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2016 HES PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: STATISTICAL INFERENCE IN ECONOMICS, 1920–1965: CHANGES IN MEANING AND PRACTICE

  • Jeff Biddle (a1)

Abstract

I review changes over time in the meaning that economists in the US attributed to the phrase “statistical inference,” as well as changes in how inference was conducted. Prior to WWII, leading statistical economists rejected probability theory as a source of measures and procedures to be used in statistical inference. Trygve Haavelmo and the early Cowles Commission econometricians developed an approach to statistical inference based on probability theory, but the arguments they offered in defense of this approach were not always responsive to the concerns of earlier empirical economists that the data available to economists did not satisfy the assumptions required for such an approach. Despite this, after a period of about twenty-five years, a consensus developed that methods of inference derived from probability theory were an almost essential part of empirical research in economics. I conclude with some speculation on possible reasons for this transformation in thinking about statistical inference.

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