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Workshop: The Neglected Assumptions In Causal Inference

Doing Great at Estimating CATE? On the Neglected Assumptions in Benchmark Comparisons of Treatment Effect Estimators

Alicia Curth · Mihaela van der Schaar


The machine learning toolbox for estimation of heterogeneous treatment effects from observational data is expanding rapidly, yet many of its algorithms have been evaluated only on a very limited set of semi-synthetic benchmark datasets. In this paper, we show that even in arguably the simplest setting -- estimation under ignorability assumptions -- the results of such empirical evaluations can be misleading if (i) the assumptions underlying the data-generating mechanisms in benchmark datasets and (ii) their interplay with baseline algorithms are inadequately discussed. We consider two popular machine learning benchmark datasets for evaluation of heterogeneous treatment effect estimators -- the IHDP and ACIC2016 datasets -- in detail. We identify problems with their current use and highlight that the inherent characteristics of the benchmark datasets favor some algorithms over others -- a fact that is rarely acknowledged but of immense relevance for interpretation of empirical results. We close by discussing implications and possible next steps.

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