Political Science Reading Group on Experiments and Causal Inference in Judicial Politics Research


Discussion about the promise and pitfalls of experiments in judicial politics research, based on two recently published articles. We will discuss:

  1. Dunoff, Jeffrey, and Mark Pollack. 2018. “Experimenting with International Law.” European Journal of International Law 28 (4): 1317-1340. 
  2. Samii, Cyrus. 2016. “Causal Empiricism in Quantitative Research.” The Journal of Politics 78 (3): 941-955.
  3. Sherehshevksy, Yahli, and Tom Noah. 2018. "Reply to Dunoff and Pollack: Experimenting with International Law." EJILTalk! 4 April. https://www.ejiltalk.org/repy-to-dunoff-and-pollack-experimenting-with-international-law/

Note: Sherehshevsky and Noah's original EJIL article (listed below) inspired the Dunoff and Pollack article; read all three pieces for the full dialogue.

Abstract (from Dunoff and Pollack paper)

A growing body of experimental research has begun to explore the causal mechanisms through which international law impacts behaviour. International legal scholars, however, are still in the early stages of adopting experimental methods. Indeed, Yahli Shereshevsky and Tom Noah’s article is one of the first experimental studies to appear in the European Journal of International Law. Its publication thus provides an opportunity to reflect not only on this pioneering work but also on the broader ‘experimental turn’ in the study of international law. To do so, we begin by motivating the experimental turn, which we argue reflects both a methodological shift from observational studies towards the increasing use of experiments and a theoretical shift from rational choice towards cognitive psychology and behavioural economics. Second, we engage in a critical reading of Shereshevsky and Noah’s study of the impact of preparatory materials on treaty interpretation. Applying the dual criteria of internal and external validity, we assess the strengths and weaknesses of Shereshevsky and Noah’s study. We conclude that experiments promise to extend our knowledge of international law and are likely to become increasingly influential in scholarly and policy debates. Hence, all international lawyers have an urgent interest in becoming knowledgeable and critical consumers of experimental research.

Further reading on experiments and international law research 

Shereshevsky, Yahli, and Tom Noah. 2017. “Does Exposure to Preparatory Work Affect Treaty Interpretation? An Experimental Study on International Law Students and Experts.” European Journal of International Law 28 (4) 1287-1316.

Puig, Sergio, and Anton Strezhnev. 2017. “The David Effect and ISDS.” European Journal of International Law 28 (3): 731-761. 

Chilton, Adam, and Dustin Tingley. 2013. “Why the Study of International Law Needs Experiments.” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 52 (1): 173-237. 


The political science reading group meets on a regular basis to discuss recent publications or working papers on international courts and tribunals. The aim is to develop our understanding of the publication/paper and how it might be relevant for our own projects, through a discussion of its theoretical, empirical and methodological merits and weaknesses. The reading group is managed by PluriCourts, but open to everyone that is interested.

Published Apr. 9, 2018 10:51 AM - Last modified Apr. 13, 2018 9:20 AM