Just a quick thought re: the Lancet Study. Table the debate over the study's legitimacy for a moment. I wondered about its possible effects even if it got through the filter of discrediting dismissals.
I was reminded of a study about 'scope insensitivites' that lead me to think when I first saw the Lancet study that even if it makes it through the smear campaign against it (which it didn't), people who don't already care a great deal about a small # of Iraqi civilian loss of life aren't going to be particularly bothered by the 600,000 #.
See if you think the phenomena of scope insensitivity applies here. The paradigmatic study is by (Desvousges et. al. 1993.). They asked three similar groups:
Suppose X migrating birds die each year by drowning in uncovered oil ponds, which the birds mistake for bodies of water. These deaths could be prevented by covering the oil ponds with nets. How much money would you be willing to pay to provide the needed nets?
replace 'X' with 2,000/20,000/200,000 for the three different groups. Surprisingly, the $ amount doesn't change much. the 2,000 group is willing to on average pay $80, the 20,000 $78, and the 200,000 $88.
The most widely accepted explanation for scope neglect appeals to the affect
heuristic. Kahneman et. al. (1999) write:
"The story constructed by Desvouges et. al. probably evokes for many readers a
mental representation of a prototypical incident, perhaps an image of an exhausted
bird, its feathers soaked in black oil, unable to escape. The hypothesis of valuation
by prototype asserts that the affective value of this image will dominate expressions
of the attitute to the problem - including the willingness to pay for a solution.
Valuation by prototype implies extension neglect."
So here's the thought: most people have already made up their minds re: how to feel about/weight the event of a prototypical Iraqi civilian violently dying. Whether in reality there's 6,000, 60,000, or 600,000 casualties doesn't make too much of a difference in terms of their cost/benefit analysis of the Iraqi conflict.
What do you think? Imagine the Lancet study had been widely hailed as a very accurate account of the casualty rate. Would it have made a difference? Or would people have ignored it because of scope neglect?