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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The facts really do matter and aren't difficult to find out

I've just been listening to some very interesting podcasts from the LSE of the day long engagement with the work of Thomas Piketty. There are great talks by Bob Rowthorn, Tony Atkinson and David Soskice all of which are genuinely interesting and insightful. 

There are also some talks which can best be described as utterly confused nonsense. One Professor of Sociology, who shall be nameless, makes the bold and shameless assertion that, and I quote: "...your occupation is a less powerful predictor of your income than it used to be." The authority for this statement seems to be a paper by two of his colleagues Friedman and Laurison, who, as far as I can see, make no such claim. In any case the paper which he appears to be referring to is about earnings not income. 

Let's make the charitable assumption that what he meant was earnings rather than income. In fact the distinction probably doesn't matter too much in this case because earnings from employment is such a large proportion of most people's income. 

The fact of the matter is that the truth is quite the opposite of what the good professor so confidently asserted. In Great Britain no matter what  level of aggregation  you look at, between  1976 and 2008 the proportion of variation in log earnings accounted for by occupation  increased. This is comprehensively demonstrated in a paper written by my former doctoral student Mark Williams who is now at the University of Surrey. 

There is no room for doubt about it; in as far as we can determine them this is what the facts of the matter are. The paper appears in a mainstream journal not in some esoteric place so it beggars belief that someone who claims to be an expert on inequality could a) fail to have read it and b) so confidently assert the complete opposite of the truth.

We expect newspapers to publish corrections when they get the facts wrong or simply make things up. Shouldn't we require the same of academics who either knowingly or through ignorance make false pronouncements in a public arena?

Or do LSE Professors simply not see it as part of their role to get the facts right?

1 comment:

Kolbeinn Stefansson said...

Mike Savage as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I like it.