Biz Professor: Don't Blame the "Quants!"

  • Don't Blame the Quants!The Find: An impassioned defense of the pointy headed "quants" who have born much of the blame for the current calamity on Wall Street.
  • The Source: A post by Paul Glasserman, the Jack R. Anderson Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School on its Public Offering blog.
The Takeaway: In much of the press coverage of the current market turmoil, Glasserman points out, "arcane" and "dizzyingly complex" derivatives have come in for scorn, as have the math whizzes -- often known as "quants"-- behind these innovations. He also notes, however, that just a few months ago a joint report by New York Senator Charles Schumer and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that "New York needs to expand its supply of quantitative talent to keep up with global competition."

So who's right? The Bloomberg/ Schumer report or the panicked press? Glasserman says the government had it correct:

Risk management needs to be at least as sophisticated as the trading it monitors. Financial intermediaries are modern factories, producing products to manage and transfer risk. Yes, we need new measures to guard against toxic waste, but we especially need people who understand the machinery.
Rather than pointing the finger at the pointy heads, whose skills will again undoubtedly be at the heart of any post-calamity financial system, the more effective strategy to clean up the mess may be to blame bad data. This is the argument of wise voices ranging from Thomas C. Redman on the Harvard Business Conversation Starter to BNET's own Sean Silverthorne of the View from Harvard Business.

The Question: Can you separate bad data from the people who crunched it?

(Image of some serious math getting solved by A.A., CC 2.0)