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When Natural Experiments Are Neither Natural nor Experiments

Jasjeet S. Sekhon and Rocio Titiunik ()

American Political Science Review, 2012, vol. 106, issue 1, 35-57

Abstract: Natural experiments help to overcome some of the obstacles researchers face when making causal inferences in the social sciences. However, even when natural interventions are randomly assigned, some of the treatment–control comparisons made available by natural experiments may not be valid. We offer a framework for clarifying the issues involved, which are subtle and often overlooked. We illustrate our framework by examining four different natural experiments used in the literature. In each case, random assignment of the intervention is not sufficient to provide an unbiased estimate of the causal effect. Additional assumptions are required that are problematic. For some examples, we propose alternative research designs that avoid these conceptual difficulties.

Date: 2012
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