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Essential concepts of Causal inference—a remarkable history

February 21, 2018 @ 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm


Speaker: Don Rubin (Harvard Statistics)

Title: Essential concepts of Causal inference—a remarkable history

Abstract: I believe that a deep understanding of cause and effect, and how to estimate causal effects from data, complete with the associated mathematical notation and expressions, only evolved in the twentieth century.  The crucial idea of randomized experiments was apparently first proposed in 1925 in the context of agricultural field trails but quickly moved to be applied also in studies of animal breeding and then in industrial manufacturing.  The conceptual understanding seemed to be tied to ideas that were developing in quantum mechanics.  The key ideas of randomized experiments evidently were not applied to studies of human beings until the 1950s, when such experiments began to be used in controlled medical trials, and then in social science — in education and economics.  Humans are more complex than plants and animals, however, and with such trials came the attendant complexities of non-compliance with assigned treatment and the occurrence of “hawthorne” and placebo effects.  The formal application of the insights from earlier simpler experimental settings to more complex ones dealing with people, started in the 1970s and continue to this day, and include the bridging of classical mathematical ideas of experimentation, including fractional replication and geometrical formulations from the early twentieth century, with modern ideas that rely on powerful computing to implement aspects of design and analysis.



February 21, 2018
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:


20 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
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