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Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee writes,

Randomized trials like these—that is, trials in which the intervention is assigned randomly—are the simplest and best way of assessing the impact of a program. They mimic the procedures used in trials of new drugs, which is one situation in which, for obvious reasons, a lot of care has gone into making sure that only the interventions that really work get approved, though of course not with complete success. In many ways social programs are very much like drugs: they have the potential to transform the life prospects of people. It seems appropriate that they should be held to the same high standards.

I strongly recommend this article. It truly captures the strong desire to intervene relative to the weak desire to measure results scientifically. I think that this combination explains widespread failures in foreign aid, education, and health care.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Methods

COMMENTS (4 to date)
GSL writes:

It's "interesting" that things seem to heading in the wrong direction - the US Court of Appeals in DC effectively ruled against double blind randomized drug trials

dearieme writes:

I was about to make a snide remark about that court only abolishing them in the USA until I remembered that your government seems to believe that on some topics it is entitled to legislate for the world.

John Thacker writes:

That's one way to read the ruling, sure. It didn't make double-blind trials illegal, though; it simply nade it easier for terminally ill patients to get drugs which have passed Stage I. Of course, the knock-on effect is that since terminally ill patients now no longer have to volunteer for Stage II trials in order to have a hope of getting a drug, fewer may volunteer without recompense.

However, since I'm strongly skeptical of the FDA's habit of making it illegal to obtain drugs which are safe but not shown to be efficacious (unless they're "natural" or "homeopathic"), and believe that it does more harm than good, I can't go all out and criticize that ruling.

John Thacker writes:

Kind of odd that the article is titled "terminally ill patients are not guinea pigs" in arguing against the ruling, though. The author wants to force patients to only have a change of getting drugs which have not cleared Stage II by agreeing to be guinea pigs. His claim is that forcing people to have to wait ensures a better supply of guinea pigs and better testing, that we have to make terminally ill patients be guinea pigs for a while in order to demonstrate efficacy. Seems like a bit of doublespeak to me, or perhaps Newspeak, and quite the opposite of the headline. I hope he didn't write the headline.

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