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A Plea for Errors

  • Charles Feinstein

    (All Souls College, Oxford)

  • Mark Thomas

    (Nuffield College, Oxford)

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    This paper argues that all historical data series should be accompanied by formal estimates of their margins of error. We discuss the nature of errors in data series and review earlier attempts to assess their reliability. We show how overall margins of error may be calculated for historical series from judgments on the reliability of their components, and how these allow readers both to appraise the estimate and to test the implications of applying different standards. An illustration is provided for Hoffmann’s index of British industrial output, 1770–1831. The calculations emphasize the value of this approach to the recent debate on growth rates during the industrial revolution and suggest its merits more generally.

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    Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Oxford University Economic and Social History Series with number _041.

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    Length: 50 pages
    Date of creation: 01 Jul 2001
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_041
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    1. Harley, C.K. & Crafts, N.F.R., 1994. "Cotton Textiles and Industrial Output Growth During the Industrial revolution," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 420, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Temin, Peter, 1997. "Two Views of the British Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(01), pages 63-82, March.
    3. Thomas J. Weiss, 1992. "U. S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800-1860," NBER Chapters, in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 19-78 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Simon Kuznets & Lillian Epstein & Elizabeth Jenks, 1946. "National Income and Its Composition, 1919-1938, Volume II," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn41-3.
    5. Federico, Giovanni & Tena, Antonio, 1991. "On the accuracy of foreign trade statistics (1909-1935): Morgenstern revisited," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 259-273, July.
    6. N. F. R. Crafts & C. K. Harley, 1992. "Output growth and the British industrial revolution: a restatement of the Crafts-Harley view," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 45(4), pages 703-730, November.
    7. Javier Cuenca Esteban, 1994. "British textile prices, 1770-1831: are British growth rates worth revising once again?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 47(1), pages 66-105, 02.
    8. Greasley David & Oxley Les, 1995. "Balanced versus Compromise Estimates of UK GDP 1870-1913," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 262-272, April.
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