For The Conversation, Isabelle Guérin, Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., and Annette L. Nazareth Member in the School of Social Science and Directrice de Recherche à l'IRD-Cessma, writes with coauthor François Roubaud about the validity and impact of the growing use of randomized control trials (RCTs). Addressing the work of Esther Duflo, Abijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer, who have been recognized with the 2019 Prize of the Royal Bank of Sweden in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for adapting such trials to the field of development economics, Guérin and Roubaud write:
"Over the last 15 years, randomized control trials have been applied to a new field: development aid policy. A vast range of interventions have been put to the test of 'randomization,' especially in education (incentives aimed at reducing absenteeism among teachers, de-worming medicine designed to improve student attendance), health (water filters, mosquito nets, training or bonus systems for healthcare workers, free consultations, medical advice via text messages, etc.), financing (microcredit, micro-insurance, savings, financial education), and governance. [...]
Applying RCTs to development could lead to scientific breakthroughs, as long as their (many) limits and (narrow) scope are acknowledged. Claiming to be able to solve poverty with this kind of method, as do some of its advocates, including the three Nobel laureates, is a step backward on two fronts: epistemological, since this claim demonstrates an outdated positivist view of science; and political, since questions central to understanding the fight against poverty and inequality aren’t addressed with this approach."
Read more at The Conversation.