Sunday, May 25, 2014

Picking on Piketty

A classic example of confirmation bias:
While Americans swooned over Thomas Piketty and his thesis about ever-rising inequality it has taken a Brit, the FT’s Chris Giles, to expose the corruptions in his data. What he has found – on the cover of today’s FT and in detail on a blog here – is shocking because the errors are so basic. And yet on this, Piketty has built a manifesto for all kinds of tax rises. It makes you wonder how his publisher, Harvard University Press, allowed such flaws to enter print. (...) 
The points Chris Giles so powerfully makes ought to have been picked up by any serious peer review process. (...) Perhaps the idea of one’s instincts being proving empirically correct is rather intoxicating, which partly explains the success of his book. Perhaps Piketty gave the left intelligentsia a story which (as tabloid hacks say) was “too good to check”. 
But what about Harvard University Press? Piketty’s publisher there, Ian Malcolm, is interviewed here. From the sounds of it, he just reprinted the French version without applying the checks and balances that you’d hope would be applied to a Harvard economics book. He says how much money Piketty has made his company, and concluded by saying: “As long as there is bullshit and inequality, we won’t go out of business.” Quite.
It's worth reading the full article in The Spectator.

Also recommended: What Piketty Misses