Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dead Certain?

Science Magazine reports on new a new study that examines deaths and causes of deaths, a topic important for Global Studies as well as Global Public Health:

How Do You Count the Dead?
Gretchen Vogel Understanding how many people die of which causes is invaluable for designing effective public health programs, global health experts say. But most of the world's deaths occur in places with few or no hospitals or doctors to record deaths and their causes, forcing scientists to extrapolate from survey data, incomplete records, and research studies. Various groups use different statistical methods, sometimes resulting in very different numbers that are hotly debated. Now the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is conducting the most massive study of deaths and disease ever undertaken, which aims to assemble the cause of 1 billion deaths worldwide going back to 1980. It will be published in a series of papers later this year and is likely to trigger new debates. Some say that's necessary and healthy. Others worry that the sharply diverging estimates and the bickering will erode policymakers' trust in science.

Full Story at 
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I don't have anything particularly insightful to add here, but I thought that this article has a certain resonance with our Embodied World theme.  So, too, does this article, also available by subscription:

  • Michael Spagat
  • Andrew Mack
  • Tara Cooper
  • and Joakim Kreutz
Estimating War DeathsAn Arena of ContestationJournal of Conflict Resolution December 2009 53934-950doi:10.1177/0022002709346253

The idea that death counts are highly contested is not considered enough in IR.  We don't really know how many people die as a result of conflict. Counts of bodies on the battlefield are not reliable; eye witnesses differ.  The concept of "battlefield" is hopelessly dated in today's warfare, anyway.  People die, too, not as a direct result of fighting, but rather as a consequence of the destruction wrought by fighting.

Studies of war that operationalize war in terms of N of battle deaths are flawed in my view.  (Correlates of War and Behavioral Correlates of War are widely used datasets that do just that.)  It never made sense to me to say that 999 battle deaths is "only"  a "militarized interstate dispute" (assuming it's interstate), while 1000 battle deaths makes the conflict a war.

And then there is "structural violence," a term introduced by Johann Galtung to refer to the years of life lost as a result of negative socio-economic conditions.  A problem for analyzing structural violence is it is difficult to see the act of violence on the body of the victim. There is no smoking gun nor any other obvious weapon to be seen if someone's life is cut short because of impoverished circumstances that came as a result of structural adjustment policies. No one has a "structural adjustment entry wound."

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