Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Well aimed words from The Lancet

My mental image of “The Lancet” medical journal has the Lancet as a tiny candle shining out from within the immense inky blackness of its publisher, Reed-Elsevier. For, as much as I detest Reed and everything it stand for, the Lancet manages to deliver regular doses of enlightenment to its fortunate readers…

In the last month or so two articles have caught my attention. The first was not, strictly speaking, in the Lancet at all; but the author was the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton. Writing in the Guardian, Horton discusses the government’s response to the Johns Hopkins study on Iraq civilian mortality; this study was published in the Lancet last October and created headlines with its estimate that 650,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the American and British led invasion in March 2003.

At the time the government rubbished the report. Horton writes:
…the prime minister's official spokesman said that the Lancet's study "was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate". The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the Lancet figures were "extrapolated" and a "leap". President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report".

It now emerges that the government - and President Bush - were, as usual, lying through their teeth. For this is the advice that experts were giving the government at the time:
The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the research was "robust", close to "best practice", and "balanced". He recommended "caution in publicly criticising the study"… The prime minister's adviser finally gave in. He wrote: "The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".

I do not know why I continue to be astonished at government duplicity but, well, I just do. I must keep reminding myself that governments have far less loyalty to the truth than the average citizen – why should a government bother to try and just massage the truth when a servile media will allow it to ignore the truth altogethr?

The other Lancet article that caught my attention has already been highlighted in a recent IndyMedia article. Those interested should refer to that article however the key point is that the Lancet has called for the defeat of the current Australian government citing, inter alia, “Prime Minister John Howard’s indifference to the academic medical community and his profound intolerance to those less secure than himself and his administration”.

The Lancet editorial coincided with a recent report on the health of aboriginal Australians. The Sydney Morning Herald summed up the report this way:
The health of Aborigines lags almost 100 years behind other Australians and they are the sickest indigenous people of all the wealthy nations, a report by the World Health Organisation says.

A change of government may not help matters much in Australia, but it sure as hell wouldn’t make things worse.

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