Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Leah McGrath Goodman — Thomas Piketty Says He Was Ambushed

The knives come out.
Piketty, who posted his data spreadsheets online for all to see, told Newsweekin an email this morning Giles gave him less than a day to respond to questions about his data and methodology used in his expansive, 696-page book, as well as his voluminous spreadsheet data.

“He didn’t give me proper time to respond (less than 24 hours) and most of all the mail he sent me did not include a large part of the material that they were going to publish,” he said to Newsweek in the email. “I maintain that there’s no error or flaw in my series.”,,,
“What’s really dishonest is that the small corrections that they make to my series (and with which I disagree) do not make any difference to the overall evolution and to the overall analysis proposed in the book…and they try to pretend the opposite,” he told Newsweek. “I will update the online technical appendix in order to clarify all of this.”

I recall that Darrell Huff's How To Lie With Statistics was required reading in my Statistics 101 course over fifty years ago.
Perhaps data, if correct, cannot lie, but liars will figure, as the aphorism goes. And the collection, conveyance and interpretation of such figures can be boundless.

As Carroll D. Wright, one of the many possible sources of that quote (not to mention Civil War commander Charles H. Grosvenor and Mark Twain) and a top statistician employed by the United States in the late 19th century, said: “It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring. In other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.” 
Yet, in the era of Big Data, that is exactly what we see happening with data, again and again.
Thomas Piketty Says He Was Ambushed
Leah McGrath Goodman
(h/t Brad DeLong)

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