Experiments in the social sciences: The relationship between external and internal validity

The article identifies a latent debate in the recent literature on the role and worth of experiments in economics and other social sciences concerning the relationship between the external and the internal validity of experimental designs. Our work identifies two incompatible views regarding the relationship between internal and external validity of experiments. While in the methodological literature references to the idea that there is a trade-off between the internal and external validity of experiments abound, this view coexists with the position stating that internal validity is rather a prerequisite of external validity. By identifying the contours of this implicit debate in the recent methodological literature around the use of experiments in the social sciences we call attention upon a series of insufficiently conceptualized issues regarding the central notions of internal and external validity and we question the standard view positing a trade-off between the two. This article stands against common associations of internal validity and external validity with the distinction between field and laboratory experiments and assesses critically the arguments that link the artificiality of experimental settings done in the laboratory with the purported trade-off between internal and external validity.
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