This post examines the relationship between media reports and casualty estimation. Counting the total number of people in a large stable population during peacetime is a difficult task for many reasons, the most notable reason being that everyone in the target population has to be enumerated.
Suppose the people that we want to count have been injured or killed in a conflict zone or as part of a complex humanitarian emergency such as a flood or earthquake. Changing the context can make it even more difficult to obtain an accurate count of the number of people in a population.
Below are a few general points about estimating casualties using media reports (and more generally in observational data) in conflict situations that seem to be true.
- Media reports are easy to obtain, relatively simple and inexpensive to convert into a database.
- The number of casualties will almost surely be underestimated, and the nature of what is reported will depend on the identity of the victim and suspected perpetrator.
- Media reports may be missing or not collect key data that is useful in understanding associations and patterns in armed violence research.
- Collecting events that have only resulted in death make it impossible to evaluate probabilities.
- Significant statistical associations within media reports may not be significant when considering media and non-media media reports and vice versa.
- Conclusion: Generalizing frequencies and associations based on media reports beyond newsworthy events can result in erroneous statements.