Natural Experiment

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A Natural Experiment is an observational study/quasi-experiment? in which an treatment selection is performed by nature (and has properties that replicate a designed experiment).



  • (Wikipedia, 2017) ⇒ Retrieved:2017-11-9.
    • A natural experiment is an empirical study in which individuals (or clusters of individuals) exposed to the experimental and control conditions are determined by nature or by other factors outside the control of the investigators, but the process governing the exposures arguably resembles random assignment. Thus, natural experiments are observational studies and are not controlled in the traditional sense of a randomized experiment. Natural experiments are most useful when there has been a clearly defined exposure involving a well defined subpopulation (and the absence of exposure in a similar subpopulation) such that changes in outcomes may be plausibly attributed to the exposure.[1] In this sense, the difference between a natural experiment and a non-experimental observational study is that the former includes a comparison of conditions that pave the way for causal inference, but the latter does not.

      Natural experiments are employed as study designs when controlled experimentation is extremely difficult to implement or unethical, such as in several research areas addressed by epidemiology (like evaluating the health impact of varying degrees of exposure to ionizing radiation in people living near Hiroshima at the time of the atomic blast ) and economics (like estimating the economic return on amount of schooling in US adults ).[1][2]

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  • (Wikipedia, 2017) ⇒ Retrieved:2017-11-9.
    • The term "experiment" usually implies a controlled experiment, but sometimes controlled experiments are prohibitively difficult or impossible. In this case researchers resort to natural experiments or quasi-experiments. Natural experiments rely solely on observations of the variables of the system under study, rather than manipulation of just one or a few variables as occurs in controlled experiments. To the degree possible, they attempt to collect data for the system in such a way that contribution from all variables can be determined, and where the effects of variation in certain variables remain approximately constant so that the effects of other variables can be discerned. The degree to which this is possible depends on the observed correlation between explanatory variables in the observed data. When these variables are not well correlated, natural experiments can approach the power of controlled experiments. Usually, however, there is some correlation between these variables, which reduces the reliability of natural experiments relative to what could be concluded if a controlled experiment were performed. Also, because natural experiments usually take place in uncontrolled environments, variables from undetected sources are neither measured nor held constant, and these may produce illusory correlations in variables under study.

      Much research in several science disciplines, including economics, political science, geology, paleontology, ecology, meteorology, and astronomy, relies on quasi-experiments. For example, in astronomy it is clearly impossible, when testing the hypothesis "Stars are collapsed clouds of hydrogen", to start out with a giant cloud of hydrogen, and then perform the experiment of waiting a few billion years for it to form a star. However, by observing various clouds of hydrogen in various states of collapse, and other implications of the hypothesis (for example, the presence of various spectral emissions from the light of stars), we can collect data we require to support the hypothesis. An early example of this type of experiment was the first verification in the 17th century that light does not travel from place to place instantaneously, but instead has a measurable speed. Observation of the appearance of the moons of Jupiter were slightly delayed when Jupiter was farther from Earth, as opposed to when Jupiter was closer to Earth; and this phenomenon was used to demonstrate that the difference in the time of appearance of the moons was consistent with a measurable speed.