Adapting Neural Networks for the Estimation of Treatment Effects

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Claudia Shi, David Blei, Victor Veitch


This paper addresses the use of neural networks for the estimation of treatment effects from observational data. Generally, estimation proceeds in two stages. First, we fit models for the expected outcome and the probability of treatment (propensity score). Second, we plug these fitted models into a downstream estimator. Neural networks are a natural choice for the models in the first step. Our question is: how can we adapt the design and training of the neural networks used in this first step in order to improve the quality of the final estimate of the treatment effect? We propose two adaptations based on insights from the statistical literature on the estimation of treatment effects. The first is a new architecture, the Dragonnet, that exploits the sufficiency of the propensity score for estimation adjustment. The second is a regularization procedure, targeted regularization, that induces a bias towards models that have non-parametrically optimal asymptotic properties ‘out-of-the-box’. Studies on benchmark datasets for causal inference show these adaptations outperform existing methods.