RCTs, Evidence, and Predicting Policy Effectiveness

Nancy Cartwright

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392753
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 RCTs, Evidence, and Predicting Policy Effectiveness

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  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Epistemology


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This article explains what randomized controlled experiments (RCTs) can show, and also addresses the theory of evidence for effectiveness claims. For evidence-based policy, it is predicted with reasonable confidence that the proposed policy will add positively to targeted outcomes in the situation as the policy would in fact be implemented there. The article then considers a very different account of the role of RCTs in warranting effectiveness predictions. RCT results are only important to situations where the influence is produced under a principle shared with the study situation. RCTs can be relevant to determining what the supporting factors are. It is a long road from an RCT which evidences the fact that a policy works somewhere to the prediction that the policy will work for us.

Keywords: randomized controlled experiments; RCT; theory of evidence; effectiveness; evidence-based policy

Article.  10031 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Epistemology

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