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Methods Matter: P-Hacking and Causal Inference in Economics

Author

Listed:
  • Brodeur, Abel

    () (University of Ottawa)

  • Cook, Nikolai

    () (University of Ottawa)

  • Heyes, Anthony

    () (University of Ottawa)

Abstract

The economics 'credibility revolution' has promoted the identification of causal relationships using difference-in-differences (DID), instrumental variables (IV), randomized control trials (RCT) and regression discontinuity design (RDD) methods. The extent to which a reader should trust claims about the statistical significance of results proves very sensitive to method. Applying multiple methods to 13,440 hypothesis tests reported in 25 top economics journals in 2015, we show that selective publication and p-hacking is a substantial problem in research employing DID and (in particular) IV. RCT and RDD are much less problematic. Almost 25% of claims of marginally significant results in IV papers are misleading.

Suggested Citation

  • Brodeur, Abel & Cook, Nikolai & Heyes, Anthony, 2018. "Methods Matter: P-Hacking and Causal Inference in Economics," IZA Discussion Papers 11796, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11796
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2010. "The Credibility Revolution in Empirical Economics: How Better Research Design Is Taking the Con out of Econometrics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(2), pages 3-30, Spring.
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    4. Brodeur, Abel & Blanco-Perez, Cristina, 2017. "Publication Bias and Editorial Statement on Negative Findings," MetaArXiv xq9nt, Center for Open Science.
    5. Katherine Casey & Rachel Glennerster & Edward Miguel, 2012. "Reshaping Institutions: Evidence on Aid Impacts Using a Preanalysis Plan," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(4), pages 1755-1812.
    6. 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.
    7. T. D. Stanley, 2008. "Meta‐Regression Methods for Detecting and Estimating Empirical Effects in the Presence of Publication Selection," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 70(1), pages 103-127, February.
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    9. Gerber, Alan & Malhotra, Neil, 2008. "Do Statistical Reporting Standards Affect What Is Published? Publication Bias in Two Leading Political Science Journals," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 3(3), pages 313-326, October.
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    11. repec:aea:aecrev:v:109:y:2019:i:8:p:2766-94 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Isaiah Andrews & Maximilian Kasy, 2019. "Identification of and Correction for Publication Bias," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(8), pages 2766-2794, August.
    13. Emeric Henry, 2009. "Strategic Disclosure of Research Results: The Cost of Proving Your Honesty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(539), pages 1036-1064, July.
    14. Leamer, Edward E & Leonard, Herman B, 1983. "Reporting the Fragility of Regression Estimates," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(2), pages 306-317, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Graham Elliott & Nikolay Kudrin & Kaspar Wuthrich, 2019. "Detecting p-hacking," Papers 1906.06711, arXiv.org, revised Oct 2019.
    2. Isaiah Andrews & Maximilian Kasy, 2019. "Identification of and Correction for Publication Bias," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(8), pages 2766-2794, August.
    3. Brodeur, Abel & Blanco-Perez, Cristina, 2017. "Publication Bias and Editorial Statement on Negative Findings," MetaArXiv xq9nt, Center for Open Science.
    4. Cazachevici, Alina & Havranek, Tomas & Horvath, Roman, 2019. "Remittances and Economic Growth: A Quantitative Survey," EconStor Preprints 205812, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics.
    5. Maurizio Canavari & Andreas C. Drichoutis & Jayson L. Lusk & Rodolfo M. Nayga, Jr., 2018. "How to run an experimental auction: A review of recent advances," Working Papers 2018-5, Agricultural University of Athens, Department Of Agricultural Economics.
    6. repec:iza:izawol:journl:2019:n:467 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:gam:jecnmx:v:7:y:2019:i:2:p:18-:d:229157 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    research methods; causal inference; p-curves; p-hacking; publication bias;

    JEL classification:

    • A11 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Role of Economics; Role of Economists
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • C13 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Estimation: General
    • C44 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Operations Research; Statistical Decision Theory

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