Much as I love the behavioral economics gospel espoused in Dan Ariely's delightful book, Predictably Irrational, I'm less than comfortable with the driving methodology of controlled classroom or laboratory experiments that use MIT business graduate students as subjects. I understand why Ariely uses lab experiments; in his own words: “They help us slow human behavior to a frame-by-frame narration of events, isolate individual forces, and examine those forces carefully and in more detail. They let us test directly and unambiguously what makes us tick.” I'm on board with the experiment part; it's the lab that causes me heartburn.

Indeed, I'm as big a fan as anyone of randomized experiments for business. Where appropriate, experiments are often the best way to isolate/manipulate factors of interest, with reasonable assurance from probability theory that potentially confounding outside variables are “equal” between experimental and control groups – and will subsequently not “queer” findings. Estimates derived from random experiments should therefore be unbiased, ultimately honing in on “correct” population values.

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