Socilogy Mind
2011. Vol.1, No.3, 105-113
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.13013
Assessing Bias: The Qualitative in the Quantitative, Darfuri War
Fatalities and the Morality of War*
Stephen Reyna
Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute University of Manchester & Max Planck Institute of Social
Received February 4th, 2011; revised March 19th, 2011; accepted April 22nd, 2011.
This paper formulates a strategy for assessing bias, and applies it to quantitative assessments of the disaster of
war in Darfur [Sudan]. In so doing it argues for qualitative investigations of quantitative analyses. The strategy
examines epistemic and political regimes with the goal of revealing the sources, the directions, and the forces of
bias. Examples of bias are discussed to illustrate the strategy including, among others, the draw-a-person IQ test,
questions about how old you are or whether you can bear children in Chad, and the US army’s Human Terrain
System. Considerable attention is paid to US governmental biasing of its claims of war fatalities and genocide in
Darfur. This biasing is shown to involve cherry picking, symbolic violence, and high-channel regimes of bias. It
is shown how the bias assessment s tr a te gy may be of use in evaluating moral claims.
Keywords: Bias Assessment, Qualitative/Quantitative Analyses, US Government Claims of Genocide In Darfur,
Moral Judgment
Darfur in the Sudan experienced the reoccurrence of grim
warfare in 2003, with the onset of paramilitary operations
against government targets. Khartoum authorities insisted that
there were on the order of 10,000 civilian deaths in Darfur be-
tween 2003 and 2008 (MSNBC, 2008). Most Western mass
media put the figure at over 300,000 deaths. One NGO, the
Coalition for International Justice, put it at over 400,000 (See
GAO 2006 for different estimates). What is striking about these
assessments is how widely disparate they are, provoking the
question of why. I believe it is due to bias.
This article may leave some a bit disappointed. They come to it
hoping to discover how many have really been killed in Darfur,
and some idea as to the best assessment procedures for discover-
ing such statistics. They will not get this knowledge. Rather my
position will be that prevailing political and epistemic conditions
are such that quantitative estimates of matters like mortality in
conflict, or in other sorts of humanitarian disasters, are likely to
be profoundly biased. This means that strategies for investigating
the sources of quantitative assessments’ bias are equally as im-
portant as the quantitative techniques themselves. Further, I shall
claim that a quantitative assessment’s validity will depend, in
good measure, upon qualitative investigations. The paper thus has
two labors. On the one hand, it argues for integration of qualita-
tive with quantitative researches, thereby elucidating the qualita-
tive in the quantitative. On the other, it advocates a strategy for
the study of bias in social and cultural realms of quantitative
assessment, in part by considering the disasters of war in Darfur.
Argumentation proceeds by discussing the ancient debate be-
tween the partisans of qualitative versus quantitative methodolo-
gies as well as introduci ng a way of evaluating the bias of quan-
titative assessments; then it proceeds to consider sources of e pis-
temic bias, sources of political bias, and finally a case history of
political bias in Darfur. The conclusion shows what such bias
analysis can mean for judgment of morality.
Assessing Reality and Its Biases
Qualitative and quantitative ways of assessing reality have
emerged, have tended to be judged as dueling opposites, and
have spawned roistering brawls over which is the better way of
knowing. Since Galileo Galilei’s success in developing a mathe-
matics of uniformly accelerated objects in the early 17th century
there has been a growing belief among intellectual elites that the
more rigorous way to know things is quantitatively (Porter,
1996). Certain folk, usually in the humanities, have defended
qualitative analyses, but such pleading has not impeded the ex-
pansion of quantitative techniques into the analysis of ever-
increasing domains of reality. Let us arrive at a preliminary un-
derstanding of the qualitative and the quantitative.
There is a tendency to simplify and to reduce the former to
studies whose analyzes are based upon words and the latter to
those based upon numbers. This oversimplifies. The approach I
take—reflecting discussions in Becker (1996), Creswell (2003)
and Kuhn (1961)—considers that there are different types of
information about reality. Quantitative information is that re-
lating to, or expressible in, terms of quantities of reality. It is
the how much of being. Thus, mortality assessments that so
many died are examples of quantitative data. Qualitative infor-
mation is that relating to, or expressible in, terms of the quali-
ties of reality. Of course, this provokes debate over the nature
of quality; a spat that ranges from John Locke’s classic (1690)
distinction between primary qualities (like extension and solid-
ity) and secondary qualities (such as color and sound) to A.J.
Ayer’s belief in qualia as ‘sensory patterns’ (1968). For our
*This paper was original presented at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response
Institute’s seminar ‘Assessing Humanitarianism: Disast er and Data Dissemina-
tion’. University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, Februa ry 26, 2010.
purposes quality is the distinguishing features of sensory pat-
terns of being. It is the what is of phenomena, which make
some chunk of being what it is. Qualitative information relevant
to persons concerns a particular type of distinguishing features:
the experiences of, and the meaning given to, to reality. A dis-
tinguishing feature of mortality is that people have ceased to be
alive, which requires consideration of what is meant by life.
The position argued in this text is that the qualitative and quan-
titative are not opposing ways of knowing one premodern and
on the wane, the other modern and on the rise but complemen-
tary components in any inquiry in which rigorous knowledge is
craved. One of these realms is that of humanitarian disaster,
where perhaps a key assessment is of numbers killed. Darfur
until recently a backwater among backwaters came in the first
years of the 21st century to dominate headlines as a place of the
monstrosities of war so great that some declared genocide;
which is why this paper investigates Darfuri war fatalities and
their bias. Let us turn to bias.
The word bias is derived from the medieval English game of
bowls and referred to the actual roll of the ball on release from
the clasp of some lord or lady. Sometimes the bowl would be
directly at the pins. Other times it would slant in some angle
away from them. ‘Bias’ as it is used in this discussion is
knowledge with a particular slant; that is, a certain quantity of
knowledge pushed in a particular direction. The magnitude of
the knowledge its generality may be little or large. For example,
the magnitude of knowledge about war deaths is relatively
smaller if it only refers only to deaths in Darfur between 2003
and 2008, and vaster if it refers to all those killed by war in all
places at all times. The direction of the knowledge is the degree
to which it is pushed along a particular path or, more quantita-
tively, along a certain measurement scale. The analysis of bias,
is discovery of the reasons why a particular magnitude of
knowledge exhibits a particular direction, or directions. Direc-
tions ‘away from’ or ‘towards what’ readers might ask? One
answer to this question is away from or towards the approxi-
mate truth of some bit of knowledge.2 Of particular interest are
circumstances where the same quantum of knowledge exhibits
multiple directions. This is precisely the sort of bias reported
for the Sudanese war mortality figures-where in both cases
there is one bowler pushing the knowledge in a higher direction,
and another pushing it in a lower direction.
Analysis of these biases is revelation of the sources of the
pushing: discovery of the forces moving knowledge in particu-
lar directions, which is knowledge of who the bowlers are and
how they do it. The bowlers are ‘channels of informa-
tion’-actors, social or individual that push a particular bias upon
people. Epistemic and political information channels make
epistemic and political forces moving knowledge in specific
directions. By ‘epistemic’ forces I mean those that pertain to a
regime of knowledge construction used by those making the
knowledge. An ‘epistemic regime’ is any particular actor, or
actors in knowledge-making institutions (comprising anything
from forms of divination, to pop radio stations, to research in-
stitutes), using non-scientific and scientific procedures for con-
structing knowledge. By ‘political’ forces I mean those that
pertain to groups, or collections of groups, ranging from fami-
lies to states, with resources that can be utilized to oblige the
construction of knowledge favorable to the interests of those
groups. ‘Political regimes’ are actors in governmental institu-
tions exercising their resources to force construction of desired
knowledge. What makes any regime a regime is that it concerns
the actions of actors in a particular institution at a political time.
So, for example, there were the different regimes of the Prime
Ministers Disraeli and Gladstone in 19th century England.
Directions can be forced and bias constructed either by the
action of actors in epistemic regimes alone or by the action of
actors in political regimes controlling the operation of epistemic
regimes. Foucault might have called such actions the operation
of regimes of truth (1980). I prefer to conceptualize them as
‘regimes of bias’, because what is at issue is not the construc-
tion of truth but of bias. Different regimes of bias can be dis-
tinguished in terms of strength of the force pushing a particular
vector of bias. This strength can be imagined to increase with
the number of information channels inclining actors to accept a
particular bias. If for example there are only one or two radio
stations asserting that Manchester United is the best football
team in the world, the strength of the bias in favor of Manches-
ter United is less than that if all radio stations, all television
stations, all newspaper, and all off the internet make the same
claim. Regimes of bias where only a few information channels
push a bias will said to be ‘low channel’. Those where a large
number of information channels push a bias will be termed
‘high channel’. In any strategy assessing bias, it seems entirely
sensible to employ epistemic regimes most capable of estab-
lishing approximately true knowledge to establish the approxi-
mate truth of quanta of knowledge and, then, to establish the
force of bias away from that truth. Attention turns to some
sources bias in epistemic regimes.
Epistemic Sources
Epistemic bias can result from a number of sources. Three
these imperfect techniques, cultural relativism, and emotive
coloring are discussed in this section. Let us begin with imper-
fect techniques.
Flawed techniques: empirical data collection and analysis
methods vary in their quality and can themselves be designed
(normally inadvertently) to produce information exhibiting
some bias. Consider for example, the Draw-a-Person Test. The
test administrator asks the person being tested to draw some-
body. A total of three pictures are drawn. The tester, then, ana-
lyzes fourteen different aspects of the drawings, such as spe-
cific body parts and clothing, for various criteria, including
presence or absence, detail, and proportion. In all, there are 64
scoring items for each drawing. A separate standard score is
recorded for each drawing, plus a total score for all three of
them. The use of a nonverbal, nonthreatening play-task to
evaluate intelligence is intended to eliminate possible sources
of bias by reducing variables like primary language, verbal
skills, communication disabilities, and sensitivity to working
under pressure. When given to a sample of people of Islamic
origin the average score on this test was in the order of 34!
Why? The Draw-a-Person Test asks Muslims to draw the hu-
man form which is haram (forbidden). When given the test the
Muslims politely drew some scribble and the test, using the
procedures it had for scaling pictures, systematically gave them
the lowest scores. Otherwise put, the Draw-a-Man test is sys-
2I (2010) have argued, as have others, that one is on firmer epistemological
ground if one seeks approxim ate truth rather than the truth.
S. REYNA 107
tematically biased to classify Islamic peoples as idiots.
There is a set of assessment techniques that are often utilized
in disasters that are suspect for another set of reasons. These are
Rapid Assessment Procedures (RAP) and Rapid Rural Ap-
praisal (RRA) (Scrimshaw & Gleason, 1992). They are survey
methodologies that search for opinions and attitudes, behavior,
and motivations of both the clients of disaster or development
programs and also those who deliver services. Their question-
naires are normally generic, not specifically tailored for par-
ticular places. Sampling and administration procedures are
designed to they can be performed quickly. The teams per-
forming them normally come from somewhere else, work for a
brief period (Days or weeks), and leave quickly. The teams are
said to be ‘parachuted in’ and their research to be ‘quick and
dirty’. I have observed the use of such techniques for three
decades, and believe they are, indeed, ‘dirty’.
There are three key problems. The firs t has to do with the time
allotted for the research. Usually this is too short. For example, I
was once contacted to do a RRA concerning land tenure along
the Chad/Cameroon oil pipeline. The pipeline is well over a
1000 kilometers. Questions of land tenure are notoriously diffi-
cult to gather information on because they deal with sensitive
issues effecting peoples’ welfare. I was to be allotted four weeks
to conduct the survey. I was uncertain of whether I could travel
the length of the pipeline in four weeks let alone conduct inter-
views. A second problem with RRAs is that the people adminis-
tering them are often poorly trained. The combination of im-
properly trained persons plus inadequate time for them to do
their jobs means that any knowledge gained tends to be biased in
any number of directions, all away from the approximate truth.
There is a third biasing factor with RRAs. They tend to afflicted
by problems arising from cultural relativism. This, however, is
basic problem and is considered in the next section.
Cultural relativity: cultural relativity is the recognition that
different peoples have different sy stems of meaning (i.e., cultures)
so that the meaning of things is relative to the cult ure they are in.
For example, were I now to grab my male member, and a gitate it
rapidly against my left thigh, it would mean that I was either
crazy, sexually depraved, or both. However, were we in the
Amazon forest, and were we of a group called the Nambikwara,
then Lévi-Strauss (1948) informs us that my fondling would
indicate, ‘Hello’, and politely at that. The problem with cultural
relativity is that if I do not know the culture in which I am posing
questions, I do not know the meaning of what I am asking.
Cultural relativity can lead to bias because there can be a
double set of meanings. The first meanings are those of the
words in my culture and the second is the meaning they have in
the culture of the persons I am asking questions. For example,
the word ‘African’ in Western culture means more or less
‘anybody from Africa’. However, the word ‘African’ means
something quite different in current Darfuri culture. Generally
it refers to landowning, peoples who emphasize farming and
who had more centralized polities, such as the Fur or Masalit.
Those who respond to the question, ‘Nafara chenu’ (What is
your kind?), with ‘Ana Arabiya’ (I am an Arab) do not consider
themselves African. They are Arabs, even through they may be
neighbors living a few hundred feet from a Fur family.3 Now if
I pose the question in Darfur, ‘Are you an African’ I am likely
to find a hefty percentage of the population respond that they
are not African. This biases my knowledge of the Darfuri
population to an under reporting of its fundamentally African
nature. Let us say that I arrive at a quantitative estimate that
50% of the population is African. However, the reason it is case
is because of the qualitative nature of the meaning of who is
and who is not classified as African. This, then, is an example
of the qualitative in the quantitative.
Another problem that can arise due to the ignoring of cultural
relativity is that the interviewer may pose questions that in a
particular culture are simply impossible to answer, for one of
two reasons. The first of these is that the interviewer asks the
question in a way that cannot be posed in a particular culture.
For example, while conducting a demographic survey in Chad I
asked, ‘How old are you?’, and found in a preliminary survey
that I was getting a huge number of ‘do not know’ responses.
Then I recalled that when people spoke of their age they did it
in terms of the number of dry seasons they had lived through.
So I changed the query and asked, ‘How many dry seasons
have you been through’? After which, the number of ‘do not
know’ responses declined. A second reason that a question may
be unanswerable is that it is culturally inappropriate. For exam-
ple, once I studied a group of Chadian Arabs called the Abu
Krider. They were a garrulous folk, often speaking frankly
about matters about which I blanched. They were cattle-herders,
and as the livestock component of their domestic economy was
considerable, I sought to know how many animals they owned.
When the question ‘how many head of cattle do you own’ was
asked, my interlocutor would look at me in silent distress, as if
I had asked the Queen whether she liked to crack a good fart.
One does not query royalty about their flatulence, or Abu
Krider about their treasure in cattle. Ignorance of the relativity
of cultures can lead to a further epistemic source of bias. This is
emotive coloring, discussed next.
Emotive coloring: emotive coloring explains why some
questions are inappropriate in a particular culture. Certain ques-
tions provoke emotions that make answers to those questions
either inaccurate or not possible. For example, my first research
in Chad was among the Barma who exhibited low fertility,
which was unusual because people in sub-Saharan Africans
generally had a high fertility. I was concerned to explain this
low fertility. So I would ask women, ‘were they able to have
children’? Perhaps, a callous question to pose of any woman,
but little did I realize just how cruel it was to Barma women.
Among the Barma, having children, many of them, was ex-
tremely desired. The proverb, ‘A woman without children is
like a tree without leaves’, expressed this desire. Children were
moral and practical valuables, the source of wellbeing. Barma
culture strongly rewarded a woman with lots of children, and
punished one without them. Just as there was something per-
verse and dead about a leafless tree, so there was something
wicked and lifeless in a childless woman. Such people it was
believed might become witches. So when I asked a woman if
she could have children, it evoked deep emotion in her, traces
of which I learned to recognize, and she invariably answered in
the positive, of course she could have children. This meant that
even though fully a fifth of Barma women appeared infertile,
virtually all of them claimed to be fertile, even if they were
ancient crones who everyone said had never had children. The
data was biased by the emotional coloring given by the question.
I very soon stopped asking the question as terribly unkind and
unanswerable. Consider now political sources of bias.
3A useful discussion of the difference between ‘Arab’ and ‘ African’ identities
can be found in Penitsch (2010), De Waal (2009), and Mamdani (2009).
Political Sources
Political bias results from the exercise of force resources in
the institutions of governmental regimes so that they have the
power to drive assessments in various epistemic regimes along
particular vectors. Sources of political bias may be direct or
indirect. ‘Direct’ political bias occurs when governmental in-
stitutions themselves function as epistemic regimes that pro-
duce assessments with a particular vector. ‘Indirect’ political
bias occurs when institutions in a governmental regime create
their powers of bias by controlling epistemic regimes to actu-
ally construct the knowledge with a particular vector. Let us
look at both indirect and direct sources of political bias.
Direct political biasing: direct political biasing occurs when
institutions in the governmental regime are the institutions in
the epistemic regime. There is a current militarization of direct
political biasing. The militarization of data collection is part of
an ongoing militarization of American intellectual life (Bace-
vich, 2006; Boggs, 2004) and is not a new phenomenon. Both
Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, for example, conducted
research for the military during World War II. Benedict’s fa-
mous The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946) was a project
of the US Office of War Information.
Recently, 2005 and 2006, the US military created an institu-
tion designed to conduct research in the midst of combat to
boost its counterinsurgency capabilities. This is the Human
Terrain System (HTS), a US Army program which incorporates
social scientists into combat brigades to help tacticians in the
field understand local cultures (Price, 2009). An HTS consists
of five-person teams (‘Human Terrain Teams’, HTTs) assigned
to brigade combat team headquarters. They include personnel
from anthropology, sociology, political science, geography,
regional studies, and linguistics. Currently HTTs are in Iraq and
Afghanistan. They utilize a methodology called Human Terrain
Mapping (HTM) that consists of an automated database and
presentation tool for collecting, storing, and manipulating cul-
tural data from numerous categories including key regional
personalities, social structures, kin groupings, economics, pub-
lic communications, agricultural production, and the like. In the
19th century when the American army fought Native Americans,
they used scouts for tips on how to do their killing. HTTs are
the army’s new scouts. The knowledge they construct is biased
in favor of tips on how to kill the new natives in Iraq, Afghani-
stan, or wherever they might be.
There are any numbers of ways such militarization of data
collection can bias assessments. Consider one concerning the
US/Nato Campaign at Marjah in Afganistan [February-March
2010]. This region is the heartland of the Taliban, and has been
so for a long time. The people are relatively prosperous. They
cultivate poppies, and poppy production pays higher than any
other form of agriculture in Afghanistan. Taliban governance
resonates with local people who are Pashtin. The Taliban, for
the most part are Pashtun, and govern respecting Pashtunwali,
the Pashtun cultural code. While not all people in the region
‘like’ the Taliban, it is likely that most do. One US military
source put this liking at 95% (Martin, 2010). Prior to the onset
of the campaign a survey was conducted to judge how posi-
tively the invading troops might be received. Whether the sur-
vey was conducted by an HTT is unclear, though likely. The
survey found that the people about to be invaded looked posi-
tively upon the arrival of the Americans. Why? Put yourself in
the place of a Marjah inhabitant. A team of researchers arrives,
replete with armed guards. You know you are to be invaded and
that their people will do it. You know they are capable of hor-
rific violence. They ask you, ‘do you like them’? You probably
don’t. But you are terrified of what they will do to you if you
say you hate their guts. So you respond positively, and the
knowledge that the invaded are fond of their invaders is con-
structed. This bias is established by emotive coloring. The in-
terviewer, associated with the extremely violent invader, strikes
fear in the interviewees; the fear guides their answers. The per-
centage positive evaluation of American occupiers is a quanti-
tative assessment. The discovery that emotion guides respon-
dents’ reasons for the positive assessment comes from qualita-
tive explorations of the interviewees’ subjectivities. This is
another case of the qualitative in the quantitative. It is time to
consider indirect political biasing.
Indirect political biasing: there are two important ways in
which governmental regimes achieve powers over epistemic
regimes and thereby bias knowledge produced by the latter. The
first way involves the governmental regime regulating the re-
sources that flow to the epistemic regime. Two sorts of re-
sources flows are critical. The first is that of money. Money for
research in the US comes largely from military and govern-
mental funding agencies sources. The US military hands out
$1.5 billions per year in research money (Marcus, 2009) much
of it to elite universities; for example, the Department of De-
fense gave over $300 millions to Harvard University in 2002
(Turse, 2010). Who would doubt that actors in epistemic re-
gimes receiving the wherewithal of their professional life from
military, governmental regimes would bite the hand that feeds
them? The two most important governmental funding agencies
are the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes
of Health. Both refrain from supporting Marxist projects. The
vast majority of grant seekers are well aware that this is the
case. Consequently, US governmental funding assures that
there is a bias is against research with socialist interests. The
second sort of resource flow to epistemic regimes is that of
intellectual resources.
An ‘intellectual resource’ is a concept, or set or concepts,
which stipulate how actors in some epistemic regime construct
knowledge. For example, the US the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS) of the US Department of Labor defines unemployment.
In fact, ‘Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not
have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks,
and are currently available for work’ (BLS 2010). This means
that when some private epistemic regime, say the University of
Michigan Institute for Social Research, calculates unemploy-
ment in America it does so on the basis of the BLS’s definition
of the concept. Through much of 2009 when it made such con-
structions it reported the US had an unemployment rate of
10.2%. There is a problem, however, with the Bureau’s con-
ceptualization. It does not include as unemployed those who
have no work and have stopped looking for work. When these
persons are included in the sum of those without work, US
unemployment in 2009 was about 17.5%. This assessment is
generally acknowledged to be approximately true. The BLS,
thus, should be seen as an indirect political source of bias to-
wards the under reporting of American joblessness.
A second way in which governmental regimes indirectly bias
is by a practice called ‘cherry picking’. ‘Cherry picking’ is the
examining of a body of knowledge and picking that which one
S. REYNA 109
desires. A governmental regime’s cherry picking is utilization
of their resources to oblige acceptance of assessments arrived at
by private epistemic regimes congenial to the governmental
regime. Officials do this either by rejecting assessments not in
their interests or affirming those in their interests. Avowing or
disavowing is often done on the basis of non-empirical, non-
logical forms of argumentation. For example, the Bush II ad-
ministration did not approve of a Lancet study’s high assess-
ment of excess deaths in Iraq. In order to disown it President
Bush simply asserted: ‘I dont consider it a credible report’ (in
Bennett-Jones, 2007). The President offered no warrant for his
assessment. The British Ministry of Defense’s chief scientific
adviser said the survey’s methods were ‘close to best practice
and that the study’s design was ‘robust’ (Ibid, 2010). Whether
or not the Lancet study’s findings are the approximate truth is
not at issue here. What is pertinent is that the US President was
cherry picking of the level of mortality in the Iraq war by re-
jecting one unfavorable to his interests, thereby biasing the war
fatalities in a downward direction. I believe there has been US
cherry picking of the higher assessment of mortality in the
Darfuri confli c t. This case is made next.
The Biasing of Darfur Assessments of War
It is up to us, and our partners in the international commu-
nity, to make a concerted and sustained effort to help bring
lasting peace and stability to Sudan and avoid more of the con-
flict that has produced a vast sea of human misery and squan-
dered the potential and security of a vital region of the world
(Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, Speaking on US Policy
Towards Sudan, October 19, 2009 (Clinton, 2009)).
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton articulated US policy to-
wards the Sudan in an October 2009 press briefing.4 She stated
that the policy was to ‘help bring lasting peace and stability’ to
the Sudan. If one scrutinizes what US policy actually does,
instead of what officials claim it does, observation suggests that
that this policy has been designed to bring war and instability to
Sudan, and that one of the ways it has sought to do so is by
cherry picking assessments of the fatalities in Darfur.
Significant when seeking understanding of US/Sudan rela-
tions is awareness that Sudan’s position-close to the Arabian
Peninsula and as a backdoor to Egypt-give it a geopolitical
significance. Further, its Islamist orientation is disapproved of
by both US missionaries, active in Southern Sudan, and the US
government. Additionally, and perhaps most crucial, oil is run-
ning out in the world; the US is warring to control as much of
the remaining oil as it can; the US has identified Africa as a
major source of oil in the future (Reyna, 2009); and Sudan may
actually hold Africa’s greatest unexploited oil reserves (Hennig,
2007: p. 1). US and Chinese imperialisms are in competition
over Sudanese oil. Currently, Sudanese oil is controlled largely
by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Produc-
tion occurs in southern Sudan, but there is a possibility of de-
posits to the northwest in southern Darfur. Beside the 1998
attacks on al-Ahifa, a Sudanese pharmaceutical company, dur-
ing President Clinton’s administration, there have been covert,
indirect US global warring against Sudan that goes back to the
Let us consider first southern Sudan, which was, and is,
non-Muslim and has resisted the northern Muslim domination
since 1955. There have been two periods of war there-the First
(1955-1972) and the Second (1983-2005) Sudanese Civil Wars.
It is the later war that is of interest, for the US was largely in-
different to the Sudan during the former one. John Garang
formed the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) in
1983 and began serious rebellion against the Khartoum gov-
ernment. The US provided a ‘… covert supply of arms to the
SPLA….’ (Hassan, 2009). Support for the south escalated when
the Clinton administration, ‘In 1996 … decided to send over
$20 million of military equipment through the front-line states
of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda to help the Sudanese opposi-
tion overthrow the Khartoum regime’ (Hassan, 2009). It should
be recognized that the US was largely fighting in the Sudan
through its proxies, especially Uganda and Eritrea; though there
appear to have been, ‘…several Operational Detachments-
Alpha teams (also called A-Teams) of the US army … operating
in support of the SPLA…’ (Hassan, 2009). Thus, US military
involvement in southern Sudan was largely covert and, with the
exception of the ‘A-Teams’, largely indirect.
Julie Flint has remarked‘…the war for oil was terrible’ in the
southern Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s (2009). Ahmed Hassan
recounts one ‘…direct attempt’ at this time ‘… to protect … the
U.S oil companies’ that were still operating in the early 1990s.
This involved ‘…Abdel Aziz Khalid, under the direct influence
of Dr. Taisier…’. Abdel Aziz Khalid, originally from the Su-
danese military, was the head of the Sudan Alliance Forces
(SAF). This was a northern rebel political movement and mili-
tia formed in 1996 to oppose the Khartoum government. Dr
Taisier M. Ali, formerly a historian at the University of Khar-
toum, was on the Command Council of the SAF. He main-
tained ties with the US at that time, largely though John Pren-
dergast, Clinton Administration’s Nation Security Council’s
director of African Affairs. During the incident Ahmed Hassan
related, Taisier ‘…was leading a feverish campaign’ to main-
tain ‘…the interests of the U.S oil companies’ and which in-
volved issuing’… warnings to all foreign companies involved
in Sudan to pull out or their installations and personnel would
be considered legitimate military targets’ (Hassan, 2009). Let
us be clear, the SPLA sought to destabilize the al-Bashir regime.
US indirect global warring in support of the SPLA was part of
the destabilization campaign. Destabilization of Sudan might
shake the oil resources free from the Chinese.
4Much discussion of the conflict in Darfur between 2003 and the present has
een by American or Western scholars, journalists, and government officials
A number of scholars-some conservative (Ferguson, 2004), some in the
center (Bacevitch, 2002) and some on the left (Harvey, 2003; Reyna, 2005)-
elieve that the US, with its Western allies, have embarked upon a ‘new
imperialism’. Thus, it is sensible to query whether certain Westerners fram-
ing the Dar fur conflict are con sciously, or unco nsciously, part of this impe-
rial pro ject. It might be o bjected that the anal ysis i n this section absolv es the
Sudanese government of responsibility for the Darfur conflict. The govern-
ment of Omar al-Bashir bears a grave accountability for the disasters. How-
ever, this is not the topic of the present section.
Equally, in the early 2000s there is evidence that the US
sought to further militarily destabilize the Khartoum government
by exacerbating rebellion in Darfur. Here anti-Khartoum guerilla
movements (the Sudanese Liberation Army, SLA; and Justice
and Equality Movement, JEM) emerged, and in April 2003 be-
5The notion of’ global warring’ can be found in Reyna (2009) and refers to
overt or covert, direct or indirect exercise of destructive force by the killing
elites of an imperial state in a colony or neo-colony somewhere else on the
gan attacking government installations in el Fasher (Flint & De
Waal, 2005). Khartoum, militarily overextended due to the
southern situation, responded by encouraging a nomad Arab
militia, the janjawid to attack the SLA and JEM. One reason the
Khartoum government may have been so eager to assert control
in Darfur was the prospect of oil there. There had been rumors
of oil since the 1990s. Flint reports, ‘In April 2005, Energy Min-
ister Awad al-Jaz grabbed headlines by announcing discovery of
a giant oilfield in southern Darfur that he said was expected to
produce 500,000 b/d within months. …. But announcements of
success were premature and proved illusory…’ (2009). The
amount of oil in Darfur is unknown. Real, however, is its possi-
bility in the minds of both the Khartoum government and
American officials. The American military’s hand in the fighting
that ensued in Darfur is covert. However, ‘It is … well docu-
mented that the US through its closest African allies, helped
train the SLA and JEM Darfuri rebels that initiated Khartoums
violent reaction…’(Hennig, 2007: p. 1). Information gathered
during my fieldwork bears upon two aspects of this intervention.
Firstly, the Israeli’s have been involved in training of SLA
members, some of whom were taken to Israel for this purpose.
There is a SLA office in Israel. It is unlikely that the Israelis are
operating without US collusion. Secondly, one account I have
insists that US proxies’ training of Darfuri militias occurred
prior to their assaults on the Khartoum government’s installa-
tions. It was these attacks that provoked the government to or-
ganize the janjawid counterattack; and it was the ferocity of this
counter-offensive that led to the high war fatalities in Darfur.
It is at this point the US government cherry picking of Dar-
furi fatalities occurred. Consider the ‘cherries’ to be picked.
There were, as indicated at the article’s beginning, high and low
estimates. In addition to the Sudanese government’s low figure
of 19,000, Eric Reeves, a Professor of English at Smith College,
claimed in January 2005 that there had been in the order of
400,000 excess deaths. He further claimed that there were about
450,000 excess deaths by April 2006 (Reeves, 2006; Cherry,
2009). ‘Excess deaths’ are those above the normal mortality
rate and are believed in the case of Darfur to be the result of
violence as well as disease and malnutrition provoked by the
violence of the warring. The Coalition for International Justice,
in a study prepared by John Hagen, a Northwestern University
sociologist, assessed the level of excess deaths at 400,000 in
April 2005 (Hagen et al., 2005). The Center for Research in
Epidemology of Disaster (CRED) of the Université Catholique
de Louvain argued that there had been 118,142 excess deaths
through June of 2005 (Guha-Sapir et al., 2005). The US State
Department approximated that there had been between 63,000
and 146,000 excess deaths by 2005 (Department of State, 2005).
Finally, the World Health Organization proposed that there
were between 35,000 and 70,000 excess deaths for seven
months in 2004 (Nabarro, 2004).
Let us investigate as best possible the approximate truth of the
level of war fatalities. The General Accounting Office (GAO) of
the US Congress performed an assessment of the assessment of
Darfur war fatalities conducted by 12 experts in epidemiology,
demography, statistics, and the Darfur crisis. It evaluated the
five studies discussed above plus a sixth. The specialists re-
viewed the quality of source data; methods, including extrapola-
tions and assumptions; researchers’ objectivity; and transpar-
ency concerning study procedures. The reviewers obtained sup-
plementary information from those who conducted the research
when necessary. The GAO report’s verdict was,
Although none of the death estimates was consistently con-
sidered accurate or methodologically strong, the experts we
consulted rated some of the estimates more highly than others.
Overall, the experts expressed the highest level of confidence in
CREDs estimates and slightly lower levels of confidence in
States and the WHOs estimates. They expressed the lowest
level of confidence in the three estimates that report the highest
number of deaths, citing multiple shortcomings, such as a reli-
ance on unrealistic assumptions about populations level of risk
over periods of time’(GAO, 2006: p. 3).
What the preceding suggests is that no solid assessment of
the excess deaths in the Darfur conflict exists, but that the
higher estimates are not credible. Judgments made upon the
level of war fatalities since the GAO support its findings (De
Waal, 2007; Brauman, 2010). These, then, were the cherries
that the US government could pick, with it recognized that the
higher assessments had ‘the lowest level of confidence’.
Of course, it was in the US interest to have Darfuri fatalities
as high as possible because this delegitimized the Khartoum
government, legitimating Western intervention, which interven-
tion held the possibility of US gaining influence in Sudan -over,
among other things, the oil. Starting in early 2004 the Bush II
regime choose to report the highest estimates as the correct
ones. This was cherry picking. On June 3, 2004, Andrew
Natsios, Administrator of the USAID asserted that his agency
had a study that predicted for the year 2004, ‘Even in a
best-case scenario, under optimal conditions, we could see as
many as 320,000 people die’ (Winter, 2004). Two weeks later,
on June 15th , Roger Winter, another top USAID official, stated
USAID analysis of potential mortality rates in Darfur suggests
that 300,000 or more Darfurians are likely to perish by the
ends of the year…’ (Winter, 2004). What was the ‘analysis’ that
formed the basis of Winter and his superior’s assessments? It is
not referenced in the text in which Winter discusses it. In fact
the ‘analysis’ may not have been a proper research study. It
seems to be a single chart inserted into Winter’s text. The
sources cited as being used to construct the chart are epidemi-
ological studies in Bahr-i-Ghazal and Ethiopia in 1998 and
2000 (neither of which are in Darfur), a 2001 Save the Children
doctor’s report, and a 2004 FAO report on ‘wasting’ in Darfur.
The validity of these sources is, unremarked. How they were
utilized to construct the chart, unreported. Consequently, the
truthfulness of the chart’s information is unknown, which may
explain why it was excluded from the GAO’s assessment of the
different studies of Darfur war fatalities. Nevertheless, Winter
and Natsios by the middle of 2004 had plucked the cherry of
Darfur war fatalities alternatives, and they had picked the
higher estimate, the one with ‘the lowest level of confidence’.
Presumably emboldened by these figures, US Secretary of State,
Colin Powell, declared on September 9th that was the Khartoum
government with their Janjawid allies were doing in Darfur was
genocide (BBC 2004). Nine months later, June 2, 2005, Bush II,
added his assessment. It was genocide (VandeHei, 2005). What
was happening here?
One interpretation is that the US government was exercising
symbolic violence against the Khartoum government and that
this violence was part of a regime of bias operating against the
Sudanese state. The notion of symbolic violence was formu-
lated by Pierre Bourdieu (1989, 1991) who believed that power
could be understood as different forms of ‘capital’. One form of
S. REYNA 111
capital was what he termed ‘symbolic’, any type of power that
derives from socially inculcated classification schemes of
norms and values (e.g., prestige, honor, etc.). ‘Symbolic vio-
lence’ is the exercise of symbolic capital by a social or individ-
ual actor against some other actor. For example, a young Indian,
Brahmin woman might bring home to her mother a man of
lower caste with whom she is in love. Her mother is horrified
and says the man is untouchable. The young woman has been
enculturated into the caste system. She knows her mother is
correct, that she cannot marry outside of her caste, and breaks
off with the man. The mother’s discourse informing the girl of
her caste obligations is the exercise of symbolic violence.
Turning to the Sudan case, it should be recognized that com-
mitting genocide puts a government in the ‘untouchable’ cate-
gory in any current classification of state legitimacy. The US
government claimed the Sudanese government practiced geno-
cide in Darfur. In part it established this designation by cherry
picking among assessments of Darfur mortality, choosing one
that gave weight to claims of genocide. This classified the
Khartoum regime as a moral monster. The classification of the
Sudanese government as a moral monster was an act of sym-
bolic violence with the power of delegitimating it.
At the same time the US government was exercising symbolic
violence against the Sudan, numerous, humanitarian advocacy
groups, like the Coalition for International Justice, began publi-
cize as widely as possible the higher estimates of excess mortal-
ity and genocide. Important here was, and is, the Save Darfur
Coalition, which describes itself as a ‘faithbased, humanitarian,
and human rights organization’ (Save Darfur, 2010), and which,
according to one source is, ‘…partially influenced by the agenda
of right-wing groups associated with the Christia n right and the
pro-Isreali lobby in the US and Europe’ (Hassan & Salah 2009:
p.156). Save Darfur was soon claiming that 300,000 excess
deaths had occurred between 2003-2005, that this was genocide,
and calling for intervention.6 Sectors of the US press, notably
Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times, began to publicize
the higher estimates. For example, Kristof claimed that there had
been ‘…320,000 deaths this year (2004) (a best-case projection
from the U.S. Agency for International Development)’ (Kristof,
2004). Congress people—both Republican and Democ-
rat—added their voices to the chorus. Equally some members of
the African-American community, notably the Black Caucus in
the US Congress, labeled the war in Darfur genocidal and called
upon the US government to intervene (Salih & Booker, 2004).
The US Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Holocaust
Museum in Houston Texas got into the fight against genocide in
Darfur. Movie stars and directors-Mia Farrow, Angela Jolie,
George Clooney, Steven Spielberg told fans that what was hap-
pening in Darfur was genocide.
The US government’s classification of Sudan as a genocidal
state, conjoined with the NGOs, the media, the Congress people,
the influential African Americans, and the holocaust museums
operated as what was termed at the beginning of the essay a
high-channel regime of bias, one exercising symbolic violence
categorizing the Khartoum regime as something beyond the
pale, like the Nazi’s with their penchant for genocide. It seemed
for a while in 2004 and 2005 in the US that wherever you
turned all channels of information informed you of the mon-
strosities of Sudan’s rogue state. This was a high channel re-
gime of bias because multiple regimes of knowledge construc-
tion pushed peoples’ perceptions of what was happening in
Darfur away from the direction of what was the approximate
truth of what was happening. Make no mistake about it, the
warring of all the militaries—the janjawid, the SLA, the JEM,
the Sudanese military, and even the covert hand of the
US—was terrible. But the lower assessments of war fatalities,
the US government’s own GAO report judged, were the ones
more likely to be true. Such assessments indicate grim combat
but are inconsistent with genocide.7
Hilary Clinton stated that it is US policy to bring ‘peace and
stability’ to Sudan. The actuality is that America has sowed
instability first by physically violent covert global warring in
Sudan; second by symbolically violent cherry picking of the
grim fatalities in Darfur; and third by participating in a
high-channel regime of bias that pushed peoples’ perceptions
towards judgments that Sudan’s government was ghastly, like
the Nazi’s. This being the case, America is at least in some
measure responsible for the horror in Darfur that it so loudly
denounced, which means the Secretary of State’s assertion that
the US wante d ‘peace and stability ’ for Sudan i s hypocritical . It
is time to draw the strings of this discussion and speak of the
qualitative in the quant i tative.
All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding’ (Miles
& Huberman, 1994: p. 40)
This article has introduced a strategy for the study of bias in
social and cultural realms of quantitative assessment, and has
applied it, among other places, to the disasters of war in Darfur.
The strategy asks investigators identify the sources of bias, un-
derstood as forces pushing knowledge in particular directions.
Researchers were also advised to explore two sorts of biasing
sources, those having to do with epistemic and political forces;
with the actual exercisers of force being different epistemic and
political regimes. Three epistemic sources of bias were identi-
fied. The first was where epistemic regimes operated with im-
perfect techniques; the second was where they operated subject
to imperfections of meaning resulting from cultural relativism;
and the third was where they operated under limitations of emo-
tive coloring. Two political sources of bias were distinguished.
The first was direct, and occurred when political regimes them-
selves actually performed operations that resulted in biasing.
The second source of political bias was indirect, and happened
when resources flowed from political regimes to epistemic re-
gimes in ways that influenced biasing. Two sorts of politi-
cal/epistemic regime resource flows were discussed; those in-
volving money and those involving intellectual resource flows.
A goal, of the utilization of this strategy of bias assessment is
7The UN, EU, Canada, and England did not label Sudan a genocidal state.
One reason for this is that the UN Genocide Convention, the legal basis for
making rulings on genocide, insists that those committing it must intend to
do so. The UN could not find intention on the part of the Sudanese govern-
ment (Straus, 2005).American authorities were not interested in slippery
subjectivities like intentionality; for them size mattered and the higher esti-
mates provided just the right emotional jolt to shock people into believing
that genocide had taken place.
6There is a current of opinion that asserts NGOs like Save Darfur cried
genocide as ‘…a means of diverting the attention of the mainstream media
rom American atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan and from Isreal’s bruta
oppression of the Palestinians…’ (Hassan & Salah, 2009: p. 156). It is in-
disputable that there were widespread claims of Sudanese government geno-
cide in th e Wester n pres s, and cer tain ly these d id in p art shif t atten tion awa y
from US and Isreali brutalities.
that if investigators can know the sources of bias, then they
know what they have to eliminate, in order to achieve greater
rigor in their assessments of approximate truth of actualities.
What is the relevance of this bias assessment strategy for
consideration of the relationship of qualitative to quantitative
inquiry? Quantitative information is that relating to, or ex-
pressible in, terms of quantities of reality. It is the different war
fatality figures produced by the different epistemic regimes
studying the Darfur conflict. Qualitative information is that
relating to, or expressible in, terms of distinguishing features of
reality, which in the case of humans pertains to the meanings
they attach to things and the experiences they have of them. Of
course, Donald Campell’s claim, ‘All research ultimately has a
qualitative grounding’, is correct in the sense that concepts
seeking to know about how much of some being there is ulti-
mately are, or depend on, concepts that specify that beings’
distinguishing features. Otherwise put, quantitative concepts
have distinguishing features, so that the qualitative is in the
quantitative. Consider, for example, the earlier discussed Draw-
a-Person IQ Test. It was constructed without a thorough con-
sideration of all the distinctive features of all the people to be
subjected to it. Consequently, it did not discover that a taboo
against drawing human figures was a distinguishing feature of
Islam. Recall that a distinguishing feature of discussing
life-span in Chad was that age was calculated in terms of the
number of dry seasons one have lived through, so investigators
simply could not query, ‘How old are you?’
Qualitative bias assessment has the potential of providing
three sorts of knowledge. The first is understanding of why a
particular assessment doesn’t work. Questions in surveys are
basic components of most social or cultural quantitative as-
sessments. Remember I found the question ‘Have you had chil-
dren’, when posed to Barma women, did not provide accurate
responses. This discovery was made as a result of qualitative
inquiry into the meaning of childlessness (a great humiliation)
and into the experience of women trying to answer the question
(emotions of sadness and shame). Childless, then, among
Barma had distinguishing features which explained what the
question ‘Have you had children’ was almost unanswerable for
those women without children. The second variety of knowl-
edge that qualitative bias assessment can provide is that of,
given some knowledge of the approximate truth of a situation,
why there is some bias against that truth. Here the case of Dar-
fur war fatalities is germaine. While it was, and is, not possible
to arrive a particular figure for these deaths, the GAO report
makes clear that the higher figures are improbable. However,
the Bush II political regime opted, as we have seen, for the
higher estimates. Qualitative analysis into this regime sug-
gested that it sought power over the political regime in Khar-
toum, that to acquire this power is implemented a policy of first
physical and then symbolic violence against the Sudanese gov-
ernment. Qualitative inquiry revealed the distinguishing feature
of the US government animus against the Sudanese govern-
ment-it wanted power over it and it was willing to bias the
numbers to try and get it. Qualitative bias assessment can also
lead to a third, moral type of knowledge.
There does not appear to be any universal moral system.
However, most moralities of which I am familiar frown upon
hypocrisy. Investigations into the sources of bias can have the
ability to reveal the disjunction between what social actors say
they are doing and the actuality of what they are doing and
hypocrisy is saying one thing—I love you—and doing another-
sleeping with your best friend. US officials say they are horri-
fied by the ‘genocide’ in Darfur when they are in some measure
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