Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) and Social Policy Evaluation: An Oxymoron? by Dina Poursanidou

Given my social science research background and all the questioning and (admittedly) slugging off I do of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) – ‘the gold standard’ of research evidence in clinical/medical research, it was particularly interesting to come across a lecture on What can RCTs bring to social policy evaluation? that took place on 21 November 2013.


The lecture is the annual Cathie Marsh memorial lecture , which is a long-standing annual event named in honour of an inspirational social scientist. It is organised jointly by the Royal Statistical Society and the Social Research Association.

The lecture poses crucial questions such as: What is the value for social policy evaluation of the randomised controlled trial (RCT), a model of experimentation drawn from the natural sciences? Will this initiate “a revolution in the production and use of evidence”, to quote Ben Goldacre, or do different circumstances call for different approaches? What are the issues in the use of RCTs for evaluating social policy?

Speakers at the lecture were Leon Feinstein, director of evidence at the Early Intervention Foundation and Jeremy Hardie, London School of Economics, author, economist and lecturer.

The event was chaired by Patrick Sturgis, professor of research methodology at the University of Southampton and Director of National Centre for Research Methods (part of ESRC/Economic and Science Research Council).


The Placebo Group_RCTS
Image Refs:
1. http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/tooth_fairy_science_part_1
2.  http://bilbosrandomthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2012_02_01_archive.html
  • Stas ,

    Thank you for sharing Dina. I think that approving a treatment for wide adoption without evidence based conclusions is even less ethical. It would be great to have debate around this topic on a dedicated community forums such us http://rctrials.org

    • Dina ,

      many thanks for your thoughts and suggestion

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