Field Experiments and Natural Experiments

Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green

in The Oxford Handbook of Political Science

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199604456
Published online September 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

Field Experiments and Natural Experiments

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This article evaluates the strengths and limitations of field experimentation. It first defines field experimentation and describes the many forms that field experiments take. It also interprets the growth and development of field experimentation. It then discusses why experiments are valuable for causal inference. The assumptions of experimental and nonexperimental inference are distinguished, noting that the value accorded to observational research is often inflated by misleading reporting conventions. The article elaborates on the study of natural experiments and discontinuities as alternatives to both randomized interventions and conventional nonexperimental research. Finally, it outlines a list of methodological issues that arise commonly in connection with experimental design and analysis: the role of covariates, planned vs. unplanned comparisons, and extrapolation. It concludes by dealing with the ways in which field experimentation is reshaping the field of political methodology.

Keywords: field experiments; natural experiments; causal inference; experimental design; experimental analysis; field experimentation; political methodology

Article.  11437 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Political Methodology ; Comparative Politics

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