Dear Sarah

Way back in March Sarah Carey wrote an article for the Irish Times for which she has been pilloried on left-leaning websites ever since.

Economist Michael Taft pulled you up on this

‘When asked who should pay tax so that there’s enough money to fund the most generous social welfare payments in the EU, we are back to – you’ve guessed it – the tax exiles.’

But today economist Constantin Gurdgiev argues you were right (sort of – Ireland has the second most generous welfare rates according to Constantin).

Update: Michael strikes back and Constantin claims the differentials are higher than indicated in the OECD reportWhat this shows is that given a pre-held belief and almost any data set it is possible to manipulate the data, perhaps by selectively excluding some data or by performing some chosen calibration on the data, such that the data appears to support your pre-held belief. (Here is a handy selection of cognitive biases to choose from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases). This is commonly summed up as Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.

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Ah, economics – the Dismal Science Art of (Witch)Doktoring Statistics for Political Ends. I mean no offence to the practioners of the aforementioned science art, but anyone who believes that these analyses are crystal clear insights, divining an absolute truth, needs their head examined. Or perhaps just a recap of Scientific Method – which involves postulating hypotheses with the intent of disproving them rather than attempting to prove a belief held in advance by the investigator (as one single instance of disproof, um, disproves a theory while no amount of supporting data can ever prove a hypothesis).

Which is not to say that such analyses are without value, they clearly do add to the debate. They’re just not the absolute truth that readers may assume them to be, and the assumption that they are stymies the debate on the right as much as the left.

No bio, some books worth reading – The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves – Matt Ridley .

Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance -Nouriel Roubini, Stephen Mihm