Experimental Political Science and the Study of Causality

From Nature to the Lab

Experimental Political Science and the Study of Causality

Increasingly, political scientists are describing their empirical research or the reasoning behind their choices in empirical research using the terms “experiment” or “experimental.” One of the primary reasons for doing so is the advantage of experiments in establishing causal inferences. In this book, Rebecca B. Morton and Kenneth C. Williams discuss in detail how experiments and experimental reasoning with observational data can help researchers determine causality. They explore how control and random assignment mechanisms work, examining both the Rubin causal model and the formal theory approaches to causality. They also cover general topics in experimentation such as the history of experimentation in political science; internal and external validity of experimental research; types of experiments – field, laboratory, virtual, and survey – and how to choose, recruit, and motivate subjects in experiments. They investigate ethical issues in experimentation, the process of securing approval from institutional review boards for human subject research, and the use of deception in experimentation.


“This is a landmark contribution – not only in what it offers for experimentalists but for social science in general. Morton and Williams present a distinctive approach to how to conduct research that is sure to be widely discussed and debated.”
– James N. Druckman, Northwestern University

“This path-breaking work is the first political science monograph to cover laboratory, survey, and field experimentation. Using a wealth of examples from a wide array of subfields, Morton and Williams cover topics from causal inference to research ethics in a lively and engaging manner.”
– Donald Green, Yale University

“Morton and Williams’s review of experimental methodology and reasoning in political science will be the benchmark reference for experimental methodology in political science for years to come. It is comprehensive in its discussion of methods, scientific reasoning, and ethics, and at the same time it tears down boundaries across subfields of political science and across different approaches to experimental research in the discipline. The authors successfully argue for and carefully lay out discipline-wide standards for experimental methodology in political science. The framework provided can be fruitfully used by those who conduct lab, field, or survey experiments as well as those who use experimental reasoning with observational data.”
– Thomas Palfrey, California Institute of Technology


Winner, 2011 Best Book Award, Experimental Research Section, American Political Science Association