Since 2010 most of my time spent on academic research has focused on two particular areas:
- The use of randomised control trials (RCTs) to support inappropriate, or overly strong, policy claims or recommendations
- Empirical examples of how this has manifested in the economics of education.
I was therefore somewhat frustrated when I attended a presentation at the Economic Society of South Africa conference in 2013 to find some rather strong policy claims being made on the basis of what is very weak evidence (even by the standards of practitioners favouring RCTs). I raised my concerns with the relevant author, but I see that the recently-published working paper contains the same problems.
It therefore seems appropriate to summarise my concerns with this work: partly so that interested parties can understand its flaws, but mainly to provide an illustration of how the new fad for RCT-based policy is often oversold. That’s important, because despite seemingly ample evidence I often get economists saying: “Oh but no-one really uses RCT results in that way”.