Earlier this week, I published a guest article from Financial Samurai. I've decided to do something I've only twice before in fifteen years at Get Rich Slowly — I'm retracting that article.
Sam's article, while new, rehashed a piece he'd previously written for his own site. I was unaware of that original article until I published this new version. In principle, I'm fine posting this sort of thing — an article that covers existing material in a new way — because that's what we writers do: We cover the same topics again and again and again.
In this case, however, not only was I unaware that Sam had already written about this material, but I was unaware that the original piece had generated a ton of controversy, and that many of Sam's assertions had been called into question and/or disproven. (What can I say? I read a lot of personal-finance blogs, but it's not possible for me to see every article.)
While I didn't agree with Sam's premises or conclusions in the article, that didn't bug me. I don't view Get Rich Slowly as a monolithic, dogmatic place that promotes only one view of money. Quite the opposite, in fact.
My motto here since Day One has been “do what works for you”. By this, I mean to say that there are many different ways to constructively manage your finances. What works for one person might not work for somebody else. There are often multiple ways to accomplish the same goal. (Take getting out of debt, for instance. There are several smart ways to go about that task.)
Because I'm open to sharing different ideas, I sometimes publish articles from authors who hold very different viewpoints from my own. This is nothing new. I've been doing it since I started the site.
I believe strongly, for instance, that it's perfectly fine for committed couples — even married couples — to maintain separate finances. Again, do what works for you. All the same, I once published an article arguing that the only right way to manage money is to merge your finances when you get married. And I've published pieces on the importance of religion in personal finance despite the fact that I'm agnostic. You get the idea.
I don't believe that I know everything, that I have everything figured out. (I obviously don't!) Because of this, I think it's fun to share other people's perspectives.
That said, there need to be some limits to what I'll publish, right? And there are.
- I refuse to publish anything that's overly promotional. (That's why GRS has never run “advertorials” or paid posts.)
- I won't publish anything that's so poorly written that it can't be edited into a coherent piece. (You'd be surprised at how bad some submissions are.)
- And, most importantly, I won't publish a guest post that spreads misinformation and/or harms readers.
When I edited Sam's article, I had some reservations but they weren't strong enough to prevent me from publishing the piece. I made a mistake by not scrutinizing the material more closely.
I didn't agree with some of Sam's premises (I hate the idea of using income as a basis for determining retirement needs, for instance), and I thought his conclusion sounded extreme. So, I included a disclaimer at the end to let readers know that I didn't agree with everything he'd written. Then, when early commenters failed to see that disclaimer, I added an additional notice at the top of the story.
After I published the story, readers quickly let me know about the original piece and its attendant controversy. This lead me to re-read the article much more closely. In doing so, the initial logical error (that safe withdrawal rates are somehow tied to bond yields) was obvious. What's more, Sam's conclusion (that the safe withdrawal rate is equivalent to 80% of the 10-year bond yield) seemed absurd.
I told Sam as much in an e-mail conversation during which I voiced my concerns. Sam dismissed them. When I suggested that he leave comments offering clarification, that he at least connect the dots from bond yields to safe withdrawal rates, he declined. This is disappointing. I'd hope that Sam is interested in education and accuracy. Because I am.
The final straw came when one GRS reader wrote:
The bad news is that my 67 year old father, who is perfectly positioned for retirement, somehow came across this piece and sent it to me because it panicked him.
As I said earlier, I won't publish guest posts that spread misinformation and/or harm readers. This article crossed the line.
Get Rich Slowly isn't about sensationalism. And it's most certainly not about bad advice. I keep telling my business partner, Tom, that I want Get Rich Slowly to be a trusted resource where people can come to get reliable info about all aspects of personal finance.
Sam's article contained bad information and bad advice. I want to believe that Sam's intentions are good, and that he truly believes what he wrote. But as it stands, I cannot allow the article to remain at GRS. It violates the trust of GRS readers by spreading misinformation and drawing false conclusions.
Ultimately, this incident is my fault, and I acknowledge that. If I had read the article more closely to begin with, I wouldn't have published it. Instead, I allowed myself to give in to the technical jargon and Sam's years of experience in the financial industry. “This doesn't make sense to me, but he must know what he's talking about,” I told myself. (For real. This is almost literally what I said to myself!)
I regret that. I ought to have trusted my gut and asked Sam to provide clarification before I published the piece.
I apologize to you, the GRS readers for not vetting this more thoroughly, and I apologize to Sam for putting him through this. (I suspect, however, that Sam's used to this and knew it was coming.)
For his part, Sam has graciously accepted my decision. He's also published a follow-up that explores how different philosophies (and goals) can affect your withdrawal rate in retirement. I think it's an interesting essay. You might find it thought-provoking too.