flexner admitted years later that he knew little about medicine or medical education.
Since then, the AMA has demonstrated that money, not medicine, remains its first concern. As one of the nation’s most successful labor unions, it restricts entrance into the medical profession on the pretense of maintaining a high standard of quality. Were the AMA truly interested in the quality of health care, it would not lobby to restrict the activities of highlytrained nurses and pharmacists, nor would it tolerate the practice of affirmative action in medical school admissions. When needless but lucrative surgeries are common and hospital accidents kill 120,000 Americans every year, the AMA’s role as a quality controller seems questionable at best, especially when even well-qualified pre-meds can have a hard time getting into medical school. Doctors of the world, stop uniting!