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7 Data Disasters More Embarrassing Than Reinhart and Rogoff's

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Yesterday, a group of authors at the University of Massachussetts-Amherst released a paper calling into question one of the intellectual cornerstones of post-financial-crisis economic thought. The authors, Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, said they had found three errors in research done by the economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, who had demonstrated that there seemed to be a tipping point where a country with public debt greater than 90 percent of its gross domestic product would face sharply slower growth.

The most glaring error: In an Excel data set of countries' annual GDP growth and their public debt, Rogoff and Reinhart apparently forgot to select an entire row when it came to averaging growth figures, leaving out Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark. Rogoff and Reinhart acknowledged the error, writing that "it leads to a notable change in the average growth rate for the over-90-per-cent debt group." This means that one of the most influential claims in public discussions and government policies related to austerity, debt and stimulus -- "that there is a sharp fall-off in growth when debt reaches 90 percent of GDP -- was partially due to a simple Excel error.