The Search for Truth: In Appreciation of James J. Heckman

10 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2001

See all articles by John J. Donohue

John J. Donohue

Stanford Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2001


The single most important advance in the social sciences in the last 25 years has been the enormous improvements in the ability to analyze microdata in order to identify and quantify causal relationships. Some of these gains have come from technological progress, as the vast increases in computing power have enabled the analysis of larger data sets using more sophisticated statistical techniques. Some of these gains have been organizational, as government and private entities have funded the collection of an extensive array of data sets that provide fertile grounds for academic researchers. But the most intellectually intriguing developments have been scientific, as the tools and methods of statistical analysis have been developed and sharpened. The immensely broad range and value of the applications of these tools across all empirical branches of social science, as well as in medicine, mandated recognition of this momentous scientific advance from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The choice of James Heckman as one of the two recipients of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Economics honors one of the giants in forging these new econometric techniques and modes of analysis. This paper discusses some of this work and the extremely difficult problems of ascertaining true causal links that Heckman has tried to overcome with his incredible combination of talent, creativity, and a relentless regard for the truth.

Suggested Citation

Donohue, John J., The Search for Truth: In Appreciation of James J. Heckman (July 2001). Available at SSRN: or

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