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All the conspiracy talk in another thread got me thinking about the current news about how international austerity measures, which are causing riots and suffering among low and moderate income families all over the world, were being justified by a study that contained a spreadsheet error.

Is anyone following this story? 

So these Harvard economists (Reinhart-Rogoff) put together a study which presented evidence that after a certain threshold in the ratio between GDP and debt, a nation’s economy goes into freefall collapse.

Don’t yawn.  I promise.  This is fun.

So their study was so impressive, that it was cited by US republicans to support their economic policies, and perhaps more importantly, was adopted by various European policy makers to justify horribly painful austerity policies in places like Greece.  Millions of people’s lives have been impacted by policies that have been implemented as a result of this study. 

There was no peer review of their study, but it became widely accepted as fact, and the evidence that they presented seemed so strong, that it became really hard to argue for policies that did not promote the slashing of funds to provide infrastructure and safety nets for the poor. 

Then some UMASS student studied their data, and found out that they had made a little error in their spreadsheet.  Basically, they didn’t pull the little cross symbol down to the bottom of a column, and as a result, left out a portion of the data that was used to create their calculation.

When the data was factored in to the equation, instead of a 1.1 decline, the data provided evidence of a 2.2 growth factor at the threshold of 90 and above. 


I kind of felt sorry the professors at first.  I mean, I spend a lot of time working with data in excel spreadsheets, and I can see making a simple, innocent error like that.  Of course, I don’t have Harvard quality resources available to me to check my work. 

But it was their response to the error that is so outrageous. 

They said:
“The weight of the evidence to date, including this latest comment (by Herdon) seems entirely consistent with our original interpretation of the data. “

Colbert responded with this commentary: 

“Right, because no matter how much the results change, the hypothesis must remain the same.”

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