Civil war: is it all about disease and xenophobia? A comment on Letendre, Fincher & Thornhill

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Letendre, Fincher & Thornhill (2010) argue that pathogen intensity provides the ultimate explanation for why some countries are more prone to civil war than others. They argue that the economic and political factors highlighted in previous research on civil war are largely caused by underlying differences in pathogen intensity, and contend that disease proneness increases the risk of civil war through its effects on resource competition and xenophobia. They present empirical evidence that they interpret as consistent with their argument: a statistically significant correlation between pathogen intensity and civil war onset. In this comment, we raise concerns over their interpretation of the empirical evidence and their proposed causal mechanisms. We find that the data provide stronger evidence for the reverse causal relationship, namely that civil war causes disease to become more prevalent. This finding is consistent with the literatures on the public health effects of civil war as well as research on state capacity and public health.

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