1. Ben Goldacre said:

    “It might be the case that one particular approach to criminal justice is more effective than another, but it might be considered unjust.”

    It would be completely senseless to do a randomised trial of an intervention that was socially or practically unacceptable, because it would be interrogating a completely irrelevant question, the effectiveness of something that is not going to be used.

    Nobody has ever suggested that randomised trials can tell you whether an intervention is morally right. But they are extremely good to tell you if they achieve their stated objectives, and more need to be done.

    Saying “more of X needs to be done” does not mean “only X needs to be done”, as was made very clear in the programme.

    2nd January 2013
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hi Ben, thanks for leaving a comment.

      Perhaps my example of a justice system without punishment was a bit extreme, and ‘unjust’ a stark term. In the policy areas you discussed in your programme there are many possible interventions where the morality and other normative aspects are bundled up with empirical aspects, and the political reasons (noble and mucky) make the evaluation of all those aspects rather difficult to disentangle.

      My criticism wasn’t that you are wrong to advocate RCTs, or that you had incorrectly suggested they can replace normative considerations. I just felt it was a shame you didn’t explore policy questions in the round, looking at how RCTs might feed into a contentious political process. Your presentation came across as technocratic.

      Just as it is blinkered to enact policies for moral reasons without empirical evidence to suggest the desired outcomes will be achieved (if indeed there are any consequences in question), so it would be blinkered to enact or retract policies based on RCTs about outcomes without a proper consideration of the normative reasons for the policy. I’m sure many Tories would think workfare is the Right Thing To Do, irrespective of whether it is effective in getting people back into work.

      Admittedly most political commentary focuses on the normative side, with a few outfits like FullFact making great inroads in an under-valued territory, so perhaps in a short radio programme it’s fine just to examine and advocate one empirical method. I don’t think it is.

      2nd January 2013

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