Should the Randomistas (Continue to) Rule?
The rising popularity of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in development applications has come with continuing debates about the merits of this approach. The paper takes stock of the issues. It argues that an unconditional preference for RCTs is questionable on three main counts. First, the case for such a preference is unclear on a priori grounds. For example, with a given budget, even a biased observational study can come closer to the truth than a costly RCT. Second, the ethical objections to RCTs have not been properly addressed by advocates. Third, there is a risk of distorting the evidence-base for informing policymaking, given that an insistence on RCTs generates selection bias in what gets evaluated. Going forward, pressing knowledge gaps should drive the questions asked and how they are answered, not the methodological preferences of some researchers. The gold standard is the best method for the question at hand.