2014 Main Causal Inference Workshop

We are sorry, but the main workshop is full for 2014, and registration is closed.  Space is still available for the advanced workshop. To be added to the mailing list for the main workshop, please email Prof. Black at bblack@northwestern.edu.

We would like to invite you to attend the fifth annual workshop on Research Design for Causal Inference, sponsored by Northwestern University, Duke University, and the Society for Empirical Legal Studies.

Monday-Friday, July 7-11, 2014, at Northwestern Law School, 375 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL

Registration is limited to 100 participants. We filled up quickly last year, so please register soon.

An Advanced Workshop on Research Design for Causal Inference will be held this year on August 13-15, 2014 at Duke University.

Teaching Faculty and Organizers | Registration | Schedule (Detailed Schedule) | Readings (login required) | Hotels | Breakout Sessions | Participant List

Workshop Overview

Research design for causal inference is at the heart of a "credibility revolution" in empirical research. We will cover the design of true randomized experiments and contrast them to simulations and quasi-experiments, where part of the sample is "treated" in some way, and the remainder is a control group, but the researcher controls neither the assignment of cases to treatment and control groups nor administration of the treatment. We will assess the kinds of causal inferences one can and cannot draw from a research design, threats to valid inference, and research designs that can mitigate those threats.

Most empirical methods courses survey a variety of methods.  We will begin instead with the goal of causal inference, and discuss how to design research to come closer to that goal.  The methods are often adapted to a particular study.  Some of the methods are covered in PhD programs, but rarely in depth, and rarely with a focus on causal inference and on which methods to use with messy, real-world datasets and limited sample sizes.  Each day will include with a Stata “workshop” to illustrate selected methods with real data and Stata code.

Statistical software
We will use Stata, and will provide attendees with a temporary Stata13 license.  Versions 10, 11, and 12 should be fine for most purposes (but you may need to “downconvert” datasets.  Each day will conclude with a Stata “workshop” where we will illustrate selected methods with real data and Stata code. More advice for Stata novices (pdf).

Target audience
Quantitative empirical researchers (faculty and graduate students) in social science, including law, political science, economics, many business-school areas (finance, accounting, management, marketing, etc), medicine, sociology, education, psychology, etc. – indeed anywhere that causal inference is important.

Minimum prior knowledge
We will assume knowledge, at the level of an upper-level college econometrics or similar course, of multivariate regression, including OLS, logit, and probit; basic probability and statistics including conditional and compound probabilities, confidence intervals, t-statistics, and standard errors; and some understanding of instrumental variables.  Despite its modest prerequisites, this course should be suitable for most researchers with PhD level training and for empirical legal scholars with reasonable but more limited training.  Even for recent PhD’s, there will be much that you don’t know, or don’t know as well as you should.

Despite its modest prerequisites, this course should be suitable for most researchers with PhD level training and for empirical legal scholars with reasonable but more limited training. For recent PhD's, there will be overlap with what you already know, but much that you don't know, or don't know as well as you should.

Teaching Faculty

We are fortunate to have recruited outstanding experts in causal research design to teach the workshop sessions.

  • Justin McCrary (University of California, Berkeley)
    Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley. Principal research interests: crime and urban problems, law and economics, corporations, employment discrimination, and empirical legal studies. Papers on SSRN
  • Alberto Abadie (Harvard University)
    Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Principal research interests: econometrics; program evaluation. Papers on SSRN
  • Jens Hainmueller (Stanford University, Political Science) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. He also holds a courtesy appointment in the Stanford Graduate School of Business. http://www.stanford.edu/~jhain//

Conference Organizers

  • Bernard Black (Northwestern University)
    Nicholas J. Chabraja Professor at Northwestern University School of Law, with a secondary appointment at Kellogg School of Management, Department of Finance. Principal research interests: law and finance, international corporate governance, health law and policy; empirical legal studies Papers on SSRN
  • Mathew McCubbins (Duke University)
    Professor of Political Science and Law at Duke University, with positions in the Law School and the Political Science Department, and director of the Center for Law and Democracy.  Principal research interests: democratic institutions, legislative organization; behavioral experiments, communication, learning and decisionmaking; statutory interpretation, administrative procedure, research design; network economics.  Papers on SSRN


Registration and Workshop Cost
Click here to register.

Registration deadline: June 23, 2014.
You can cancel by May 23, 2014 for a 100% refund, June 13, 2014, for a 75% refund and by June 27, 2014 for a 50% refund (in each case, less credit card processing fee), but there are no refunds after that.

Tuition is $850; with a discounted rate of $500 for graduate students (PhD, SJD, or law) and post-doctoral fellows. The workshop fee includes all materials, a temporary Stata13 license, breakfast, lunch, snacks, and Monday evening reception. All amounts will increase by $50 as we approach the workshop date (May 22 for the main workshop), but we may fill up before then.

For Northwestern or Duke-affiliated attendees, we will charge the regular rate, but will give you a refund after the workshop to bring your cost down to $300 if you in fact attend at least a majority of the sessions. We adopted this policy because if you register and don’t come, you took a spot we could have provided to someone else.

We know the workshops are not cheap. We use the funds to pay our speakers and for meals and other expenses; we don’t pay ourselves.

Workshop Schedule (Detailed Schedule with readings)

General schedule 
Breakfast available at 8:30.  “Lecture” sessions will run roughly 9:00-noon, lunch noon-1:00, sessions 1:00-3:00.  “Stata sessions”:  3:15-4:15.  All times except starting times are approximate.  Please plan to arrive Sunday evening.  Variations for particular days are indicated below.  Return travel:  The Friday afternoon sessions will end by 5:00, a return flight leaving 7:00 or later from O’Hare is safe; a bit earlier from Midway.

Monday-Tuesday, July 7-8
(Justin McCrary)

Registration and breakfast:  8:00

Introduction to Modern Methods for Causal Inference
Overview of causal inference and the Rubin “potential outcomes” causal model.  The “gold standard” of a randomized experiment.  Treatment and control groups, and the core role of the assignment (to treatment) mechanism.  Causal inference as a missing data problem, and imputation of missing potential outcomes.

Monday reception 
4:30-6:00:  In central courtyard if weather permits.

Instrumental variable and regression discontinuity methods
Causal inference with instrumental variables (IV), including (i) the core, untestable need to satisfy the “only through” exclusion restriction; (ii) heterogeneous treatment effects; and (iii) intent-to-treat designs for randomized trials (or quasi-experiments) with noncompliance.

(Regression) discontinuity (RD) research designs: sharp and fuzzy designs; bandwidth choice; testing for covariate balance and manipulation of the threshold; discontinuities as substitutes for true randomization and sources of convincing instruments.

Wednesday, July 9 - Thursday morning July 10 (Alberto Abadie)

Observational Studies:  Selection on observables
Selection on observables and common support assumptions.  Subclassification, matching, and regression estimators of average treatment effects. Propensity score methods: matching and weighting. What to match on: a brief introduction to directed acyclic graphs.

Standard Errors
Robust and clustered standard errors. The bootstrap.

Thursday lunch talk
Bernie Black, Bloopers:  How Smart People Get Causal Inference Wrong.  (Afternoon session will be pushed back and will end around 5:00)

Thursday afternoon, July 10 - Friday morning, July 11 (Jens Hainmueller)

Difference-in-Differences, Panel Data, and Synthetic Controls
Simple two-period DiD; the “parallel changes” assumption.  Leads and lags and distributed lag models.  Accommodating covariates.  Triple differences.  Panel data methods.  Synthetic controls.

Friday lecture sessions will end at noon.

Friday afternoon:  Feedback on your own research
Attendees will present their own research design questions from current work in breakout sessions and receive feedback on research design.  Session leaders:  Bernie Black, Mat McCubbins, Jens Hainmueller.  Parallel sessions as needed to meet attendee demand.


Residence Inn Chicago Downtown/Magnificent
Reserve your room at the Residence Inn at a rate of $169/night plus tax

Alternative Hotels

A respectable, low-cost option is the Howard Johnson Inn, 720 North Lasalle St, (312) 664-8100, $99 for their Stay and Save Program (pay in advance, 2-night minimum, non-cancelable) (prices may change).

Other options include:

•    Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile, 701 North Michigan Avenue Chicago IL, (312) 440-1500. $199/night plus tax (queen bed). Email Lauren McCarter and ask for Northwestern rate. (prices may change)
•    MileNorth Hotel, 166 East Superior Street, Chicago IL, (312) 787-6000. Closest to Northwestern.  Email: Jennifer Welch. $169/night plus tax for a standard room. (prices may change)

A number of other hotels in the area also offer discounts to Northwestern guests, visit our hotel information page for additional options.

Questions about the workshops:  Please email Bernie Black (bblack@northwestern.edu) or Mat McCubbins  (mathew.mccubbins@duke.edu) for substantive questions or fee waiver requests, and Michael Cooper (causalinference@law.northwestern.edu) for logistics and registration.