[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 1-Jul-2013
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Contact: Shilo Rea
shilo@cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University

Counting civilian casualties: New book explores proper way to record deaths in areas of conflict

PITTSBURGH—The current violence in Syria vividly demonstrates the difficulty — and importance — of accurately recording and estimating nonmilitary deaths in conflict areas.

"Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict" is a new book that surveys the challenges of this task, presenting and evaluating methods for ensuring that these tragic killings are properly acknowledged. Co-edited by Carnegie Mellon University's Jay D. Aronson and Baruch Fischhoff and the University of Pittsburgh's Taylor B. Seybolt, the book contains contributions from the top researchers in the field, presenting case studies from Latin America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Of the book, Lord John Alderdice, chair of the Liberal Democratic Parliamentary Party, House of Lords, London, wrote, "Soldiers used to march off to war, with those who did not return honored as heroes. Now war visits itself on whole populations and calculating the human cost is much more complex. But this book is not just an impressive scientific examination of the techniques of measurement. It is a deeply moral statement that insists the every person counts and each death is a very human tragedy. That is why it is so important."

Published by Oxford University Press, the book examines the most commonly used casualty recording and estimation techniques and evaluates their strengths and weaknesses, giving those who rely on these records — policymakers, humanitarian organizations, journalists, and others — the best possible understanding of how to pursue their work. It also analyzes how figures are used — and sometimes misused — by governments, rebels, human rights advocates, war crime tribunals and others.

"One day, we may have an international convention, guaranteeing proper, respectful records of all those killed in conflicts," said Fischhoff, the Howard Heinz University Professor in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Department of Social and Decision Sciences and Carnegie Institute of Technology's Department of Engineering and Public Policy. "When we do, the methods reported in this book will help to ensure that the work is done with the accuracy and dignity that individuals deserve. Perhaps a clearer picture of these tragedies will reduce them in the future, while helping the survivors today."

Seybolt, assistant professor of international affairs in Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said, "The human toll of war is subject to uncertainty that allows those with a stake in the conflict to make competing claims that perpetuate distrust. This book applies scientific methods to the task of producing more reliable records and estimations, in the belief that demonstrating respect for human life is an essential part of efforts to build peace."

"Counting Civilian Casualties" stems from a 2009 workshop, co-sponsored by Carnegie Mellon and Pitt, that brought together the foremost researchers and practitioners in the field.

"We held the meeting to bridge the gap between the people producing civilian casualty numbers — social scientists and statisticians — and the people using the data — policymakers, international organizations and the public," said Aronson, associate professor of science, technology and society in CMU's Dietrich College's Department of History. "The book lays out the arguments for using different methods under certain circumstances as well as points out the benefits and limitations of the tools we currently have."

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For more information on "Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict" or to purchase the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0199977313.



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