This introductory chapter provides an overview of the growth of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). RCTs found their way into domestic social policy discussions as early as the 1960s when they were used to evaluate government assistance programs, such as negative income tax rates for the poor. In the 1990s, a new crop of development economists began using RCTs in the field to evaluate aid programs. The chapter then argues that researchers must begin talking about failures to ensure evidence plays an appropriate role in policy. The language of RCTs as the “gold standard” for evidence has no doubt helped fuel their rise. However, not every program or theory is amenable to study by an RCT; even when one is, the RCT can be poorly executed, producing no valuable knowledge.
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