Part 1—Much as we have told you: Early in 2010, a pair of Harvard professors authored a bungled study.
There’s certainly nothing new about that! Did you notice the horribly cherry-picked column Harvard assistant professor Jal Mehta recently published in the New York Times?
We did! For part 1, click here.
There’s nothing new about the failure of the ranking professoriate. And as noted, the paper we’re discussing today appeared in early 2010. According to our calculations, that was three years back!
Unfortunately, the bungled study turned out to be extremely influential. Its findings have been used to advance the idea that austerity measures are just the ticket in the case of our floundering economy.
The bungled study came from the desks of Reinhart and Rogoff, a pair of Harvard professors. And uh-oh! According to Paul Krugman, the bungled work of these professors “played right into the desire of many officials to ‘pivot’ from stimulus to austerity.”
The paper “became famous” overnight, Krugman wrote in this recent column. “It was, and is, surely the most influential economic analysis of recent years.”
In short, the bungled paper helped advance a policy agenda which powerful interests already hoped to pursue. For reasons we haven’t seen explained, three long, bungling years passed.
And then, finally! At some point in the past year, three graduate students at UMass requested access to Reinhart and Rogoff’s data. Three years after the paper appeared, these graduate students have now revealed the professors’ groaning errors.
In Krugman’s April 19 column, he offered a shorthand account of the kinds of mistakes involved in the professors' work. This was his account of the Harvard professors’ mistakes:
“First, they omitted some data,” Krugman wrote. “Second, they used unusual and highly questionable statistical procedures; and finally, yes, they made an Excel coding error.”
We’re not experts on this type of work, but that sounds like a lot of mistakes to us! That said, the coding error has received the most attention, perhaps because it seems so clownish. Somehow, the Harvard professors failed to include five major countries (out of just twenty) in one of their major computations.
When Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark were returned to life on earth, the findings of the professors’ study turned out to be substantially different, as the three graduate students showed. Omission of data is like that!
We’ll discuss the graduate students tomorrow. Just for today, can we talk?
For years, we’ve warned you about the rampant failures of our nation’s intellectual elites. We’ve often warned you about the errors of omission committed by the professoriate—about their endless failure to intervene in our bungled policy discussions.
We’ve warned you about the hapless performance of the nation’s “educational experts.” We’ve warned you about the unimpressive professors we sometimes get handed on The One True Channel.
This bungled study by Reinhart and Rogoff doesn’t involve a failute to speak when others are bungling badly. This is a case where a pair of Harvard professors engaged in affirmative bungling of a very serious type.
At any rate:
For reasons we don’t understand, three long, high-profile years went by before the professors’ bungles were spotted. And how strange! Even in the face of skepticism about their study’s conclusions, the professors themselves had never gone back and noticed that five countries were MIA from one part of their study!
After three long years, it took a trio of graduate students to reveal the professors’ mistakes—mistakes which drove “the most influential economic analysis of recent years.”
Before the week is done, we’re going to look at several reactions to this high-level bungling. We'll look at Ezra Klein's approach to this mess, and at Krugman's sardonic reaction to Klein.
For today, we’ll suggest that you look at something Matt Yglesias said.
Brother Yglesias went to Harvard! In the past, he has even gone so far as to refer to some Harvard professors as “smart.”
Despite these troubling manifestations, Yglesias has authored a tart insinuation about one of the profs now under review. His insinuation appears in a recent piece at Slate.
Who the heck is Professor Rogoff? For ourselves, we have no idea. But Yglesias caught our eye with the street-fighting passage we are happy to highlight:
YGLESIAS (4/26/13): [T]his isn't just some sad case of conservative politicians running around mischaracterizing a sober-minded study and then liberals overreacting in response. Ken Rogoff was writing op-eds drawing strong policy conclusions from this paper. He was delivering congressional testimony drawing strong policy conclusions from this paper. And it's not as if he's some political naif who stumbled down from the ivory tower into a partisan controversy he could never have predicted. He was research director at the International Monetary Fund and he knows how the game is played. He's signed up as a paid speaker for the Washington Speakers Bureau. His "fees vary based on event location" but they promise that in exchange for your money "Kenneth Rogoff reaches beyond the theoretical and delivers quantitative proof from his frequently cited research and best-selling book to explain why our financial history continues to repeat itself—and just where the US and global economies are heading."Professor Rogoff has signed up with the Washington Speakers Bureau, where his fees “vary based on event location.” “In exchange for your money” (Yglesias’ term), he was willing to fly to the resort where you were holding your convention.
At this location, he would describe the deathless findings of his bungled research.
Just so you’ll know: The Washington Speakers Bureau tends to charge hefty fees. Austerity-friendly corporate groups are the types of folk who pay them. This seems to be the insinuation lurking in Yglesias’ profile.
To which, we say hurrah!
Why have our professors so constantly failed us? We’ve tried to get you to ask that question for many years.
We’ve asked you why our “educational experts” seem to churn so much bullshit and cant. We’ve asked you why our esteemed professors can’t seem to step up to the plate and challenge prevailing nonsense of various types.
(Was there really no professor of logic who noticed that Candidate Gore didn’t say he “invented the Internet?” With all the logicians in our employ, why didn’t one of them speak?)
We’ve asked you why our leading logicians don’t challenge our press corps’ relentless bungling. We’ve begged you to notice another fact: sometimes, our fiery progressive professors just aren’t all that sharp.
For years, we’ve asked you to note the way the professoriate continues to fail us. All week, we’ll look at the way these latest professors—from Harvard, no less!—failed in 2010.
We’ll also ask you why it took three years for someone to notice these latest howlers. We’ll ask why it took three graduate students to shoot down this latest crap.
Tomorrow: Where were all the other professors? Off in the south of France?
For extra credit, read ahead: After three long years, it took a trio of graduate students to reveal the professors’ errors.
The BBC has described their detective work. For extra credit, click here.