Picture of Fredrik Sävje


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Working papers

  • Balancing covariates in randomized experiments using the Gram-Schmidt walk.

    The paper introduces a class of experimental designs that allows experimenters to control the robustness and efficiency of their experiments. The designs build on a recently introduced algorithm in discrepancy theory, the Gram-Schmidt walk. We provide a tight analysis of this algorithm, allowing us to prove important properties of the designs it produces. These designs aim to simultaneously balance all linear functions of the covariates, and the variance of an estimator of the average treatment effect is shown to be bounded by a quantity that is proportional to the loss function of a ridge regression of the potential outcomes on the covariates. No regression is actually conducted, and one may see the procedure as regression adjustment by design. The class of designs is parameterized so to give experimenters control over the worse case performance of the treatment effect estimator. Greater covariate balance is attained by allowing for a less robust design in terms of worst case variance. We argue that the trade-off between robustness and efficiency is an inherent aspect of experimental design. Finally, we provide non-asymptotic tail bounds for the treatment effect estimator under the class of designs we describe.
  • Causal inference with misspecified exposure mappings.

    Exposure mappings facilitate investigations of complex causal effects when units in- terfere in experiments. Current methods assume that the exposures are correctly specified. The assumption can, however, not be verified, and it is questionable in many settings. This paper investigates whether inferences about exposure effects can be drawn when the exposures are misspecified. The main result is a law of large numbers under weak conditions on the errors introduced by the misspecification. In particular, the rate of convergence is determined by the dependence between units’ specification errors, and consistency is achieved even when the errors are large as long as they are sufficiently independent. The limiting distribution of the estimator is also discussed. Asymptotic normality is achieved under stronger conditions than those needed for consistency. Similar conditions also facilitate conservative variance estimation.
  • Consistency and matching without replacement.

    The paper demonstrates that the matching estimator is not generally consistent for the average treatment effect of the treated when the matching is done without replacement using propensity scores. To achieve consistency, practitioners must either assume that no unit exists with a propensity score greater than one-half or assume that there is no confounding among such units. Illustrations suggest that the result applies also to matching using other metrics as long as it is done without replacement.
  • Defining and Identifying Incumbency Effects.

    Recent studies of the effects of political incumbency on election outcomes have almost exclusively used regression discontinuity designs. This shift from the past methods has provided credible identification, but only for a specific type of incumbency effect: the effect for parties. The other effects in the literature, most notably the personal incumbency effect, have largely been abandoned together with the methods previously used to estimate them. This study aims at connecting the new methodical strides with the effects discussed in the past literature. A causal model is first introduced which allows for formal definitions of several effects that previously only been discussed informally. The model also allows previous methods to be revisited and derive how their estimated effects are related. Several strategies are then introduced which, under suitable assumptions, can identify some of the newly defined effects. Last, using these strategies, the incumbency effects in Brazilian mayoral elections are investigated.


  • Generalized Full Matching.

    Political Analysis (2020), in print.
    Matching is a conceptually straightforward method to make groups of units comparable on observed characteristics. The method is, however, limited to settings where the study design is simple and the sample is moderately sized. We illustrate these limitations by asking what the causal effects would have been if a large-scale voter mobilization experiment that took place in Michigan for the 2006 election were scaled up to the full population. Matching could help us answer this question, but no existing matching method can accommodate the six treatment arms and the 6,762,701 observations involved in the study. To offer a solution this and similar empirical problems, we introduce a generalization of the full matching method. The associated algorithm produces near-optimal matchings and can be used with any number of treatment conditions. The worst-case maximum within-group dissimilarity is no worse than four times the optimal solution, and simulation results indicate that it on average comes considerably closer to the optimal solution. Despite its ability to balance the treatment groups, the algorithm is fast and uses little memory. It terminates in linearithmic time using linear space. This enables investigators to construct well-performing matchings within minutes even in complex studies with samples of several million units.
  • Average treatment effects in the presence of unknown interference.

    Annals of Statistics (2020), in print.
    We investigate large-sample properties of treatment effect estimators under unknown interference in randomized experiments. The inferential target is a generalization of the average treatment effect estimand that marginalizes over potential spillover effects. We show that estimators commonly used to estimate treatment effects under no-interference are consistent for the generalized estimand for most experimental designs under limited but otherwise arbitrary and unknown interference. The rates of convergence depend on the rate at which the amount of interference grows and the degree to which it aligns with dependencies in treatment assignment. Importantly for practitioners, the results imply that if one erroneously assumes that units do not interfere in a setting with limited, or even moderate, interference, standard estimators are nevertheless likely to be close to an average treatment effect if the sample is sufficiently large.
  • Comment: Matching methods for observational studies derived from large administrative databases.

    Statistical Science (2020), in print.
  • Consistency of the Horvitz-Thompson estimator under general sampling and experimental designs.

    Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference (2020), 207, 190–197.
    We extend current concentration results for the Horvitz-Thompson estimator in finite population settings. The estimator is demonstrated to converge in quadratic mean to its target under weaker and more general conditions than previously known. Specifically, we do not require that the variables of interest nor the normalized inclusion probabilities are bounded. Rates of convergence are provided.
  • Fetal iodine deficiency and schooling.

    Scandinavian Journal of Economics (2020), 122(2), 582–621.
    Scholars have theorized that congenital health endowment is an important determinant of economic outcomes later in a person's life. Field, Robles and Torero [2009, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4), 140--169] find large increases in educational attainment caused by a reduction of fetal iodine deficiency following a set of iodine supplementation programs in Tanzania. We revisit the Tanzanian iodine programs with a narrow and wide replication of the study by Field et al. We are able to exactly replicate the original results. We find, however, that the findings are sensitive to alternative specification choices and sample restrictions. We try to address some of these concerns in the wide replication; we increase the sample size fourfold and improve the precision of the treatment variable by incorporating new institutional and medical insights. Despite the improvements, no effect is found. We conclude that the available data do not provide sufficient power to detect a possible effect since treatment assignment cannot be measured with sufficient precision.
  • Review: The Book of Why.

    Journal of the American Statistical Association (2020), 115(529), 482–485.
  • Improving massive experiments with threshold blocking.

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016), 113(27), 7369–7376.
    Inferences from randomized experiments can be improved by blocking: assigning treatment in fixed proportions within groups of similar units. However, the use of the method is limited by the difficulty in deriving these groups. Current blocking methods are restricted to special cases or run in exponential time; are not sensitive to clustering of data points; and are often heuristic, providing an unsatisfactory solution in many common instances. We present an algorithm that implements a widely applicable class of blocking—threshold blocking—that solves these problems. Given a minimum required group size and a distance metric, we study the blocking problem of minimizing the maximum distance between any two units within the same group. We prove this is a nondeterministic polynomial-time hard problem and derive an approximation algorithm that yields a blocking where the maximum distance is guaranteed to be, at most, four times the optimal value. This algorithm runs in O(n log n) time with O(n) space complexity. This makes it, to our knowledge, the first blocking method with an ensured level of performance that works in massive experiments. Whereas many commonly used algorithms form pairs of units, our algorithm constructs the groups flexibly for any chosen minimum size. This facilitates complex experiments with several treatment arms and clustered data. A simulation study demonstrates the efficiency and efficacy of the algorithm; tens of millions of units can be blocked using a desktop computer in a few minutes.


  • distances

    R package with tools for distance metrics.
  • quickmatch

    Quick Generalized Full Matching in R.
  • quickblock

    Quick Threshold Blocking in R.
  • scclust

    C library for size-constrained clustering.
Last updated June 23, 2020.