Last week, Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo received the Nobel for Economics for their “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty” and for addressing “smaller, more manageable questions,” rather than big ideas.
This experimental approach is based on the so-called ‘Randomised Control Trials’ (RCT). Simply put, in such experiments, a randomly selected group of individuals (randomization is a method of removing bias) receive an intervention whose efficacy is tested. Changes that result in the conditions of this random experiment group is compared with those in another ‘similar’ group of individuals (referred to as a ‘control group’) that was not provided the intervention. The difference in outcomes is directly attributed to the intervention.
The RCT as a scientific research method is primarily widely practiced in clinical research to test the efficacy and safety of new pharmaceutical products/treatments. RCT is a pre-requisite for the regulatory approval of a new drug or vaccine. Evidence from such experiments have to confirm both internal validity (are the results of the study reliable?) as well as external validity (are the conclusions universally applicable to other population groups/locations?). Once a treatment/product is so approved, it is made available for general use.