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Alberto Abadie, Anish Agarwal, Raaz Dwivedi, Abhin Shah

This article introduces a new framework for estimating average treatment effects under unobserved confounding in modern data-rich environments featuring large numbers of units and outcomes. The proposed estimator is doubly robust, combining outcome imputation, inverse probability weighting, and a novel cross-fitting procedure for matrix completion. We derive finite-sample and asymptotic guarantees, and show that the error of the new estimator converges to a mean-zero Gaussian distribution at a parametric rate. Simulation results demonstrate the practical relevance of the formal properties of the estimators analyzed in this article.

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Daniel Ngo, Keegan Harris, Anish Agarwal, Vasilis Syrgkanis, Zhiwei Steven Wu

We consider a panel data setting in which one observes measurements of units over time, under different interventions. Our focus is on the canonical family of synthetic control methods (SCMs) which, after a pre-intervention time period when all units are under control, estimate counterfactual outcomes for test units in the post-intervention time period under control by using data from donor units who have remained under control for the entire post-intervention period. In order for the counterfactual estimate produced by synthetic control for a test unit to be accurate, there must be sufficient overlap between the outcomes of the donor units and the outcomes of the test unit. As a result, a canonical assumption in the literature on SCMs is that the outcomes for the test units lie within either the convex hull or the linear span of the outcomes for the donor units. However despite their ubiquity, such overlap assumptions may not always hold, as is the case when, e.g., units select their own interventions and different subpopulations of units prefer different interventions a priori. We shed light on this typically overlooked assumption, and we address this issue by incentivizing units with different preferences to take interventions they would not normally consider. Specifically, we provide a SCM for incentivizing exploration in panel data settings which provides incentive-compatible intervention recommendations to units by leveraging tools from information design and online learning. Using our algorithm, we show how to obtain valid counterfactual estimates using SCMs without the need for an explicit overlap assumption on the unit outcomes.

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Anish Agarwal, Keegan Harris, Justin Whitehouse, Zhiwei Steven Wu

Principal component regression (PCR) is a popular technique for fixed-design error-in-variables regression, a generalization of the linear regression setting in which the observed covariates are corrupted with random noise. We provide the first time-uniform finite sample guarantees for online (regularized) PCR whenever data is collected adaptively. Since the proof techniques for analyzing PCR in the fixed design setting do not readily extend to the online setting, our results rely on adapting tools from modern martingale concentration to the error-in-variables setting. As an application of our bounds, we provide a framework for experiment design in panel data settings when interventions are assigned adaptively. Our framework may be thought of as a generalization of the synthetic control and synthetic interventions frameworks, where data is collected via an adaptive intervention assignment policy.

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Alberto Abadie, Anish Agarwal, Guido Imbens, Siwei Jia, James McQueen, Serguei Stepaniants

Business/policy decisions are often based on evidence from randomized experiments and observational studies. In this article we propose an empirical framework to estimate the value of evidence-based decision making (EBDM) and the return on the investment in statistical precision.

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Abhineet Agarwal, Anish Agarwal, Suhas Vijaykumar

We consider a setting with $N$ heterogeneous units and $p$ interventions. Our goal is to learn unit-specific potential outcomes for any combination of these $p$ interventions, i.e., $N \times 2^p$ causal parameters. Choosing combinations of interventions is a problem that naturally arises in many applications such as factorial design experiments, recommendation engines (e.g., showing a set of movies that maximizes engagement for users), combination therapies in medicine, selecting important features for ML models, etc. Running $N \times 2^p$ experiments to estimate the various parameters is infeasible as $N$ and $p$ grow. Further, with observational data there is likely confounding, i.e., whether or not a unit is seen under a combination is correlated with its potential outcome under that combination. To address these challenges, we propose a novel model that imposes latent structure across both units and combinations. We assume latent similarity across units (i.e., the potential outcomes matrix is rank $r$) and regularity in how combinations interact (i.e., the coefficients in the Fourier expansion of the potential outcomes is $s$ sparse). We establish identification for all causal parameters despite unobserved confounding. We propose an estimation procedure, Synthetic Combinations, and establish finite-sample consistency under precise conditions on the observation pattern. Our results imply Synthetic Combinations consistently estimates unit-specific potential outcomes given $\text{poly}(r) \times (N + s^2p)$ observations. In comparison, previous methods that do not exploit structure across both units and combinations have sample complexity scaling as $\min(N \times s^2p, \ \ r \times (N + 2^p))$. We use Synthetic Combinations to propose a data-efficient experimental design mechanism for combinatorial causal inference. We corroborate our theoretical findings with numerical simulations.

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Keegan Harris, Anish Agarwal, Chara Podimata, Zhiwei Steven Wu

We propose a framework for decision-making in the presence of strategic agents with panel data, a standard setting in econometrics and statistics where one gets noisy, repeated measurements of multiple units. We consider a setup where there is a pre-intervention period, when the principal observes the outcomes of each unit, after which the principal uses these observations to assign treatment to each unit. Our model can be thought of as a generalization of the synthetic controls and synthetic interventions frameworks, where units (or agents) may strategically manipulate pre-intervention outcomes to receive a more desirable intervention. We identify necessary and sufficient conditions under which a strategyproof mechanism that assigns interventions in the post-intervention period exists. Under a latent factor model assumption, we show that whenever a strategyproof mechanism exists, there is one with a simple closed form. In the setting where there is a single treatment and control (i.e., no other interventions), we establish that there is always a strategyproof mechanism, and provide an algorithm for learning such a mechanism. For the setting of multiple interventions, we provide an algorithm for learning a strategyproof mechanism, if there exists a sufficiently large gap in rewards between the different interventions. Along the way, we prove impossibility results for multi-class strategic classification, which may be of independent interest.

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Anish Agarwal, Sarah Cen, Devavrat Shah, Christina Lee Yu

We propose a generalization of the synthetic controls and synthetic interventions methodology to incorporate network interference. We consider the estimation of unit-specific treatment effects from panel data where there are spillover effects across units and in the presence of unobserved confounding. Key to our approach is a novel latent factor model that takes into account network interference and generalizes the factor models typically used in panel data settings. We propose an estimator, "network synthetic interventions", and show that it consistently estimates the mean outcomes for a unit under an arbitrary sequence of treatments for itself and its neighborhood, given certain observation patterns hold in the data. We corroborate our theoretical findings with simulations.

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Abdullah Alomar, Pouya Hamadanian, Arash Nasr-Esfahany, Anish Agarwal, Mohammad Alizadeh, Devavrat Shah

Evaluating the real-world performance of network protocols is challenging. Randomized control trials (RCT) are expensive and inaccessible to most researchers, while expert-designed simulators fail to capture complex behaviors in real networks. We present CausalSim, a data-driven simulator for network protocols that addresses this challenge. Learning network behavior from observational data is complicated due to the bias introduced by the protocols used during data collection. CausalSim uses traces from an initial RCT under a set of protocols to learn a causal network model, effectively removing the biases present in the data. Using this model, CausalSim can then simulate any protocol over the same traces (i.e., for counterfactual predictions). Key to CausalSim is the novel use of adversarial neural network training that exploits distributional invariances that are present due to the training data coming from an RCT. Our extensive evaluation of CausalSim on both real and synthetic datasets and two use cases, including more than nine months of real data from the Puffer video streaming system, shows that it provides accurate counterfactual predictions, reducing prediction error by 44% and 53% on average compared to expert-designed and standard supervised learning baselines.

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Anish Agarwal, Munther Dahleh, Devavrat Shah, Dennis Shen

Matrix completion is the study of recovering an underlying matrix from a sparse subset of noisy observations. Traditionally, it is assumed that the entries of the matrix are "missing completely at random" (MCAR), i.e., each entry is revealed at random, independent of everything else, with uniform probability. This is likely unrealistic due to the presence of "latent confounders", i.e., unobserved factors that determine both the entries of the underlying matrix and the missingness pattern in the observed matrix. For example, in the context of movie recommender systems -- a canonical application for matrix completion -- a user who vehemently dislikes horror films is unlikely to ever watch horror films. In general, these confounders yield "missing not at random" (MNAR) data, which can severely impact any inference procedure that does not correct for this bias. We develop a formal causal model for matrix completion through the language of potential outcomes, and provide novel identification arguments for a variety of causal estimands of interest. We design a procedure, which we call "synthetic nearest neighbors" (SNN), to estimate these causal estimands. We prove finite-sample consistency and asymptotic normality of our estimator. Our analysis also leads to new theoretical results for the matrix completion literature. In particular, we establish entry-wise, i.e., max-norm, finite-sample consistency and asymptotic normality results for matrix completion with MNAR data. As a special case, this also provides entry-wise bounds for matrix completion with MCAR data. Across simulated and real data, we demonstrate the efficacy of our proposed estimator.

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Anish Agarwal, Rahul Singh

Even the most carefully curated economic data sets have variables that are noisy, missing, discretized, or privatized. The standard workflow for empirical research involves data cleaning followed by data analysis that typically ignores the bias and variance consequences of data cleaning. We formulate a semiparametric model for causal inference with corrupted data to encompass both data cleaning and data analysis. We propose a new end-to-end procedure for data cleaning, estimation, and inference with data cleaning-adjusted confidence intervals. We prove root-n consistency, Gaussian approximation, and semiparametric efficiency for our estimator of the causal parameter by finite sample arguments. Our key assumption is that the true covariates are approximately low rank. In our analysis, we provide nonasymptotic theoretical contributions to matrix completion, statistical learning, and semiparametric statistics. We verify the coverage of the data cleaning-adjusted confidence intervals in simulations.

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