Randomized control trials (RCTs) have taken development economics, and even the broader discipline of economics, by storm. Whether this is “good” or “bad” or just another methodological “fad” largely depends on one’s perspective on development and empirical science. Timothy Ogden, the Managing Director of NYU’s Financial Access Initiative, has documented a number of these perspectives from not only those who implement RCTs, but also those who are skeptical of the use of RCTs, and those who fund and consume research. These conversations, recorded verbatim as interviews, make the subject of a new book that was published at the beginning of this year: Experimental Conversations: Perspectives on Randomized Trials in Development Economics.
My PhD advisor, Marc Bellemare, and I have written a review of this book which is now forthcoming the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. In the review, beyond describing the contents of the book, we discuss some of the thinking on the philosophy of science. Specifically we examine the claim that RCTs tell us “what works” in development.
Even if you are not a practitioner of RCTs yourself, I’d encourage you to read Tim’s book. I think the natural conclusions of this book are healthy not only for empirical researchers, but also consumers of empirical research.