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Misunderstandings between experimentalists and observationalists about causal inference

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  • Kosuke Imai
  • Gary King
  • Elizabeth A. Stuart

Abstract

We attempt to clarify, and suggest how to avoid, several serious misunderstandings about and fallacies of causal inference. These issues concern some of the most fundamental advantages and disadvantages of each basic research design. Problems include improper use of hypothesis tests for covariate balance between the treated and control groups, and the consequences of using randomization, blocking before randomization and matching after assignment of treatment to achieve covariate balance. Applied researchers in a wide range of scientific disciplines seem to fall prey to one or more of these fallacies and as a result make suboptimal design or analysis choices. To clarify these points, we derive a new four-part decomposition of the key estimation errors in making causal inferences. We then show how this decomposition can help scholars from different experimental and observational research traditions to understand better each other's inferential problems and attempted solutions. Copyright (c) 2008 Royal Statistical Society.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Royal Statistical Society in its journal Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society).

Volume (Year): 171 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 481-502

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Handle: RePEc:bla:jorssa:v:171:y:2008:i:2:p:481-502

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  3. Berta, P & Callea, G & Martini, G & Vittadini, G, 2009. "The effects of upcoding, cream skimming and readmissions on the Italian hospitals efficiency: a population–based investigation," MPRA Paper 17671, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Luca Zanin & Rosalba Radice & Giampiero Marra, 2013. "Estimating the Effect of Perceived Risk of Crime on Social Trust in the Presence of Endogeneity Bias," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 114(2), pages 523-547, November.
  5. Tiemann, Oliver & Schreyögg, Jonas, 2011. "Changes in hospital efficiency after privatization," hche Research Papers 2011/02, Hamburg Center for Health Economics (hche), University of Hamburg.
  6. Reichert, A.;, 2013. "Obesity, Weight Loss, and Employment Prospects: Evidence from a Randomized Trial," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 13/20, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  7. Victoria Fan, Anup Karan, and Anjay Mahal, 2012. "State Health Insurance and Out-of-Pocket Health Expenditures in Andhra Pradesh, India - Working Paper 298," Working Papers 298, Center for Global Development.
  8. Victoria Fan & Anup Karan & Ajay Mahal, 2012. "State Health Insurance and Out-of-Pocket Health Expenditures in Andhra Pradesh, India," Working Papers id:5032, eSocialSciences.
  9. Daniel Ho & Kosuke Imai & Gary King & Elizabeth A. Stuart, . "MatchIt: Nonparametric Preprocessing for Parametric Causal Inference," Journal of Statistical Software, American Statistical Association, vol. 42(i08).
  10. Gomes, M; & Grieve, R;, 2011. "Estimating the Effects of Friendship Networks on Health Behaviors of Adolescents," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 11/14, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  11. Moreno-Serra R, . "Health Programme Evaluation by Propensity Score Matching: Accounting for Treatment Intensity and Health Externalities with an Application to Brazil," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 09/05, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  12. Bruhn, Miriam & McKenzie, David, 2008. "In pursuit of balance : randomization in practice in development field experiments," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4752, The World Bank.
  13. Behncke S, 2009. "How Does Retirement Affect Health?," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 09/11, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  14. Eliana V. Jimenez & Richard P.C. Brown, 2008. "Assessing the poverty impacts of remittances with alternative counterfactual income estimates," Discussion Papers Series 375, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
  15. Noah Buckley & Timothy Frye & Scott Gehlbach & Lauren McCarthy, 2012. "Cooperating with the State: Evidence from Survey Experiments on Policing in Mosscow," HSE Working papers WP BRP 09/PS/2012, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
  16. Bailey, Michael & Hopkins, Daniel J. & Rogers, Todd, 2013. "Unresponsive and Unpersuaded: The Unintended Consequences of Voter Persuasion Efforts," Working Paper Series rwp13-034, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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