Esther Duflo and the Experimental Revolution in Social Science

The New York Times Economix blog reports:

Esther Duflo, a development economist at M.I.T., has been awarded the John Bates Clark Medal. The award is given to “that American economist under the age of 40 who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.”

Professor Duflo, 37, helped found the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, whose affiliates do randomized experiments in poor countries to help determine what types of aid and anti-poverty programs actually work.

This award has been a pretty good indicator of where the leading work in economics is headed, as twelve of the last 31 Bates Medal winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

I think that this is another straw in the wind signaling the transformation of the quantitative social sciences into somewhat more experimental disciplines. I referenced Duflo obliquely in a prior post on this topic, and presented at a conference at M.I.T. last year that she attended which highlighted how rapidly the technique of randomized experimentation is spreading. I think that this transformation of at least parts of social science is likely to create academic disciplines that are simulataneously more accurate and more hospitable to limited government and political liberty. I’ll have a lot more to say about why I believe this to be true in the future.