Two Strands of Field Experiments in Economics: A Historical-Methodological Analysis

Michiru Nagatsu, Judith Favereau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


While the history and methodology of laboratory experiments in economics
have been extensively studied by philosophers, those of field experiments
have not attracted much attention until recently. What is the historical
context in which field experiments have been advocated? And what are
the methodological rationales for conducting experiments in the field as
opposed to in the lab? This article addresses these questions by combining
historical and methodological perspectives. In terms of history, we show
that the movement toward field experiments in economics has two distinct
roots. One is the general orientation of medical and social sciences to
evidence-based policy evaluation, which gave rise to randomized field
experiments in economics (e.g., behavioral public policy, poverty alleviation
policy). The other is an awareness of several methodological limitations of
lab experiments in economics, which required practitioners to get out of
the lab and into the field. In these senses, the movement is a consequence
of influences from both outside and inside economics: the general evidencebased trend in policy science and an internal methodological development
of experimental economics. In terms of methodology, we show that these
two roots resulted in two somewhat different notions of “external validity” as methodological rationales of field experiment. Finally, we suggest that
analysis of experiments as exhibits highlights a methodological strategy in
which both strands complement each other.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophy of the Social Sciences
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)45-77
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • GAME
  • exhibits
  • experimental economics
  • field experiments
  • history of economics
  • internal and external validity
  • methodology of economics
  • randomized experiments
  • 511 Economics
  • 611 Philosophy

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