Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Explained: Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)

Mains level : Applications of RCT in poverty alleviation

  • The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three economists for their pioneering research into the use of experimental approaches to fight global poverty.
  • The new Nobel laureates are considered to be instrumental in using randomized controlled trials to test the effectiveness of various policy interventions to alleviate poverty.

Randomized Controlled Trial

  • A RCT is an experiment that is designed to isolate the influence that a certain intervention or variable has on an outcome or event.
  • A social science researcher who wants to find the effect that employing more teachers in schools has on children’s learning outcomes, for instance, can conduct a randomized controlled trial to find the answer.
  • The use of randomized controlled trials as a research tool was largely limited to fields such as biomedical sciences where the effectiveness of various drugs was gauged using this technique.
  • The Nobel laureates’ trio applied RCT to the field of economics beginning in the 1990s.
  • Kremer first used the technique to study the impact that free meals and books had on learning in Kenyan schools.
  • Banerjee and Ms. Duflo later conducted similar experiments in India and further popularised RCTs through their book Poor Economics, published in 2011.

Why is RCT so popular?

  • At any point in time, there are multiple factors that work in tandem to influence various social events.
  • RCTs allow economists and other social science researchers to isolate the individual impact that a certain factor alone has on the overall event.
  • For instance, to measure the impact that hiring more teachers can have on children’s learning, researchers must control for the effect that other factor such as intelligence, nutrition, climate, economic and social status etc.
  • RCTs promise to overcome this problem through the use of randomly picked samples.
  • Using these random samples, they believe, researchers can then conduct experiments by carefully varying appropriate variables to find out the impact of these individual variables on the final event.

Criticisms of RCT

  • A popular critic of randomized controlled trials is economist Angus Deaton, who won the economics Nobel Prize in 2015.
  • He has contended in his works that simply choosing samples for an RCT experiment in a random manner does not really make these samples identical in their many characteristics.
  • While two randomly chosen samples might turn out to be similar in some cases, he argued, there are greater chances that most samples are not really similar to each other.
  • RCTs are more suited for research in the physical sciences where it may be easier to carry out controlled experiments.
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