How Wonks Get Snarky

January 18th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

A couple of weeks ago, the NYT—somewhat weirdly, I thought—published a full-page spread by a couple of analysts arguing that the Social Security Administration was underestimating longevity, implying that the program’s funding is in worse shape than the SSA officials are telling us.  There were, however, serious flaws in the analysis, leading my colleague Paul Van de Water to label it “highly misleading and needlessly alarming.”  SSA analysts have now responded themselves (what I found really quite unsettling is why the NYT wouldn’t check with them before publishing this critique in the first place).

It turns out that the authors of the NYT piece were quite misinformed about what the SSA builds into its models, suggesting, for example, that the SSA’s mortality projections fail to adjust for declines in smoking and obesity.   That’s wrong, but the NYT authors add in their own numbers and predictably get weird results.  As the SSA notes:

…any attempt to overlay the Trustees’ mortality projections with some external assessment of smoking or obesity would introduce duplication to the Trustees’ assumptions – and would yield results that [the authors of the NYT piece] appropriately call “crazy.”

Anyway, here’s what the seasoned SSA analysts had to say about the utility of their critic’s work:

As with all new entrants into this field of analysis, their work may ultimately provide value in the continuing evolution of our methods.

Ohhhh, snap!  Like my kids say when they diss me, “You’d better get an iceberg for that BURN!”

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4 comments in reply to "How Wonks Get Snarky"

  1. Seattle Alex says:

    Sick burn indeed…

  2. wkj says:

    You left out the last line of the SSA paper:

    “We look forward to future contributions by King and Soneji.”

    Yeah, right.

  3. wendy beck says:

    I certainly hope that the NY Times will give more attention to this information to make up for the mis-information they spread by not checking the facts. Forgive me for being a cynic and thinking that’s unlikely.