Estimating Rationality in Economics: A History of Statistical Methods in Experimental Economics
The Center for the History of Political Economy Working Paper Series, Duke University
37 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 25, 2018
Experimental economists increasingly apply econometric techniques to interpret their data, as suggests the emergence of "experimetrics" in the 2000s. Yet statistics remains a minor topic in historical and methodological writings on experimental economics (EE). This article aims to address this lacuna. To do so, we analyze the use of statistical tools in EE from early economics experiments of the 1940s-1950s to the present days. Our narrative is based on qualitative analysis of papers published in early periods and quantitative analysis of papers published in more recent periods. Our results reveal a significant change in EE' statistical methods, namely an evolution from purely descriptive methods to more sophisticated and standardized techniques. We also highlight that, despite the decisive role played by statistics in the way EE estimate the rationality of individuals or markets, statistics are still considered as involving non-methodological issues, i.e., as involving only purely technical issues. Our historical analysis shows that this technical conception was the result of a long-run evolution of the process of scientific legitimization of EE, which allowed experimental economists to escape from psychologist's more reflexive culture toward statistics.
Keywords: Experimental Economics, Statistics, Econometrics, History of Economic Thought, Methodology
JEL Classification: B20, C83, A14, C90
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation