Chapter 5: Randomised trials in economics
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The widespread use of randomised control trials (RCTs) in economics is one of the most important methodological developments in recent decades. It has been accompanied by a corresponding influence on policy, notably in development economics where proponents have sought to influence social and economic policies in developing countries on the basis of the purported epistemological superiority of RCTs. However, such assertions do not withstand scrutiny. RCTs may not identify causal relationships of interest and empirical findings often cannot be defensibly extrapolated to contexts besides the experimental sample. Proffered solutions such as replication, machine learning methods, and use of qualitative expertise do not adequately address such concerns - at least not without generating serious methodological inconsistencies. Along with possible temporal change in causal parameters and implicit normative positions underlying the choice of RCTs conducted, these methodological and epistemological considerations suggest a modest role for such methods in economics and development.

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