How to Make Causal Inferences Using Texts

02/06/2018
by   Naoki Egami, et al.
Princeton University
The University of Chicago
University of California, San Diego
Stanford University
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New text as data techniques offer a great promise: the ability to inductively discover measures that are useful for testing social science theories of interest from large collections of text. We introduce a conceptual framework for making causal inferences with discovered measures as a treatment or outcome. Our framework enables researchers to discover high-dimensional textual interventions and estimate the ways that observed treatments affect text-based outcomes. We argue that nearly all text-based causal inferences depend upon a latent representation of the text and we provide a framework to learn the latent representation. But estimating this latent representation, we show, creates new risks: we may introduce an identification problem or overfit. To address these risks we describe a split-sample framework and apply it to estimate causal effects from an experiment on immigration attitudes and a study on bureaucratic response. Our work provides a rigorous foundation for text-based causal inferences.

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