On Minimizing the Risk of Bias in Randomized Controlled Trials in Economics

Mimeo, (2013), Brown University

32 Pages Posted: 31 May 2013 Last revised: 13 Jul 2015

Alex Eble

Brown University - Department of Economics

Peter Boone

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Diana Elbourne

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 6, 2014

Abstract

Estimation of empirical relationships is prone to bias. Economists have carefully identified and addressed sources of bias in structural and quasi-experimental approaches, but the randomized control trial (RCT) has only recently begun to receive such scrutiny. In this paper, we argue that several lessons from medicine, derived from analysis of thousands of RCTs conducted over the past 60 years and establishing a clear link between certain practices and biased effect estimates, can be used to reduce the risk of bias in economics RCTs. We first identify the subset of these lessons applicable to RCTs in economics. We then use them to assess the risk of bias in estimates from economics RCTs published between 2001 and 2011. Most studies fail to report important details on study design necessary to assess risk of bias. Many report practices known to bias effect estimates. We conclude with suggestions on how to remedy these issues.

Keywords: randomized controlled trials, field experiments, bias, treatment effect estimates

JEL Classification: C9, C90, C93, C10, C12, C18

Suggested Citation

Eble, Alex and Boone, Peter and Elbourne, Diana, On Minimizing the Risk of Bias in Randomized Controlled Trials in Economics (January 6, 2014). Mimeo, (2013), Brown University. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2272141

Alex Eble (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.brown.edu/students/alexander_eble/index.htm

Peter Boone

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Diana Elbourne

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ( email )

Keppel Street
London, WC1E 7HT
United Kingdom

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