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

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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.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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