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Guido Imbens on the response to LATE 

Summary:
.[embedded content] Many economists — yours truly included — are highly sceptical of the ability of mainstream economics to deliver useful models. Some of us even question the ‘modern’ insistence on modelling — “if it’s not in a model, it’s not economics.” Even if we accept the limitation of only being able to say something about (some kind of) average treatment effects when using instrumental-variables designs, a significant and major problem is that researchers who use these randomization-based research strategies often set up problem formulations that are not at all the ones we really want answers to, in order to achieve ‘exact’ and ‘precise’ results. Design becomes the main thing, and as long as one can get more or less clever experiments in place, they believe they can

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Many economists — yours truly included — are highly sceptical of the ability of mainstream economics to deliver useful models. Some of us even question the ‘modern’ insistence on modelling — “if it’s not in a model, it’s not economics.”

Even if we accept the limitation of only being able to say something about (some kind of) average treatment effects when using instrumental-variables designs, a significant and major problem is that researchers who use these randomization-based research strategies often set up problem formulations that are not at all the ones we really want answers to, in order to achieve ‘exact’ and ‘precise’ results. Design becomes the main thing, and as long as one can get more or less clever experiments in place, they believe they can draw far-reaching conclusions about both causality and the ability to generalize experimental outcomes to larger populations. Unfortunately, this often means that this type of research has a negative bias away from interesting and important problems towards prioritizing method selection. Design and research planning are important, but the credibility of research ultimately lies in being able to provide answers to relevant questions that both citizens and researchers want answers to. Focusing on finding narrow LATE results threatens to lead research away from the really important research questions we as social scientists want to answer.

Believing there is only one really good evidence-based method on the market — and that randomization is the only way to achieve scientific validity — blinds people to searching for and using other methods that in many contexts are better. Insisting on using only one tool often means using the wrong tool.

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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