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Efficient Discovery of Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in Randomized Experiments via Anomalous Pattern Detection

Edward McFowland, Sriram Somanchi and Daniel B. Neill

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Abstract: In the recent literature on estimating heterogeneous treatment effects, each proposed method makes its own set of restrictive assumptions about the intervention's effects and which subpopulations to explicitly estimate. Moreover, the majority of the literature provides no mechanism to identify which subpopulations are the most affected--beyond manual inspection--and provides little guarantee on the correctness of the identified subpopulations. Therefore, we propose Treatment Effect Subset Scan (TESS), a new method for discovering which subpopulation in a randomized experiment is most significantly affected by a treatment. We frame this challenge as a pattern detection problem where we efficiently maximize a nonparametric scan statistic over subpopulations. Furthermore, we identify the subpopulation which experiences the largest distributional change as a result of the intervention, while making minimal assumptions about the intervention's effects or the underlying data generating process. In addition to the algorithm, we demonstrate that the asymptotic Type I and II error can be controlled, and provide sufficient conditions for detection consistency--i.e., exact identification of the affected subpopulation. Finally, we validate the efficacy of the method by discovering heterogeneous treatment effects in simulations and in real-world data from a well-known program evaluation study.

New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ecm and nep-exp
Date: 2018-03, Revised 2018-06
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