A random approach to better science

How radical researchers change the world

‘Randomistas’ are those prepared to have their assertions tested in the real world.  

In his new book Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World, Andrew Leigh puts forward the case that randomised trials are sorely lacking in government and social policy, and he should know – not only is Leigh the current federal member for Fenner (and Labor’s shadow assistant treasurer), he was a professor of economics at Australian National University with PhD from Harvard.

Speaking to The Conversation, Leigh suggests it’s the sheer simplicity of randomised trials that make them so appealing.  Anyone can understand the principle of ‘flipping a coin’ to see who is randomly assigned to a particular intervention and who isn’t.  And while they are the gold standard in research, Leigh believes many researchers (and those in government) are afraid of testing their assertions in case they prove to be wrong.

The current crisis in reproducing results across many fields of science may be the result of perverse incentives; high-status scientific journals actively seek papers with new and surprising results, not those that reproduce results (which can struggle to get published). 

We seek novelty, and this can go against supporting information we’ve already read or heard.

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman once said the thing he wanted to eliminate most is overconfidence. For his part, Leigh wants us to be more scientific and critical about our findings, and most of all, to be brave enough to put our ideas to the test. 

‘Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World’ is available in hardback and e-book (and the subtitle was chosen by randomised trial).   

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