- The model sparked a storm of criticism among outside economists who called it “utterly superficial and misleading” on Twitter.
- It also set off one of Trump’s top economic advisors, who went after an Obama economist that earlier had fiery words for the modeling.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories .
White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett helped devise a “cubic model” that forecasted coronavirus deaths hitting zero by May 15. It immediately sparked a massive backlash among economists when the model was posted Tuesday on the Twitter account for the Council of Economic Advisors.
Now Hassett says it was never meant to be viewed as a model of a virus.
Instead, he says, it’s supposed to be another method to illustrate a simple math formula used in Excel. He wanted to produce a graph mirroring the forecast of daily virus deaths from the Institute of Health Metrics of Evaluation at the University of Washington.
“It’s not an alternative to the model, it’s just a different way of visualizing the model,” Hassett said in an interview with The New York Times. Calling the criticism “silly,” he said the model was never shown to President Donald Trump or members of the coronavirus task force.
He described the model as one meant to level the swings of reported cases which vary each day, and he used “just a canned function in Excel, a cubic polynomial,” according to the newspaper.
The curve in the cubic model reaches its peak in mid-April and swoops back down through the end of May.
Yet after the chart was posted, outside economists assailed the model for wrongly suggesting the caseloads of coronavirus were precipitously falling. They believed it was a signal the Trump administration was wielding erroneous data in its drive to reopen the American economy.
The death toll from the virus surpassed 70,000 this week, and over a month has passed since there were fewer than 1,000 deaths. On Tuesday alone, over 2,000 Americans died from the virus, and the number of recorded infections is rising.ADVERTISING
Emily Gee, a former staff economist on the CEA, recently told Business Insider the decision to publish the graph demonstrated the council was “being used as a mouthpiece for the administration and a political tool.”
It set off an online brawl among economists as well. Jason Furman , the former head of the CEA under President Barack Obama, had fiery words for the CEA’s modeling, calling it “utterly superficial and misleading” on Twitter.
“Faux expertise is even worse than ignorance,” Furman wrote in a follow-up tweet. “To the degree this crowded out input from genuine experts in the conversation and confused other participants into thinking that CEA or other economists had any sort of real or valid model of the epidemic it is really & truly terrible.”
Acting CEA chair Tomas Philipson fired back later on Tuesday evening. He derided Furman’s academic credentials and later said in another Twitter post: “Comparing things to the data might have helped Furman when he advised the worst economic recovery in history.”
Liberal economists rushed to Furman’s defense and pointed out Hassett had downplayed the virus early on.
The White House has strongly defended its response to the pandemic. Asked about the cubic model, Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, recently told CNN , “We didn’t change anything based on that.”