Adjustment Criteria for Generalizing Experimental Findings

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Juan Correa, Jin Tian, Elias Bareinboim ;
Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 97:1361-1369, 2019.

Abstract

Generalizing causal effects from a controlled experiment to settings beyond the particular study population is arguably one of the central tasks found in empirical circles. While a proper design and careful execution of the experiment would support, under mild conditions, the validity of inferences about the population in which the experiment was conducted, two challenges make the extrapolation step to different populations somewhat involved, namely, transportability and sampling selection bias. The former is concerned with disparities in the distributions and causal mechanisms between the domain (i.e., settings, population, environment) where the experiment is conducted and where the inferences are intended; the latter with distortions in the sample’s proportions due to preferential selection of units into the study. In this paper, we investigate the assumptions and machinery necessary for using covariate adjustment to correct for the biases generated by both of these problems, and generalize experimental data to infer causal effects in a new domain. We derive complete graphical conditions to determine if a set of covariates is admissible for adjustment in this new setting. Building on the graphical characterization, we develop an efficient algorithm that enumerates all possible admissible sets with poly-time delay guarantee; this can be useful for when some variables are preferred over the others due to different costs or amenability to measurement.

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