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The Credibility Revolution in Empirical Economics: How Better Research Design is Taking the Con out of Econometrics

  • Joshua D. Angrist
  • Jörn-Steffen Pischke

Since Edward Leamer's memorable 1983 paper, "Let's Take the Con out of Econometrics," empirical microeconomics has experienced a credibility revolution. While Leamer's suggested remedy, sensitivity analysis, has played a role in this, we argue that the primary engine driving improvement has been a focus on the quality of empirical research designs. The advantages of a good research design are perhaps most easily apparent in research using random assignment. We begin with an overview of Leamer's 1983 critique and his proposed remedies. We then turn to the key factors we see contributing to improved empirical work, including the availability of more and better data, along with advances in theoretical econometric understanding, but especially the fact that research design has moved front and center in much of empirical micro. We offer a brief digression into macroeconomics and industrial organization, where progress -- by our lights -- is less dramatic, although there is work in both fields that we find encouraging. Finally, we discuss the view that the design pendulum has swung too far. Critics of design-driven studies argue that in pursuit of clean and credible research designs, researchers seek good answers instead of good questions. We briefly respond to this concern, which worries us little.

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Paper provided by German Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD) in its series Working Paper Series of the German Council for Social and Economic Data with number 142.

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Length: 40
Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:rsw:rswwps:rswwps142
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