Elizabeth Warren’s academic claim to fame may be no more legitimate than her claim to be Native American
The Elizabeth Warren scandal you probably never heard of, but will be an issue if she runs for president.
By now, just about everyone has heard of Elizabeth Warren’s scandalous claim while she was climbing the law professor ladder to Harvard that she was Native American, despite the lack of substantiation.
If you hadn’t heard of it during her 2012 Senate campaign, you certainly know it now because Trump has branded her as a fake Indian by mockingly referring to her as “Pocahontas.”
That’s a term Warren is trying to turn to her advantage by crying racism. Warren also is working behind the scenes, in preparation for a 2020 presidential run, to build alliances with Native American groups.
There’s another scandal which, in some ways, is even bigger than Warren’s Native American problem, since it goes directly to Warren’s academic and political credibility. That scandal concerns Warren’s research methods into consumer issues which catapulted her to liberal fame.
Elizabeth Warren Wiki sets forth the details on its Academic Research Controversies page.
If you read Legal Insurrection, you probably know to what we are referring. We summarized the issue in a recent post, If Trump really wanted to stick it to Elizabeth Warren, here’s who he’d nominate for CFPB Director:
Warren rose to academic stardom on the basis of her consumer-related research and writings. It was her claim to fame both academically and in the popular press. Warren’s 2004 book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke, co-authored with her daughter, put Warren squarely on the public radar as a consumer protection hero.
Yet Warren’s academic research even before that book has come under withering criticism, as mentioned in our 2012 post, The Vetting of Elizabeth Warren’s Academic Background Begins. That post details a withering attack on Warren’s academic research by Professor Philip Shuchman in the 1990-1991 edition of the Rutgers Law Review
Megyn McArdle also has been a fierce critic of Warren’s research, including in these posts at The Atlantic in 2009-2010:
- Why Elizabeth Warren’s New Bankruptcy Study is So Bad
- Elizabeth Warren and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Utterly Misleading Bankruptcy Study
- Considering Elizabeth Warren, the Scholar
But no one has been more fierce a critic of Warren’s academic research methodology and validity than George Mason Law School professor Todd Zywicki, an expert in bankruptcy and consumer lending issues.
Zywicki, in an August 14, 2007, op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, eviscerated Warren’s research, The Two-Income Tax Trap…
In a September 30, 2010, Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal regarding Warren’s appointment as a consumer Czar (later withdrawn), Zywicki wrote, In Elizabeth Warren We Trust?
(added) Law Professor Gail Heriot writes at Instapundit:
I wrote about her highly questionable “research” on medical bankruptcies back in 2006. If only the media (including the conservative media) had paid attention then …
This academic research scandal probably would not get many legs if only elucidated by conservative law professors and journalists.
But in a sign that it poses a threat to Warren, the NY Times recently covered the problem, Elizabeth Warren and a Scholarly Debate Over Medical Bankruptcy That Won’t Go Away:
One of the reasons many people think medical bills cause so many bankruptcies is Elizabeth Warren, now a United States senator and possible Democratic presidential candidate. In 2005, she, along with David Himmelstein, Deborah Thorne and Steffie Woolhandler, published a paper in the journal Health Affairs documenting a memorable statistic: More than 40 percent of all bankruptcies in America were a result of medical problems, they wrote. In 2009, they updated that research with an even more startling number: Medical bills were responsible for more than 62 percent of all American bankruptcies….
Their work was often mentioned by politicians interested in expanding health insurance coverage in the country — particularly Barack Obama, who talked about it on the campaign trail and again when stumping for the Affordable Care Act.
It helped propel Ms. Warren’s own political career. She ran for Senate largely on the themes she had explored in her scholarship, about the ways that public policy had made it hard for middle-class Americans to get ahead. She also connected the work to her personal experience, noting that her father’s heart attack had caused a financial shock in her family.
But, as the Times notes, that research has been called into serious doubt, and not just by political opponents:
But from the beginning many economists questioned the paper’s approach, which relied on surveys of nearly 1,800 Americans who had declared bankruptcy in 2001 and interviews with about half of them on their views about the causes of their financial woes after the fact. The researchers counted a bankruptcy as due to injury or illness if a person had a medical debt of more than $1,000; said illness or injury caused a bankruptcy; missed more than two weeks of work because of illness; or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills.
Mr. Mahoney, for example, said the team “wrote the paper in a way that was deliberately provocative, and they got out ahead of their skis.”
Craig Garthwaite, a health economist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, who also studies medical debt, offered a more negative assessment: “There are no reputable economists who I deal with who believe the number in the paper or the methods in the paper are appropriate in trying to get at the true underlying question.”
Writing in Health Affairs in 2006, David Dranove and Michael Millenson, then both on the faculty at Kellogg, analyzed the underlying survey figures differently and concluded that medical problems were probably responsible for less than 20 percent of all American bankruptcies.
But it gets even worse for Warren, the Times notes:
Last March, a team of economists from M.I.T., Northwestern University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, published another paper, making use of a California database of every hospitalization in the state. By examining the credit reports of all the hospitalized people to see who filed for bankruptcy afterward, the researchers concluded that medical shocks related to hospitalization could explain 4 percent of all bankruptcies.
Their paper was published in The New England Journal of Medicine under a bold title: “Myth and Measurement: The Case of Medical Bankruptcies.” The authors argued that their paper was the first to definitively demonstrate that medical shocks did cause some people to go bankrupt. It found that missed work caused by illness was often a bigger contributor to financial difficulties than medical bills themselves.
There is, of course, a huge difference between 4 percent and 62 percent.
Warren has responded to the study aggressively, the Times notes.
But the evidence from research and analysis by non-politically-motivated economists and scholars suggests that Warren’s academic claim to fame is no more legitimate than her claim to be Native American.
This aspect of her career has thus far escaped political scrutiny. But if, as I expect, Warren runs for president, her academic bona fides will be on the table for scrutiny.DONATE
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