Has the war over RCTs been won?

Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee of MIT and JPAL weigh in during an interview in Tim Ogden’s forthcoming book, Experimental Conversations, which I am enjoying thoroughly:

Esther: “I think it’s been completely won in that I think it’s just happening. A lot of people are doing it without us. It’s being used. I think it is now understood to be one of the tools. The argument within the economics profession [over the value of RCTs] had two main consequences, both good. First, it raised the profile. If something was debated, people began to believe it must be significant. Second, it did force us to answer the challenges. There were a lot of valid points that were raised and it forced us to react. We’ve become more intelligent as a result.”

Abhijit: “I am less certain that it has been won. The acid test of whether an idea has come to stay is that it becomes something that no one needs to justify using. … RCTs aren’t there yet: it is true almost everyone is doing them, but many of them are taking the trouble to explain that what they do is better than a ‘mere RCT.’ We need to get to the point where people take RCTs to be the obvious tool to use when possible to answer a particular class of empirical questions.”

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