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Experiments in economics: should we trust the dismal scientists in white coats?

  • Chris Starmer

Is the rapid growth of experimental research in economics evidence of a new scientific spirit at work or merely fresh evidence of a misplaced desire to ape the methods of natural sciences? It is often argued that economic experiments are artificial in some sense that tends to render the results problematic or uninteresting. In the early part of this paper I argue that this artificiality critique does not provide a convincing philosophical objection to experimentation in economics. Later sections of the paper argue that methodological discourse in relation to experiments has become somewhat polarized: experimentalists have promoted a position that seeks to defuse objections to experiments; theorists have taken up positions that insulate theory from experimental challenge. I argue that these strategies are overly defensive and tend to stifle rather than promote the goals of economic enquiry.

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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Journal of Economic Methodology.

Volume (Year): 6 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 1-30

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Handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:6:y:1999:i:1:p:1-30
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  1. Grether, David M & Plott, Charles R, 1979. "Economic Theory of Choice and the Preference Reversal Phenomenon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(4), pages 623-38, September.
  2. Davis, Douglas D. & Holt, Charles a., 1993. "Experimental economics: Methods, problems and promise," Estudios Económicos, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos, vol. 8(2), pages 179-212.
  3. John H. Kagel & Raymond C. Battalio, 1980. "Token Economy and Animal Models for the Experimental Analysis of Economic Behavior," NBER Chapters, in: Evaluation of Econometric Models, pages 379-401 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  5. Jan Kmenta & James B. Ramsey, 1980. "Evaluation of Econometric Models," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kmen80-1, September.
  6. Adrian C. Darnell & J. L. Evans, 1990. "The Limits of Econometrics," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 119, March.
  7. Bohm, Peter, 1994. "Behaviour under Uncertainty without Preference Reversal: A Field Experiment," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 19(2), pages 185-200.
  8. Leamer, Edward E, 1983. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 31-43, March.
  9. Mayer, Thomas, 1980. "Economics as a Hard Science: Realistic Goal or Wishful Thinking?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 18(2), pages 165-78, April.
  10. Frank P. Stafford, 1980. "Some Comments on the Papers by Kagel and Battalio and by Smith," NBER Chapters, in: Evaluation of Econometric Models, pages 407-410 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Friedman,Daniel & Sunder,Shyam, 1994. "Experimental Methods," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521456821, November.
  12. Jan Kmenta & James B. Ramsey, 1980. "Problems and Issues in Evaluating Econometric Models," NBER Chapters, in: Evaluation of Econometric Models, pages 1-11 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Peter Bohm, 1994. "Behavior under uncertainty without preference reversal: A field experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00130, The Field Experiments Website.
  14. Harrison, Glenn W, 1994. "Expected Utility Theory and the Experimentalists," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 19(2), pages 223-53.
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