I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the poor quality of the Heritage Foundation’s scholarship, but this week’s stunt is awful, even by Heritage standards.

The conservative think tank published an item yesterday purporting to show that passage of the Affordable Care Act immediately stalled private-sector job growth. Conditions were quickly improving, Heritage argues, right up until those rascally Democrats felt the need to overhaul the health care system.

This is deeply foolish, both as an exercise and as an attempt to manipulate data. Here, for example, is a chart showing private-sector job growth in the 12 months after implementation of the ACA began.

Note, three of those months reflect the strongest private-sector monthly totals in the last five years. One might also mention that private-sector employment bottomed out shortly before the Affordable Care Act passed, and has been on an upwards trajectory ever since.

To clarify, I’m not saying the successful passage of health care reform necessarily caused private-sector job growth to improve. There are all kinds of other facts that gave the economy a boost, most notably the Recovery Act (which, incidentally, the Heritage Foundation also dislikes).

But to argue that the ACA was somehow responsible for undermining the economy is unbecoming an institution that claims to be a “think” tank. I know the right hates the reform law — despite the fact that it includes several provisions, including the individual mandate, which had been endorsed by the Heritage Foundation — but this just reeks of desperation.

As Matt Yglesias explained, referring to the Heritage piece, “Clearly … no fair-minded person actually interested in the subject is going to be persuaded by this kind of nonsense. I think it’s really too bad that conservative institutions spend a fair amount of time and energy on projects whose only possible effect can be to mislead their own constituency.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.