The tribulations of trials: A commentary on Deaton and Cartwright

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

3 Scopus citations
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-59
Number of pages3
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume210
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2018

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Unlike D&C, my experience is that RCTs are more theoretically informed than not. Such theory may be simple, but it is testable/falsifiable. Questions such as ‘Does this behavioral intervention prevent HIV disease?’ ‘Do labelled restaurant menus reduce calories consumed?’ ‘Does altering incentives for SNAP participants improve dietary nutrition?’ are common, and rely on sound theory and extensive substantive knowledge. I find that drug and device companies are loathe to allocate resources for trials without a sound theoretically informed hypothesis. Further, grant application reviewers for major science funding agencies seem unwilling to support atheoretical RCTs. On the other hand, I am aware of RCTs that appear frivolous and less theoretically informed. Many of these seem to be conducted either without external support or political equipoise.

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