NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Research Registries: Facts, Myths, and Possible Improvements

Eliot Abrams, Jonathan Libgober, John A. List

NBER Working Paper No. 27250
Issued in May 2020
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Economics of Education, Public Economics

The past few decades have ushered in an experimental revolution in economics whereby scholars are now much more likely to generate their own data. While there are virtues associated with this movement, there are concomitant difficulties. Several scientific disciplines, including economics, have launched research registries in an effort to attenuate key inferential issues. This study assesses registries both empirically and theoretically, with a special focus on the AEA registry. We find that over 90% of randomized control trials (RCTs) in economics do not register, only 50% of the RCTs that register do so before the intervention begins, and the majority of these preregistrations are not detailed enough to significantly aid inference. Our empirical analysis further shows that using other scientific registries as aspirational examples is misguided, as their perceived success in tackling the main issues is largely a myth. In light of these facts, we advance a simple economic model to explore potential improvements. A key insight from the model is that removal of the (current) option to register completed RCTs could increase the fraction of trials that register. We also argue that linking IRB applications to registrations could further increase registry effectiveness.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27250

 
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