UMASS grad student debunks Harvard economists' austerity study

Those of us who call the insular world of academia home know of the politics here.  One standard feature of academia is its snobbery.  There is a clear hierarchy and ranking of colleges and universities, and on many lists, Harvard is at the top.

The elitism of academia is sometimes mitigated by our publications process of which the gold standard is double-blind reviewed.  It means that when academics publish studies in academic journals, the manuscript is first vetted anonymously with other academics who work in that field to assess whether the manuscript's material is original and whether its findings and conclusions are sound.  The anonymity of the peer review process is to guard against conflicts of interest and bias and to ultimately produce candid reviews of scholars' work.

Imagine the shock everywhere when a economics graduate student  at UMASS Amherst, writing a term paper for his class, was able to debunk and take down the work of two powerful Harvard economists.  The study in dispute is the Reinhart and Rogoff study about austerity that has been cited and adopted as official policy by conservative governments throughout Europe.

Thomas Herndon, the grad student, did this by finding coding and spreadsheet errors and omissions of key pieces of data that might have changed the conclusions of their study.  What is not clear is why this paper, which apparently was not peer reviewed, was so readily adopted as truth by so many in power. 

Stephen Colbert devoted two segments to this momentous event.  Here is one segment.