Replication: The Heart of Science

There are allegations that the Reinhart and Rogoff paper “Growth in a Time of Debt,” which has informed the current debate about debt and spending as much as any economic paper could hope, is wrong. And it’s wrong because of a data processing error, specifically what appears to be an MS Excel formula error (see here, here, or here). The original Reinhart and Rogoff working paper has over 450+ Google Scholar citations and that understates its influence in the three years since it was published.

Every dataset I have looked at has problems, and the only question is whether those problems when fixed lead the results to “break.” In practice, as a field, we seem to be okay with small fractures, things that get p-values to .07 or .11 instead of the magical .05. Journal editors don’t want to reward replication articles that merely fiddle with someone else’s hard work, though this gives authors an incentive to fiddle with their own work at the margins.

In part because replication work is rarely rewarded with journal articles, the hard work of replication, crucial for any sort of cumulative knowledge, is more or less left to graduate students in mid-level stats courses. The fact that Thomas Herndon, apparently a grad student at the UMass-Amherst Econ program, is listed as first author of this new critique makes me wonder if this sort of “replication paper” requirement is the source of this discovery.

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2 thoughts on “Replication: The Heart of Science

  1. Pingback: Drawing the wrong conclusions | Stats Chat

  2. Pingback: Replication: The Heart of Science, Cont’d | The Smoke-Filled Room

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