Augmenting Pre-Analysis Plans with Machine Learning

Augmenting Pre-Analysis Plans with Machine Learning

By
Jens Ludwig, Sendhil Mullainathan, Jann Spiess
American Economic Association. May
2019, Vol. 109, Pages 71-76

Concerns about the dissemination of spurious results have led to calls for pre-analysis plans (PAPs) to avoid ex-post “p-hacking.” But often the conceptual hypotheses being tested do not imply the level of specificity required for a PAP. In this paper we suggest a framework for PAPs that capitalize on the availability of causal machine-learning (ML) techniques, in which researchers combine specific aspects of the analysis with ML for the flexible estimation of unspecific remainders. A “cheap-lunch” result shows that the inclusion of ML produces limited worst-case costs in power, while offering a substantial upside from systematic specification searches.