Journal Article

Why There's No Cause to Randomize

John Worrall

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 58, issue 3, pages 451-488
Published in print September 2007 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online August 2007 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
Why There's No Cause to Randomize

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The evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is widely regarded as supplying the ‘gold standard’ in medicine—we may sometimes have to settle for other forms of evidence, but this is always epistemically second-best. But how well justified is the epistemic claim about the superiority of RCTs? This paper adds to my earlier (predominantly negative) analyses of the claims produced in favour of the idea that randomization plays a uniquely privileged epistemic role, by closely inspecting three related arguments from leading contributors to the burgeoning field of probabilistic causality—Papineau, Cartwright and Pearl. It concludes that none of these further arguments supplies any practical reason for thinking of randomization as having unique epistemic power. 1



Why the issue is of great practical importance—the ECMO case


Papineau on the ‘virtues of randomization’


Cartwright on causality and the ‘ideal’ randomized experiment


Pearl on randomization, nets and causes



Journal Article.  18403 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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