What does experimental economics tell us?

Steve Levitt and John List, here is the paper, I have yet to read it but I believe they are skeptical.

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The propect of teaching people as young as fourth-graders economics through practice, instead of through those oh-so-sexy supply and demand graphs, is astonishing. While the field may not yield many Nobel laureates in the short future, it could help yield an entire generation of Americans (perhaps the first) who understand economics on an instinctual level.

Levitt and List describe factors that systematically limit the ability to generalize from the results of lab experiments to real world circumstances. They note in an aside that similar systematic limits affects the ability to generalize from the results of field data, so I would interpret the overall exercise not as being skeptical about lab experiments in economics but as seeking to refine application of lab results.

Jason,

your wrote:

"They claim labs are probably valuable for qualitative insight, but not estimation of structural parameters. It reminds me of Strauss and his explanation of grounded theory. Qualitative research is great hypothesis generation, and deep description, but cannot be used to test hypothesis. Is that what they're saying, too, here in this paper?"

I don't think they were saying much of anything other than that experiments have weaknesses that at times will limit their applicability to real world settings. But didn't most of us already recognize this?

I believe it is John Lott, not John List, who is suing Levitt for defamation.

asq -- many mooons later, I realize my mistake (Doh!). Deep apologies to all (remaining) readers. Interesing thing is that both List and Lott have a hard time with criticism - although Lott's trouble appears to be pathological.

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