Cumulative Knowledge in the Social Sciences: The Case of Improving Voters’ Information

40 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2018 Last revised: 22 May 2020

See all articles by Federica Izzo

Federica Izzo

London School of Economics, Department of Government

Torun Dewan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Date Written: August 26, 2018

Abstract

Cumulative knowledge requires (at least) two conditions to be met: unbiasedness and comparability. Research designs should be unbiased so that researchers obtain correct estimates of an underlying quantity. Empirical specifications, the actual regression run, should permit comparability so that researchers measure the same quantity across distinct studies. The first condition is covered by the causal revolution, the second is the object of this paper. Using the example of interventions providing additional information to voters, we show that unbiasedness does not imply comparability. Any two studies that employ the commonly used specification to analyze the electoral consequences of informational campaigns estimates different estimands. This holds true even after removing all external validity issue, all statistical noise, and all sources of bias. We highlight conditions to restore comparability and describe specifications that satisfy them.

Keywords: Electoral Accountability, Accumulation of Knowledge, Comparability, Unbiased, Causal Inference

JEL Classification: D72, D80, C99, C81, H40

Suggested Citation

Izzo, Federica and Dewan, Torun and Wolton, Stephane, Cumulative Knowledge in the Social Sciences: The Case of Improving Voters’ Information (August 26, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3239047 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3239047

Federica Izzo (Contact Author)

London School of Economics, Department of Government ( email )

Northampton NN7 1NE
United Kingdom

Torun Dewan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Northampton NN7 1NE
United Kingdom

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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