Extrapolation of causal effects – hopes, assumptions, and the extrapolator’s circle

Journal of Economic Methodology 26 (1):45-58 (2019)
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I consider recent strategies proposed by econometricians for extrapolating causal effects from experimental to target populations. I argue that these strategies fall prey to the extrapolator’s circle: they require so much knowledge about the target population that the causal effects to be extrapolated can be identified from information about the target alone. I then consider comparative process tracing as a potential remedy. Although specifically designed to evade the extrapolator’s circle, I argue that CPT is unlikely to facilitate extrapolation in typical econometrics and evidence-based policy applications. To argue this, I offer a distinction between two kinds of extrapolation, attributive and predictive, the latter being prevalent in econometrics and evidence-based policy. I argue that CPT is not helpful for predictive extrapolation when using the kinds of evidence that econometricians and evidence-based policy researchers prefer. I suggest that econometricians may need to consider qualitative evidence to overcome this problem.
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