Why government needs more randomized controlled trials: Refuting the myths

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today released a policy brief focused on the value and benefits of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Such trials are widely recognized as the gold standard in scientific research. However, some critics have claimed that they are often expensive, time-consuming, unethical, or not worth the trouble. These objections are almost always overstated or false. In the brief, “Why Government Needs More Randomized Controlled Trials: Refuting the Myths,” LJAF Vice President of Research Integrity Stuart Buck and LJAF Vice President of Public Accountability Josh McGee explain why RCTs are so valuable, why they are sometimes misunderstood, and why many common objections should be given little weight.

The brief addresses seven specific myths about RCTs:

1. RCTs are expensive and slow

2. RCTs are often unethical

3. RCTs are limited to narrow contexts or questions

4. RCTs are a black box

5. RCTs are not suited to complex, fast-changing programs

6. RCTs can still be biased

7. RCTs are too limited

By clarifying the value and importance of rigorous evaluation, LJAF aims to help governments use evidence to inform policies and programs that produce meaningful improvements in people’s lives.

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