The 100,000 dead figure that’s being tossed around for civilian casualties in Iraq is much trumpeted, but seems to be on shaky ground.

Make no mistake: whatever the number, it’s grotesque; it’s unacceptable, and shocking, and unfortunate.

But 100,000 it’s not.

Fred Kaplan takes the 100,000 number to task in Slate.

(Quick aside: if you’re unfamiliar with it, just know that the 100,000 number comes from a study by a team from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins; the article in which the number appears will be published in The Lancet, a British medical journal.)

The authors of the Lancet article write:

We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194000) during the post-war period.

Kaplan translates:

It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)

…and editorializes:

This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dart board.

What’s most disturbing is the fact that the researchers felt they needed the 100,000 number to make a point.

Update: Daniel at Crooked Timber has a slightly different take on the matter of 100,000. It’s worth a read.

(Slate: “100,000 Dead—or 8,000,” by Fred Kaplan [October 29, 2004]; IHT: “Study puts civilian toll in Iraq at over 100,000,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal [October 30, 2004]; The Lancet: “Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” by Les Roberts et al. [October 29, 2004])