Re: Experiments With Human Subjects

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 23 Sep 96 13:29:24 PDT

Ira Brodsky writes:
>>>By "objective," I mean that most reasonable people would agree the
>>>experiment is fair from the outset. By "repeatable," I mean any
>>>disinterested party could recreate the experiment and come up with the
>>>same results.
>>I'd say these criteria are met by most of the experiments in the
>>tradition I'm involved with (experimental economics).
>That may be the case -- it would be more convincing if you provided some

I don't know how to do this other than have you read some of the
literature. See the journals American Economic Review or Econometrica.
How could you show this for any other field any easier?

>And would you claim the same is true for most experiments in sociology and
>political science?

Political Science, yes. Sociology, I think yes (I don't know that
subject as much though).

>>>Nope, there is plenty of experimentation in astronomy and geology. Didn't
>>>astronomers prove that gravity can bend light waves through an experiment?
>>Um, no.
>"Since the fixed stars in the parts of the sky near the sun become visible
>during a total eclipse, it is possible to check this theoretical conclusion
>[a ray of light coming from a fixed star and just grazing the border of the
>sun will be deflected by 0.83 seconds of an arc] by experiment."

This isn't an "experiment" in the sense that you've been using -
control over variables. They only looked. They didn't go move the
sun around or anything. The closest you get is using signals from
spacecraft, where you control where the spacecraft goes. That is a
small fraction of astronomy (though a large fraction of planetary

>>You can bring a small number of people into a lab and run an
>>experiment on them, and then do it again tommorow and get similar
>>results. You can also vary just one aspect of your experiment.
>Your first statement may be true for psychology and microeconomics. But is
>it true for sociology, political science, and macroeconomics?


>But note that most medical research relies on objective measurements
>(e.g., size of a tumor, number of white blood cells per CC, etc.). I
>would think (but I could be wrong) most social science experiments on
>human subjects conducted in a lab rely primarily on what the subjects

First, what subject say *is* objectively measurable.
Second, Most econ and polisci experiments rely on what people do, not
what they say.

Robin D. Hanson