Your life as an experiment

Experiments are all the rage in the social sciences these days, or maybe I should say, in American political science and economics. Researchers are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to implement a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the goal being the identification of a causal effect of some treatment on some outcome — say, information about politicians’ behavior (like whether they show up to work) on voters’ perceptions, beliefs, and behavior (like whether they will support a politician in the future). The Poverty Action Lab has a nice summary of the goal and process of randomization here.

I recently learned that Steve Levitt of the blog Freakonomics, together with John List (both of the University of Chicago), are now recruiting you to be part of a study. Yes, you!

Sometimes in life you face a major decision, and you just don’t know what to do. You’ve considered the issue from every angle. But no matter how you look at it, no decision seems to be the right decision. In the end, whatever you choose will essentially be a flip of a coin. Help us by letting Freakonomics Experiments flip that coin for you.

You get to choose your decision (Should I join a gym? Should I get a roommate?) and then follow whatever decision the virtual coin makes (overview here).

I’m very interested to see where this goes, although I also wonder about selection effects. Randomization will still work (thus internal validity), but external validity (generalizability) may be limited. For example, after looking through the questions (of which very few applied to me) I decided I couldn’t commit to whatever decision was made by the coin. I find sometimes a coin flip helps clarify my position on something, but often because I realize the outcome of the coin leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, leading me to choose the opposite. I wonder what types of people are actually able to commit to random assignment of an important choice in their lives (separation from a spouse? Yikes! Hope they don’t realize it was part of an experiment!).

If you are not a wishy washy type like me, try it out. Gezako!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: