STUMP » Articles » Followup on Actuarial Squabble » 9 August 2016, 17:00

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Followup on Actuarial Squabble  


9 August 2016, 17:00

Last week, I wrote about a Pension Finance Task Force that was disbanded by its joint sponsors, the Society of Actuaries and the American Academy of Actuaries.

The President of the American Academy of Actuaries, Tom Wildsmith, has written a response.

I will excerpt a portion here (I added emphasis):

This was not a paper that was submitted to the Academy and Society for publication, as you or I might submit a paper to the North American Actuarial Journal or Contingencies. Rather, it was developed by a joint Academy/Society task force—including work by others on the task force, and by staff of both organizations. We cannot afford to encourage a precedent where individuals who are frustrated by the review/edit cycle can short-circuit it by simply taking a draft Academy document and publishing it elsewhere under their own names. We certainly recognize that members of the task force could open a new Word document and start writing, with the result being a paper that’s very similar to the one developed by the task force—and doing so would be entirely appropriate (and I would encourage them to do it). But we don’t believe it’s appropriate for anyone to take work done by an Academy task force or committee and publish it under his or her own name—especially not as a way to get out of the hard work of going through the review process.

The Academy has well-established “Guidelines for Making Public Statements.” These apply to all publications and proposed publications of our committees, task forces, and work groups intended for public release. The guidelines are necessary to ensure that the Academy provides objective, nonpartisan actuarial analysis that will enhance public understanding and assist public policy makers in developing sound policy. And, as in every substantive review process, publications are rarely accepted without revision. Such was the case with the PFTF draft paper at the time the task force was disbanded. Having been through the process many times myself, I know that it can be tedious and frustrating. But many public statements—such as this one—treat complex and controversial issues, so adherence to a thorough and disciplined review process is absolutely critical to maintaining objectivity and balance.

I used to be on a working group at the Academy, and we essentially disbanded ourselves because we couldn’t get anything done. The Academy does indeed have these thorough review processes, and it was taking forever even to get a noncontroversial work product through the process (seriously, we were just compiling a list of references on a specific subject. THAT WAS IT.)

I will not get into boring actuarial organization details, but the organizational friction surrounding the Academy is worse than the SOA.

Wildsmith also wrote a letter responding to the P&I piece. An excerpt:

The task force has produced extremely valuable work on pension plan financing and valuation issues over the years. Its past work appropriately reflected the financial economics perspective while fully adhering to our rigorous editorial standards, and has been fully supported by both the Academy and the Society. But the article inexplicably seized on a single example of an unfinished PFTF paper that had not yet completed the review and editing process necessary to meet our standards. This draft paper, on financial economics principles applied to public pension plans, had only gone through partial review. Unfortunately, some members of the PFTF became frustrated and decided they simply did not want to complete the Academy review process. That’s not Academy “censorship.” It’s the discipline necessary to provide the public with the impartial actuarial advice it deserves.

In any case, from my own experience with the Academy, I agree there’s no nefarious suppression, per se. These barriers to getting anything done have indeed been around a very long time in the Academy, specifically.

It’s partly why nobody listens to actuaries on public policy, in the U.S., at least.

I will give props to the Academy for their 80% Funding Myth paper. Even if they’re not doing anything active with it to get people to stop perpetuating it.

I used to email the usages I found to someone at the Academy, but I realized no followup was going on. So I did it myself.

In any case, given the poor state of relations between the SOA and the Academy currently, it was probably just as well this group was broken up. The orgs are having turf issues, and they may as well work separately.

Maybe something will get published. Eventually.

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