Susan Athey

Susan Athey
Stanford University | SU · Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

Professor

About

213
Publications
53,262
Reads
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13,988
Citations
Citations since 2017
82 Research Items
8912 Citations
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Publications

Publications (213)
Article
Public health organizations increasingly use social media advertising campaigns in pursuit of public health goals. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of about $40 million of social media advertisements that were run and experimentally tested on Facebook and Instagram, aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates in the first year of the vaccin...
Preprint
We design and implement an adaptive experiment (a ``contextual bandit'') to learn a targeted treatment assignment policy, where the goal is to use a participant's survey responses to determine which charity to expose them to in a donation solicitation. The design balances two competing objectives: optimizing the outcomes for the subjects in the exp...
Preprint
We describe the design, implementation, and evaluation of a low-cost and scalable program that supports women in Poland in transitioning into jobs in the information technology sector. This program, called "Challenges," helps participants develop portfolios that demonstrate capability for relevant jobs. We conduct two independent evaluations, one f...
Preprint
Online platforms often face challenges being both fair (i.e., non-discriminatory) and efficient (i.e., maximizing revenue). Using computer vision algorithms and observational data from a micro-lending marketplace, we find that choices made by borrowers creating online profiles impact both of these objectives. We further support this conclusion with...
Preprint
We study the impact of personalized content recommendations on the usage of an educational app for children. In a randomized controlled trial, we show that the introduction of personalized recommendations increases the consumption of content in the personalized section of the app by approximately 60% and that the overall app usage increases by 14%,...
Preprint
During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a common strategy for public health organizations around the world has been to launch interventions via advertising campaigns on social media. Despite this ubiquity, little has been known about their average effectiveness. We conduct a large-scale program evaluation of campaigns from 174 public health org...
Article
As a result of digitization of the economy, more and more decision makers from a wide range of domains have gained the ability to target products, services, and information provision based on individual characteristics. Examples include selecting offers, prices, advertisements, or emails to send to consumers, choosing a bid to submit in a contextua...
Preprint
Full-text available
Many popular contextual bandit algorithms estimate reward models to inform decision making. However, true rewards can contain action-independent redundancies that are not relevant for decision making and only increase the statistical complexity of accurate estimation. It is sufficient and more data-efficient to estimate the simplest function that e...
Article
Full-text available
Randomized clinical trials (RCT) are the gold standard for informing treatment decisions. Observational studies are often plagued by selection bias, and expert-selected covariates may insufficiently adjust for confounding. We explore how unstructured clinical text can be used to reduce selection bias and improve medical practice. We develop a frame...
Preprint
Understanding career trajectories -- the sequences of jobs that individuals hold over their working lives -- is important to economists for studying labor markets. In the past, economists have estimated relevant quantities by fitting predictive models to small surveys, but in recent years large datasets of online resumes have also become available....
Article
Causal inference has recently attracted substantial attention in the machine learning and artificial intelligence community. It is usually positioned as a distinct strand of research that can broaden the scope of machine learning from predictive modelling to intervention and decision-making. In this Perspective, however, we argue that ideas from ca...
Article
Full-text available
This paper proposes a method for estimating consumer preferences among discrete choices, where the consumer chooses at most one product in a category, but selects from multiple categories in parallel. The consumer’s utility is additive in the different categories. Her preferences about product attributes as well as her price sensitivity vary across...
Article
We present a new estimator for causal effects with panel data that builds on insights behind the widely used difference-in-differences and synthetic control methods. Relative to these methods we find, both theoretically and empirically, that this “synthetic difference-in-differences” estimator has desirable robustness properties, and that it perfor...
Article
Full-text available
Significance Racial segregation shapes key aspects of a healthy society, including educational development, psychological well-being, and economic mobility. As such, a large literature has formed to measure segregation. Estimates of racial segregation often rely on assumptions of uniform interaction within some fixed time and geographic space despi...
Preprint
We develop new semiparametric methods for estimating treatment effects. We focus on a setting where the outcome distributions may be thick tailed, where treatment effects are small, where sample sizes are large and where assignment is completely random. This setting is of particular interest in recent experimentation in tech companies. We propose u...
Article
Full-text available
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical treatment hypotheses have abounded, each requiring careful evaluation. A randomized controlled trial generally provides the most credible evaluation of a treatment, but the efficiency and effectiveness of the trial depend on the existing evidence supporting the treatment. The researcher m...
Preprint
Full-text available
Analyzing observational data from multiple sources can be useful for increasing statistical power to detect a treatment effect; however, practical constraints such as privacy considerations may restrict individual-level information sharing across data sets. This paper develops federated methods that only utilize summary-level information from heter...
Article
Full-text available
In severe viral pneumonia, including Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the viral replication phase is often followed by hyperinflammation, which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, multi-organ failure, and death. We previously demonstrated that alpha-1 adrenergic receptor (⍺ 1 -AR) antagonists can prevent hyperinflammation and death...
Preprint
We study the problem of model selection for contextual bandits, in which the algorithm must balance the bias-variance trade-off for model estimation while also balancing the exploration-exploitation trade-off. In this paper, we propose the first reduction of model selection in contextual bandits to offline model selection oracles, allowing for flex...
Preprint
It has become increasingly common for data to be collected adaptively, for example using contextual bandits. Historical data of this type can be used to evaluate other treatment assignment policies to guide future innovation or experiments. However, policy evaluation is challenging if the target policy differs from the one used to collect data, and...
Preprint
Learning optimal policies from historical data enables the gains from personalization to be realized in a wide variety of applications. The growing policy learning literature focuses on a setting where the treatment assignment policy does not adapt to the data. However, adaptive data collection is becoming more common in practice, from two primary...
Article
Full-text available
Significance Randomized controlled trials are central to the scientific process, but they can be costly. For example, a clinical trial may assign patients to treatments that are detrimental to them. Adaptive experimental designs, such as multiarmed bandit algorithms, reduce costs by increasing the probability of assigning promising treatments over...
Article
In this paper we study estimation of and inference for average treatment effects in a setting with panel data. We focus on the staggered adoption setting where units, e.g, individuals, firms, or states, adopt the policy or treatment of interest at a particular point in time, and then remain exposed to this treatment at all times afterwards. We take...
Article
Full-text available
Effective therapies for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are urgently needed, and pre-clinical data suggest alpha-1 adrenergic receptor antagonists (α 1 -AR antagonists) may be effective in reducing mortality related to hyperinflammation independent of etiology. Using a retrospective cohort design with patients in the Department of Veterans Affa...
Article
When researchers develop new econometric methods it is common practice to compare the performance of the new methods to those of existing methods in Monte Carlo studies. The credibility of such Monte Carlo studies is often limited because of the discretion the researcher has in choosing the Monte Carlo designs reported. To improve the credibility w...
Preprint
Computationally efficient contextual bandits are often based on estimating a predictive model of rewards given contexts and arms using past data. However, when the reward model is not well-specified, the bandit algorithm may incur unexpected regret, so recent work has focused on algorithms that are robust to misspecification. We propose a simple fa...
Preprint
In medicine, randomized clinical trials (RCT) are the gold standard for informing treatment decisions. Observational comparative effectiveness research (CER) is often plagued by selection bias, and expert-selected covariates may not be sufficient to adjust for confounding. We explore how the unstructured clinical text in electronic medical records...
Article
Full-text available
Importance: Alpha 1-adrenergic receptor blocking agents (α1-blockers) have been reported to have protective benefits against hyperinflammation and cytokine storm syndrome, conditions that are associated with mortality in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 and other severe respiratory tract infections. However, studies of the association of α1-...
Article
In many areas, practitioners seek to use observational data to learn a treatment assignment policy that satisfies application‐specific constraints, such as budget, fairness, simplicity, or other functional form constraints. For example, policies may be restricted to take the form of decision trees based on a limited set of easily observable individ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Effective therapies for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are urgently needed, and preclinical data suggest alpha-1 adrenergic receptor antagonists (α 1 -AR antagonists) may be effective in reducing mortality related to hyperinflammation. Using a retrospective cohort design with patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system, we...
Article
Random forests are a powerful method for nonparametric regression, but are limited in their ability to fit smooth signals. Taking the perspective of random forests as an adaptive kernel method, we pair the forest kernel with a local linear regression adjustment to better capture smoothness. The resulting procedure, local linear forests, enables us...
Article
We study how ex ante information asymmetries affect revenue in common-value second-price auctions, motivated by online advertising auctions where “cookies” inform individual advertisers about advertising opportunities. We distinguish information structures in which cookies identify “lemons” (low-value impressions) from those in which cookies identi...
Preprint
Tractable contextual bandit algorithms often rely on the realizability assumption -- i.e., that the true expected reward model belongs to a known class, such as linear functions. We investigate issues that arise in the absence of realizability and note that the dynamics of adaptive data collection can lead commonly used bandit algorithms to learn a...
Preprint
Full-text available
In the urgent setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, treatment hypotheses abound, each of which requires careful evaluation. A randomized controlled trial generally provides the strongest possible evaluation of a treatment, but the efficiency and effectiveness of the trial depend on the existing evidence supporting the treatment. The researcher must the...
Preprint
There has been an increase in interest in experimental evaluations to estimate causal effects, partly because their internal validity tends to be high. At the same time, as part of the big data revolution, large, detailed, and representative, administrative data sets have become more widely available. However, the credibility of estimates of causal...
Article
Medications that target catecholamine-associated inflammation may prevent cytokine storm syndrome associated with COVID-19 and other diseases.
Preprint
Full-text available
In Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the initial viral replication phase is often followed by a hyperinflammatory reaction in the lungs and other organ systems ('cytokine storm syndrome') that leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), multi-organ failure, and death-despite maximal supportive care. Preventing hyperinflammation is key t...
Preprint
In Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the initial viral-replication phase is often followed by a hyperinflammatory reaction in the lungs and other organ systems ('cytokine storm') that leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), multi-organ failure, and death despite maximal supportive care. Preventing hyperinflammation is key to avoidin...
Article
In severe viral pneumonias, including Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the viral replication phase is often followed by a hyperinflammatory reaction ('cytokine storm syndrome') that leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death, despite maximal supportive care. Preventing hyperinflammation is key to avoiding these outcomes. We previous...
Article
Full-text available
For many machine learning algorithms, two main assumptions are required to guarantee performance. One is that the test data are drawn from the same distribution as the training data, and the other is that the model is correctly specified. In real applications, however, we often have little prior knowledge on the test data and on the underlying true...
Preprint
Full-text available
For many machine learning algorithms, two main assumptions are required to guarantee performance. One is that the test data are drawn from the same distribution as the training data, and the other is that the model is correctly specified. In real applications, however, we often have little prior knowledge on the test data and on the underlying true...
Preprint
Experimentation has become an increasingly prevalent tool for guiding policy choices, firm decisions, and product innovation. A common hurdle in designing experiments is the lack of statistical power. In this paper, we study optimal multi-period experimental design under the constraint that the treatment cannot be easily removed once implemented; f...
Preprint
Adaptive experiments can result in considerable cost savings in multi-armed trials by enabling analysts to quickly focus on the most promising alternatives. Most existing work on adaptive experiments (which include multi-armed bandits) has focused maximizing the speed at which the analyst can identify the optimal arm and/or minimizing the number of...
Preprint
Full-text available
Researchers often use artificial data to assess the performance of new econometric methods. In many cases the data generating processes used in these Monte Carlo studies do not resemble real data sets and instead reflect many arbitrary decisions made by the researchers. As a result potential users of the methods are rarely persuaded by these simula...
Preprint
Many learning algorithms require categorical data to be transformed into real vectors before it can be used as input. Often, categorical variables are encoded as one-hot (or dummy) vectors. However, this mode of representation can be wasteful since it adds many low-signal regressors, especially when the number of unique categories is large. In this...
Article
Contextual bandit algorithms are sensitive to the estimation method of the outcome model as well as the exploration method used, particularly in the presence of rich heterogeneity or complex outcome models, which can lead to difficult estimation problems along the path of learning. We develop algorithms for contextual bandits with linear payoffs th...
Preprint
This paper proposes a method for estimating consumer preferences among discrete choices, where the consumer chooses at most one product in a category, but selects from multiple categories in parallel. The consumer's utility is additive in the different categories. Her preferences about product attributes as well as her price sensitivity vary across...
Article
We discuss the relevance of the recent machine learning (ML) literature for economics and econometrics. First we discuss the differences in goals, methods, and settings between the ML literature and the traditional econometrics and statistics literatures. Then we discuss some specific methods from the ML literature that we view as important for emp...
Article
In many prediction problems researchers have found that combinations of prediction methods (“ensembles”) perform better than individual methods. In this paper we apply these ideas to synthetic control type problems in panel data. Here a number of conceptually quite different methods have been developed. We compare the predictive accuracy of three m...
Preprint
We discuss the relevance of the recent Machine Learning (ML) literature for economics and econometrics. First we discuss the differences in goals, methods and settings between the ML literature and the traditional econometrics and statistics literatures. Then we discuss some specific methods from the machine learning literature that we view as impo...
Preprint
This paper studies a panel data setting where the goal is to estimate causal effects of an intervention by predicting the counterfactual values of outcomes for treated units, had they not received the treatment. Several approaches have been proposed for this problem, including regression methods, synthetic control methods and matrix completion meth...
Preprint
We apply causal forests to a dataset derived from the National Study of Learning Mindsets, and consider resulting practical and conceptual challenges. In particular, we discuss how causal forests use estimated propensity scores to be more robust to confounding, and how they handle data with clustered errors.
Preprint
Full-text available
We present a new perspective on the Synthetic Control (SC) method as a weighted regression estimator with time fixed effects. This perspective suggests a generalization with two way (both unit and time) fixed effects, which can be interpreted as a weighted version of the standard Difference In Differences (DID) estimator. We refer to this new estim...
Preprint
Full-text available
Contextual bandit algorithms are sensitive to the estimation method of the outcome model as well as the exploration method used, particularly in the presence of rich heterogeneity or complex outcome models, which can lead to difficult estimation problems along the path of learning. We develop algorithms for contextual bandits with linear payoffs th...
Preprint
Full-text available
In many settings, a decision-maker wishes to learn a rule, or policy, that maps from observable characteristics of an individual to an action. Examples include selecting offers, prices, advertisements, or emails to send to consumers, as well as the problem of determining which medication to prescribe to a patient. While there is a growing body of l...
Preprint
In this paper we study estimation of and inference for average treatment effects in a setting with panel data. We focus on the setting where units, e.g., individuals, firms, or states, adopt the policy or treatment of interest at a particular point in time, and then remain exposed to this treatment at all times afterwards. We take a design perspect...
Preprint
Random forests are a powerful method for non-parametric regression, but are limited in their ability to fit smooth signals, and can show poor predictive performance in the presence of strong, smooth effects. Taking the perspective of random forests as an adaptive kernel method, we pair the forest kernel with a local linear regression adjustment to...
Conference Paper
In many important machine learning applications, the training distribution used to learn a probabilistic classifier differs from the distribution on which the classifier will be used to make predictions. Traditional methods correct the distribution shift by reweighting training data with the ratio of the density between test and training data. Howe...
Preprint
Full-text available
In many important machine learning applications, the training distribution used to learn a probabilistic classifier differs from the testing distribution on which the classifier will be used to make predictions. Traditional methods correct the distribution shift by reweighting the training data with the ratio of the density between test and trainin...
Article
Full-text available
This paper analyzes consumer choices over lunchtime restaurants using data from a sample of several thousand anonymous mobile phone users in the San Francisco Bay Area. The data is used to identify users' approximate typical morning location, as well as their choices of lunchtime restaurants. We build a model where restaurants have latent character...
Article
Contextual bandit algorithms seek to learn a personalized treatment assignment policy, balancing exploration against exploitation. Although a number of algorithms have been proposed, there is little guidance available for applied researchers to select among various approaches. Motivated by the econometrics and statistics literatures on causal effec...
Article
Full-text available
We develop SHOPPER, a sequential probabilistic model of market baskets. SHOPPER uses interpretable components to model the forces that drive how a customer chooses products; in particular, we designed SHOPPER to capture how items interact with other items. We develop an efficient posterior inference algorithm to estimate these forces from large-sca...
Article
In this paper we develop new methods for estimating causal effects in settings with panel data, where a subset of units are exposed to a treatment during a subset of periods, and the goal is estimating counterfactual (untreated) outcomes for the treated unit/period combinations. We develop a class of estimators that uses the observed elements of th...
Article
In empirical work in economics it is common to report standard errors that account for clustering of units. Typically, the motivation given for the clustering adjustments is that unobserved components in outcomes for units within clusters are correlated. However, because correlation may occur across more than one dimension, this motivation makes it...
Article
Full-text available
Word embeddings are a powerful approach for analyzing language, and exponential family embeddings (EFE) extend them to other types of data. Here we develop structured exponential family embeddings (S-EFE), a method for discovering embeddings that vary across related groups of data. We study how the word usage of U.S. Congressional speeches varies a...
Article
Consider a researcher estimating the parameters of a regression function based on data for all 50 states in the United States or on data for all visits to a website. What is the interpretation of the estimated parameters and the standard errors? In practice, researchers typically assume that the sample is randomly drawn from a large population of i...
Article
In a large sample of entrepreneurs, 2D:4D (second-to-fourth digit) ratio and managerial performance are studied. Entrepreneurs with lower ratio manage larger firms, manage larger firms when acquire control and experience faster average growth. Firms run by high prenatal testosterone entrepreneurs have lower profitability as measured by return on as...
Article
Yuliy Sannikov is an extraordinary theorist who has developed methods that offer new insights in analyzing problems that had seemed well-studied and familiar: for example, decisions that might bring about cooperation and/or defection in a repeated-play prisoner's dilemma game, or that affect the balance of incentives and opportunism in a principal-...
Article
There has been considerable interest across several fields in methods that reduce the problem of learning good treatment assignment policies to the problem of accurate policy evaluation. Given a class of candidate policies, these methods first effectively evaluate each policy individually, and then learn a policy by optimizing the estimated value f...
Article
There is a large literature on semiparametric estimation of average treatment effects under unconfounded treatment assignment in settings with a fixed number of covariates. More recently attention has focused on settings with a large number of covariates. In this paper we extend lessons from the earlier literature to this new setting. We propose th...
Article
Machine-learning prediction methods have been extremely productive in applications ranging from medicine to allocating fire and health inspectors in cities. However, there are a number of gaps between making a prediction and making a decision, and underlying assumptions need to be understood in order to optimize data-driven decision-making.
Article
Full-text available
We study the information preferences and information demand of decision-makers facing uncertainty. We focus on monotone decision problems in which the posterior beliefs induced by the decision-maker’s information can be ordered so that higher actions are chosen in response to higher signal realizations. We provide necessary and sufficient condition...
Chapter
In this chapter, we present econometric and statistical methods for analyzing randomized experiments. For basic experiments, we stress randomization-based inference as opposed to sampling-based inference. In randomization-based inference, uncertainty in estimates arises naturally from the random assignment of the treatments, rather than from hypoth...
Article
This paper uses data from the MIT digital currency experiment to shed light on consumer behavior regarding commercial, public and government surveillance. The setting allows us to explore the apparent contradiction that many cryptocurrencies offer people the chance to escape government surveillance, but do so by making transactions themselves publi...
Article
We develop a model of advertising markets in an environment where consumers may switch (or “multi-home”) across publishers. Consumer switching generates inefficiency in the process of matching advertisers to consumers, because advertisers may not reach some consumers and may impress others too many times. We find that when advertisers are heterogen...
Article
Full-text available
The goal of causal inference is to understand the outcome of alternative courses of action. However, all causal inference requires assumptions. Such assumptions can be more influential than in typical tasks for probabilistic modeling, and testing those assumptions is important to assess the validity of causal inference. We develop model criticism f...
Article
Forest-based methods are being used in an increasing variety of statistical tasks, including causal inference, survival analysis, and quantile regression. Extending forest-based methods to these new statistical settings requires specifying tree-growing algorithms that are targeted to the task at hand, and the ad-hoc design of such algorithms can re...
Article
In this paper we propose methods for estimating heterogeneity in causal effects in experimental and observational studies and for conducting hypothesis tests about the magnitude of differences in treatment effects across subsets of the population. We provide a data-driven approach to partition the data into subpopulations that differ in the magnitu...
Article
In this review, we present econometric and statistical methods for analyzing randomized experiments. For basic experiments we stress randomization-based inference as opposed to sampling-based inference. In randomization-based inference, uncertainty in estimates arises naturally from the random assignment of the treatments, rather than from hypothes...
Article
Full-text available
In this paper we discuss recent developments in econometrics that we view as important for empirical researchers working on policy evaluation questions. We focus on three main areas, where in each case we highlight recommendations for applied work. First, we discuss new research on identification strategies in program evaluation, with particular fo...
Article
There are many studies where researchers are interested in estimating average treatment effects and are willing to rely on the unconfoundedness assumption, which requires that treatment assignment is as good as random conditional on pre-treatment variables. The unconfoundedness assumption is often more plausible if a large number of pre-treatment v...