An Exploration of Multiple Systems Estimation for Empirical Research with Violent Deaths

Share of Albanians (%) vs. number or estimate of deaths, by region.

Share of Albanians (%) vs. number or estimate of deaths, by region.

 

The Bodies of Evidence: An Exploration of Multiple Systems Estimation for Empirical Research with Violent Deaths. Jule Krüger and Kristian Lum. 2016.

Political violence in its many forms is usually measured by counting the bodies of the dead. An accurate account of lethality is a prerequisite for testing key hypotheses empirically. Limitations on what can be observed inhibit the collection of representative data required for valid and reliable statistical inference. Using the example of armed conflict in Kosovo (1999), we demonstrate that the statistical method of multiple systems estimation (MSE) can be used to estimate the total number of deaths from three incomplete lists. We compare our estimates to the observed data, as well as a recently completed war victim census. Only the estimates and the census reveal a theoretically relevant relationship between ethnicity and lethality. This provides–to our knowledge–the first test of MSE in the context of a human population experiencing violent deaths and emphasizes that political violence scholars need to account for underregistration and bias in their empirical work.

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