Thursday, April 25, 2013

Colbert's Take on Reinhart-Rogoff

Economic wonks have enjoyed the attention that Steven Colbert gave the Reinhart-Rogoff (R-R) HERE paper on GDP and debt. I think he hits the right points on mocking policy setters that so readily embraced a paper that was not a peer reviewed paper and that had almost immediately been criticized for other problems.

But the part that makes the show worth watching is his interview of the student, Thomas Hendron who was the lead author of the paper that demolished the GDP to Debt paper. The original R-R paper was published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. The point of the NBER working papers is much like publishing an abstract and giving a talk at a conference. It is a way to get an idea out there for discussion and sharing of ideas, but it is by no means peer reviewed. I would note that some years ago I watched a presentation of a geology abstract at a conference get demolished on the spot. I was the very next speaker and yes that gave me a bit of fear.

With working papers like R-R, it might take a bit more time to fully vet the idea. But in the mean time a lot of economic policy leaders performed an experiment on tens (hundreds?) of millions of people by severely cutting government spending. And here is the thing, there are plenty of published papers that had been peer reviewed that said the exact opposite thing.

Anyway here is the link to Colbert's take: http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/tue-april-23-2013-eric-schmidt?xrs=share_copy.

This affair is in a way a demostration of how science works when it interfaces with policy - kind of messy.

2 comments:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

We watched it and laughed like crazy. Because of your blog, I knew what they were talking about. What I like was Ryan and Colburn quoting Bartle & James, er, whatever, as if they knew something. The student was priceless
, and gives me so much faith in youth. The prof who made this type of assignment to PhD candidates also deserves credit. Wonderful!

Dan McShane said...

The program at U Mass is in part supported by Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. They were reported to have sent a check after the U Mass paper came out along with a case of ice cream fro the students.