Dr Hannah Fry, 39, had taken to TikTok to put forward an argument that austerity, which has been linked to 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain, became Tory policy as a result of an “Excel spreadsheet error”.
The University College London professor, a BBC TV presenter and self-described “all-round badass” recently adopted a new role as the next president of the Institute of Mathematics - The UK’s learned society for mathematicians.
Despite the qualifications and accolades one male troll claimed that she was only perceived as an expert for having “pretty eyes”.
George Robertson, an American claiming have 40 years experience in capital markets and with his own economics podcast, wrote on X: “I am getting tired of these chipper young heavily made up tik tok ladies who are offered up as experts just because they go pretty eyes [sic].
“are not my eyes pretty [sic]?”
Dr Fry had hundreds of supporters wade into defend her before one replied: “She’s literally president of the maths society dude what more can you possibly want.”
The mathematician reposted it on X, adding: “That’s it, I’ve found it. My favourite tweet of all time.”
Another supporter said: “At least you now know you have pretty eyes from a rando dismissive a*****e on the internet. Silver lining and all...”
saw it on X never use tiktok think it is a nefarious plot by China and should be banned
— George Robertson (@BickerinBrattle) January 23, 2024
After followers accused the account of being misogynistic, Mr Robertson replied: “Who is the sexist? The person who dummies down to present herself as such or someone who calls her out on this?”
He went on to insist his formal qualification was history with dual interests in US Antebellum South and Feminism, adding: “how about that?”
The furore was over the influential paper Growth in a Time of Debt authored by Professor Carmen Reinhart and the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Ken Rogoff.
In it, they proposed that economic growth slows dramatically when the size of a country’s debt rises above 90% of GDP.
But then student Thomas Herndon spotted an apparent error in their spreadsheet as he prepared a first year homework assignment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Harvard professors had accidentally only included 15 of the 20 countries under analysis in their key calculation (of average GDP growth in countries with high public debt) with Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark missing.
He also found in their average calculation they had included 1951 New Zealand’s waterfront workers’ strike was blown out of proportion and given the same weight as the UK’s nearly 20 years with high public debt.
The authors later apologised telling the BBC: “It is sobering that such an error slipped into one of our papers despite our best efforts to be consistently careful.
“We will redouble our efforts to avoid such errors in the future. We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work.”
But the paper had already been hailed by politicians including George Osborne who relied on the data to portray excess debt as the universal cause of financial crises when coming up with austerity.
He said in 2010: “As Rogoff and Reinhart demonstrate convincingly, all financial crises ultimately have their origins in one thing.”
The paper was later seen by academics as shaping the way some politicians viewed the world.